At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


As several of my readers know, I used to sell pipes, cigars, and tobacco.
I smoke a pipe, and have a fair hand at blending. In all modesty, I believe I am one of a handful of tabak-mayvens in Northern California (primarily because the anti-smokers have driven all the others to drink, suicide, South Carolina, or the brink of extinction).

As such, occasionally there are times when I must waffle on my blog about the noble weed. Such as now.

Joseph Izrael writes:
"I have an assignment for you. If you do it, you get a beer. Or a commission, whatever you want.

I'm still looking for that incredible blend that you smell in the traffic jam and you go "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH" what wouldn't I give for that stuff! And sure enough, after a few minutes you catch up with the old geezer with a big white mustache in a 1923 Buick Touring. You probably had a teacher smoking it too.

Oh the catch? Well, I guess you've heard of the proverbial "cheap Jew". That's me. I don't spend more than $10 for a tin. But if it's really pikuach nefesh, it can go up to $15.

Cheap Jew? What a strange concept. To a Dutchman. We Dutch have a hard-won reputation for being the cheapest penny pinchers in the ten worlds. Stingy is first-nature to us. How is copper wire made? Two Dutchmen fight over a penny. How was the rubble cleared after the last big earthquake? Some Dutchman heard there was a penny buried underneath.
I would tell more cheap Dutchman jokes, but two freebees is all you get; those things cost money.

Anyhow, pipe tobacco.

I'll need more information from you - what does it smell like? What type of blend or mixture do you think it is? Can you describe it in more detail?

Need more data than geezer's age and car...... what other tobaccos does it remind you of?

We can probably find it, or a close replica - but it will require some effort. The trade has changed since the days when that old geezer was still the typical pipe smoker.


In the meantime, here are the three tobaccos that I have been smoking recently.


This is composed of thin-ribbon cut pale Virginias and air-cureds (the tin says Burley, but it is more like Maryland), top-dressed with a plum-apricot flavouring. I should mention that an aroma of prunus spp is not unusual for matured Virginias - the Japanese and some American brands still fake the smell of well-aged tobacco for their cigarettes with a heavy plum reek.

The top-dressing fades if the tobacco is dried out a bit before smoking, and in any case does not carry over into the smoke. Nor does it leave a perceptible after-presence in the bowl.

It smokes fairly mild, with sweetness on the center of the tongue. Enjoyable, though medium high in nicotine. A short bowl is best, too deep a bowl will likely exhaust your patience. A fine product with a remarkably stupid name. The amateur detective never smoked anything like this. This is not likely to offpiss anyone other than diehard tobacco-haters, and could be smoked with pleasure several times a day.
Lipman's mention of this tobacco made me try it. I very am glad I did.


[A house blend - Grant's Tobacconists ]

This is something that Thomas at the local pipe-shop threw together after grilling me intensely about blending one evening while I was getting smashed on single malt. He must have been drinking considerably less than me, because his first batch was quite good, quite balanced. Two other experimental batches later he had the final product - the only difference being the proportions of two of the five tobaccos in relation to each other. And while he may have gotten some ideas and feedback from me, the inspiration and judgment that went into this blend are his alone. Kudos.

It is a Virginia blend with a touch of Perique. The base consists of two similar matured Virginias and an unflavoured Cavendish. There is a proportion of ribbon.

It grows on you. The taste is medium strength, leafy, and tangy because of the Perique, with a creamy sweet touch from the matured Virginias. It can be set aside and relit without concern. I've actually smoked a lot of it, all three versions while it was in development. Since then I've become the first person to actually purchase it. I find it quite enjoyable.

This is the fourteenth tobacco in Grant's current line-up of house blends, and the only one that I will smoke. If you want it, you will have to order it from them.
Brick and mortar location: 562 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94104.
PH: 415-981-1000. FX: 415-981-1310.

Made in Denmark for Peter Stokkebye Tobaksfabrik A/S

Yes, this is the so-manieth iteration of the Balkan Sobranie replacement. It is actually better than the Balkan Sasieni mixture from several years ago, which was too toasted and steamed to replicate anything other than a certain fine tobacco ponginess. I also think that the recipe has been changed - there seems to be more Turkish in the mix, less Latakia. The texture is finecut ribbon, irregular and short.

