BALKAN SOBRANIE ORIGINAL MIXTURE
I first encountered it while living in a small town in Northern Brabant, and was immediately hooked. It was rich, reeky, and leathery-tweedy-bookshelvey. The first tobacco that gave such a deep, resinous, and smokey flavour.
It was of course also the one tobacco that more than any other distressed people around me. My parents did not object, and I think my father actually liked the smell, being an erstwhile pipe-smoker himself. But classmates, fellow patrons of bars and cafes, kvetchedikke strangers - all saw fit to explain to me what an anti-social sinner I was and how the civilized world despaired of my presence (which may have been only partly true at that time, but has since pretty much become a self-fulfilling prophecy).
That was also the time in which I became fond of certain teas - Assam, Ceylon, Lapsang Souchong.
I associate Latakia tobacco and strong tea with autumn.
Last week was oddly warm, after the wetness of the preceding week. This week is oddly cold, and bitterly grim. Every morning has been grey, foggy, mist on the tops of San Francisco hills. Cold during much of the day. Arrogantly threatening rain, but not following through. An expression of climatic despondence.
Precisely the kind of weather in which to load up a pipe with Balkan Sobranie, sink into an armchair and read, and enjoy a nice cup of strong tea. I really wish I could do that throughout the long afternoon and into a long twilight. But by the time I get home it will be dark - twilight is too fast here.
Once I get home I will prepare strong tea. And smoke some of Cornell and Diehl's Red Odessa.
[Red Odessa is a variant on their Odessa mixture, made with Red Virginia instead of Burley. It is a straightforward, profoundly old-fashioned English Blend. Very wonderful.]
I may even go out later and taunt some of the neighbors with my smoke.
NOTES FOR THE NEUROTIC
Balkan Sobranie Original Mixture was probably around 36 percent Latakia (Syrian), 24 percent Yenidje (Turkish), and the remainder pressed Virginia with some Maryland, and perhaps a stoved Virginia or a black ribbon.
For the soggy note of aged Virginia matched with Latakia, try Germain's King Charles Mixture, Royal Jersey Latakia Mixture, or Esoterica's And So To Bed.
For that resinous Oriental perfume, try Dunhill's Durbar Mixture, or to a much lesser extent, London Mixture.
For the interplay of Latakia and Oriental supported by Virginias, try GLPease's Westminster or Cornell & Diehl's 968R (Red Odessa).
Bill Bailey's Balkan Blend will please your palate and displease your wife. Latakia, Turkish, Virginia, and fire-cured Kentucky. Robust. Rank. Rambunctious. A recommendation.
NOTE as of October 21, 2012:
The proportions of Turkish and Latakia have now been corrected to reflect the Balkan Sobranie Mixture during the Gallagher regime, which is what most smokers will have in their memory, that being what was available for the last decade that the product was available. The quality of the leaf was not as good as it had been, and the recipe had been "simplified". And keep in mind that in the Seventies, before Gallagher took over and while it was still made in England, Latakia was fifty percent of the blend - a different time, and a different style of tobacco.
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