Penzance. What can you say about a tobacco so magical and elusive that it has entire fansites about it? It has the fanbase of a fictional anime or some kind of bizarre film. There are people who spend hours a day putting their names on lists and making documents and spreadsheets and getting credit card information ready just so they can get a single bag of the mighty Penzance. What is this all about?
The resale on the stuff is Amazing. An 8oz bag of Penzance costs around $40 at my local tobacconist, which is the only place I have ever found it. If someone wants to flip it on eBay, that can get upwards of $200 for the stuff. My tobacconist Matt says that is why they don’t sell it all to one person. People get mad. It would be easier to sell it all to one place, but you do that and then they start selling it and making even more money. It becomes a cycle where only certain people can have the blend and everyone else is missing out.
But why? What makes Penzance so damn amazing? Why do people put so much energy into a tobacco that is so difficult to find? And the next question is if you find some, should you even smoke it? Do you want it to become your favorite tobacco in the world so you can join the rest of the Penzance Army in a never-ending search for that leaf? What kind of hobby is that? Just chasing something.
I can answer the first question. Penzance is amazing because it tastes like nothing else on the market. It is strong and sweet, and creamy and sour and floral and beautiful. Yes, you will meet people who say that it’s just no big thing. Penzance is just another tobacco that people fawn over and they have no interest in it at all. But there are so many blends out there which attempt to dethrone the mighty Penz. Who buys them? What are they chasing? There’s Quiet Nights, and Special Latakia Flake, Star of the East Flake, Brebbia Latakia Flake, or Smoker’s Haven Krumble Kake they all are claimed to come close, and then you have people like Nate who say this:
“Penzance is overrated garbage. The only people who smoke that trash are egotistical douche nozzles… like myself. I’ve yet to find anything “Penzance-like”. No, I’m not saying there aren’t any other good tobaccos, but when I’m craving Penzance there simply aren’t any to replace it. This is one reason it’s hoarded.”
Penzance is associated with hoarders and flippers and douchebags because it brings out the worst parts of our hobby, but is that the fault of the leaf? No. This is just how people operate. Something becomes hard to find, it gets pushed up to the top of the buyer list. Only the higher up folks can have it because they have inexhaustible currency to throw at the hobby to make it their own. Next thing you know, all the people on the bottom who want to smoke the leaf get annoyed that they can’t find it. They hate the people who can. They want to try it, but even if they could, do they want it to be good?
I’m smoking some now in Savinelli pipe, a piazza di Spagna 645 that is pretty much dedicated to Penzance and Special Latakia Flake (the only other leaf I’ve ever had that compares to Penzance). I get my SLF from a friend in Liverpool who has trouble finding Penzance because it is basically an American Market Blend. If you want something like it over there, you have to get yourself some SLF and deal with not having the best stuff on the market for that taste profile, but something kind of close. He says that SLF doesn’t taste like Penz, but I disagree. Either way, he still likes his Penzance and has some in his cellar because when he wants some, it hits the spot. That’s Penzance for you.
When you want some, there is nothing else like it out there that can scratch that itch and that, in itself, can be maddening.
So what is the flavor profile and what makes it so special?
Let’s look at Penzance and break it down, in case you never get to try it for yourself. As I’ve said, it is an earthy, briny, sour-sweet blend. When you open a tin, you can smell the ocean in it, salt and crystals and sand and some flowers in the distance. The flakes are soft and malleable. They fall apart like a buttered poundcake the moment you get them in your fingers. So it’s not really a flake. More like a crumble. It is black as night and oily. If you get it in a tin, often times the paper it is packed with will be soiled with the goods of the leaf and smell like shoe polish or tar. It normally has some sugar crystals on it as well. No one knows how long Germain’s ages the stuff, but it must be for some time in order for it to come to fruition as it does.
Penzance is made of three tobaccos that are mottled together into one. Latakia, Virginia, and Oriental/Turkish tobacco. For my nose, it is the Oriental/ Turkish that takes the top seat in Penzance.
It is not a Latakia bomb, which may surprise many who read this. The Latakia is added with a slight hand and articulately placed to back up the Oriental/Turkish tastes. Which is why the blend is so briny and salty. It’s not cased in any way, so you are getting a straight tobacco taste that is not unlike the smell of shoe polish or fermented vegetables. It is strong and fermented and tasty. The sour taste that comes off of the Turkish/Oriental leaf is exotic and mouth-watering with a sweetness that undeniable and a nice floral essence that keeps you guessing. The Virginia is sweet and fruity, it backs up the trifecta and makes sure that everything is groovy and tasty by filling in the gaps in the flavor profile and bringing the whole blend together with sweetness. The briny, salty goodness meshes with the sweet and the savory and you get an experience that will knock your socks off. Seriously. It is that good. Just check out some the reviews on TobaccoReviews.com, I’m not the only one in love with this stuff.
It burns cool and slow and makes the whole room smell amazing. There is no dottle or wetness in the tobacco, it burns to a fine white ash that is very light and fluffy. You want to keep smoking it and smoking it because it is the best thing you have ever had in your pipe.
This is Penzance. Now you know as much as anyone else knows. Go forth and find it for yourself, but don’t expect the journey to be an easy one. As I said, there are droves of people who love the stuff. It is HARD to find. Get it in a tin, or in a bag and cherish it once you have it because you have found a tobacco that not many have had the honor of tasting. Smoke it. Age it, because the Virginia in the mix makes it age like a fine wine.
If you can find it, dedicate a pipe to it. It deserves at least one pipe of it’s own. I actually have two pipes that are only for Penzance and Penzance wannabes, mostly SLF.
Once you have it, you will be part of the cult of Penzance. Another member in a long list of people who want the elusive leaf and will stop at nothing to get that next bag of it.