Sometimes a product that is no longer available becomes legendary. This was the case with the Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture. Yes, WAS. In the first years of the new millennium only a pouch version was available. According to many a weak version of the original from the 70’s, 60’s and before that, it still was widely loved. But despite the large demand the tobacco became less and less available and the production finally stopped at the beginning of the 2000’s as one can read in Jon Guss’ excellent Dating Of Sobranie Tobacco Tins. In the 90’s Balkan Sasieni was offered by former Sobranie owner Isador Redstone as a substitute but it never took off the way Balkan Sobranie did.
In the years that followed Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture became a legend. Together with Balkan Sobranie Mixture 759 and Balkan Sobranie Virginia no. 10 it became kind of the Holy Grail of the pipe tobaccos. On ebay, astronomical amounts were (and still are) asked and paid for these tobaccos. It only was a matter of time that someone would want to bring out the legend again. The pipe smoking market appears to be becoming larger thus the time was right for a new version, a new “vintage” of Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture. Because it is with this tobacco as with wine. The year tells you how good it is. 1970, oh tremendous!!! 1981, transition year to the Gallaher production, good but really just not it. 1999, pretty nice but nothing compared by the old original.
2011…….. Arango Cigar Co. became the one that acquired the rights of Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture. But having the rights is 1 thing, bringing out the tobacco on the market is something veeeery different. So they have found J.F. Germain & Son willing to make the tobacco. In my honest opinion the best choice that they could have made! This because J.F. Germain & Son is the maker of some other legendary tobacco, Penzance. But also of the Smoker’s Heaven tobaccos that for years counted as THE replacement for the original Balkan Sobranie tobaccos. Nice detail, previously the House Sobranie made the Smoker’s Heaven tobaccos.. So J.F. Germain & Son have experience in “imitating” the House Sobranie products. Also they have men in service that formerly worked for the House Sobranie. Interesting..
Package: A 50 gram tin with a somewhat cheap version of the old stately artwork. The classic image of the two women with carts on the background seems a bit blurred. Like someone with no graphical knowledge roughly copied an old tin and placed in some new text.. Once open the tobacco rests in a paper as is often customary with on top of that a thin round insert with nothing on it.
Composition: The composition is that of the pouch version and the ’80’s Gallaher version. A fine cut mix of dark and light Virginias, Macedonian tobacco and Cyprian latakia. Originally there was Syrian latakia in it but for yeeaaars that was no longer the case.. Anyway, there is more latakia than in the pouch version. The tobaccos is a ribbon-cut with small strands, resembling Esoterica’s Margate and Smoker’s Haven Exotique. Both made by Germain.
Smell from the tin: Yummie! What’s in there, you smell! Together with Penzance some of the best tin-smells ever. Dark, earthy, leather.. Yeah! However, one time when I quickly opened a tin at my office to just smell it my colleague, who was just walking in, asked if there had been a fire somewhere. Ah, the mark of a good latakia blend.
Taste: Regarding taste the tobacco is a good mix of the pouch version and my 1981 tin version. What I was missing in the 1981 version were the oriental tobaccos that halfway the bowl began to sing the dominant part. Something that was better in the pouch version. Just lit you almost taste the pure latakia. Something like an espresso without sugar. And the same beginning as with Mixture 759. Here you can really notice the freshness of the dark smoked leaf in the 2011 version. After a few puffs the sweetness comes forth, the Virginias. And yesss, halfway the bowl the oriental tobaccos are coming to the front. The last part of the bowl is the best as all the different tobaccos harmoniously sing together. And not unimportant, the topping is also spot on! I can instantly recognize latakia holding Dunhill tobaccos when I smoke them. They all have a little bit of the same taste, something typical Dunhill. This is also the case with Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture. The same topping as the 1981 and pouch version. Absolutely wonderfully done by J. F. Germain & Son who prove their well earned reputation!
Roomnote: The old Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture was (in)famous for it’s for most people baaaad roomnote. If you smoke yourself you will not notice that but people around you will utter their displeasure. As with my girlfriend hehehe.. I had never smoked a version of the tobacco in her presence but when I was puffing away a “Jeeeezzz.. What are YOU smoking?? This is really your most fowl smelling tobacco! Gross!” escaped her lips. Despite that I was allowed to finish the bowl, the darling. So here also: points for authenticity!
Combustibility: Good, despite you got to get used to the almost shag-like cut. You do not need to tamp it a lot and it burns down nicely to a grey ash. Although, you may want to let the tobacco dry a bit before smoking. It comes pretty wet out of the tin.
Miscellaneous: I’m a bit of a nicotine wuss so I do not smoke it on an empty stomach. Medium nicotine strength.
