Wednesday, February 17, 2010


This post is about pipe-tobacco, and consequently there will not be much here for many of my regular readers; sorry, but I promise that there will be the usual zany antics later on - in particular something quite perverse in time for Purim.

[NOTE: There are several links scattered throughout the text below - clicking them will bring up my own posts on that subject (EXCEPTIONS: GLP and C&D).]


Since the nineties several of the old tobacco houses have changed, due to the deaths of guiding hands and profound legal and tax developments in Britain.


Dunhill blends have not been made in the British Isles since the late nineties, and have been unavailable for the past few years nearly everywhere.
British American Tobacco, which had owned the blends since Rothmans ceased to exist, quarreled with the company to which they had farmed out the manufacture.

Dunhill tobaccos were made in England till 1981, when Rothmans (who had acquired the company from Carrerras in 1972) moved manufacturing to the Murrays factory in Belfast. While a lot of later smokers praised the Murrays product in comparison to what Orlik put out, it should be remembered that the early Murrays tins were quite unsmokeable - sourcing and quality control improved considerably over the years.


Now manufactured in Germany by Kohlhase, Kopp und Co. KG (who also do Astleys, formerly of 109 Jermyn Street, as well as the blends of Robert McConnel) according to the recipes developed by Charles Rattray in Perth. The Germans are doing a decent enough job. The one thing they cannot reproduce is the microclimate of the Scottish home of these blends - moisture content in the air, temperature ranges, and the eccentric non-standardization of manufacture combined to produce some very fine tobaccos. What Charles Rattray never realized was that combining different batches of the same blend had more impact on smoking quality than his much vaunted panning method. A variety of ages united to produce richness, whereas uniformity of age and heat treatment makes for a mono-dimensional smoke.

[PLEASE NOTE: The Rattray Virginias are described in this later post: RATTRAY'S VIRGINIA TOBACCO: OLD GOWRIE, MARLIN FLAKE, BROWN CLUNEE, HAL O' THE WYND. They are excellent, still. If you age the tin for a year before popping the seal, you will have a treat. There's enough Rattrays of various ages stashed under the bed, in the book shelves, and on the desk to last quite a long while. Good stuff. ------- ATBOTH, August 12, 2013.]


Still the same, still in Kendall, boruch Hashem. An ancient company with all of the eccentricities of previous generations smoothed out by age, still producing tobacco as they believe it should be. Except for a few monumentally odd aromatics, they are right. They also make snuff.
Supplies are spotty at present - no explanation.


Less pronounceable a name than their cousin Samuel, but no less respected. More steampressing, and more aromatic disasters, but a fine company.
They also make snuff.


The originators of Erinmore. Which has been described as the painted whore among the tobaccos, the veritable clapped-out harlot drenched in cheap cologne that shakes a syphilitic tit at the unwary. The factory closed in 1998 and the blends moved to Denmark. If you ever wondered why Dunhill Flake seemed reminiscent of a perfumed tart, now you know - same factory and same machines as Erinmore Flake.
Which, despite my austere Calvinist tastes, I am actually fond of, though I will not admit it.

Erinmore Flake, calmly smoked, burns down to a fine white ash, and leaves scant funk. If smoked fast, the top-dressing boils into your cake, and you will experience profound regret.


This company makes some very fine tobacco, both under their own flag and for Esoterica Tabaciana. Unfortunately it is becoming harder and harder to find either - blame the continentals for that, as the Europeans have become as daft as the Californians and wish to cripple the tobacco industry entirely. A good place to start the final assault is small eccentric family companies, in the estimation of Brussels.
Supplies are spotty, there is no explanation. And that is likely to continue.


Yes, it was only a matter of time before I brought up that name - you were anxiously waiting its appearance in this text, weren't you? The company was started by an Eastern-European Jew with Russian and Southern Slav connections. He made very fine cigarettes and a limited range of pipe-tobaccos. 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.

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.

Note that the preferred Syrian Latakia in the sixties and seventies was choice Shek El Bint with far more smoke-curing than is used for any Latakia-style tobacco nowadays. Consequently that exact flavour will not be possible. Yenidje may be replaced with other Greek or Macedonian tobaccos - again, not an exact match. Prilep might not be a bad choice, with Samsoun and Smyrna for a better spectrum. It is worth experimenting, but don't get your hopes up too high.
For more about the Balkan Sobranie Mixture than you would ever want to read (no exaggeration), click here: BS CLICK

[NOTE: Because this post discusses Balkan Sobranie, as of this writing it will be the very first post that you see - simply scroll down for other articles.]

Even though these companies and many others have disappeared, the situation is comparatively rosy. Here in the States we have three companies that make enough fine English tobacco to sink the empire.


Greg Pease worked at Drucquer and Sons in Berkeley nearly a decade after I left that firm. He learned far more than I ever did. Drucquers was known for its English mixtures, and Greg continued that blending tradition on his own. To such commendable result in fact that his nickname on the internet is "The Dark Lord".
G. L. Pease owns Latakia in the same way that McClelland owns flake.
He has in recent years also done some very fine things with pressed tobaccos and Virginia mixtures.

[For all other posts mentioning his tobacco, click here: GLP. This post will also be shown - just scroll down to whatever you have not read yet. Same rule holds for some of the links embedded elsewhere in this post.]


