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.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Some common tobacco terms are nearly meaningless. Two of those are 'Cavendish' and 'Balkan'. The first describes any tobacco which has been changed by heat OR pressure OR moisture OR added muck, and nowadays is also applied to a narrow ribbon-cut suitable for rolling into cigarettes which is nevertheless broad enough to not fall under the punitive and puritanical tax category for cigarette tobaccos, the second means a mixture with either a large quantity of Latakia, or both Latakia and Turkish ("Oriental") leaf.

Latakia and other Orientals are in the main from Cyprus, Syria, and Asia Minor. The stuff grown in the Balkans is mostly Virginia or Burley seed-stock destined for factories producing American or Russian style cigarettes.
What little Oriental is cropped there nowadays seldom makes it into a quality pipe-tobacco blend, being either Prilep or mediocre Macedonian.


What the term Balkan commonly refers to is the type of mixture that features a strong Turkish component, augmented by Latakia, supported by Virginia.
Turkish tobacco is low in nicotine, high in resin, whereas Virginia is medium high in nicotine and natural sugars. The two were seemingly made for each other, but complexity required Latakia, which during the Syrian period was a broadleaf of little distinction made extraordinary by smoke-curing, which added a velvety sootiness to a product which by itself was mildly sherry-like, and not particularly low on nicotine.

Nowadays virtually all Latakia comes from Cyprus (using Smyrna seed-stock), and most manufacturers and retailers who claim to use Syrian leaf are unabashed and unethical bullshit artists.
That alone should warn the smoker away from their products.

Mac Baren is a possible exception. Their HH Vintage Syrian is a mighty fine product; I've got a two-year supply of it stashed under my bed.

The term "Balkan" in describing such blends derives from the most well-known representative of the genre, that being Balkan Sobranie -- which was actually mostly Latakia (50%), with less Turkish than Virginia. Blends of similar proportion are standardly called Balkan, but the correct term should probably be "Full English". Though in Great Britain they might not know what to make of such a description. Surely you mean "Oriental"?

Oriental, Full English, and Balkan are all equally inaccurate.


Many of the famous Dunhill tobaccos, which we think of as being quintessentially 'English', are in fact Balkan mixtures. So are the typical Scottish blends of Charles Rattray (Black Mallory, Red Rapparee, et autres) and Robert McConnell, which are now produced in Germany.

Perhaps the three truest Balkan blends available are Presbyterian Mixture by Planta, Astley's No. 99 Royal Tudor by Kohlhase und Kopp, and Bill Bailey's Balkan Blend by Dan Tobacco.
All three are made in Germany.

Presbyterian is Turkish forward, and quite foul-smelling to women (though delicious to men), the Astley product is somewhat odouriferous and rather pleasant, and BBBB is a bit heavy and Slavic, superior after a big Teutonic abendfressen containing garlic and paprika.

All three are recommended.

However, in addition to many of the Dunhill mixtures, as previously mentioned, much of Greg Pease's oeuvre is distinctly Balkan, as are many of the Latakia blends produced by McClelland and Cornell & Diehl.
Germain's in Jersey (Channel Islands) also makes a number of such products (1820, Royal Jersey Original Latakia Mixture, King Charles Mixture), as do both Samuel Gawith (Squadron Leader) and Gawith-Hoggarth (Balkan Mixture, delightful though no Turkish discernible) in Kendall.
Please note that what Sam Gawith calls "Balkan Flake" is only Latakia and Virginia pressed together. Quite nice, actually.
Newminster, the housebrand of Villiger, sells 'English Oriental' (No. 306) and 'Ultimate English' (No. 52) in bulk to many tobacco stores across America. Both blends are quite good; ask your tobacconist the source of his "house blends", and if necessary visit the internet.
Many smaller tobacco companies have at least one "Balkan" in their line-up, along with a Latakia dump at the heavier end, and a very mild English on the lighter side.


Among Greg Pease's tobaccos, the following might be called Balkan:
Abingdon, Caravan, Charing cross, Kensington, Odyssey, and Westminster.
My favourites are Kensington and Westminster; the first is calm and veers toward the medium end of the scale, the second is medium-full and delightfully old-fashioned, something which sets the standard for its class.
For a nice over-the-top Latakia experience, try Odyssey.

Balkan is a never-never-land among the tobaccos, being exactly and only what you imagine it to be. Provided, of course, that something about the name or the evil hairy bastard smoking it suggests complicated late Ottoman period politics.

Constantinople. Marmara. Bosporus. Sophia. Vojvodine. Sebastopol. Magyar. Budapesht. Volapük. Przykry Tabak. Greek National Debt. Aegean. Arnavout. Goli-Seljak Löd. Sarajevo. Yugopolje. Tatarski. Robak-Yezdil. March to the Alma. Yarimadasi. Bulgarian Question. Tito's Toupee.
Hej Brigad. Polotok. Gnarsk.

Somewhere south of Tsarevets, there's a train station where a bearded hunchback wearing a fez is waiting. Either he will shoot you, under the mistaken impression that you are the heir to the knezevstvo of Temni-Chovek, OR he has candy and a casket of delightful oval cigarettes rolled by the last virgin in Wurmpanj-Stumpärscz.
It's a risk you have to take.


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


  • At 12:49 PM, Anonymous Arno said…

    I LOVE Balkan blends. In fact, I am smoking Presby right now in an old patent era Dunhill bruyere. Often my latest smoke of the evening.
    My favourite van mr. Pease is Abingdon, bold and beautiful! I also have stocked up about 20 oz. of Westminster which I try to keep my hands off as long as possible.
    How do I say this in English.. Niet om reclame te maken maar... you really should try Balkan Passion by HU Tobacco. Imho one of the best blends Europe now has to offer. And if you are going to order there, order also Olaf's Favourite English. You won't be disappointed!


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older