Review by cortezattic
Capitol Stairs: My festive, holiday treat...
Capitol Stairs is an all natural Burley-forward blend with Virginia and Perique. Technically it is an aromatic, but not in the sense of a tobacco cased with chemical flavorings. It is a mix of golden and brown tone leaves in a loose, short ribbon cut, speckled with black Perique and pale green deertongue*, with a moisture level that is textbook correct.
My supply was purchased in bulk and stored in a Mason jar since Oct., 2009; and I've been sampling from it occasionally since then; so no long, uninterrupted aging has taken place. The tin note delivers an initial olfactory jolt that is not unpleasant -- just unexpected. It is the racy, spice-like odor of deertongue pleasantly married to the aroma of sweet and nutty tobaccos. As the product description suggests, it resembles the aroma of French toast as much as anything else, and possesses an ineffable yeasty sweetness and spicy allure. Just smelling this stuff puts me in a festive mood, and I find myself instinctively drawn to it around the holidays.
The focus of this blend is, of course, deertongue -- an herb sometimes called vanilla leaf, or wild vanilla, because it emits coumarin's vanilla-like odor when the leaves are crushed. Personally I don't think it has a true vanilla flavor. To me it is a spicy but pleasant herbal aromatic that is at once sweet and somewhat piquant (hot, pinching). It seems to belong in the domain of the pastry spices -- unlike, but analogous to, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, mace, etc. Russ Ouellette says it gives this blend the aroma and taste of French toast, and I can see that; but also, it reminds me of almond paste in a Danish sweet roll. Well, I think you get the drift.
As the product description suggests, the tobacco is a harmonious blend of nutty Burley and a sweet, slightly lemony Virginia. Perique ties these flavors together with a rounded, fig-like bottom note that seems indispensable. There is little, if any, of Perique's pepper-like tingle. That role seems to have been taken up by the subtle, spicy pinch of deertongue.
The blend packs, lights and burns very nicely. It produces a good volume of satisfying smoke with no gurgle, goop, dottle, or bite. The flavor profile is fairly linear -- not much in the way of an evolution of tastes as the smoke progresses; but there is something to be said for consistency: the flavor doesn't fade or go flat. The blend's flavors carry into the finish, which is slightly astringent and hints of something faintly yeasty.
To my tastes this is one of the better, sweeter deertongue blends to be found. It is best when my palate is clear and I am slightly hungry. If I smoke this more than once a day it is less enjoyable -- probably because the deertongue loses its novelty. If I could recommend any changes it would be to use a bit less deertongue. I think potent spices should nudge a blend in some direction, not dominate it. Capitol Stairs is an excellent introduction to deertongue, but I think a more subtle application of it would make this blend more sophisticated
*07/21/14, since my review of the 2009 vintage of Capitol Stairs, Russ Ouellette wrote in the PipesMagazine Forums: "To clarify- our people were concerned about using deertongue in our
blends, because of the coumarin content. No one has directly said that
it can't be used, but with the government on the warpath, why take
chances? We found a flavoring from a German company that is virtually
identical in aroma to deertongue, and began substituting it about three
years ago, and we received no complaints, and I find that the blends are
pretty much the same. It's nice when a plan comes together."