McClelland: I’m Trying to Let Go, But It Ain’t Easy

McClelland is gone, I know, but not forgotten. I thought I was one of the pipe smokers who was able to let go, to keep the period of mourning brief, and move on. After all, we live in a cornucopia of great tobacco in all genres. And yet…

I have a stash of McClelland 2015, or Virginia Perique Flake, the bulk version of St. James Woods. It is simply my favorite vaper, bar none — so rich and spicy. My local tobacconist still has an ample supply of 2015, so if I want more, I can get it. Yet I have resisted buying more on the grounds that doing so would merely delay the inevitable and push the date at which I will face a world without 2015 just a little bit further into the future. Why bother? I have several other good vapers on hand, and many others I have never tried await for me. Whenever I have flirted with the idea of buying more, but I have suppressed the urge.

So my resolution to buy no more McClelland felt firm.

Then, yesterday, at the local pipe shop I spotted something on the shelf that I had to check out. I wondered if was a tin of McClelland Rose of Latakia, a blend that includes the virtually if not actually extinct Syrian latakia. (It is heavenly.) What bothered me is that I thought I had bought the shop’s last tin of Rose of Latakia some time ago, so I wondered how I could have overlooked this one. Bounding behind the counter, I grabbed the tin and read: Blakeney’s Best Latakia Flake. It dated 2005.

Whoa! What’s this? It looked like an old McClelland label, and I was dimly aware that McClelland had a series under the name Blakeney’s Best. But I could not find McClelland’s name on the tin. It said only, “Made in the U.S.A.” It took my tobacconist, Greg McGee, to point out that the paper disc between the plastic and the metal lids said this is a McClelland product.

The tin description states:

The Best Full English – Toasted, Mellow

A distinctive full English Mixture in the grand tradition, rich with smoky Cyprian latakia, fragrant with exotic Xanthi Yaka. Toasted for smoothness, then pressed in cakes to age and marry the flavors. Exceptionally smooth, cool-smoking, full-flavored little levantine flakes ready to rub out — the Best Oriental Mixture.

It was priced at $19.25. (The tobacco tax in my state is obscenely steep.)

Wow! I quickly assessed the situation: either this is the last tin available on earth or it’s the last tin available on earth priced at $19.25. (You can find in on eBay for about $50 for 50 grams. I’m not that hooked.)

In either case, I had to have it. I plunked down my money and went home one happy pipe smoker.

I can report, after my first bowl this morning, that is is a damn fine English blend. I will savor it.

So my McClelland stash contains Blakeney’s Best Latakia Flake, Rose of Latakia, Balkan Blue, Frog Morton on the Bayou, Red and Black, Pressed Burley, and 925 (a close match for Dunhill My Mixture 965).

Not too shabby! Will this be the last McClelland I buy? Stay tuned.

McClelland: Sadly, It’s Official

Updated Feb. 4 & 5

Note the sentence “Without the supportive infrastructure our government used to provide [see Update 2 below], a small company such as ours cannot continue.” This is an obvious reference to the pending FDA rules — “deeming regulations” — that would regulate — read: stifle — pipe tobacco manufacturers and retailers. When (if?) the rules take effect, “new” blends would be very costly to introduce. And “new” wouldn’t even mean actually new, but blends that went on the market after some arbitrary past date. The original date specified was Feb. 15, 2007, though this could be changed to Aug. 8, 2016. Think of the effect on smaller companies! Moreover, retail tobacconists would be treated as manufacturers whenever they mixed two or more tobaccos already on the market and would effectively be stopped because the cost would be prohibitive. Blending might even include scooping 2 ounces from a larger bag of bulk tobacco. Other draconian rules are in the offing — such as treating pipes like tobacco products rather than accessories — unless Congress, a court, or the FDA itself scraps these outrageous rules. The compliance date is now set for 2021. This change from August of this year has been interpreted as portending a softening of the FDA’s attitude. We can hope so, but nothing short of repeal could make me feel confident that pipe and cigar smokers are safe.

More on this madness in future posts. Many in the YouTube Pipe Community are keeping up with this. On last year’s hopeful developments, see Derek Tant’s video here.

UPDATE 1: For background, see this article at Pipes and Tobacco Magazine. Pipes Magazine radio has more.

UPDATE 2: According to a statement read by Bradley at StuffandThings, the McNeils are closing McClelland not only because of the lack of quality red Virginia and the FDA threat but also because the government ended subsidies to tobacco growers (some time ago). For the record, the government never should have supported tobacco growers or any other crop or industry. Why should anyone be forced to support business people?

