In my blogpost “Latakia Lover” I described Syrian latakia. What I did not tell was that nowadays it is an almost extinct type of tobacco.
For years Syrian latakia had been used in cigarettes and pipe tobacco. But it was taking its toll on the Syrian environment. Native hardwood and shrubs were used to fire-cure the shekk-el-bint leaves. Unfortunately there weren’t much farmable grounds in the area. Because of this natural resources were being used and consumed FAST. Also during the period 1850 – 1950 extreme damage to the forests in Syria was done. First by the construction of the Baghdad and Hedjaz railways, both were still operated with wood for fuel during WWI. Later from the ravages of WWII during which forest fires were purposefully set as a protest against the controlling foreign regime. So the Syrian government decided to place a moratorium (a what?? A delay or suspension of an activity) on the production of latakia in 1960. “But I smoked Balkan Sobranie and other mixtures which contained Syrian latakia in the 60’s and 70’s!” some of the old pipe smokers would say. Yes that is true. Most tobacco companies had hoarded the stuff so it was only around the beginning of the 80’s that they ran out of it. Some mixtures survived this by gradually switching from Syrian to Cyprian latakia.
Somewhere during the 80’s the Syrian government lifted the moratorium and to some extent the production was resumed. But it never came close to the amounts of the pre-1960 era. The demand was lower because there were less pipe smokers. On top of that Syrian latakia had to compete with the dark leaf that came from Cyprus. Also a lot of the experienced processors had found another job. As a result the quality of latakia made by other makers became shaky, inconsistent.
Luckily at the beginning of the 2000’s a LOT of vintage Syrian latakia became available. So tobacco companies like MacBaren, McClelland and Cornell & Diehl (which includes GL Pease) bought vast amounts of it. Especially mr. Pease succeeded in making excellent blends with it like Renaissance, Raven’s Wing, Mephisto and Bohemian Scandal. Unfortunately at the end of 2004 the warehouse where the Cornell & Diehl / GL Pease Syrian latakia stock was located burned to the ground. That ended of course all the mixtures in which the Syrian dark leaf was used. But the other tobacco manufacturers that bought into the same batch of vintage Syrian latakia were able to secure their stock. This because their supply was located elsewhere. So those companies still have their part and probably it will last for years, it was a lot. But eventually they will run out of it. And it looks like no more Syrian dark leaf is being made because of the relatively low demand, environmental issues and the ongoing civil war.
Here I quote mr. Pease himself. A question was asked him if the pipe tobacco industry, latakia specifically, been affected (pricing, quality, or availability) by the current situation in Syria: I spent some time on the telephone with the major oriental leaf broker in the US to get a definitive answer to this question, and it’s not a happy one. The simple fact is that Latakia has not been grown and manufactured in Syria now for over ten years. What there is of it in warehouses is all there is, and very likely, is all there ever will be. The vintage leaf that we lost in the fire was very, very special. A couple of manufacturers still have some supplies of that leaf, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. Further, I’ve tasted a lot of blends claiming to contain Syrian Latakia, but you couldn’t prove it by me. It’s possible that they’re adding a few shreds of the stuff in order to stay within the letter of any laws that may exist, but their overall flavor and aroma is clearly that of Cypriot leaf. I cannot speak to the blends produced by most manufacturers, but I’ve had conversations with friends at McClelland and MacBaren, and can say without a doubt that they are, indeed, using vintage Syrian Latakia where they claim to be, so if you enjoy the blends they’re making with it, you’re still in luck, at least for the time being. But, enjoy it while it lasts; when it’s gone, it’s gone.
Of course I will be missing some but blends that still contain (or are claiming it contains) Syrian latakia are:
– None, there are no blends left with a considerable amount of the real Syrian dark leaf. Perhaps there are blenders who still have some shreds left, mix them with a huge load of Cyprian latakia and call it Syrian, I don’t know. It surely will not taste like original Syrian.
See my list of updates below for more information.
EDIT 07-04-2013: I heard from a very reliable source that German tobacco producers Kohlhase & Kopp and DTM (both also producers of HU Tobacco) sadly no longer have Syrian latakia. Because of this I have removed all HU tobacco and Kohlhase & Kopp (Ashton and Solani) blends from the list.
EDIT 04-11-2014: On the 2014 Inter Tabac fair I spoke with Mr. Per Jensen of MacBaren. I was wondering how long the Syrian latakia stock of MacBaren would last that they use for their excellent HH Vintage Syrian. Mr. Jensen very honestly answered that he guessed that in about 7 or 8 years they would run out of the Syrian dark leaf.
