Palatable Presbyterian

Presbyterian Mixture advertisement

Presbyterian Mixture advertisement

Opus Eponymous by Ghost

Opus Eponymous by Ghost

In my early pipe-smoking days, being a lover of heavy metal/hard rock music, I was quick to notice the great artwork of the Presbyterian Mixture tin. It’s Gothic church and font type immediately appealed to me. I mean, look at the cover of one of my favourite records, Opus Eponymous by the band Ghost. But for some reason I never tried the blend..

Presbyterian Mixture has been amongst us for a pretty long time. This fine tobacco originally had no name. It was blended before the first World War especially for the Very Rev. Dr. John White, sometime minister of the Barony Kirk in Glasgow and Moderator of the General Assembly in Scotland in 1929. He introduced it to Stanley Baldwin, later Earl Baldwin, Prime Minister in 1923, 1924 and 1935. He liked it so much that regular supplies were sent down to him and it was he who suggested that it be called “Presbyterian Mixture”. Hence the name. Earl Baldwin even said “My thoughts grow in the aroma of that particular tobacco.” My girlfriend would say “My nose suffers in the aroma of that particular tobacco.”..

Presbyterian Mixture ad from 1938

Presbyterian Mixture advertisement from 1938

In the early days the mixture was made by A. Gale & Co Ltd. from Glasgow. The blender was William P. Solomon. Now it is made for years by Planta from Berlin.

For me Presbyterian is an oriental mixture. The tin of the international version (more about that later) says this: Mellow blend of US-Virginia tobaccos and high quality Macedonian grades – exclusive, aristocratic pipe mixture. The Planta catalogue also says that the blend contains a number of selected Latakia leaf tips. This has been a controversy for years but I really don’t know why.. When you smoke it you clearly can taste the dark leaf (an oriental in itself). There is not much of it in the mixture but it is clearly noticeable.

Yes, smoking the mixture.. I got my first tin of Presbyterian from fellow Dutch pipe-smoker forum member and dear friend Ed. He had bought a tin in Belgium (unfortunately it is not available in The Netherlands), smoked a couple of bowls and decided it wasn’t for him. So he gave it away to (lucky) me.

Dunhill Bruyere from the patent era

Dunhill Bruyere from the patent era

At first I had trouble to fathom, to understand the blend. I could not get a grasp on the taste, very annoying. Until I read somewhere that Presbyterian is best smoked in small bowls. I had a small Dunhill Bruyere from the patent era that I not used much. No tobacco would work in that one. So I packed the bowl full with Presbyterian, lit it and… got that magic fit between a pipe and a tobacco.

Presbyterian Mixture is not an overly complex blend. So I smoke it often late at night before I go to sleep. Upon lighting you just taste the latakia but soon the Virginia and then the orientals take over. I don’t know which orientals are used. Somewhere I read “Katerini” but I am not sure. The blend is very mellow, a good gentle smoke. I love the sweet and sour combination that plays back and forth in the nose and on the tasting palate. The room note however leaves something to be desired according to my girlfriend. Latakia and women.. Hmz…

I always smoked 50 gr. tins that I bought in Belgium and the USA. Then halfway of last year I saw that in Germany they had 100 gr. tins (no more 50 gr. ones) for only €14.60. The 50 gr. tins I bought in Belgium before were around €11.
So 2 x 50 gr. €11 (old price) = €22 for 100 gr. Huh? The mixture became much cheaper?? So I bought a new 100 gr. German tin for comparison, opened it and smoked it. I did not like it… The taste that made the old Presbyterian unique was missing. In stead I tasted a more artificial chocolate/honey sweetness. Halfway the bowl the orientals used to shine and now it was kind of flat. Also the blend smelled different in the tin. First it smelled a bit like wet grass, now I smelled a bit of chocolate..

So I mailed Planta about this. And they were very kind to mail me back pretty soon:

Dear Arno,

Please accept my answer as I am responsible for international sales in PLANTA. I should appreciate your information that you smoke our PRESBYTERIAN pipe mixture. Thank you for being one of our loyal customers!

