Many smokers of pipe tobacco believe that the use of flavours is a relatively recent phenomenon but in point of fact the first use of flavours in tobacco dates back several hundred years. Sailors were the first to come up with the idea of putting their tobacco inside barrels of rum. They did so as to preserve the moisture of the tobacco only to discover that the remnants of the rum flavour left in the barrel were absorbed by the tobacco. The tobacco taste was suddenly quite different. Since then, the process of flavouring has been refined but tradition nonetheless continues to play an important part in the flavouring process.
The flavour of pipe tobacco is far from a random science. A great deal of conscious thought and testing goes into every pipe tobacco we make. Broadly speaking, there are three factors that affect the flavour of pipe tobacco.
The first and most important factor is the natural aromatics of the tobacco. The selection of tobaccos also has a direct impact on the final flavour. The art is to select different tobaccos whose individual aromas complement one another and combine to give a balanced flavour. In simple terms, this means that the individual aromas are good on their own, but correctly blended they combine to produce a taste experience that exceeds that of each individual flavour.
The second consideration is to accentuate the natural aromatics and add nuances of taste. Exactly how this is achieved is described in the section “Casing – Enhancing the pipe tobacco taste”.
The third and final factor affecting the taste of a pipe tobacco is the correct flavour. It is during this phase that we are able to influence the taste and aroma of the finished pipe tobacco. When a pipe tobacco tastes of vanilla, for example, it is due to the flavour we have added. Naturally, it is not a question of simply adding vanilla to the tobacco so that we end up with a tobacco with a vanilla flavour. Our vanilla flavoured tobacco is an excellent example of just how complex it is to develop the right taste. If pure vanilla is used, the flavour will be too sweet; so sweet in fact that the enjoyment for the pipe tobacco smoker is lost and the aroma experienced by other people will give rise to negative comments.
In 1999, when we began to develop Mac Baren Vanilla Cream, we were very conscious of the fact that pure vanilla can prove overwhelming. Our task, therefore, was to adjust the flavour so that it fulfilled the desire of the pipe smoker for vanilla without becoming overly sweet. Using various fruit flavours, we were able to reduce the sweetness without negatively impacting on the natural taste of vanilla. It sounds simple when you use just a few lines to describe the process, but in actual fact this adjustment process comprised repeated testing over a period of several months. The difficulty of developing the right flavour can be compared to that of developing a perfume aroma. A combination of numerous flavour nuances have to be perfectly balanced before the taste is just right - and the right taste is only achieved when all the elements fit. Raw tobacco, casing and flavour – each on its own directly affects the final taste - and together they provide optimal enjoyment.
Once the right blend of flavours has been found, these are mixed with pure alcohol and we are now left with a flavour mix which can be added to the tobacco. The flavour mix is atomised and the tobacco is rotated through this “flavour mist”. We do not want the flavour to rest on the surface, however. We want it to be absorbed into the tobacco itself. The alcohol acts as a flavour carrier and ensures that it is absorbed by the tobacco. This process takes place during subsequent maturing and once it has performed its task, the alcohol completely evaporates. The tobacco now contains the three important elements that combine to make pipe tobacco smoking such a pleasurable experience.