It's an excellent tobacco, profoundly old-fashioned, with a nice interplay between stinky Turk, nicotine-laden colonial, and just enough smelly Cypriote to accentuate their love-making and chase away your friends. It is of course not the Balkan Sobranie - nothing in this world will ever be like that again. But it is an excellent tobacco that not only echoes the old Balkan Sobranie, but has distinct charms of it's own. The first bowl will probably disappoint you, but halfway through the tin you may decide to go out and purchase California Tobacco Center's entire supply.

Still waiting to try Germain's King Charles Mixture, and some of the Burley mixtures from various sources. Will discuss the Samuel Gawith line-up at some point in the future.


NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.



  • At 5:04 PM, Blogger J. "יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי" Izrael said…

    Oh goodness; people still making the mistake of taking me seriously... Thanks anyway for making me world-famous. I'm sure the bullion and the groupies will start pouring in very soon...

    As per tobacco: let me make it very clear - I am NOT an afficionado. I enjoy sitting on the patio and smoking a pipe, it's better than a cigarette (although I've benn cheating on my curvacious Italian model with a fag from the Pillip Morris dynaty)that's all.

    If I could tell what tobacco it was just by smelling it, I'd have gone to the cigar store and bought it. What I suspect is that it was one of those super-duper aged blends with real perique blah blah blah. I'm certain though that it wasn't anything in the black raspeberry neighborhood. Couple it with the fact that when you smell it on the wind it's always more pleasant & fragrant than full-force on the tongue.

    Unfortunataely, my tobacco store has uniform bags for their blends, and they put the name in short ("Maple & Rum" "Vanilla", etc,) so by the time I get home I can't remember what's inside. I yanked some stuff out in your honor and found two different Latakias from McClelland, an Amaretto from some unknown company, and the rest are from the store. One of my favorites is a heavily vanilla scented all black (I think it's black Cavendish). But as I said, I'm not OCD. At least in the realms of tobacco. The easiest way to get me drool is talking music. We can discuss everything from Duke Ellington to Judas Priest via Otis Rush and Allen Holdsworth. Don't get me started.

  • At 5:10 PM, Blogger J. "יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי" Izrael said…

    PS - Next time you publish something I wrote, please at least fix the typos. You know chix don't like guys who can't smell.

    (I mean spell)

  • At 5:33 PM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    Typos have been fixed.
    All fifteen of them.

  • At 5:53 PM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    super-duper aged blends with real perique

    Just off the top of my head, these come to mind: Esoterica's Dorchester (highly recommended - complex Virginia blend with Perique); Gawith & Hogarth Louisiana Flake (highly recommended - dark flake with a touch of Perique); Escudo (recommended - sliced Virginia and Perique rounds); Esoterica's Dunbar (very highly recommended - pressed and rubbed mature Virginias and a decent proportion of Perique); Samuel Gawith Full Virginia Flake (pressed Virginia with a good rich solid flavour).

    Also in the running: Rattrays Hal o' the Wynd, Old Gowrie, and Brown Clunee. But Rattrays is not the same as it once was, being now made in Germany by a company that does not understand entirely what it is they are supposed to be doing.
    McClellands St. James Woods is a possibility. But all McClellands have a slight "ketchuppy" pong, due to the malt-vinegar in the mold retardant they use.

    One of my favourite "old-time" Virginias is Samuel Gawith's 1792 flake: dark pressed Virginias with a tonquin oil addition. The aroma is reminiscent of something vanilla-ish, medicinal, sweet herbal. Smells either like an ancient hotel lobby, a crusty old public house, or a pubescent girl's preference in bubblegum and underwear spray, depending on your point of view (or point of smell).

    I'll keep thinking about the issue.

  • At 6:00 PM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    Oh, and another thing: all the blends I've mentioned are still available in the US, and can be ordered from several different sources. Find a mail-order tobacconist in a low-tax state, and see what others say about the level of service and reliability.

    I'm not much help there, as the only tobaccos I buy by mail are blending tobaccos from Cornell and Diehl.

