Mac Baren Original Choice. One of the stock responses to the frequently uttered question, “what’s a good pipe tobacco for beginners?” Certainly, this blend has been widely reviewed, and the word “beginner” will be peppered throughout any long list of opinions.
Additionally, one might point towards Original Choice when asked “what’s a good aromatic to begin with?” That’s how I discovered the stuff, after smoking English blends my first few months as a pipe smoker. Looking to branch out into aromatics, I inquired and this Mac Baren was highly — and often — recommended.
Speaking of novices, even Mac Baren claims:
“Original Choice is a revolutionary new pipe tobacco which will appeal to the “novice” pipe smoker, the younger generation…”
How does it appeal to novices, you ask?
“Many new pipe smokers like a soft, sweet tobacco, but have a hard time finding one that doesn’t hurt their tongue. Original Choice solves that problem.”
No tongue bite? We’ll just see about that. Full disclosure, I’ve smoked this blend many times, both as a novice, and an intermediate pipe smoker. So this is not a true first impression ride-along evaluation, like I usually try to do. But if any tobaccos in my modest cellar merit review, this oft-recommended blend is surely among them.
In any case, let’s see if Mac Baren Original Choice can appeal to a more seasoned smoker.
Mac Baren Original Choice is a Burley, Cavendish, and Virginia blend:
“Carefully blended [for a] sweet, rounded and exciting taste.”
Sweet and exciting. Round, too. Ok, I can get behind that.
I bought this 100g tin from SmokingPipes.com for $11.46. The blend is currently in production and should be relatively easy to find.
This particular tin was packaged in June 2016 until I opened and jarred it about a month ago. Opening the jar now and a creamy vanilla scent rises. There’s a pleasant nutty aroma, perhaps hazel or walnut, and a sweet molasses tang comes to the forefront. There is also some fruit here, raisin or fig or even plum. However, it is difficult to determine whether the fruits spring from the tobaccos or their casing. Very mild, mellow and well-sorted mixture, this one is. I struggle to isolate and pin down any one component, it’s almost its own singular smell.
Original Choice has a very original aroma.
The moisture level here is perfect. I’m remembering it was very close to perfect when I first opened the tin. Very user-friendly. The ribbon cut is also loose and not at all tacky, and so handling and packing Original Choice is a breeze. Black and tan streaks are evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
That aroma though. When you have such an agreeable jar note, the tendency is to inhale deeper and deeper, until your eyes are closed and your face is touching the rim of the jar. I might climb inside the container, were I able to fit. This blend is sweet and soft and practically invites you in with the promise of a comfy, cozy smoke.
The first light brings hazelnut and vanilla, with a slight grassy spice that really livens things up. It’s bright but very mellow, with that hard-to-describe sweet umami the jar note alludes to. It really is a labor to extract these flavors. Mac Baren has blurred the lines between just to the point of nuance, stopping short of over-mixture. Soon, a savory sort of nutty spice emerges, like holiday spice but without the cinnamon.
The room note is reminiscent of Black and Mild cigars, without any cloying sweetness. There’s maple and honey and a compelling cedar wood spice. Retrohales are pleasantly spicy, and the soft and creamy body of the smoke is very forgiving. Still, one finds some complexity here that would appeal to even the most expert smokers.
In the second half the aromatics fall back and a simple sweet Virginia tobacco flavor steps forward. Very vibrant still, with a grassy and almost citrus character. A soft minerality develops, but it is more stone than copper. Things stay mellow, bite free, and very tasty right down to the bare briar.
For something that is so often recommended to new pipe smokers, Original Choice sure has a certain aspect of complexity. The well blended, but still nuanced flavors are unique, in the literal sense. Though one might justifiably compare it to certain Captain Black entries, or even American Delight, neither of those have the intriguing commingling of flavors that one finds here. Granted, the complexity of Original Choice is softer, and harder to get at than other blends, and so an observant, well-seasoned smoker may be required to uncover all its treasures.
I’m not sure I’m a novice, or a well-seasoned smoker, but I have had some fantastic early morning sessions with Original Choice. Really, it’s good any time. But a dim, rainy morning spent with a bowl of Original Choice and a cup of hot tea is time very well spent.
No matter how long you’ve been a pipe smoker.
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