Please let me explain the situation. For many decades we sell a Presbyterian mixture in Germany (which is different to the international blend) in 100g tins only while the international blends comes out exclusively in 50g tins. We made the international blend according to the expectations of our friends in the USA, UK and other foreign countries too. The “German” mixture however had been done according more to the taste of our countrymen. But please, none of the two different mixtures had ever been changed. Both have remained the same. Of course, you as an experienced pipe smoker know, that every year the tobacco changes a little bit…

Please understand that we cannot influence the price policy of our importers and foreign retailers. There are also different excise tax rates in different countries, the VAT differs and other cost factors too. In contrast to Germany (where we have got fixed consumer prices in all shops), in a lot of countries there isn’t any price fixing.

In the U.K., for instance, in some shops you have to pay 11,80 Pounds for the 50g tin, in the USA sometimes 10,50 US$ and in Belgium I found 11 Euro in the Internet. So, there is a big difference everywhere.

Hopefully, this gives you a better picture.

Best regards,

The German 100 gr. Presbyterian Mixture

New German 100 gr. Presbyterian Mixture

So….. There are 2 different Presbyterian Mixtures! An international version (the one I like) and a German version. Well, for once I am glad I don’t live in Germany.. I do not like the idea that a tobacco company decides for me what my taste is. I hope this is not done more often with other mixtures that are available in both Europe and the USA. What also worries me slightly is that the tobacco changes a little bit every year. Of course tobacco manufacturers are dependent on the raw leaves they can get. But it is a nice excuse to make little cost reducing and profit enhancing changes to a blend. So I don’t know.. I still have my doubts.. The international Presbyterian Mixture version only became cheaper through the years. In the USA last year it was $11.19. Now it is $10.59..

So if you want to try this legendary mixture, smoke the (still) wonderful international version. Unless you have a “German taste”. Whatever that is..

Here are some tins from old to new:

Very old "presby"

Very old “presby”

Without the "classic blue"

Without the “classic blue”

With the "classic blue"

With the “classic blue”

Old German made tin art

Old German made tin art

Current international version

Current international version

0 thoughts on “Palatable Presbyterian

  1. It does seem strange that they would have a German version of Presbyterian that is completely different than what the rest of the world is smoking. Why even call it Presby?

  2. oh sh**!, i live in germany… and i wanted to buy a tin of the presbyterian, now i read i will have to buy it overseas… even if the tobacconist next door sells it as well…

    i dunno… the “typical” german public (according to planta) have already their “aromaten”,… right? …

    but it’s funny cause there are voices against v.g. the new dunhill’s or rattray’s… “they are not what they were”, “it’s a shame they still pretend to call it EMP”… whatever… but this thing planta does is even crazier as the reanimation of balkan sobranie or any other classic… even if this is not the only exemple, and happens also with other consumable goods, the coexistence of two different blends with the same name is simply nuts…

    • Well, since you live in Germany maybe you have a “German taste” and will like the German version 😉

      As far as I know Germans tend to like aromatics yes. Aromatics smoked in filter-pipes..

      Who knows they do it also with other tobaccos yes. Is the USA tin of Black Vanilla Mixture the same as the German one? Anyway, I was pretty shocked to read that..

  3. It seems really weird that they would do this. If the 50g tins are for the international market, apparently defined by our tastes here in the US and in the UK, why is the paper insert in the international version that gives the history of the blend written in German? If there are two different blends, which of them is the actual blend smoked by Stanley Baldwin? Whichever it is, since all of the tins you picture say that they contain tobacco “manufactured to the original blend made famous by Stanley Baldwin” there is clearly some false advertizing going on. How bizarre.

    Be that as it may, I really do like the Presbyterian Blend in the 50g tins. It is one of my favorites.

    • Hello Gerd, yeah I also think it is weird and bizarre.. Like you say, false advertising. But ey, it now is their blend so they can do with it what they like..

  4. Should have read this before you handed me the German Presby Arno 😉

    I now know exactly what you’re writing about.

    Thanks anyway. I’m pretty curious for the international version now. 🙂

    • I was already thinking, why is he so desperate to try that sh*tty German version? 😛 Why do you think I gave it away for free?? 😉

      International version is way better. Order somewhere in Belgium or at 4noggins.

  5. Love your blog. But with Presbyterian Mixture we have to conclude that there have been (maybe still are) at least three of them! There is certainly mystery which has yet to be resolved,

    It’s impossible for the very light tan blend that is depicted in your advertisement picture at the very top left (“Thoughts grow…”) with the product offered today (international) which is much darker and in fact has a totally different description.

