Roll Cake is a bright, lemony spun cut Va.
I opened a 6 month old tin of Roll Cake and was somewhat surprised to discover a tightly packed and haphazard array of clumped tobacco coins. The presentation was nothing so neat as Dunhill Navy Rolls or Escudo; and in that respect, more like Bell’s Three Nuns. They were about ¾“ diameter and 1/16” thick coins of spun tobacco in various honey and brown tones – many of them mottled with flecks of bird’s eye, surrounding a core of black tobacco quite similar to Stokkebye’s Bulls Eye Flake. I transferred them to a ½ pint Mason jar and managed to keep most of the coins from falling apart, which they seemed inclined to do most readily.
The first 4 or 5 bowls I smoked stung like angry wasps regardless of whether I stacked the coins in the bowl or rubbed them out; but the allure of a wonderful lemony bright and sweet Virginia flavor piqued my interest in this blend, and motivated me to resolve the bite problem. This is a most challenging and rewarding blend that must be approached with patience and attention to one’s smoking technique. Eventually I found the correct combination of pipe and puffing cadence to match my choice of packing: either stacking whole coins or rubbing them into beautiful thin ribbons. I now randomly stack the whole coins in a thick-walled hawkbill or bulldog. If I rub-out the coins, or use the shag-like threads from coins that have fallen apart, I dry them with a hot air blower and pack them like any ribbon cut tobacco. But the order of the day is slow smoking! (How many times have you heard that?)
Once the smoker works these things out to his satisfaction, I think the controversy over Mac Baren’s reputation for tongue bite will be put to rest. Roll Cake does produce a tingling, maybe even pinching sensation on the tongue and inner lips; but I wouldn’t call it bite so much as an astringency, and a keen sensation that serves to perk-up one’s taste buds.
Although I think the roll cake format is technically a flake, Mac Baren’s offering doesn’t have the intensified flavor and sharp, grassy character of typical Va. flakes. Rather, it produces a bright, delicate flavor in the fruity end of the Virginia tobacco spectrum, with tangy lemon high notes visited occasionally by ethereal wisps of yeast and cereal flavors. This is a sweet blend, which accounts for the hot-burning properties that one needs to keep in check; but it is just a simple sugar sweetness – nothing terribly complex.
There are darker, bottom-end flavors supporting the bright, lemony Va.’s – which I can only suppose are coming from the black Cavendish core of the flake. There isn’t a lot of clarity in these darker flavors, but they do integrate well with the Virginias. Since the core is a Cavendish, presumably in the Danish style, one would assume it has steamed, cased and pressed tobaccos. So it’s anybody’s guess has to how the darker flavors are created, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that there might even be a pinch of condiment tobacco like Latakia and Perique – employed in vanishingly small quantities so as not to be discerned, yet providing balance and structure, more than complexity of flavor.
As one approaches the bottom of the bowl, delighting in the lemony citrus tastes and astringent finish, a touch of
toasted burnt marshmallow sweetness emerges with some bitter edges characteristic of carbonized sugar. It smokes dryly and completely to ash, leaving a lasting citrus and astringent finish – especially on the inner lips.
Roll Cake’s most prominent characteristics, aside from its need to be tamed by prudent puffing, are the astringency on the tongue and inner lips, and the sweet-tart fruity character of the Virginias. I find myself drawn to it when I’m considering my next smoke because the memory of its bright, lemon tobacco taste is sufficient to detonate my salivary glands and trigger a craving. It is a mild blend; it has mild nicotine strength; reasonably good balance; good body and mouth feel; and it develops a good volume of smoke. This roll cake is much more lively and zesty than the mellower Stokkebye Bulls Eye Flake; and I think that those who enjoy the latter will also like Roll Cake as a different take on the Cavendish flavored spun Virginias.