Almost full black after sitting in the tin for 20+ years and with the unmistakable aroma of Cyrpian latakia. Ribbons fat and thin. Deep rich aroma - mouthwatering.
After just finishing the basic McClellands version and finding Syrian instead of the usual Cyprian in the mix, I'm unable to compare the two as I had planned. So... this one is once again a typical McClelland Balkan where the latakia leads but with a very gentle and not terribly firm hand. The orientals were secondary but had more of a presence than the current version, lending a really enticing sweet and sour flavor. The Virginias were there but only added a slight sweetness and zing. This blend is about the interplay of latakia and orientals, however, rather than McClellands standard setting Virginias. Again, a good but not great blend that, beyond something special for the old PCCA, really brings nothing to the table that McClellands hasn't already covered from head to toe. If you like McClellands take on this style, this blend will fit into your rotation quite nicely. If not, it won't change your mind. Typical for McClellands - nothing too special.
I recently purchased a collection of older pipe tobaccos from the estate of an avid smoker. There were many PCCA blends in the mix, including Full Balkan Reserve, which I think is mis-named. Medium or Light Balkan Reserve is more how the flavor presented itself. The Macedonian leaf was okay, but seemed a little rough, even with substantial aging in the tin. The Latakia, likewise, was not quite up to snuff. I've certainly tasted worse Balkan style blends, but I've also tasted a lot better.
On a positive note, this one packed well once the inordinate amount of stems were removed, and it did smoke dry and cool.
Like my counterpart, mparker, I tried both Full Balkan Reserve and Full Balkan Reserve-Syrian at the same time and would describe them both similarly to him. FBR is more smoky and musty while FBR-S is lighter and sweeter. Supposedly, the only difference between these two tobaccos is the latakia element. The contrast is considerable. There would by no mistaking these two blends, both being quite distinctive. Unlike mparker, I preferred FBR-S, finding it to be less overwhelmed by the latakia and less monochromatic. The lighter, sweeter syrian latakia allowed me to savor the other tastes in the blend, so that each puff has a little different taste, building to an excellent crescendo in the bottom third of the bowl. In contrast, FBR simply got stronger down the bowl, but remained the same flavor.
One thing mparker did not mention was the coarseness of both tobaccos. There are considerable stems and other hard pieces in both. Because of the coarseness, I found it darn near impossible to pack either of these too firmly. I could pack it extremely tightly and it would still draw well. Both tobaccos burned coolly and stayed lit well.
I understand PCCA is going out of the tobacco business, so there's no telling how long these will be available.
I found both these to be excellent, but preferred the FBR-S.
This is a ribbon-cut blend manufactured by McClelland for PCCA. Despite its name, I'd really hesitate to classify it as a Balkan since it's really too sweet -- I tend to think of Balkans as mostly oriental and latakia. The proportions are about right for this to be a Balkan (I think it's only about 30% Virginia), but the Virginia leaf is in the usual PCCA fashion an extremely high-grade leaf (I seem to remember Hamlin claiming a 20% sugar content).
The resulting blend is truly amazing indeed -- it's the best latakia blend I have ever encountered, bar none. My tins are dated '94, so by now the leaf is completely black. The tin aroma is dark and musty, sweet and smoky, and smells like there's a spice rack in there somewhere.
It packs as easily as a cube cut, but does need a light pack for best results. It lights up fairly easily, and rarely needs a relight. Due to the high latakia (Cyprian) content it burns cool, even in my thinnest pipes the walls never get more than slightly warm.
My Ashtons have been smoking it for many years now, so it hits its stride immediately. The flavor is a combination of fig jam, spice, and a dark caramelly smokiness that is almost filling it is strong, and an aftertaste that lingers for nearly half a minute. The spiciness from the orientals is intense, deeply layered, and highly integrated with the smoky leatheriness of the Latakia. The sweetness of the virginias keeps the tobacco from drying out my throat, and provides a firm foundation for the interplay of flavors.
When this tobacco was younger, the figgy flavor was more of a plum with a slight virginia tang, and instead of caramel there was a more nutty flavor. As the flavors have matured and darkened, though, the tobacco has traded it's brightness for a rich creaminess and brooding intensity that demands, and recieves, your full attention.
The room aroma has been described by the wife as "leathery". Sort of what leather would smell like if you're sniffing it while riding in a spice caravan.
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