Wednesday, October 31, 2007


This particular pipe-tobacco is the chimera of tobaccos, now that it has been out of production for over a decade. It is the holy grail of Balkan Mixtures (English style heavy Latakia blends with a very noticeable share of Oriental (Turkish) leaf - all together marvelously stinky).

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.



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.


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


Anonymous said...

Dunhill sucks. Warm poo.

The back of the hill said...

No no, you're confusing it with 'Dunghill'. Wherein the ferment would, of course, raise the temperature.

Anonymous said...

The Red Odessa is indeed a very good mixture. But it seems more like a pre-transition Dunhill blend.

sounds7 said...

Balkan Sobranie is an all time favorite that, once it had departed,set me off on a frantic quest to find a replacement. Sasieni, Macedonia Mixture, Odesa, and on and on. I tried the over priced ebay offerings of Vintage Sobranie mixtures and was delighted but it was aged so much that it dried out (So it wasnt as good as my first experiences with this great tobbaco mixture.
Here is what my journey eventually brought me to. I bended my own Balkan Sobrane Original Mixture with these 6 top of the line tobaccos and in which I posted on about 3 years ago.

My Balkan Blend-
35% Wellauers- Latakia .Which is true Syrian Latakia (The real thing)I had five tins sent from Tabac Rhein in Switzerland. Costly but nothing like buying Tins of Sobranie off ebay. Update to 2009: Robert McConnells Pure Latakia may also be used

15% McCranies Red Ribbon (Red Virginia) an air cured aged carolina virginia that works beautifully as a base tobacco

15% Samuel Gawith full Virginia Flake (Rubbed out well) adds a lttle more ump to the virginia side

15% McCleland Oriental blending tobacco
2009:update- this recipe was made before grand orientals came about.

15% Yenidge bulk- Purchased from Carole at Pipeworks and Wilke. She doesnt always have it in stock though.

5% Unflavored black Cavendish also bulk from "PW&W"

I am now experimenting with very modest portions of Deer tongue to see if it brings this blend closer to the moving Target that was the Balkan Sobranie

comments and suggestions are welcome. send to or join me on the Sobraine link which was given at the top of this post

The back of the hill said...

I am now experimenting with very modest portions of Deer tongue to see if it brings this blend closer to the moving Target that was the Balkan Sobranie
Ah, so you also read the more recent reviews at Tobacco Reviews dot com. I noticed the mention of deer tongue - and while I had never thought of that, it does make some sense.

The back of the hill said...

And, for the bigmacdaddy of all Balkan Sobranie posting collections (on this blog), go here:

BALKAN SOBRANIE - ALL POSTSCan't remember which mentions the closest I came to belending a replacement. I'll check.

The back of the hill said...

The review with the mention of Deer Tongue is here:

Leiconnsel wrote: "The original Balkan purportedly contained latakia (I don't know if it was Syrian, Cyprian or both), Virginia (I don't know the varieties, but none of these ingredients were toasted except, of course, the latakia), high grade English Cavendish, and Yenidje from Macedonia, as advertised on the can. To my knowledge, the only other ingredient, that which imparted some of the creaminess and the hint of vanilla, was deer tongue, the leaf of a weed(!) apparently admissible under the non- adulteration laws at the time, which prohibited all topping but did permit Cavendish. I've tried dried deer tongue leaf broken or crumbled in blends and gotten nothing out of it. Perhaps, despite the common wisdom, Balkan used it fresh. I've heard that its inclusion is why Balkan was labelled a “smoking mixture” rather than “tobacco.” I don't know any of the ingredient ratios, but I was told that the ratios changed every year to compensate for seasonal changes in the individual ingredients' strength and taste. "

His review is dated 01/04/2009.

The back of the hill said...

Regarding Smokers' Haven and their Sobranie-made blends, he writes: "the main event was a complete line of English tobaccos based on Balkan/Best. Ones “below” Best were proportionately milder, and the only one stronger than Best was Exotique, which was merely Balkan with some prime cigar leaf added. Balkan made them all, including Krumble Kake, which was Balkan pressed and sliced, considered by “flake” smokers to be superior. I don't remember seeing 759 until Balkan was sold. It was, at that later time, a more piquant, far more acrid blend with other orientals added."

The back of the hill said...

And as regards the Redstones, he distills information that I have also seen in other sources, to whit: "The Redstones were a Jewish family who left (fled?) Russia and settled for some time in the Balkans. They perfected Sobranie (which simply means “parliament” in Slavic languages) either there or in London, their eventual home, along with their delightful, white Turkish cigarettes, and their renowned Russian Black and Gold (- tipped) cigarettes. They, too, were masterpieces. The sad history of Balkan Sobranie after its initial sale, years later, is available in other reviews on this site.

The back of the hill said...

And some recommendations, from that same author: "The high quality of the tobacco in Balkan might have been just as important as the types of tobacco in it. Samuel Gawaith's Balkan Flake, supposedly 30% latakia and 70% Virginia (despite the Balkan name) is a good, honest, high quality tobacco to which one could maybe add high quality Cavendish, Yenidje and deer tongue and get somewhere close to Balkan (despite Balkan Flake's caked form). Most related blends already contain Virginia and latakia, so the ratios are problematical. Gawaith's Commonwealth is supposed to be 50%-50% Virginia-latakia and is not caked. "

Again the source of the quotes above:

My own gibberant review is further down the page. 2007. I'll leave it to the reader to guess what I wrote.