EDIT 07-11-2014: I just heard from Paul that on the Inter Tabac Fair he had spoken to one of the two export managers of Planta with whom he has a good connection. He asked him if Planta’s Syrian latakia really contained Syrian latakia. The export manager answered that they still had Syrian stock but that they were not able to buy any more in the last years. How long their supply will last? No idea…
EDIT 08-08-2015: I just read at the Pipes Magazine forum that someone spoke with Per Jensen of MacBaren at the IPCPR and there he said their Syrian stock would last for about 4 years..
EDIT 22-09-2015: Apparently sales of MacBaren’s HH Vintage Syrian are going well. I spoke with Brian Levine on the Inter Tabac some days ago and according to him they will run out of Syrian leaf in about 2 or 3 years. After that the blend will be discontinued. I also dared to ask him if small amounts of Cyprian latakia are mixed with the Syrian dark leaf (there were some rumours..). A resolute “no” followed. Only the size of the tins had changed (from 100 gr. to 50 gr.), nothing else.
EDIT 30-01-2017: From the Facebookpage of Ted Gage: “Syrian tobacco is gone. Used up, done, and gone forever. There will be no McClelland Syrian Three Oaks, or other blends using the supply of McClelland Syrian. Bummer, but we knew it was coming eventually.” In a short while I will remove their blends of the list. For now: stock up folks!
EDIT 12-03-2017: After a discussion with one of the great names in the pipe smoking world I have decided to remove MacBaren HH Vintage Syrian from the tobacco list. There were rumours before that MacBaren was mixing amounts of Cyprian latakia with the Syrian dark leaf. I already had suspicions some time ago but choose to believe the MacBaren folks and ignore my taste buds. The “great name” with much better taste buds confirmed my old suspicions. There is a difference in taste between the old tins I have and new ones. Further I have deleted all tobaccos claiming to have Syrian latakia from my list. McClelland had the last real Syrian dark leaf and they have run out of it recently. All other companies who say they still have some stock are lying in my opinion or they have some left-over shreds that they put in the blends to stay within the boundaries of laws. Taste-wise you are not going to notice it. Blends simply sell better with the Syrian latakia label on them. So in short, the Syrian dark leaf is totally gone now. Don’t let anyone or anything fool you and oh, tobacco companies, be honest to your customers.
EDIT 29-03-2017: In my latest update I was jumping to conclusions too fast about MacBaren’s HH Vintage Syrian. I should have done my homework (like I normally always do) first. On the PipesMagazine forum a discussion erupted about that I solely relied on the taste buds of my anonymous expert and myself without any further proof. Then Per Jensen, product manager of MacBaren. chimed in. Here are the most important excerptions:
I normally don’t comment on rumours coming from an anonym source, but I will make an exemption in this case. In 2006 I created the HH Vintage Syrian as a single standing tobacco. Since the first making of this blend the recipe has not changed, it is still made after the 2006 recipe with Syrian Latakia.
If you compare an older tin with a new one, the taste of the older will of course be slight different due to age. If a pipe smoker perceives this as the newer tin contains a lesser quality tobacco, I would consider this to be a genuine mistake. The HH Vintage Syrian is created like no other Latakia blend, because it also contains Dark Fired Kentucky. In comparison with more “normal” English blends, you will, as pipe smoker, experience another taste in HH Vintage Syrian as in your favourite English blend. HH Vintage Syrian is not your typical English blend and there are so many other good blends out there which will satisfy your taste for Latakia. HH Vintage Syrian was created to be different.
However, no matter this discussion HH Vintage Syrian will be leaving soon, as our supply of Syrian Latakia is coming to an end. Latest in February or March next year the last of the HH Vintage Syrian will leave Svendborg, Denmark, so the guy who created it will also be the one to put it down. That HH Vintage Syrian is leaving us, I have stated over and over again, and I have never made it a secret that it would disappear and also when.
