|My tin of Brown Flake was relatively old, sitting undisturbed on a store shelf for multiple years now. I bought it from a cigarette and bong shop that had a few pipe smokers long ago, in another life. The pipe tobacco was left over from the previous owners, who had made a decent effort at attracting us pipe smokers. Apparently, I'm the only semi regular that still frequents the joint on a not so frequent basis, which is sad, because we had quite a few fellows who would show up to sample the tobaccos, and their variety at one point wasn't bad. I presently use the place to pick up those now aged tobaccos, but the selection is wearing thin, and I realize that only a few trips remain.
There were two Wessex blends still sitting on the shelf, Brown Flake and Red Flake. I've had my share of Red Virginias over the years so I thought Brown Flake might extend the breadth of my experience. I was eyed suspiciously, and asked repeatedly if I wished to purchase an item, as if my plans for theft were well established and expertly devised. After a good ten minute search for my selection, I browsed the crummy supply of overpriced cigars for five minutes and finally gave up, delivering my single tin to the register.
I generally have sympathy for tobacco shops, but this place induces rage. I suppose it's not fair to criticize a purported smoke shop for selling bongs to make ends meet, and I guess one can't fault people for buying marijuana pipes disguised as briar. I know as well that lottery tickets will supplement such meager revenue, I just rather it be pipes and tobacco.
Upon opening the small, squarish tin, I could see firsthand the state of the container itself. It was entirely corroded away, the rim of the tin caked, black and sticky with a combination of oxidization and rust. The wax paper protecting the tobacco was absolutely covered in dark brown juice, always a good sign. At home I promptly removed the tobacco and transferred it into a discarded 2 ounce tin, to find that the inside surface of the old Wessex container showed similar signs of disarray, so much that I was forced to abandon the layers of tobacco that had come in contact with the tin itself, which had acquired a nasty metallic scent. I was worried there for a bit, but when I transferred the tobacco I felt reasonably sure the contents were fit for smoking.
The tobacco itself smelled powerful, deeply fermented and fruity, despite the lack of an obvious casing. Over the years, the individual flakes had fused together, turning the tobacco into a solid sparkling dark red brick. It was impossible to separate the flakes at this point, so I picked away at the surface, pulling pieces apart and shoving them into my pipe. For my first trial I loaded the tobacco into a small Parker Billiard and gave her a quick light. The grassy notes were entirely absent, replaced with a deep, molasses-like undertone that coated the mouth with a sugary film. On first smoke, Brown Virginia bit fiercely, and I had to adjust my rapid puffing cadence with tiny sips until everything settled down. About half way into the smoke, the blend began to further develop a dark sugary flavor, caramelizing into a sublime, sweet smoke with some decent body (this blend alone is probably more robust than the entire catalog of McClelland Virginias, for comparison, much on par with something like Full Virginia Flake, or G&Hs Brown Flake).
I recently made a hefty Virginia order comprising many different manufacturers and their various offerings. It was my attempt to find a reasonable substitute for FVF, having come up short consistently now for several months of directed searching. My effort to scope out Virginias such as this Wessex variety was really a gambit to find that Virginia with a dark press similar to Samuel Gawith's product, that molasses note a target of my affection. But I suppose I'll have to wait for more opportunities when my much anticipated order arrives. Why don't more manufacturers employ this technique?
Brown Virginia Flake was really an impulse buy to get me through that waiting period, as I have grown tired of the many VaPers in my smoking cabinet, Perique having a unique attribute of components to wear me down after extended exposure. As it stands, Brown Flake is a decent, pure blend, maybe somewhat dull but perfectly smokable, and I'm puzzled as to why it hasn't received much attention from reviewers. I know, the black tin art is a little bland and definitely minimalist, but the tobacco is very nice, if lacking in flair.
A bit of advice to those seeking a replacement for FVF--I would say branch out in every direction. Don't be afraid to select something you're unfamiliar with. Virginias age wonderfully, and given a few years you really can't go wrong, even if you pull a few stinkers in all the madness. That might not rest well with those that want immediate gratification, and I understand, shopping for replacements can often leave one wanting.
That said, having killed half a tin of BVF, I'd be happy with another five sitting in my smoking cabinet.