Thursday, August 07, 2008


This is a follow-up regarding the Balkan Sobranie posting from yesterday. It will, consequently, be of little interest to anybody else except pipe-smokers.


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.


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.
The term is probably related to 'sovereign'.

Lipman (, 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 ( 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.


In which I discuss smoking the Balkan Sobranie, provide recommendations for alternatives, and speculate about the recipe. It is a long post.

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.

A review of a new blend by Greg Pease. There is some mention of the Balkan Sobranie No. 10 mixture. Fairly short post.

Correspondence with a reader, and description of three tobaccos - one of which is the Balkan Sasieni Smoking Mixture, made in Denmark. Medium length post.

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.

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.


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.]

Other Tobaccos:
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

[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.


Read what others have said about the Balkan Sobranie mixture here:


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.


Anonymous said...

This is rather like a religious blog - you spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the non-existent.

It is not entirely clear why you do so.

Spiros said...

A la recherche du temps perdu, one might suggest.
Le petit balkan sobranie.

Phillip Minden said...

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.

Does Google still work like that, or will they give your post rather a low rating because it looks like spam?

Spiros said...


Phillip Minden said...

How old are you - 12?

The back of the hill said...

Does Google still work like that, or will they give your post rather a low rating because it looks like spam?

I'm only marginally aware of how Google works. But nevertheless, I am mighty pleased that if you enter Balkan Sobranie as your search criteria, the very first thing that is cited is the review on Tobacco Reviews that I wrote last year: Blend Detail: Balkan Sobranie - Original Mixture
Every new tobacco reviewer has to start with Balkan Sobranie - it might as ... Based on certain similarities of taste I suspect that Balkan Sobranie may ... - 92k -

The second cited site is this very post itself:
At the back of the hill: BALKAN SOBRANIE - POSTSCRIPT
Aug 7, 2008 ... This is a follow-up regarding the Balkan Sobranie posting from yesterday. It will, consequently, be of little interest to anybody else ... - 26k - 19 hours ago

If your search criterium is Balkan Sobranie Mixture, this post is number three:
"At the back of the hill: BALKAN SOBRANIE - POSTSCRIPT
Aug 7, 2008 ... There is some mention of the Balkan Sobranie No. 10 mixture. ... The Balkan Sobranie mixture used Syrian, of course, but that has become ... - 26k - 19 hours ago

As a result, I suspect that I will get sporadic visitors to my blog who have utterly no interest in manga, pantsu, elderly rabbis, schoolgirls, wombats, penguins, or any of the other fascinating obsessions which have littered these pages. Hence the addition to my side-bar of clicks for Tobacco (including Cornell & Diehl and GLP).
I also expect that I'll get some very interesting feedback. To malquote Shakespeare, "We few, we happy few, we band of very smelly brothers.... ".

Anonymous said...

Quite the most-self referencing post yet.

You crave attention.

---Grant Patel

Anonymous said...

On an entirely different note, is it true that the European leftwing are already blaming the United States for the fracas in South Ossetia?

Apparently, like the bollocky Pakis, the Euroleft cannot conceive of trouble anywhere in the world without the U.S. being involved, or behind it. And I've heard that oil (that great American magnet) is somehow involved.

Europeans, as is well known, do not use oil, but are peaceful green liberal humanists, who have never, ever, been involved in anything so vulgar as imperialism. Couldn't even understand the concept.

---Grant Patel

Anonymous said...

To clarify, Russian tanks have netered South Ossetia, there are "hundreds" of dead in the capital city due to Georgian cannonades, and the Georgians are claiming they have shot down two Russian jets.
As of this morning U.S. time - evening in the Caucasus.

Good thing we do not smoke any of their tobaccos, eh what?

---Grant Patel

Anonymous said...

That last remark was to get the subject back to tobacco. About which the post nominally is.

---Grant Patel

J. "יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי" Izrael said...

Sometimes ye bores het drekk aus ik. Fricche dich.

Can't you jus' write try this and this by that one?

