Monday, October 09, 2006


[Please note: this post will seem pointless unless you are a pipe-smoker. If you are NOT a pipe-smoker, rest assured that our regular haphazard programming will return tomorrow. And this blog loves you anyway. Despite.]


Three decades ago, Rattray's Red Rapparee, Balkan Sobranie (white tin), Dunhill 965, and John Cotton's were the standards by which all other English and Balkan blends were judged.

[Defining Balkan as being Oriental-leaf dominant (both Latakia and Turkish, sixty to seventy five percent), with the proportion of Latakia being somewhat greater than the Turkish, no Perique. A full English blend usually has twice as much Latakia as Turkish, but slightly less Oriental overall, with an optional touch of Perique.]

All of these blends had brothers - Rattray's Black Mallory, Balkan Sobranie Black, Dunhill Standard Mixture Medium and Dunhill London Mixture (etmultcetera), and other John Cotton mixtures.
McConnell's Oriental also had its following, Dobie's Foursquare Blue was still being made, and there were a number of other rather dependable English and Balkan mixtures.

[Twenty years ago Samuel Gawith's Squadron Leader hadn't really penetrated much beyond the British cities.]

Nowadays Rattray's has been farmed out and has gone down in quality, Balkan Sobranie has disappeared, and John Cotton's is no longer made. McConnell's went downhill a while back - I think it is still made, but it is probably only a dark-shadow of what it was.

The Balkan Sasieni, which was blended to fill the gap caused by the disappearance of Balkan Sobranie, has a great aroma but lacked the wonderful flavour of the original - Isadore Redstone probably knew the process, but not being able to get hold of superb Turkish leaf or a steady supply of Syrian Latakia, chose to rely on and overemphasize the process (a brief steampress treatment that melded the flavours).

[Balkan Sasieni is very suitable for breaking in large bores, though it palls if smoked much. But like most Balkans it offends the delicate noses of the women, bless 'em, so it does have its amusing side.]

Dunhill has farmed out manufacture of the blends to the Danes, and the Dunhill mixtures now are significantly better than they were in the eighties. Far less twigs and crud, far better tobaccos.
Dunhill Durbar is maybe the best widely available Balkan Blend out there at present.

For smokers of English - Balkan - Oriental blends, the current standardsetters are (in no particular order) Dunhill, G. L. Pease, Samuel Gawith.
For Virginia smokers: McClelland, Samuel Gawith.

[Note: McClelland also produces English blends, which are much liked by people who are closet-Virginia smokers. Samuel Gawith's relatives at Gawith-Hoggarth also produce some fine tobaccos, though as the steampress process is much stressed, the flavours at the edges of the range are muted - which turns their Balkan Mixture into a mellow heavy Latakia blend, albeit with a wonderful heady creosote perfume.]

GL Pease is very good - his reputation is stellar. Pity about his warehouse with the batch of superb Latakia going up in smoke. Blackpoint and Kensington are particularly good mixtures, Abingdon is also very nice. All three are medium to medium-full English, veering into Balkan.]

Butera's Pelican is a damn fine smoke, but heavy on the Latakia - I prefer just a touch more pale Virginia and Turkish.

The Esoterica Tabaciana products are all very interesting, and I have a number of them stashed away, but I don't often smoke 'em.

[At present I have about three dozen cans of Pease, about fifty or so McClelland, another three dozen odds and ends, and over two hundred cans of various Dunhill mixtures - both to mature, and precautionarily to stockpile in case that meshuggene tax gets voted in. Which I very much fear might happen. California is a puritanical state, and there are too many nuts here who want to tell us what we shouldn't do and how we're supposed to think. I've been smoking mostly London Mixture, Durbar, and EMP of late. ]

Cornell & Diehl is apparently also very good - but I haven't ever tried any of their stuff, and so cannot judge.


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Jack Steiner said...

Been playing around with trying to smoke a pipe, but never have tried it.

Phillip Minden said...

As an alternative to EMP, and an ersatz for the BS, I tried SG's Balkan Flake. Not at all bad, and easier to handle than I've seen people claim.

The back of the hill said...

October 17, 2013:

Things have changed a bit since I wrote this post, as my most recent ramblings about tobacco on this blog will show. For one thing, the big fight between BAT and Orlik has settled, Greg Pease has released several more blends, and a few newer Balkans have cropped up.

Note that it was because of a comment by Lipman on a different post that I tried EMP, which I rather like. Thank you, Lipman.

For the curious, data dug up by mr. Pease showed that the Balkan Sobranie recipe before Gallagher changed it was 50% Latakia, approximately 22% Turkish, and the rest 'other', probably Virginias.
I still think what made Balkan Sobranie peculiar was the steampress to meld.

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