Admittedly, it was hard doing a review on something like this - a one-of-a-kind tobacco, in exceedingly limited quantities. It'd be such a letdown for me to talk this blend up, considering the fact that it could be nearly impossible for those who read this review to actually acquire some. However, this tobacco is amazing, so let's begin and hope not too many people get too torn up about not having any of it.
The tobacco I'll be reviewing is the tin that I purchased last year; according to the gentleman I bought it from, he acquired it in the mid-70's, and after emailing Mac Baren directly about this tin and the second tin I picked up this year, they confirmed that they hadn't worked with either distributor since the mid-70's. I opened the tin to try some at the show last year (exactly a year ago this weekend), and promptly jarred it up when I got home. It's a bit on the dry side, but for the sake of keeping it in good shape, I've pretty well left it alone.
Upon opening the jar, I'm greeted with an extremely strong aroma of figs, cherries, stewed fruits, and an almost musty scent; not of mold, but more akin to something that's barely begun the fermentation process. I suspect this has much more to do with the actual age of the tobacco than any bugs that may have gotten in between opening the tin and jarring the tobacco. It's a very dark tobacco, with a base color very similar to Samuel Gawith's FVF, with brighter stripes running through it, almost like tiger stripes.
Once packed and lit, the tobacco lights and burns easily, though a bit sharp on the tongue during lighting. One thing to keep in mind with this older bit of Navy Flake, Mac Baren used predominantly Burley tobacco as the base, with Virginia and Cavendish acting more like condiments.
The flavor is very mellow, with the fruit flavors present, but quite subtle. After the first 15 minutes or so, the tobacco develops a very light spice, reminiscent of Turkish, with a hint of sourness not unlike some zestier lemon Virginias. If I had to guess, I'd say owing to the Burley and the age this tobacco has, the mellow base present at the beginning continues to be present without overbearing - it reminds me of cocoa-powder coated almonds, or those little Ferrero-Rocher hazelnut candies: creamy, not too sweet, and an earthiness that stays as even and present as rolling plains. Interestingly enough, the tobacco doesn't really impart a strong aftertaste between puffs, keeping my palate pretty free and open. Every puff is fresh and new, and I find it hard to get tired of this tobacco. Near the end of the bowl, the sugars and nicotine start to concentrate, with the blend becoming slightly sharp around the edges, and while not overbearing there's enough nicotine there to remind you of its presence.
All in all, this blend isn't like most of our modern Navy Flakes - earthy, rich, and somewhat sweet, I'd say it's closer in flavor and body to something like Fribourg & Treyer's Special Brown Flake, or even the Sam Gawith Navy Flake, though not quite as stout as the latter.
I'll admit, I'm still absolutely shocked at how strong and sweet the tin note is. It's like putting figs and cherries in a pot of cider on the stove and stewing them up. Between that and just how full and mellow the tobacco is, it's a very impressive blend after 40-something years.