Brown Clunee: a worthy sibling for Old Gowrie & Hal O'The Wynd
OK, you’re probably dying to know what the heck a Clunee is. It appears to be a spelling variant of Clunie, a small settlement in Perthshire, Scotland. Perthshire used to be called Gowrie, and Rattray’s is located in Perth, Scotland – so there’s the supposed connection. Loch Clunie, Clunie Castle, and the royal forest of Clunie are also in the vicinity.
Pop the lid on a 100g tin of Brown Clunee and deeply inhale a grassy Va. and a spicy sweet strawberry jam aroma with a fermented, yeasty edge bordering on sour. The tin description says it contains only Virginia tobacco (my guess would be red and stoved red); so how one gets the esters and organic volatiles that produce such an aroma without flavorings and other amendments is a mystery to me.
The Kohlhase & Kopp website states that the blend also contains Kentucky and Perique, which explains its appearance -- a tangle of brown tone and black tobacco shreds. Perhaps the flake from which these shreds were rubbed undergoes special processing that Rattray’s doesn’t want to discuss. In any event, the pungent strawberry jam bouquet only appears faintly in the tin note and, to some extent, the finish. It’s entirely possible that it shapes and colors the smoke too, but I can’t directly detect it on the palate. In fact, in every respect the blend behaves like a completely natural non-aromatic. I smoke this at the moisture level provided.
This is a smooth, somewhat less than sharp Va. with sweetness in the darker end of the spectrum. “Brown” comes to mind by way of synesthesia; probably suggested by the name – or perhaps the reason for it. I detect little, if any citrus flavor so common in Va. flakes, although it does have a low-level tartness that keeps the salivary glands perked-up throughout the smoke and into the finish. It plays well against the hops-like grassiness of the sweet Va.
As the bowl progresses the Perique, or at least a brut prune flavor, grows in prominence. There is little in the way of Perique’s usual peppery edge; and what little pinch there is I attribute to the Va.’s natural piquancy. Eventually the entire flavor mosaic takes on a woody character – sort of an interesting development since the initial flavors seem to hold their own while the slow-to-develop prune and woody flavors add their voices to the chorus. The blend never does fade as the end of the smoke approaches. What seems to happen is that the palate is enveloped by a dry, unsweetened cocoa powder-like feel and it’s “lights out”! You look into the bowl and find dry ash staring back at you like the smile of the Cheshire cat.
Although I’ve read opinions to the contrary I think this is a rather complex blend that deserves and richly rewards your attention. It was either Pease or someone from McClelland who advised against rushing to judgment before smoking two or three ounces of any blend. That’s certainly true of Brown Clunee. A deeper level of appreciation is available to those who develop some familiarity with this blend.
Nuts & bolts: medium strength, body, and flavor; easy packing, lighting and burn; smokes slowly, dryly and coolly; no bite; low-level sharpness; low-level tartness; works best for me in smaller bowls (~ group 3) at original moisture level; lasting finish that can be described as slightly tart and faintly molasses-like in character.