WHAT IS BALKAN TOBACCO?
There are any number of pipe-tobaccos on the market that use the term Balkan as part of their description or name. This did not begin with Balkan Sobranie, but it is largely due to them that the term Balkan gained such currency. The success and popularity of the Balkan Sobranie Original Mixture started a veritable cult among pipe smokers that continues to this day, even though the Balkan Sobranie Original Mixture is long gone.
Most Balkans, like the Balkan Sobranie itself, derive the greater part of their flavour from Turkish tobaccos - that being the term in common use for small leaf fragrant tobaccos grown in the Southern Balkans and Asia Minor. Many of the best Turkish tobaccos come from Greece, Macedonia, European Turkey, and Izmir (Smyrna). Some other Turkish leaf comes from the Black Sea coast. Other areas that grow 'Turkish' tobacco are the Crimea, Syria, and, formerly, Egypt. The term Turkish, in the case of tobacco, refers to leaf grown in the former Ottoman sphere of influence rather than modern Turkey.
Balkan tobaccos are a subset of Turkish. The Balkan Sobranie was compounded with Yenidje tobacco, grown in Macedonia - at one time part of the Ottoman Empire; it should not be confused with either Yenice in Çanakkale which straddles the Dardanelles, or Yenice in Karabük which is located between Ankara and the Black Sea. The Yenidje from whence the tobacco is now called Giannitsa or Yannitsa - both Greece and Macedonia claim the name. Yenidje tobacco as such is not available, but the precise same cultivar is grown in European Turkey, and yields a very similar leaf.
NOTE: also see this post for more about Yenidje.
WHAT DOES SOBRANIE MEAN?
The term Sobranie has nothing to do with tobacco - it means parliament ('assembly'), and refers to the liberation-drang of the southern Balkans, which resulted in a number of national assemblies in post-Ottoman times.
Lipman (http://lipmans.blogspot.com/), fellow blogger and pipe mayvn, writes regarding the term 'sobranie':
"Souvereign and sobranie aren't related. The first is from Latin superanus, a nominal formation to super, the second from Slavonic *sŭbĭraniye < *kom + bir(a) + niye."
E-kvetcher (http://search-for-emes.blogspot.com/) earlier commented:
"In Russian, the word can mean 'an assortment'. Likely this is what in means in Serbo-Croatian, or whatever language they are trying to mimic. Though you can never be sure that a word in one language means exactly the same as a similar sounding word in a closely related language. The Russian word for 'match' happens to mean 'prostitute' in Czech. Many a misunderstanding has occurred when a visiting Russian would ask a Czech for a light. "
Not being in any way even 'half-chamor-ed' literate in either Russian or Old Church Slavonic (or any other Slavonic), I will gladly accept their corrections. --- B.O.T.H.
INDEX OF MY BALKAN SOBRANIE RELATED POSTS
SOME SAY IT SMELLS LIKE UNDERWEAR
In which I discuss smoking the Balkan Sobranie, provide recommendations for alternatives, and speculate about the recipe. It is a long post.
FURTHER NOTES REGARDING THE KEY LARGO SMOKING MIXTURE BY G. L. PEASE: CONSTITUENT TOBACCOS AND CONTEXT
As the title says, it is not about Balkan Sobranie - but it does mention the Balkan Sobranie Number 10 Virginia, which was a blend augmented with cigar leaf. It continues the themes mentioned in a previous post (see below). Fairly short post.
KEY LARGO BY G. L. PEASE - A GOOD PIPE BLEND THAT IS HARD TO DESCRIBE
A review of a new blend by Greg Pease. There is some mention of the Balkan Sobranie No. 10 mixture. Fairly short post.
THREE TOBACCOS AND SOMETHING ABOUT BEING CHEAP
Correspondence with a reader, and description of three tobaccos - one of which is the Balkan Sasieni Smoking Mixture, made in Denmark. Medium length post.
IT SMELLS LIKE VICTORY
This one is more or less gloating - I had compounded a blend that recalled the Balkan Sobranie better than anything else I have smoked. Not perfect. But close. Short post.
BALKAN SOBRANIE ORIGINAL MIXTURE
Suggestions for tobaccos that share specific characteristics with the Balkan Sobranie mixture, as well as a personal recommendation: Cornell & Diehl's Red Odessa. Not because it resembles the Balkan Sobranie Original Mixture, but because it is a darn fine English blend.
this post is a little long, but detail rich.
There are other posts which might interest you - please note the tags underneath this post: Balkan Sobranie, Blend Review, GLP, Pipes and Tobacco. Clicking any one of them will bring up posts in that category.
BLENDING A REPLACEMENT FOR THE BALKAN SOBRANIE ORIGINAL MIXTURE
I mentioned yesterday that if you were to try your hand at this, it would probably be best to do seven parts Turkish, seven parts Virginia, and ten parts Latakia. In thinking it over, I believe that eight parts Virginia would probably be better.
Note that these proportions are only guidelines - deviation will lead you into interesting discoveries.
