Mac Baren Three Nuns

Notes: The Three Nuns coin tobacco was originally a creation of J & F Bell, dating back to the 19th century. A favorite of British authors (and friends) C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien. In the formula from Imperial Tobacco, Three Nuns was a VaPer mixture. Pipe Tobacco Hall of Fame Inductee. Later this tobacco was made at the Orlik factory for BAT and Kentucky was substituted for Perique. The latest version, blended and manufactured by Mac Baren, follows the latter formula.


Brand Mac Baren
Blended By Mac Baren
Manufactured By Mac Baren
Blend Type Virginia/Burley
Contents Brazilian Leaf, Perique, Virginia
Flavoring Rum
Cut Curly Cut
Packaging 50 grams tin
Country Denmark
Production Re-release


Extremely Mild -> Overwhelming
None Detected
None Detected -> Extra Strong
Room Note
Pleasant to Tolerable
Unnoticeable -> Overwhelming
Medium to Full
Extremely Mild (Flat) -> Overwhelming

Average Rating

3.09 / 4





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Displaying 1 - 10 of 76 Reviews
Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Oct 07, 2012 Medium Extremely Mild Medium to Full Pleasant to Tolerable
This first paragraph contains my review of the VaPer Three Nuns, which was in continuous production until the end of 2003. I smoked around a 130-150 pounds of the several versions (WW2, the 1980s through 2003) of this particular mixture, and while the 1990s and later manufactures had a tad less perique, this review is meant to describe the experiences I was most familiar with: The fermented Virginias provided a lot of rather tart and very tangy citrus, some tangy ripe dark fruit, wood and earth, a little grass and bread with a few light sour, floral, acidic, sugar notes. They took a small lead in the proceedings. The tingly perique was very spicy, earthy, with an abundance of stewed raisins, plums, figs and dates as a strong supporting player. The perique was about 18% of the mix, and played a little above that percentage in terms of effect. The woody, earthy, sweet, floral, herbal, vegetative, slightly nutty, mildly spicy Brazilian lights were just above being condiments. The very mild prune, rum and anise toppings lightly sublimated the tobaccos. The strength and taste levels were a step past the medium level. The nic-hit was medium. Wouldn’t bite, but sported a few small rough edges. The coin cut was loose enough that you could easily rub it out or stack them without getting a tight draw. Had just a little loose cut in the tin, too. Well balanced and very complex, it burned cool, clean and slightly slow with a very consistent, deeply rich sweet and spicy, lightly savory flavor that translated to the pleasantly lingering after taste and stronger room note. Despite its strength, it could almost be an all day smoke for the very experienced smoker. Four stars for this version.

This second paragraph is my review of the Orlik Va/Kentucky version (2004-2013), of which I smoked a couple of pounds: The Virginias offered semi-sweet tart and tangy citrus with slight sour, floral, acidic, and bread notes, a little grass and tangy ripe dark fruit, some earth, wood and few grains of sugar as the lead components. The woody, earthy, floral, mildly spicy, slightly nutty, slightly sweet Kentucky was a supporting player. The amount of Kentucky in the coins varied at times, but it usually ended up being around 18% of the blend. The woody, earthy, sweet, floral, herbal, vegetative, slightly nutty, mildly spicy Brazilian lights were condiments. The very mild prune, rum and anise toppings didn’t sublimate the tobaccos much, and seemed to be a tad less obvious than in the VaPer version. The strength and taste levels were medium. The nic-hit was a couple of steps past the center of mild to medium. Wouldn’t bite, but had a hint of a rough edge. The coin cut was loose enough that you could easily rub it out or stack them without getting a tight draw. Had just a little loose cut in the tin, too. Well balanced and mildly complex, it burned cool, clean and slightly slow with a very consistent, moderately rich sweet and spicy, slightly savory and sour flavor that translated the pleasantly lingering after taste and lightly stronger room note. It could be an all day smoke for the experienced smoker. Three stars for this version.

Mac Baren licensed the rights to manufacture Three Nuns in 2013. They used the Orlik VaKy formulation instead of the VaPer due to legal reasons. This review is for the current Mac Baren version: The light and dark Virginias provide a burst of tart and tangy, acidic citrus and grass, some wood and earth, a little tangy dark fruit and honey with hints of bread and floralness, and light sugar. They are more team players than they are the lead components. Giving them stiff competition and occasionally taking the lead is the very spicy, earthy, woody, rather floral, herbal, lightly nutty sweet, vegetative, dry and mildly sour dark fired Kentucky. The woody, earthy, sweet, floral, herbal, vegetative, nutty, mildly spicy Brazilian lights are barely condiments. The strength is medium, while the taste is a step past the mark. The nic-hit is a step short of the medium mark. Won’t bite or get harsh, but it does sport a few rough edges. The coins are inconsistent in size and shape, and the amounts of the varietals varies a bit in each one. Between that and the loose cut tobacco, the aforementioned aspects leads to some inconsistency in the overall sweet and spicy, acidic, mildly sour, lightly savory flavor. Burns clean, moderately cool, and a tad slow. Leaves little dampness in the bowl and requires a few more than an average number of relights. The after taste reflects the overall taste as it and the lightly stronger room notes pleasantly linger. Not an all day smoke but it is repeatable. Three stars.