PS -

No thanks for the Sherlock Holmes. It's rather bad. Waaaaaaaaaaaaay too much Virginia. And the raw kind at that, too.

Anonymous said...

You are obsessed. There is more here, at greater lenth, about a blend that no longer exists, than anyone would possibly ever want to know.

Could I tempt you to write more about the Redstone connection? Jewish, yes?


Anonymous said...

Rothmans also sounds tribal. More data, please.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes ye bores het drekk aus ik. Fricche dich.

The entire post in a nutshell: Balkan Sobranie was good stuff. It is no more. Waaaaah!!!!!

---Grant Patel

Anonymous said...

Or, even shorter still: Balkan Sobranie, bla bla bla, Balkan Sobranie, bla.

---Grant Patel

Anonymous said...

Lev is the soul of brevity.

The back of the hill said...


I do not know anymore about either the Redstone's or the Rothman's at present - but I'll look it up, and may post about them at a later date. In the meantime, keep reading. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

No no no, Lev is the root of levity. I am the soul of brevity. I am in all ways brevitous. Far be it from me to be otherwise. In brief, I write little. I hardly write at all. I do not write much. Brevity is my nature, and karmically I am so brief as to be remarkable. Brief, brief, brief. In short, short. Short in fact. At very slight length. Do I write much? Good heavens, no, brevity by my very nature. I cannot but be brief. I am the soul of brevity.

What precisely does brevity mean?

---Grant Patel

The back of the hill said...

What precisely does brevity mean?

Step away from the leg.

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

Anonymous said...

Could not find a suitable section so I written here, how to become a moderator for your forum, that need for this?

The back of the hill said...

My dear Anonymous,

This is not a forum. I write the posts, readers write comments.

Regarding the subject of this particular post (Balkan Sobranie pipe tobacco), whatever information you wish to share will be welcome. Please also explore the other posts and links on this blog - many are not tobacco-related, and might also be of interest to you.

Your feedback will be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Bu sohbet sitesi tek kelimeyle Muhtes. Sohbet Etmek ve Arkadas, Olmak için Arad? Seçmenin Faydalar?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there some Deers Tongue in the original mixture, as well?

Anonymous said...

Hello all together @, we want to wish [b]Ramadan Kareem[/b] :)
Which can be the hottest adventure to do in Eid?

Aradeen said...

I can suggest several hottest adventures to do in Eid. NONE of them involve goats.

Anonymous said...

I was just seeking this info for some time. After six hours of continuous Googleing, at last I got it in your website. I wonder what's the Google's issue that doesn't rank this type of informative websites closer to the top. Usually the top websites are full of garbage.

The back of the hill said...

Essay about Yenidje tobacco here:
[Or copy-paste: ]

Plus the full listing of tobacco-related posts here:
[Or copy-paste: ]

Over one hundred articles at present.

Seamus said...

Balkan Sobranie is available again.
Is it the same?

The back of the hill said...

Yes, Seamus, it is the same. But it is not the same as it once had been.

The recipe being used duplicates what Gallagher produced during the mid to late eighties. So it differes from the product available in the seventies in a few respects, most noticably cut, moisture level, and Latakia content. But when you open the tin, ah, there's that ancient fragrance. And it tastes so close to what I remember that I am convinced that it is as much the same as anyhting could be.

Anonymous said...

does any one know what shekk -el- bint means? or what strain of tobacco it is?

The back of the hill said...

The strain is, according to several sources, the same as a Turkish cultivar called 'Yayladag'.

Leaves are about a foot long maximum, devreasing in dimension toward the top of the plant. First air-dried, then bulked, then hung over wood fires to smoke cure.

Yayladag refers to Yayladağı, a place just south of Hatay in the sanjak of the same name.

Shek el bint: The Maiden's Cleft. Wherein 'shek' means a rock-cleft, a narrow defile, a declivitous passage way between steep slopes. Obviously used 'poetically', but I have no feel for Arabic, so I can only guess what precisely it refers to.

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