[Note (added on August 4th., 2012): recent information shows that the original Balkan Sobranie mixture, before Gallagher started modifying the blend, contained fifty percent Latakia and less than twenty five percent Turkish type leaf. Gallagher towards the end of their tenure used less than forty percent Latakia. Depending on your own taste-memories, something between forty and forty five percent Latakia (rather than 50%) would probably be best - because the impact of the actual leaf now used for the production of Latakia is stronger than Shek El Bint would have been, all the more so with the changes in smoke-curing.
Mix the Turkish and Flue-cured components first, blend damp. Let this sit for a few days, then add the Latakia. You can use mild heat ("panning the tobacco") to meld at this point, which will also lower the moisture content.]
The Virginia should be mostly a red Virginia flake - Cornell & Diehl's Opening Night is one such, and it is a very fine tobacco - for blending as well as smoking. The other Virginia would be minor amounts of black Virginia (Cornell & Diehl) and bright ribbon, or you might add a touch of dark stoved flake in lieu of the black.
Regarding Turkish, you must know that Yenidje is nearly impossible to find. Smyrna, however, is an excellent Turkish tobacco, albeit different in taste. And I have heard that Prilep from Macedonia is quite good - but I have no clue where it can be purchased.
The Latakia will necessarily have to be from Cyprus. Till the eighties, the Balkan Sobranie mixture used Syrian, but that has become nearly impossible to find, even for old tobacco houses. The main differences are that Syrian Latakia was Shek El Bint ("the maiden's cleft") tobacco smoked over Oak and scrub, whereas Cyprian Latakia is Smyrna-type leaf cured over Juniper (and, they tell me, pine). A key difference also seems to be that the smoke-curing is not as intense as it once was; Latakia no longer smells quite as tarry as it did in the seventies.
Note: Shek el bint was a larger leaf cultivar, which lent an almost sherry-like tone to the mixtures; Cyprian Latakia is Turkish type, and in consequence is somewhat sweeter, lower in nicotine, and more resinous.
[This note added in 2015.]
I have seen some speculation that the Balkan Sobranie mixture also contained either ribbon-cut Maryland, or Perique. As both of these can be used to modify the sweetness of a blend (Maryland diminishing, Perique enhancing), and as both also modify the bitey aspect of Yellow Virginia (bright ribbon), this is not at all unlikely. But I do not remember either of those specific tastes being noticeable in Balkan Sobranie. Perhaps you do. Let me know.
Postscript to a postscript, added several hours later - there never is a final word on Balkan Sobranie
BALKAN SOBRANIE BLEND REVIEW: HOW DID IT SMOKE?
[Rather ridiculous to discuss a pipe-tobacco at such length without telling you what it was actually like. Somehow, that seems like important information.]
A marked characteristic of Balkan Sobranie was the powerful release of a smoky resinous aroma when first lit, before it settled in to a spicy, buttery smoke. The Yenidje was a main player, supported by the Latakia but not overwhelmed by it - yet the Latakia was extremely noticeable in the mix. This gave a peaty nose effect coupled with an incense-like element, and hence a faint bitterness.
The Virginia base added a layer of sweetness, with a slightly sharp accent, presumably from bright Virginia (Lemon Virginia, Yellow Virginia). But the main part of the base was almost certainly a pressed medium Red Virginia - no edges, no raw taste, just a good Cavendish-like depth. I am fairly certain that there was also touch of dark Virginia or black Virginia - under everything, the faintest hint of raisins and caramel augmented the red, smoothed the bright, and added depth to the Latakia.
The Turkish element and the incense -hue of Yenidje dominated throughout the bowl, the sweetness of the Virginias was present but not bold - a supporting player. Of all the components, what stood out was the Yenidje.
The tobacco packed well, lit evenly, burnt regularly and smoked down coolly. It would not peak much at the end before just fading away, leaving a fine grey ash.
Tins of Balkan Sobranie with a bit of age on them were mellower - the Latakia had rounded out a bit, and the flavours of the tobaccos had melded. The tarriness of the Latakia was less sharp, more velvety. The overall effect was not as 'salty' as with the newer tins.
Dunhill's London mixture had less Virginia than the Balkan Sobranie, G. L. Pease's Caravan has less Turkish, Esoterica's Penzance seems to have significantly more Latakia.
ELSEWHERE ON THE NET
Read what others have said about the Balkan Sobranie mixture here:
RARE TINS, HIGH PRICES, AND FANATICISM
One can find sealed tins of Balkan Sobranie on the internet at ridiculous prices. Even if you've never tasted it, it is pointless to shell out so much money. Nor do I conceive of Balkan Sobranie tins as having significant collectible value. It would be far better to nourish a taste for the excellent products of Greg Pease (GLP) and Craig Tarler (Cornell & Diehl) than to indulge in a taste for an antique.
I would venture that both Greg Pease's Westminster, and Cornell & Diehl's Red Odessa, are blends every bit as good as Balkan Sobranie was when it was still made by the Redstone family at Sobranie House in London, and a damn sight better than the last ten years of Gallagher's production.
On the other hand, if someone gives you an uncracked tin of Balkan Sobranie, by all means smoke it, irrespective of whether it was made prior to Gallaghers acquisition of the trademark (in 1968), or after. The stuff produced up through the early eighties was excellent.
NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.