Despite having a peculiar fondness for Burley tobaccos, Craig produces some of the best blends in the business. As well as manufacturing Greg Pease's blends. If you are so inclined you can purchase many blending tobaccos from his company, or simply order the blends that your local tobacconist does not stock.
I particularly recommend Red Odessa.
Yale Mixture and Old College are also very fine products.
His flakes are excellent and deservedly well regarded.


By now this company has the hoary veneer of respectable age, having been founded over a quarter of a century ago, and many of the other tobacco houses having disappeared since then. This company is famous for pressed Virginia, on which they more or less base all their products. They also employ heat and steam for particular effects. Many house blends at local tobacco stores are bulk McClelland mixtures; many other retailers depend on blending tobaccos supplied by McClelland. Not everyone likes them. But without them, pipe smoking in America might have disappeared.
You can find out everything you need to know about them elsewhere.

With GLPease, Cornell & Diehl, and McClelland in the market, we need not worry overmuch at present. These three are keeping America's smokers more than adequately supplied with high quality pipe-tobacco.


Balkan Sobranie Mixture as made by Gallagher was probably around 36.00% Latakia, 24.00% Oriental (Yenidje etcetera), 32.00% Mixed Virginias, and 8.00% Black Virginia (steamed and baked, rather than pressed or fired), or an unflavoured Black Cavendish.
Black Virginia is quite unavailable nowadays, and unflavoured Black Cavendish is extremely hard to find.

If you simply want to blend a good Balkan, you may increase the proportion of Latakia or Virginia - the Oriental is nearly at full capacity anyhow, and as long as you use some remarkable Virginias you can not go wrong.

Fluffed flake should not be much more than the other Virginias unless you are aiming for a slow and almost boring blend; ribbon Virginias increase smokeability, but also heat and tongue-bite.
Plain Cavendish is smooth, and doesn't add much flavour - it can be used in lieu of too much yellow ribbon.

Toasted Cavendish (actually fire-cured Kentucky) up to one twelfth of the total adds depth and body. Any more and you might end up with something too acrid.

If you use Perique, be discreet. Optimum percentages are between four and eight.

Avoid dark pressed (black) flake as a blending tobacco. It doesn't really work, as it is only narrow-range compatible. Which means Virginia mixtures and nearly nothing else.

Final note: Do NOT create a Latakia dump. While Latakia is a remarkable tobacco, it works best in concert with others, not as a solo. Anything over fifty percent is both juvenile and excessive - maximum 45% is plenty. You can increase the dark component of your blend by adding unflavoured black Cavendish (if you can find any) and Toasted Cavendish (which is actually similar to Burley and other air-cured leaf).
Doing so will produce something remarkably Scottish in character, which is probably what you want anyway.


For further reading, do please note all the labels underneath this post. Clicking any one of them will bring up all posts which have those labels appended - today, this post is on top of the heap (and you have already read it) so simply scroll down to the next one.


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


Anonymous said...


Tobacco smells nice but what about Star Wars and a mystery canned meat?

Hail Eris!


Ooooo arrrh!

Anonymous said...


I have heard that the original Balkan Sobranie did indeed contain deer tongue! Due to naming regulations, it then had to be named "smoking mixture" instead of "smoking tobacco" due to the non-tobacco component. I'd assume a man with your encyclopaedic knowledge of Balkan Sobranie would know this anyway and you're just not certain about the deer tongue! Anyway, I just thought I'd drop that in here.

The back of the hill said...

Hello Anonymous,

I keep hearing from various sources that there was Deertongue in the blend (as well as the 'smoking mixture' explanation), but until it can be definitely established (either by analysis OR a verified copy of the recipe), I shall take it as possible, maybe even probable - but by no means certain.

Deertongue is a traditional inclusion in several old-style mixtures. At Drucquers two of our proprietary blends included Deertongue, also several of the blends we compounded for customers. But like sassafras root (once a very minor flavouring agent in some mixtures) and Coumarin, it is no longer traditional, and its employ as a component is coloured by potential ill-effects.
Most such traditional non-tobacco additions will eventually become so regulated as to be not worth adding any more anyway.

The Yenidje, by the way, was probably from Macedon or the lower Balkans. So not the Turkish varietal that some are boasting about. That was in there two, but it wasn't the determinant Oriental leaf.

The back of the hill said...

For the curious, please note: the articles which most prominently mention Drucquer & Sons in Berkeley are these:





Feel free to leave a comment under any one of them, or questions.
I'll respond after the system notifies me that you have written something (if you require a response, of course).

The back of the hill said...

Readers may contact me directly:
Correspondence will be kept in confidence.

The back of the hill said...

NOTE as of 10-19-2012: The post above has been edited slightly.

The guestimate of the proportions of Balkan Sobranie have been corrected - Turkish content was probably not 28% but 24%, and there was very likely no deerstongue or other non tobacco inclusion, which I had speculatively gauged at 2%.

Gallagher's version had less Latakia than the older London-made Balkan Sobranie, which up till the late seventies at least, was 50% Latakia. At that time, that measure of Syrian was a standard for many English and Balkan blends. Samuel Gawith still makes products with that proportion, though it is almost certainly Cyprus leaf.

The back of the hill said...


Balkan Sobranie is being made again. Arango Cigar Company arranged with Germain and Son to manufacture it in 2011.

Dunhill mixtures, which had been produced by Orlik for British American Tobacco after the plant in Northern ireland was shut down, are now made by Kolhase & Kopp in Germany.

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