  • At 7:12 PM, Blogger J. "יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי" Izrael said…

    Gee, that's more than what I get in two years...

    the big bucks now go to the firearm meshigass, so I guess tobacco will wait. Or will it?

    Just one more request - it's always either Yossi or Joe. None of the Yossef/Joseph thing, pls. That's only in the passport.

  • At 7:15 PM, Blogger J. "יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי" Izrael said…

    Wot, just 15 typos in such a long letter? I keep gettin better and better with age!

  • At 1:38 AM, Blogger Lipman said…

    Balkan Sasieni - that's good news, maybe I should give it another try. Having smoked it, I understand your feelings about Balkan Sobranie, but I'm not sure it can never be redone.

    McClelland - I just tried their Honeydew from the 221b series, and believe it or note, it's the first that isn't ketchuppy.

  • At 10:25 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…


    The other thing to bear in mind (which you probably have already discovered) is that any product that consists primarily of Virginias must be smoked slow. If they overheat they turn bitter, sour, and nasty, and take huge chunks out of your tongue. On the other hand, unlike the English, Balkan, and Scottish-Oriental mixtures, they can be re-lit, even a number of times, without significant depreciation.

    McClellands are less enjoyable than Samuel Gawith. Samuel Gawith's Best Brown Flake and 1792 Flake are both extrmely satisfying. I haven't seen the Best Brown recently (so it might be of limited availability), but their Full Virginia Flake is getting more popular (well, going from one old coot in a moldering retirement home behind the swamp to a couple of hundred middle-aged farts sent to the garage by their wives - hardly a popular movement of vast proportions there).

    The Samuel Gawith Full Virginia Flake is also an excellent product. The local tobacconist sells it for $11.95, so it's probably cheaper elsewhere in the country. Needs a bit of drying for optimal smokeability.

  • At 10:29 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…


    The Balkan Sasieni comes in a 50 gramme round flat tin (like Dunhills, Peterson's, and the old Balkan Sobranie). The blurble on the back reads: "Original formula Balkan smoking mixture was created in London at the beginning of the century by the master Tobacco Blenders who first combined the aromatic pleasures of the choicest Macedonia and Latakia leaf with the richness of Old Virginia to give the pipe smoker an unrivalled smoking pleasure."

    Tobacco merchants should not write their own blurbles. They wax too prolix and verbose.

  • At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I prefer a pipe also but just for green tobacco

  • At 10:40 AM, Blogger J. "יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי" Izrael said…

    BOTH -

    Right next to my cigar store was a Tower Records, so I used to be there more often. For one reason or another I preferred their own stuff to the commercially available tins, although I think thay heave less of that. But there's a lot of stuff online. Next Tuesday the new Priest album comes out (although it's already ont the web - very good but very different from anything they've done till now) so I'll go to Best Buy which is in the same area. I'll check out those blends you suggested. Someone also recommended a Dunhill for me, but I already forgot the name. That store has though a whole selection of DUnhill basics that they concoct and flavor themselves, I guess I'll try something. BTW Re your article 'Good Advice' - here's some good advice: stay away from Beck's 'Oktobersfest'. They should have labelled it Drekkfest. I actually like their pils and the dark, but this for some reason is an abomination. Stick to Czech beers, and chances are you'll be better off. I know of 3 marketed in the states, Czechvar (originally, Budvar, name restricted to AB's copyrights), Burgerbrau and BrouCzech. They're all excellent.

    PS - the 'unknown' tobacco I mentioned in first comment is called "Tobacco Galleria", and is called Almondine not Amaretto. Wow! I also have one called 'blue note' from the same company, I liked it. So maybe cheap is not necessarily crap (at leat for this amateur).

  • At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    We Dutch have a hard-won reputation for being the cheapest penny pinchers in the ten worlds.

    Clearly, Indians are Dutchmen squared. Or even cubed.

    ---Grant Patel

  • At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You don't know cheap.

    I know cheap.

    Twenty five cents.

    ---Grant Patel

  • At 9:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Seems we've stomped the same turf in days gone by. I used to frequent Grant's on Market and Drucquer & Sons back in the 70's...good old days indeed.


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