The question "What is an English blend" has been asked more than once. Opinions on the topic outnumber the myriad blends by a wide margin, but one blend seems to assimilate all others. That product is Dunhill - My Mixture 965. So I began my research there, with a blend purported to be "like 965". It is supposedly blended in the same factory, by the same blender, and even from the same ingredients, but sold under a pseudonym. More importantly, it's distributed in the United States, thus available to me. I'm not sure who makes it <coff-Orlik-ahem> or what they call it when they sell it, because my local tobacconist puts it in a bulk jar labeled simply "965". But she swears it to be the big D's identical twin and won't divulge her sources. Fair enough. If Mr. Dunhill wishes to discuss the results of this comparison, he should begin by sending me a package containing samples of his entire product line to give me some perspective. The blends compared in this editorial consist of Davidoff English Mixture, Sutliff Sunrise Smoke, Samuel Gawith's Skiff Mixture, Esoterica Margate, Tinder Box Epicurean, and the aforementioned "Bulk 965". What's that you say? One of these isn't an English blend? I guarantee only two of these were ever in England for more than a day or two. Some likely have never been exposed to the mother tongue. But the qualification process was arduous, I assure you, and a number of products did not even make the cut. I began round one with what I perceive to be the lightest smoke of this collective effort, Davidoff English Mixture, in a Butz Choquin bent bulldog. Upon opening the tin, I stuck my face into the paper and sniffed deeply. A sweet aroma of baled straw with a slight bitter note at the rear. Appearance was attractive: blonde and auburn ribbons flecked with blue-black latakia. Upon lighting, I first noticed the green taste of Virginias and some Perique tickling my nose, then the gentle nuttiness of the burly, but the lack of Latakia flavor was conspicuous. I know its in there because I saw it, but almost undetectable on the palate. Not very English, but it does have a British flag and the words "English Mixture" on the tin. Its like if you combined Mac Baren's Mixture and Navy Flake and smoked them through a HEPA filter. Made in Denmark, and expensive to boot. This high-quality tobacco stays lit, burns nicely all the way to the bottom, doesn't gurgle or bite, and comes in last in this contest. The second round was Sutliff Sunrise Smoke in a GBD Super "Q". Not a "tin" exactly. More of a foil-lined cardboard tube with a plastic cap, as if it were an off-brand of mixed nuts. But the aroma was good, with a definite Latakia presence and some sweetness on the side. This mixture displayed lots of black Latakia flakes, mingled with some brown and a few golden ribbons. It took the flame readily. Flavor was sweet, lightly smoky, and genuinely "Englishy". The overall bouquet was well blended, balanced, and appropriately light for a morning smoke. In the interest of full disclosure, this is my regular morning smoke in this very pipe, a combination I find predictably enjoyable with no surprises to set me off on the wrong foot. This blend never overpowers, never bites, and always burns clean to the bottom. A winner in its class, that being the category of American-made-English. Round three was Samuel Gawith's Skiff Mixture; a proper tobacco in a proper tin; abstract art of a small "skiff" sailboat, and the simple qualification "Manufactured in the heart of English Lakeland for 200 years". Aroma was sweet, smoky, spicy, mediciney, leathery, and a hint of tomato soup. The visual presentation was further humbly understated in the presentation of wide ribbons of tan, brown, and black, which packed easily into a Duke of Kent straight bulldog. The real magic happened when fire was applied. This tobacco sprang to life with a sharp flavor which I can only describe as "truly Englishy". The first puff tickled my nose, then filled my head with a rich, bitter, smoky flavor of Cyprian Latakia and the sweet emerald note of Oriental spice. This aroma makes me think 965 with the volume turned down to a level mom wouldn't complain about. As with all Sam Gawith's products, it behaves itself properly in the pipe. This round goes to the English, who know how to make a proper English tobacco. Round four brought a whole new level of competition: Esoterica's Margate, self-touted as "Best Full English Tobacco". I would have to see about that, since the label decoration could readily adorn a tin of cupcakes at a bake-sale. Tin aroma was superior. The delicate smoky scent of Cyprian Latakia blended perfectly with a gentle sweetness from the Virginias and Orientals, overall reminiscent of the aroma of a public library severely smoke-damaged after a minor fire. Appearance was also superior, with long blonde and auburn ribbons interspersed with black cut-flakes of Cyprian Latakia so aged it looked almost salty. I was barely able to control myself as I managed to pack only half the bowl of a Peterson XL305. Though moisture content seemed appropriate at mostly-dry, this tobacco requested a charring first. I obliged and awaited my turn. The second application illiced continuous gobbets of smoke into my hungry mouth. This smokes like a meal of sirloin, but begs to be nibbled. This has a possibility of getting warm in the mouth and nose, though apparently forgiving. As I calmed down, I settled in for a lovely smoke that lasted quite a long time. One relight just past halfway, finishing with nary a hint of bitterness or ash. Another victory for the British Isles. Round five brings a curious contender, claiming to be "from England", TinderBox's Epicurean. Upon opening the ziplock, I detected a note of vanilla. Perhaps an accent picked up from spending too much time with its neighbor, Wilshire? Also a little smoky-sweet aroma, but nothing stood out. The appearance is another story. This is a mess of chopped, cubed, cut, broken, and crumbled biomass reminiscent of a granola bar left too long in one's back pocket mixed with a cigar put through a pencil sharpener. I selected a Preben Holm freehand as the appropriate ladle with which to scoop this substrate. A quick swallow of Constant Comment assured I would not be confusing this for a second helping of my previous meal. First application of flame left only a slight smoldering. Chunks don't light without kindling or coals, so I endeavored to increase its energy level by another joule or two. The pipe didn't actually light, but my mouth was filled with the hot smoke of burning cardboard. That's Burley. I turned up the valve and torched for a third time. Burley, Latakia, and some topping. Some other more delicate flavors were present, but by that time I was unwilling to continue to attempt to discern them because my nasal cavity had become inflamed from exposure to the hot burley smoke. Adding Syrian Latakia to Burley kibble doesn't make me think of England, even if it did have a layover at Heathrow. I call shenanigans. This contender is disqualified. So with three wins and two losses, we find our way to the main event. Round six brings us a masked challenger from parts unknown. Pungent smoke and sharp cheese came to mind when I put my face into the jar. A bitter aroma of coal tar with a subtle nutty sweetness just behind it. This stuff doesn't look like a prize fighter. Mostly black Latakia pieces intermingled with some sort of golden brown cavendish and some haphazardly cut ribbons. I packed the Butz Choquin Billiard about halfway and hesitated before lighting. Then I was all in. I sent the flame down the bowl and began to pull gently. I got some smoky sweetness. I puffed once more, a little harder. My nose tickled from the sharpness of the flavor. MMMmmmm. If the Margate was sirloin, this is prime rib with the fatty edges charred just right, and Skiff is what you get when you're just smelling it from outside the window. Not quite as full a flavor as Margate, yet easier and and satisfying. The smoke almost seems to have a creamy consistency that melts in my mouth. No bite, no matter how ravenously I devour it. The more I smoke, the more I notice a sweet, nutty note bringing up the rear with some spice singing harmony. How do they do that? A clear victory for the anonymous. Who is this masked contender? Is it Dunhill's deported progeny traveling under an assumed name, or just a good imposter?