I do not yet feel I have the full measure of S. Gawith's Virginia/Latakia Flake, but as this is a newish product, I decided to review it here to clarify just what this product is and, more to the point, is not. I hasten to add that SG did not misrepresent this product, and my wishful thinking caught me up here.
What I was hoping for was a flake form of SG's Commonwealth Mixture, which I hold in high regard. When my 4 oz sample arrived as about 20 1" x 6" thin, damp flakes, it sure looked the part: beautiful black slabs with a homogeneous texture. But... where was that rich leathery, smokey latakia smell? This product had _no_ pouch aroma. Now I was worried. (I just checked the jar that has been sealed a month- still almost no odor, just an oh-so-faint hint of latakia).
My sample needed several hours of drying before it was smokable, I left it sitting under an open window in a gentle cool breeze for about 8 hours. Even after this treatment, this flake was hard to rub out, not at all crumbly, but similar in consistency to Dark Star. Instead I diced it into little cubes, loaded up a favorite english-blend pipe about 1/2 way and lit 'er up.
Now, I must admit, I am just now exploring the "Lakeland" style flakes, so I cannot say authoritatively how this stacks up to others. No SG floral soapiness though, that is for sure. The initial flavor was a mild, sweet, but rather nondescript taste. Given its residule moisture, I would have to say that it burned quite well. The overall experience for the first half of the bowl was of a very mild over-stoved virginia, a hint of fruitiness, but that was all. No sign of the latakia. MIA.
Second half of the bowl: the flavor develops a bit more, and there is some hint of the latakia, but that is mostly through french inhaling. The strength gathers towards the end, but a bitterness develops as well. Then it is over.
After about ten bowls in different pipes in the last month, my initial impression remains. This is a serious disappointment for latakia devotees and not a must-try for VA flake lovers either. This is no Kendal Cream Flake, not even close.
Given that this is a new product, it may have been rushed into production. A little aging may work some miracle. Still, it is hard to imagine some flavor/aroma developing where there is so little now. SG struck out on this one IMO. = UPDATE 5/26/04 =====
Well, having gotten past my first expectations of this blend, I have improved my opinion. A little aging probably helped as well. The flakes are now covered in fine sugar xtals from the sweet virginias. I find that the trace of latakia blends well with the dominant matured virginias emphasizing the sweetness. I find myself going to this blend more as an alternative to Va/P favorites. I guess I would call it a Va/L blend...
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