Of course my expert and I discussed this. We really tasted something different in the newer tins as opposed to the older ones, and it was not the dark-fired Kentucky because that has been in all along. Besides, there are other latakia blends with dark-fired Kentucky, see this list. My expert missed the distinctive resiny, pine-like aroma that the Syrian latakia once gave the blend and that is not present in the current tins. But he did detect the sweeter, earthier, more camp-fire and leather smell and taste of its Cyprian cousin. Suddenly he came up with something: What if MacBaren was not using the same Syrian batch as in the beginning, the same batch Cornell & Diehl and McClelland also bought? It could be that they ran out of that batch some time ago and acquired a different Syrian latakia from some leaf broker. That way there is still Syrian in HH Vintage Syrian, it could explain the difference in taste and Per would be telling the truth. So I mailed Per that theory and kindly asked him for an honest answer. Which I got:
First of all I want to inform you that of course I stand behind my statement on pipesmagazine.com. As I have mentioned time after time during the years we would be out of Syrian Latakia latest in 2019 to 2020. The reason that we stop the production already in beginning of 2018 has more reasons than one. First our stock is lower than predicted 7 years ago and second we had to destroy some of the Latakia because it did not live up to the standard we demanded.
At the time when rumours started about the shortage of Syrian Latakia, we contacted our vast network of tobacco suppliers to hear if they could help us obtaining Syrian Latakia. We managed to get 6 batches from different sources, some small but 2 of batches were bigger. Since then we have blended the different Latakia from Syria in order to get an even taste. At present time the rest of the Syrian Latakia we have is blended out of only 2 different batches where we in the past blended at least 4 different together.
So yes, we have been using different batches in HH Vintage Syrian and in February 2018 the book of Syrian Latakia will be closed.
So there was a difference after all. In the first years the same batch that Cornell & Diehl and McClelland also bought was used and later on various batches from different sources were mixed together. Of course we don’t know if those leaf brokers who sold MacBaren their later Syrian latakia offered the real stuff. For example, in his Cyprian or Syrian? (Part II) blogpost well known master-blender GL Pease says (amongst other things) this: Since The (warehouse) Fire, there have been more than a few samples of “Syrian Latakia” arriving in my postbox from various suppliers. Some have been no more Syrian than I am. Others have been of such low quality I wouldn’t use the stuff to smoke fish. But for now I am going to give HH Vintage Syrian the benefit of the doubt. I can’t research it any further. Regardless which latakia from whatever quality is used, it is still an excellent smoke.
I want to thank Per Jensen for his honest answers and my anonymous expert for his knowledge and expertise.
EDIT 05-01-2018: At the end of last year MacBaren master-blender Per Jensen discontinued his HH Vintage Syrian blend as can be seen in one of his Instagram posts. So I removed it from my list.
I must confess that in most cases my taste is not sophisticated enough to discern Syrian from Cyprian latakia, although the Syrian does taste slightly smoother………but oh how I miss GLP Mephisto!
I never got the chance to smoke any of the Syrian blends of mr. Pease.. 🙁 You are a lucky man! You ever smoked Abingdon? Well, that is Cyprian latakia powerhouse. Cyprian latakia is more noticeable, assertive and a bit sweeter. Syrian indeed is much more smooth.
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Any info regarding syrian latakia in the blends produced by Schürch Tobaccos?
Hello Rikard, I don’t have any direct info about Schürch tobaccos. I looked on the site of Synjeco (who sells the blends) and no mention of any Syrian latakia. Also when you look at the blend description of Onyx no mention of the Syrian dark leaf. Although once the description was this:
This is by far Hans’ most successful and popular English mixture. Fans of this type of tobacco all over the world swear by this mixture: Two Virginias, including an extremely rare one, a generous portion of Syrian Latakia, and a touch of Louisiana Perique.
So my guess is he ran out of Syrian latakia. If you really want to be 100% sure you get the real Syrian latakia buy the blends from McClelland that have it.
Thank you for the swift answer. I recently bought a tin from Schürch it is only marked “Sob.” (short for Sobrani I guess). I was curious if it contains syrian latakia. I enquire further and post back here if I find something out.
Ah, Sob is the tinned version of Torina. And Torina is a substitute for Balkan Sobranie 759. That tobacco never contained Syrian latakia. Balkan Sobranie Smoking Mixure, the white tin, once contained Syrian latakia. So I feel pretty safe to day that your Sob tin does not contain the Syrian dark leaf.
I see. Thats why I could not find a review of Sob. on tobacco reviews.com 🙂 Alright. So no syrian in that one. But it is a wonderful, truly fantastic tobacco nevertheless. Happy to live 100 m from a tobacconist who carries it 🙂 I’ll start looking for the offerings from McClelland regarding syrian latakia.
You are welcome, happy puffin’!