Goodbye, Dunhill; Goodbye, McClelland

DUNHILL-brand-crestMcClelland logo

Dunhill Tobacco of London (actually its owner, British American Tobacco) recently confirmed what has been expected for some time: its tobacco blends are now out of production. Meanwhile, it’s been reported that McClelland Tobacco Co. is closing its doors. The latter news has not yet been confirmed by the company to my knowledge, but I am unaware of a disavowal. Its website is silent on the matter. I’m assuming the worst. I hope I am wrong.

This is sad news, to put it mildly. Both companies sold many popular blends, and their demise undoubtedly disappoints many pipe smokers. Shops and online sellers still have some tins and bulk in stock, but they are getting harder and harder to find. Some are already gone.

The word is that Dunhill, a venerable name in pipes, pipe tobacco, and cigars, which markets a line of luxury goods, no longer wants its name associated with tobacco. (Oddly, cigarettes under that name will continue.) Dunhill, which began in England in 1907, is also famous for coveted high-end pipes. I don’t know what will change there. (Today, the production of the Dunhill blends is done by the giant Scandinavian Tobacco Group.)

Dunhill portrait
Alfred Dunhill (1872-1959)

McClelland, a small operation based in Kansas City, Mo., since the 1970s, first reported it would discontinue more than a dozen blends because it could not find a satisfactory crop of red Virginia tobacco. That news was bad enough since some popular blends were on that list. So the latest news came as a real shock. The problem is obviously larger than substandard red Virginia. [UPDATE: We can’t rule out impending draconian Food and Drug Administration tobacco rules as a factor in McClelland’s closing. More on this in future posts.]

I have been a fan of a few blends from each company. I’ve come to adore Dunhill Nightcap, My Mixture 965, and Elizabethan Mixture, and I’ve been working on a tin of Navy Rolls (formerly called Deluxe Navy Rolls; as I understand it, the European Union now forbids words like deluxe for tobaccos. Do you believe it?!)  The first two products are considered English blends since they have latakia and Virginias. (MM965 is also called a Scottish blend because it has Cavendish.) The latter two are Virginia-and-perique blends, known as Vapers,

Luckily, I have a small stock of each of these, so I won’t run out soon. I’ve also smoked Dunhill’s popular Early Morning Pipe, which too is considered an English. (These terms are not standardized.)

My favorites in the long McClelland line are 2015, or Virginia Perique Flake (this is the bulk name; the tinned version is St James Woods); 5100, or Red Cake (red Virginia), the Frog Morton line of English blends (except for Frog Morton’s Celler — I don’t like the whiskey flavor); Dark Star (aged Virginia), and Dark Navy Flake (a lesser aged Virginia). Alas, I have not sampled the many, many other McClelland Virginia blends. Fortunately, I’ve stocked up on 2015 and Frog Morton on the Bayou, which is a Virginia-latakia-perique blend. I also have some Balkan Blue and Syrian Super Balkan. I’m set for a while.

For those who like any blends from these companies, all is not lost. A few companies — Sutliff, 4Noggins, and Pipes and Tobacco, among them — have matches for some of the most popular Dunhill and McClelland blends. I’ve not tried many of them, so I can’t say how close they are. I have tried two, however, and to my palate, the results are uneven. Unfortunately, the ones I’ve tried were made by McClelland, so now it’s a moot point. Nevertheless, I’ll point out that to my palate McClelland’s match for My Mixture 965, which it called 925, was a very close match, but its AM Pipe, which was supposed to be like Early Morning Pipe, was way off the mark. Not only could I not taste any latakia, I disliked the taste and aftertaste. As they say, your mileage may vary. I would be willing to try any match for the disappearing blends I like.

Finally, when the reports of Dunhill’s exit first surfaced, many people expressed hope that some other company, perhaps the giant Scandinavian Tobacco Group (Lane), which is the U.S. importer of the Dunhill blends, would buy the recipes and market the blends, even if under different names. So far, I have not gotten word of this happening. No doubt smokers are praying someone will find a way to keep the McClelland blends around. I’m not optimistic. The vibes are not good.

But have no fear, the market is full of excellent blends from well-established and lesser-known names: Mac Baren, Peter Stokkebye, Cornell & Diehl, G.L. Pease, Gawith & Hoggarth (and Sam Gawith), Esoterica Tobacciana, Peterson, and too many others to list. And don’t overlook the old, established “drug store” blends: Granger, Prince Albert, Carter Hall, Half & Half, and others.

So while we’ve lost many good blends, we are not up the creek.