Price: At 4noggins a tin of this new version costs $11.49. And it is worth every dollar cent! IF you can obtain it. Because this is the weak spot of J.F. Germain & Son. All tobacco is made the old fashioned way. Really great because you can taste the love and craftsmanship. But producing vast quantities, no, they cannot do that. If you want to obtain a tin you have to keep an eye out on international fora and tobacco sites, be sure you are on retailer mailing lists and just be VERY lucky because when it is available, *poefff* it’s already gone..
Conclusion: Applause! In my honest opinion J.F. Germain & Son has succeeded in producing a worthy version of the legendary Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture! Is it as good as the 70’s, 60’s and before version? No.. I smoked 70’s Sobranie and that was just heavenly. There was yenidje in that one but that has become very scarce.. Is the tobacco as good as the beginning of the 80’s version? Better! Is the tobacco as good as the ’90’s and beginning of 2000 version? Better! In short, Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture is back! And for now it seems it’s here to stay. Now I really hope that Arango and Germain also will bring out Mixture 759 and Virginia no. 10 again. One can only hope and pray..
UPDATE December 5th, 2013:
It is over a year ago that I was able to buy a tin of the new Balkan Sobranie. So last week I mailed with Rich Gottlieb, the owner of well know internet tobacco store 4noggins. I asked him if I missed any shipments from Germain containing the legendary blend. I did not not miss any.. He hasn’t had the stuff for over a year and does not know if there will be a next shipment..
UPDATE March 10th, 2014:
A couple of days ago the new Balkan Sobranie has surfaced at the Pipe Guys and now at 4noggins and other retailers! I am glad it is still being produced after a long silence!
Excellent review, Arno! I haven’t had the pleasure of smoking any of the original versions, but this latest iteration has fast become one of my favorite tobaccos, and fortunately for me, my local B&M gets it in from time to time. Cheers to Germain for bringing back this classic mixture!
Thank you mr. Craven! I would say, please do not smoke the 70’s and before version. It will spoil you. I can absolutely really enjoy the Germain version but it still is a far cry from the old original..
To be fair, though, you aren’t actually comparing the current BS to the “old original”: You’re comparing it to an *aged* version of the original blend, which will have changed over time. I think the best comparison possible is to have smoked a fresh tin of the original back in the 60s/70s, taken thorough notes, and then compare that to a fresh tin of the current version. But even that’s fraught with unknowables—changing tastes, memory, etc.
Hello Robert, of course you are correct. But in the 1960’s and early 1970’s I was still a sperm cell eagerly trying to get out of my father’s private parts. So I try to do the best that I can with what I have. Maybe I should crack open a 2011 tin that I still have, to compare it with the fresh tobacco I then smoked.
Hi, and thanks for the review.
I have a couple of questions regarding the origin of the tobacco itself. In which country are/were the actual plants for this tobbaco and the legendary Sobranie, grown??
Goodday, thank you for reading!
The legendary Balkan Sobranie contained Syrian latakia, yenidje (an oriental) and Virginia. The Syrian latakia is derived from a tobacco leaf known as “shekk-el-bint” which grew in Syria and was later smoked. The yenidje was grown in Macedonia and where the Virginias that Sobranie used came from, nooo idea..
Back in the 70’s Balkan Sobranie was in every pipe store. It was all I smoked. Everyone would tell me it smelled like dirty old socks, and that may have been true, but not from my end. There was nothing like it, the taste was what made this the most enjoyable experience one could have smoking a pipe. Now, one can’t find it. But, I will not give up. I will find it again.
Hello David, thanks for reading. Yes it was already a classic back then. To think that you could buy it everywhere.. *sighs* But you can still get the new Germain version in the USA.. Otherwise through ebay or Pipestud you can purchase an old tin with some luck.
Have you tried the Arango “Balkan Supreme” that won the 2014 “Best English Blend” contest? Everyone at the show seemed surprised that a cigar oriented company came out with this as their first blend and was so obviously successful.
As I read your article I was wondering if this was a case of a wonderfully successful “failed” attempt. Failed to capture Balkan Sobranie, but did not fail as a great blend.
Goodday Mr Lanman, I ashamed to say this but I never heard of the Arango “Balkan Supreme”.. I only know the Peter Stokkebye Balkan Supreme. But I now quickly looked it up and it sounds like my cup of tea! Especially the addition of Samsun leaf.
Hmm.. Good one, you got me thinking.. I smoked not so much of the vintage original Sobranie but in my memory the Germain blend does not really resemble that one. I treat the Germain Sobranie more like a new, revised version of the old original than a blend which should have been an exact copy. Failing to capture the original Sobranie, I would not go that far, after all, Sobranie is the mother of all Balkan blends. And in my opinion the Germain offering is certainly a great blend.
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