Just a following note on the syrian latakia conversation …
For What It’s Worth !
Just received this e-mail from Pipes and Cigars.com in USA …
“Thank you for choosing Pipes and Cigars to place your order! I am contacting you because unfortunately the –McConnell’s Pure Latakia you ordered has been discontinued. The item has been cancelled and your card has not been charged for this item”
I’m now wondering if this is discontinued because Kohlhase,Kopp und Co. has finally used up their supply of Syrian Latakia.
Best Regards !
Hello Jim, thanks for your message. McConnell’s Pure Latakia used to contain Syrian latakia years ago, but then they removed the “Syrian” when their stock was gone. Although on their site they list a tin which still has “Syrian” on it.. They sold it afterwards as just regular (Cyprian) latakia so why they choose to discontinue it, no idea.. Oh, on their site they say that in some blends is still Syrian latakia but that is bullsh*t in my opinion. If you have smoked McClellands 3 Oaks Syrian you know the difference..
According to the tin description ‘Wellauer’s Latakia’ (not te be confused with Latakia mixture) also contains Syrian leaf. I don’t see it listed in this wonderful blogpost. I bought the tin in 2014. Is this ‘the real thing’?
Hello Robbin, I have no idea if the latakia in Wellauer’s Latakia is Syrian. According to one of Planta’s export managers they do have a bit left of Syrian latakia but I really am not sure if it is the real stuff.. It is a grey area so to say.. So for now I added the blend to the list, benefit of the doubt. If you really want to know it, buy a tin of McClellands 3 Oaks Syrian and compare that to the Wellauer. Syrian latakia should be less assertive, softer.
You’re right. That’s the only way to know for sure.
Do you know approximately when DAN ran out of Syrian?
Hello Eric, you mean Danpipe/DTM? I mentioned it in an update above, in 2013. But perhaps earlier. I visited the factory in 2012 and at that point they only had Cyprian latakia. Maybe they had some stock in tins left.
Hi Arno – I have been reading the HH Vintage Syrian PipesMagazine forum discussion and your article above with great interest. I have smoked the blend for the last 8-9 years, always ordering the one pound bags. In September 2015 I noticed that the taste and appearance of the tobacco had noticeably changed. The color was lighter and the taste was sharper. I thought that perhaps something had changed in MacBaren’s blending. I called the shop that I had ordered from and asked about the change. They in turn asked their distributor if anything had changed in the blend. The distributor assured them that nothing had changed. But it was obvious to me that the 2015 production was not the same as in prior years. Your efforts have provided what Paul Harvey would have called “the rest of the story”. It was good of Mr. Jensen to contribute his knowledge to the discussion. It will be interesting to see if a few more years of aging will soften the more recent incarnation of the blend.
Thanks again for the interesting investigative work.
Hello Bill, thank you for reading my blog. I am glad I was not the only one who noticed a difference (besides my source).
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Pingback: [Blog] Syrischer Latakia – Wie weiter? – Der Pfeifenkopf
I believe that we Will always have this Very special tobacco between us. I AM anexo enthusiast of Latakia Blenda, sinceramente 1970 décad.
As análises Agronomic Engineer, I AM sure that producers Will find the right está to continue offering this unique product for ALL of us.
Best regards from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Great information. A lot of the aged tins I have are these listed. Keepers for syre
What about Schurch Onyx or Wellauer’ Latakia?
Are Swiss lying?
I have 16oz rather fresh Onyx and it smell more like Syrian, not Cyprian Latakia.
Trying to get Wellauer Latakia as well.
Do You have any info?
Hello Bublik, I have no real proof regarding Wellauer but if you just look at the facts (in Syria no latakia has been made for yeeaaaaars and even the mighty MacBaren can’t get the stuff anymore) you have to conclude that there is no real Syrian latakia left.
But mighty MacBaren needs a looooot of Syrian to start the production! They won’t be interested in small batches.
Tiny brands like Schurch or Wellauer who sell only locally in Switzerland could still have some Syrian and will stop production when it’s out.
That’s why I’m still in hope 🙂
That is true I guess, but it is so difficult to determine if Wellauer has the real stuff. I have had some and to my nose it is not the real thing. Remember, in Syria they do not make it anymore for a long time and Wellauer have their “Syrian” latakia blends already for ages. And if you mail them they will of course say it is the real stuff.. I doubt it more than I believe it, that is why I did not include Wellauer in my list. But you can always hope of course 😉