Comparisons: the VaPer versions was tangier and more fermented than all other productions, and much spicier than the Orlik VaKy, which sported a very small amount of it. The spice in Mac Baren’s TN is almost as potent as the VaPer TN, but it’s a different spice. The perique had much more fruit than the other non-perique, which made the VaPer much sweeter than Orlik’s TN and a step sweeter than what Mac Baren makes. There’s more acidity in both VaKy blends than there was the VaPer TN. The Brazilian Lights are less prominent in Mac Baren’s than the others, which essentially equal each other in that respect. This is primarily because the dark fired Kentucky Mac Baren uses over powers them. In fact, the DFK has a stronger presence than the perique does in the older TN as well, which wrecks the flavor balance in the Mac Baren TN, and in comparison to the other better balanced productions. The VaPer was deeper and richer in flavor than what has followed. Mac Baren’s TN has the same strength and taste level as the VaPer, and both had more of each than the Orlik TN. The VaPer and Orlik’s were a little less sour than Mac Baren’s, and the VaPer was a little less so than what Orlik made.

The coin cut and amount of loose cut in the VaPer and Orlik VaKy were the same, except the VaPer tended to be more consistent in the distribution of tobaccos in each coin. The Mac Baren coins are bigger and more loosely held together with more loose cut tobacco in the tin. The Kentucky is generally more spread out in the coin rather than centered as in previous manufactures. Also, the toppings are much less obvious in the Mac Baren TN, and it has more honey than the others ever did. Essentially, Three Nuns has gone from the original Bell's blend to being a full fledged Mac Baren product that uses the VaKy Orlik recipe with their own tobaccos. The rating at this forum reflects the Mac Baren TN, and not the earlier incarnations.

130 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Nov 02, 2002 Medium Mild Medium Pleasant
This blend was sampled at a recent pipe club meeting I attended, and the reviews were generally very good. It seemed that the blend was enjoyed most by those who do not smoke aromatics of any kind, and maybe that's why they enjoyed the straight forward smoke of the Nuns.

If you enjoy this stuff, you will be one of the minions who do. It's certainly one of the all-time classics (but, not if I was voting!)
14 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Mar 05, 2015 Medium to Strong Medium Medium to Full Pleasant

Well today is my first of many pipe tobacco reviews, hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did in reviewing for you. My first review is on McBarens/Bell's Three Nuns: Blend: Virginia/Dark fired Kentucky blend Cut: Small loose cut coins Tin Note: Leathery/Smoke scent Tin size: 1.75 oz. Rating: 4 Strength: Medium/medium full Flavoring: Leathery/woodsy campfire notes Taste: Smooth, slight sweetness from the Virginia leaf, slight bite to it. Room note: Pleasant/smooth/inoffensive Notes: Out of the tin seems a little moist. Dried it for 30 minutes and much better smoke. Smoked it whole coins with fold and stuff method as well as rubbed it out. Both ways were very pleasant to smoke with some various results. Both ways ended up with a very smooth smoke. With whole coins I noticed a more of a hit of smokiness/leathery of the Kentucky leaf then at times you get the sweetness from the Virginia coming thru at different times. Very nice that way, also when I rubbed it out I noticed more of a constant complex robust taste from both leaves. Either way the pipe only needed a few lights thru out the smoke, didn't get too hot. I recommend this blend for a all day smoke I don't think you will be disappointed at all. Will be on my rotation of tobacco to have. Hope you all enjoy your day and as always keep on puffin !!!!

As a added review from a non pipe smoker I have my wife add her review as to the Room notes as I think most reviewers never actually add a opinion from a non pipe smoker. I personally think this is important:

As the wife of a pipe smoker I find certain tobacco's are more pleasing than others. The smells for the non-pipe smoker are important too. 3 Nuns for me is a pleasing smell. When my husband lit this blend I sat up and said, "honey, that is old man tobacco in all the right ways!" It had a rich subtle odor that made me visualize of an old library or office, rich with the smell of books and leather and intermingled with the fine elderly gentleman smoking a pipe as he read his paper or book. There was nothing musty or frumpy about it. It was a clean, crisp, rich smell that filled the room with comfort and warmth. I am definitely not going to complain when my husband lights this tobacco again. I will however, reserve the right to buy him a Sherlock Holmes hat and pipe to go with it!

