Mac Baren HH Vintage Syrian

As many observant pipe smokers know, Syrian Latakia is a dying blending component surrounded by considerable lore. If you’ve read and checked the sources in my Barling 1812 Tradition Full review, you also know some of the reasons behind this shortage. So when a manufacturer claims that their blend contains a ratio of Syrian Latakia that’s “a little under half of the volume,” heads turn, and people notice.

I certainly turned my head and noticed. HH Vintage Syrian was at the top of my list of Syrian Latakia containing blends (above Barling 1812 and several others). I really had to have it. So I bought some. This particular tin is dated December 2015, at a time when Syrian Supplies were forecasted to last only a few more years.

Of course, such a dying commodity is not without some debate and uncertainty as to whether the Syrian supply has already dried up, and also whether or not Vintage Syrian has recently been “cutting” the recipe with Syrian Latakia’s Cyprian counterpart.

In my research, I’ve discovered that much of the commercial Syrian supply is probably already dried up, and if not, it will be very soon. Planta Tabak Berlin might still have some, but this cannot be confirmed or denied. As for Mac Baren “diluting” Vintage Syrian with Cyprian leaf, that does not seem to be the case. The recipe has apparently not changed since the 2006 introduction of the blend. For more reading, please visit The Dutch Pipe Smoker’s article on this subject.

For now though, let’s take a look at this tin of HH Vintage Syrian. Which I have here with me right now. And so we can smoke it together.


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A pungent smell stabs out into the room whenever I flip open this lid.

THE BASICS:

Mac Baren HH Vintage Syrian is a Balkan style blend containing Dark Fired Kentucky, Syrian Latakia, Virginia, and Oriental tobaccos. The tin description elaborates:

“[the latakia] gives the the blend the overall “smoky” taste. To add a spicy note…Turkish Oriental has been added. [Virginia tobaccos] add a sweet natural taste. [For] depth and body, we added some Dark Fired Kentucky from USA.”

It’s not often you get a tin description this long. The above is a mere abridged version of the verbose full-paragraph details printed on the back of the tin. Love it.

I purchased this 100g tin from SmokingPipes.com for $17.86. It is also available from several other major online markets, and I would imagine prices going up as supplies dwindle. From what I can gather, the blend is still being produced, however it will probably be discontinued in 2018. [1]


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The twiggy coarse-cut leaf is a tangle of dark brown.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

This particular tin has been jarred for about a month. The note is smoky but acrid, with a sour tang that sharply pierces the musty forest-floor undertone. There are hints of spiciness and citrus. Yes definitely, HH Vintage Syrian smells tart, very tart, like warm wine. The varietal imitated is a dry white of some kind, maybe a sharp sherry or an earthy white Bordeaux. The faintest dark fruit awaits those who really fill their lungs with the bouquet.

The cut is quite gnarled and stringy, like roots or random lengths of thread and yarn mixed together. Because of the dark color palette, it is difficult to tell which leaves are which. Of course, one can safely assume the Syrian Latakia dominates the landscape here.

This particular batch is medium dry, no more or less moist than when the tin was first opened. Almost perfect, but some minutes in the open air will make a wise investment.


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My trusty La Strada Volare Bent Bulldog. Always eager to run through a bowl (or three) of English style tobaccos. Much like its owner.

THE SMOKE:

The first light is earthy and round, but with a noticeable tang. Peppery and spicy flavors emerge early but the musty nature of HH Vintage Syrian keeps everything very balanced. It’s full flavored and almost meaty, but with no sign of bite, even though the smoke is somewhat warm. The retrohale is big and spicy, with a coppery flavor in the back of the throat.

That mustiness, though. It’s not what I would call an “attic” flavor; it’s more fresh and alive than that, like exotic mushrooms or black tea. Its counterpart, the tannic wine flavor, provides brightness and flourishes with lots of body. Even so, one is left with the impression that the heavy Latakia usage here may have eroded some of the nuances of the other components. In either case, there’s a toasted quality to the smoke and room note that is quite pleasant to me, but is perhaps a touch too acrid for non pipe smokers.


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That gorgeous tin art really distinguishes itself. Even if it didn’t say “SYRIAN” in big, yellow, block letters.

The second half provides more minerality and wood flavors. Oriental spice becomes more apparent here, but things are always tempered by the wine musk of the Syrian Latakia. Creamy and peppery, there’s a piney undertone towards bowl’s end.

Honestly, the sour and smoky flavors mix together very well here, but they never become very complex. I think this lack of pretension is actually refreshing, as I had built up and attached a sort of unrealistic internal lore to HH Vintage Syrian before I experienced it, and now that I have experienced it, I’ve been brought back to reality where there exists this delicious and smoky Balkan.

Should you stock up on this one? I think with prices the way they are, it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Even if you have reservations about Balkans in general, or even if you prefer Cyprian Latakia (many do), you never know if your tastes will further develop and one day you’ll be cursing yourself for not grabbing at least a tin.

It might not be for everyone, but soon it won’t be for anyone.

Need pipes, tobacco, and supplies? You might be surprised what Amazon has to offer:

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