BALKAN SOBRANIE ARTICLE BY G. L. PEASE
It is a significant essay, which pipe smokers will find well-worth reading.
BALKAN SOBRIETY by G.L. Pease
One of the things he reveals is that the original recipe contained 50% Latakia, which would put it exactly in line with several other well-known mixtures, including what was probably the most popular blend at Drucquer & Sons in Berkeley.
The proportion of 'Coarse Cut Turkish' was 20%. The other tobaccos are unidentifiable, but were most likely flue-cured products.
I have not smoked a significant quantity of the Gallagher versions of Balkan Sobranie - his evidence establishes that Gallagher tinkered with the recipe several times, reducing the Latakia content - and as far as the Drucquer mixtures are concerned I did not smoke them after the early eighties either, as I was going through a bit of a non-smoking spell.
By the time I woke up, both Drucquers and Balkan Sobranie had disappeared.
That fifty percent proportion is very interesting. When I started blending on my own again, I remembered what I had smoked before among the Druquer spectrum, and compounded accordingly.
The Latakia was not the same as it once had been.
Many of the varietal Virginias and other American tobaccos that were available to Drucquers were no longer made.
Black Virginia Ribbon was nowhere to be found.
Consequently my first efforts, while conceptually similar to what I had liked in the past, were unsmokeable monstrosities.
This was back around the turn of the century, and since then I have come up with better personal mixtures.
Of some of them I've made several batches over the years.
It wasn't till Marty Pulvers at Sherlock's Haven on Battery Street introduced me to Greg's products that I realized that actually there were still many fine tobaccos well worth smoking. My initial stockpiling of the new era was several dozen cans of Greg's blends, significantly Kensington and Blackpoint.
Since then I've also put aside a few score tins of Westminster.
Et autres. Lots of autres.
G. L. Pease learned at Drucquer's that age makes a difference.
Age was something that many of the factories in operation since the sixties did not fully understand. They had streamlined their production methods, tightened up their supply chains, and by the eighties what had taken years from farm to smoker was often a much younger, "fresher" product. Some old-style manufacturers had been notorious for having blending stocks older than the owner's grandchildren.
In the modern era, tying up funds for that length of time lessened competitiveness, especially when others kept no more on hand than what was needed for the next production run.
The effect of increased efficiencies on the blends was noticeable over time.
Retail tobacconists and wholesalers also tightened up their stocking practices.
That too had its effect.
Even if the composition was EXACTLY the same as it always had been, it no longer yielded the same end-result.
Robert Rex at Drucquer's understood the effect of age on tobacco.
Greg Pease understood the effect of age on tobacco.
When I first popped open a tin of Greg Pease's Kensington, it reminded me of the smell from tins of Balkan Sobranie when I first became fond of the mixture back in Valkenswaard.
My tobacconist at the time had a supply which had been acquired years before, and I was the first customer in a very long time to develop a fondness for stinky English offerings, as the vast majority of his clientele prefered cigarettes or Dutch cigars. At some point he ran out of stock, and I survived on various other products, including some Dunhill mixtures that had been gathering dust. The newer supply didn't taste quite the same, and when I returned to the States in 1978, the Balkan Sobranie here did not taste the same either.
A certain smell was missing. Plus something else.
Was it really Balkan Sobranie? I had doubts.
But it did have the right amount of Latakia.
So it kept me happy for a while.
THAT CREOSOTE REEK
Nowadays I do not use more than about 42.5% Latakia in my own experimental mixtures. And really, given the blending tobaccos available to the average consumer, 36% to 40% is probably best. This week I've smoked several bowls of something I put together a few months ago that's around thirty percent Latakia, the rest being mostly a medium red Virginia flake, plus some other stuff including Turkish.
The proportions seem quite balanced. And it's pleasantly leathery.
In conversation recently, Greg stated that the quality of Latakia available today is excellent, and again mentioned that since the seventies or earlier the leaf available has been Cyprian rather than Syrian.
He avers that the Latakia today is much the same as we used at Drucquers.
The differences between the two types can be significant - Cyprus grows Smyrna seed tobacco (small leaf, more or less 'Turkish') - whereas Syrian was usually Shek al Bint; large leaf, and to my mind that suggests something more akin to a mild air-cured tobacco, possibly somewhat similar to Maryland (?).
The smoke-curing is also different.
I tend to doubt that modern Latakia is sustainable in a mixture at anywhere near the measure that was once fairly common. But Greg has access to much more good blending stock, and greater variety too. Plus a lot more familiarity and experience with tobacco.
So I'll yield the floor, and refer you to his article for more assured information about Balkan Sobranie.
Besides, Kensington and Westminster are among my favourite tobaccos.
He sure knows how to make a lovely blend.
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