~ The Pipe-smokers Wife

Pipe Used: Eric Berks hand made freestyle briar pipe
PurchasedFrom: Sutliff
Age When Smoked: new
12 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Mar 11, 2015 Medium Extremely Mild Medium to Full Pleasant to Tolerable
The Bell's Three Nuns as manufactured by MacBaren is a very fine tobacco, but it is not the Three Nuns of old. For me, the only real drawback to this version is the name, a name which suggests a tobacco different from this current offering, the predecessor being the one presumably prized by C.S, Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

As a pipe smoker for more than half a century I sometimes smoked the original Three Nuns in my earlier years of pipedom. In those days of yore in a metropolitan area you had the option of several dozen over the counter blends as well as the tinned blends in a bricks and mortar tobacco store. I have always been a pipe smoker who preferred to have great variety in what I smoked, and thus I didn't smoke a lot of Three Nuns because most of what went into my pipes was the much cheaper OTC's. But when I smoked the Three Nuns blend I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Over the years Three Nuns was dumbed down, and eventually it was offered as a blend without perique. That didn't necessarily make it a bad blend, but it wasn't Three Nuns. To the best of my memory I never smoked a no perique version until the current incarnation which is manufactured by MacBaren. MacBaren has been roundly criticized for their no perique blend, but unfairly so. MacBaren manufactures Three Nuns, but they do not own the brand, and thus they follow the recipe they are given. There is some speculation that there are legal issues involved which prevent reversion to the original recipe.

So what do we have with the MacBaren produced Three Nuns? You find darkish medallions of Virginia and Kentucky (fired burley). The medallions in my tin were a bit worse for wear, partially broken up, which is no problem so long as you plan to rub out the blend rather than stack the coins. The tin smell has nothing out of the ordinary. Like most MacBaren products it is a bit too moist and benefits from breaking the seal several days before the smoking.

At any rate, the tobacco lights without great problem and is not difficult to keep lit. The flavor is predominately a slightly sweet Virginia, but the dark overtones of the Kentucky are always there, and they seem to intensify as you work your way down the bowl. Overall you will find a medium to full flavor which is quite pleasant for those who enjoy darkened Virginia/burley blends.

The room note will offend only the tobacco Nazis, but there is nothing outstanding about it either.The nicotine level is fairly high for a Virginia forward offering.

My personal experience in smoking this was quite positive. Three Nuns it ain't, but it is a very pleasurable offering.

I used several different pipes in smoking the tin, primarily Sasienis and Petersons. I had good luck with all, although I did not find one that particularly married to the blend.
9 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Feb 16, 2018 Medium None Detected Medium to Full Pleasant to Tolerable
Nice gentle nod to the toasty roasty side of things... Mac Baren did a good one here... has an old fashioned simplicity about it, and yet has enough going on to be slightly complex if you really dig into it... subtle sweetness and spice... a little nuttiness from the burly... yet mostly Virginia with subtle hints of spice and sweetness. I'm normally more apt to go for a straight Virginia or a va/per but this satisfies me. It's not as dark and strong as Irish flake and yet it points gently that way.
Pipe Used: Butz choquin
Age When Smoked: Fresh tin
5 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
May 13, 2015 Medium Mild to Medium Extremely Mild (Flat) Pleasant to Tolerable
The wee rolls are the best thing about this tobacco. They look beautiful in the tin. There is very little sweetness which is very noticable from the first puff and a slightly sour flavour develops as you smoke down the bowl as well as the pepperiness increasing. Its unusual and takes a bit of getting used to, but, i'm liking it more and more as time goes by.

Nicotine is reasonable. Give this one time as i was not greatly impressed at first but it does grow on you. Different.
Pipe Used: Dunhill '53 billiard
PurchasedFrom: 4noggins
Age When Smoked: new
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Nov 28, 2020 Mild to Medium None Detected Medium Pleasant to Tolerable
This blend is reviewed after two and a half years of aging.

What immediately jumps out in the tin note is the sweetness from the Virginia and a slightly smoky, BBQ-tomato from the Kentucky. It's a great balance between the two notes.

The tin notes translate fairly well to the initial part of the smoke. It's a really nice sweet-smoky-BBQ, a bit woody with just a hint of a spice. I find that the flavor gets slightly bolder after the first few puffs, just to mellow out around the half-point.

Medium-bodied, mild-medium in strength. In terms of complexity, it's exactly in the middle. It's not one-dimensional boring, but isn't too complex that you need to stop and think about it. It's a balanced game of leadership between sweet and smoky, Virginia and Kentucky. Little did they know, they were perfect together all along.

Coin-cut, comes fairly dry but not so much that you need to rehydrate. It's easy to rub-out the coins, pack them in the pipe, and smoke it. Can be an all-day smoke.