The back of the hill said...

February 22, 2010.

Please note that more mention is made of Balkan Sobranie here:
Clickably: Tobacco etc. .

Quote: "The Balkan Sobranie Mixture in the white tin was more famous than any other product, and is no longer available. Nor could it be reproduced exactly in any case - European Tobacco laws would prevent it."

The back of the hill said...

Also: "In order: Syrian Latakia, Yenidje and other Orientals, a medium flake, a lighter Virginia ribbon, a dark toasted or steamed flue-cured leaf, and something I cannot identify that wasn't tobacco. Probably deertongue, but I wouldn't stake my life on it. Combine everything except the Latakia and meld with light heat, then add the Latakia, age for a few days, and press it into the tin - which means more heat. Like many tinned tobaccos, the moisture level was upped to make it more malleable and less likely to crumble and fragment with this treatment."

The back of the hill said...

There is also mention of other tobacco companies and blending data in that post. It isn't just about the Balkan Sobranie Mixture.

For a complete listing of all tobacco related posts, see here:

Clickably: 'EAPS!

Has every tobacco post up to the present listed.

Anonymous said...

Stiky?! Balkan Sobraine? So, what duz ya mean.., shtinky?? But also, very delicious.

G.L. Pease said...

A few things:

First, the percentage of oriental leaf, other than Latakia, in the original Balkan Sobranie, is much lower than 30%, and likely closer to 15%. There is no deer tongue in it. It was originally made with Syrian latakia, but after Syria's 1960 ban on latakia production, the blend was most likely gradually shifted to using Cyprian leaf, depleting the existing stores of Syrian in decreasing proportions so the change would be less noticeable. Well before production was sold to Gallaher (ca. 1981-2), Cyprian was all that was used. Gallaher certainly used no Syrian in the manufacture.

The 759 black and gold product was in production long before production was licensed to Gallaher's. I've got tins that seem to date from the 1960s, and tins that are certainly from the mid-1970s, so it's at least that old. I don't recall seeing any cutter-top examples, so it may not be much older.

"Smoking Mixture" was common terminology to differentiate straight virginia tobaccos from mixtures with other tobaccos. It had nothing to do with other ingredients.


The back of the hill said...

Hi Greg,

Thanks for the input. While I'll defer to your greater experience and knowledge, let me nevertheless throw a spanner into the works - two spanners, actually.
ONE: What if the Oriental was actually partly Macedonian (Prilep or similar) leaf? Could that have masked the characteristics of the other Oriental somewhat? Reason I ask is because Prilep tastes rather cigarette-y, and doesn't seem as resinous or perfume-like.
TWO: What about the Virginias? Are there Virginias that have a softer profile than what is commonly used? I've noticed that when I use your Union Square there seems to be a complex softness - if instead I use Samuel Gawith's Best Brown it yields a simpler yet sweeter profile, with a little more edge.

The back of the hill said...

Okay, actually a THIRD spanner: The tins of Balkan Sobranie I had while in the Netherlands did not taste at all like the Balkan Sobranie I smoked in the U.S. I surmise that the reason was partly greater age - my tobacconist seemed to have stuff on his shelves that never moved, and he was at the end of a slow-moving supply chain in any case. Another factor was the humidity in the air, which affected one's sense of smell, as well as the humidity at which I smoked my pipe-tobaccos then. Evenso, the deep darkness of the Latakia was much more noticeable. I have long thought that this was due to longer smoke-curing. It seemed so much more satisfyingly sooty. Whereas many modern mixtures lack precisely that taste. Any thoughts on the matter?

The back of the hill said...

I've noticed that when I use your Union Square there seems to be a complex softness - if instead I use Samuel Gawith's Best Brown it yields a simpler yet sweeter profile, with a little more edge.

CLARIFICATION: What I meant was that when I use Union Square or Best Brown Flake as blending tobaccos – I seldom smoke Virginias straight (well, other than Escudo and St. James Flake, that is). But commercial flakes with depth make good blending flakes in any case.

..Dr. JohnPaul Yoder said...

Balkan Sobranie: A 50/50 mix of Vengeur Platinum and Ramback Gold pipe tobacco might just get you there.

The back of the hill said...

Please note: Balkan Sobranie, as of October 2011, is being produced again.

Reviewed here:

It's back, boys. Go at it.
It's up to you to decide whether it is exactly as you remember, or not.

The back of the hill said...

45 - 50% Latakia.
22½% Turkish.
32½ - 27½ Virginia.

Moisten, mix together, heat gently in a closed compartment for a short length of time. Do not let the heat rise too much (container should not be anywhere near uncomfortably hot to the touch).
Let it cool and rest for a few days.

The Virginia component should be around two thirds or more rubbed-out flake. A full red cake is good. The ribbon percentage should be no more than ten percent of the total. Less if it's bright Virginia.

I suspect that Sobranie heated the mixture twice. Once without adding the Latakia yet, once upon tinning the mixture after adding the Latakia.

Tzarich iyun - experiment till you find out what best matches the taste and smell you remember.

The back of the hill said...

Readers, if this subject interests you, you might also like to view this post:

As always, commentary and feedback are appreciated.
Thank you.

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