I don't remember liking this when I first smoked it as much as I do now. It might've been the aging, it might've been a bit of palate maturation, it might've been that I didn't smoke much Dark Fired Kentucky lately and simply missed it. But I sure like it much more now than I did when I first tried it.

Great blend for this genre-lovers. I absolutely love Virginia-Kentucky blends and would've loved to smoke more of this. However, due to the price, I'll have to settle on getting one more tin and let it age for a bit until getting more. While it tastes great now, I feel like the lack of Kentucky on my tongue lately has made me like this just a bit more than I should. Since this is one of my last bowls of this tin, I have to consider everything up to now. So instead of a perfect score, I'll give it three stars for now.
Pipe Used: Brewster billiard
Age When Smoked: 2.5 years
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Jun 21, 2018 Medium to Strong None Detected Medium Pleasant to Tolerable
Just finishing up my first tin so I thought I'd add some comments. This is for the current version, I have never had the chance to try any previous incarnation. I will say, however, that I think the substitution of Dark Fired mimics the taste of Perique fairly well, per my limited experience with the Louisiana leaf.

I found this to be a very enjoyable blend. It has a bold, no frills taste-- not for beginners. The moisture was perfect out of the tin and it smoked dry, burning well and never leaving a dottle. No bite, but it required an average number of relights. I will definitely be revisiting in the future.

A good old-fashioned, traditional mixture : 3.5
Pipe Used: Briars, corncob
PurchasedFrom: Smoking
Age When Smoked: 6 months
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Jul 06, 2015 Medium None Detected Medium to Full Tolerable

I was given a great sample of this. Nearly a whole tin minus a few bowls as my friend who gave it to me just did not like it. This was my first experience with three nuns in any form, so I was free of any bias.

I liked it. It is a flavorful VaBur that is somewhat light in comparison to some of my favorite vaburs (irish Flake, Silver Flake, Stonehaven PH DSF). As with those favorite VaBurs, the primary Burley in three nuns is the Dark Fired Kentucky leaf. In addition to the standard nuttiness that burley tends to give off, DFK has more of a dark murky smoky molasses type taste to it. If this is what you are looking for in a vabur you should find this to be a pleasurable enough experience.

Made by Mac Baren, this one is substantially better than MB Navy Flake and BLB and pretty close to HH ODF to my tastes, so if you enjoy those blends this could be right up your alley. Yes, I liked it, but I did not love it. And this, perhaps, the reason the sample lasted more than two years in my cellar. In this time I was fortunate enough to have a sample of the original VaPer three nuns sent to me by a forum friend. Now that was out of this world. Perhaps the 20 years of aging had something to do with this, but it was miles ahead of the current production of three nuns.

So I will be another voice claiming that this blend has declined from its former self, but yet it does remain a good tasting blend. If a mild yet flavorful vabur is what you like in a blend, you may very well go 4 stars on this blend, but I will leave it with three.

UPDATE 8/28/2020

So a few years back I espied a rectangular tin for sale at the Chicagoland show for $40 with a sticker on it indicating the tin was from? 2007. This note was handwritten, so I was not completely convinced that this tin was actually produced in 2007 or if it had simply been acquired on that date by someone who purchased it from god knows where.

It looked similar to the old VaPer tins and would be bargain if it was, yet would be a bit more than I would pay for the new stuff. Hell, it was the Chicago show and I had money to burn, so I bought it.

I finally got around to opening it and it only took the puffs at light up to recognize the tell tale taste of dark Fired Kentucky and to realize that I overpaid. Shucks! But that aside, it was still a very nice experience. Not the dried fruit sweetness and spice of the VaPer version, but the dirty molasses type sweet you would get from this particular burley that was countered by very nicely aged Virginia.

This smoked very smooth and I enjoyed every bowl of it. The age did seem to knock some edges off the DFK, a form of burley that sometimes can cause me to have coughing fits when it is applied heavily. I have been losing my love for this leaf lately, which is a shame since I have cellared so deep with blends containing it. Smoking this gives me hope that all of that will be fine as I did enjoy this more with its age than I did the fresher sample I reviewed above.

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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Apr 08, 2014 Medium to Strong Extremely Mild Medium to Full Pleasant to Tolerable
New tinned version by Mac Baren.

These tobaccos go very well together. Although the dominant flavors come from the very nice Virginias (by just a little), the DFK is the star of this show for me. What a great flavor it has. Together they create a rich, deep, sweet and spicy smoke that I really enjoy. Fresh from the tin I give it 3+ stars. I'm willing to bet that with some aging it will easily reach the 4 star level. Will stash several tins and find out in a few years. Medium to full in body and flavor.
Pipe Used: MM General, MM Country Gentleman
Age When Smoked: fresh
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