    Depicted at the following URL is the current product:

    The two are very different.

    Further Planta describes Presbyterian as follows:
    “Extraordinarily soft blend of finest US Virginia grades and a number of selected Latakia leaf tips. Ideal mixture also for beginners with English tobaccos”

    The word Macedonian does not occur in the description. Yet the description seems to me to be quite consistent with the (international) product offered today.
    It’s a variety of darker Virginias with Latakia. And any debate about whether Latakia is present is ridiculous. But with the old one (“Thoughts grow”) that was the debate. However, if the old one which was a Virginia with long blonde ribbon cut had Latakia it wasn’t at all obvious. I smoked the old blonde one for about 20 years. It was even lighter coloured than the old pic you show. Today we would call it a Virginia-Oriental mixture. In addition to the wonderful Virginias there was a lovely nutty flavour that we associated with the Macedonian leaf, mentioned in descriptions.

    So the problem hasn’t yet been resolved. And of course “manufactured to the original cannot be true unless the original was … who knows? But isn’t it fascinating. Hopefully I’ve infected you with the mystery that is already present in your article.

    • Hello Rusty, by the way, THE Rusty from the Christian Pipe Smokers Forum? If so, I am honoured to speak to you, your posts there contain a wealth of information. The word “Macedonian” is indeed not there in the Planta description in their latest catalogue. However, on my US tin it says US-Virgina and Macedonian grades. And nothing about latakia. I think the catalogue description goes for the German Presbyterian version. I don’t know if you smoked that one but it is.. Well.. Not so good.. I immediately believe there are no orientals in that one, like I say in the blog. I wished I were able to smoke the old Presbyterian version you knew. But alas, those tins are hard to come by.. Empty, yes, still full and sealed, never saw one on ebay.. I wish I knew more about the manufacturing history, when exactly Planta took over and when and why they decided to split Presbyterian into an US and an international version.

  6. The Rusty? Distinguishing grades of infamy apparently. This is new. 🙂 Yes, you caught me, the very one, tobacco evangelist to Christians. Unless there is another running around…

    Yes, I have US tins from the American distributor, James Norman too. The label on the back has the same statement as yours. From the last one that I opened I thought Planta’s description was more accurate to my taste. There was definitely Latakia to my tastes, in memory at least. But the “high quality Macedonian grades” is vague too. Macedonian grades of what? It seemed to be Virginia and Latakia to me.

    However, I have both older Canadian distributor tins (I just opened the oldest hoping it was the old blonde one, but no) and American tins from James Norman. Both are dark mixtures as opposed to the old blonde one. Both in plastic bags in the tin. I think Planta made them both. I’ve never tasted any topping on any of the Presbyterian dark coloured mixtures from N. America and I can’t remember any on the old blonde one either. So the aromatic German delight is absent here. These are similar looking dark mixtures and packaged the same. I’ll open the American tin tomorrow and a-b compare them.

    The Canadian tin that I just opened & am currently smoking is from 1999 and it may indeed have something more than Virginia and Latakia, but Latakia is there though it has softened. It’s tough with old tins. I’ll compare it to the American one tomorrow.

    So there is still a difference from the older Blonde one that is in the ad and that I remember from the 80’s. Enough so that the mystery persists.

    Did Planta ever mention when they acquired it & maybe from whom? This is one that Big Tobacco never owned so harder to trace the ownership chain. It would be nice to know.

    • The German tins of Pressy I smoke (and which is frowned upon by Arno 😉 ) definitely contain Orientals as is evident by their colours first, and taste later.Furthermore, there are “clumps”of brown/black tobacco’s that could be Perique, I do taste its character in this mixture. And then I believe it might have the merest trace of cigar leaf as well. I have smoked Wellauer’s Best lately, made by Planta, and it is like Pres on steroids, very Oriental/Perique forward. Worth a try.

    • Well, when one searches a bit deeper on the internet for information about tobaccos your name often pops up 😉

      I still believe there are orientals in the US version. To me the mixture tastes more, exciting, deeper than a Virginia-latakia blend.
      I am curious, the American en Canadian ones should be the same. You know, 1 international version and 1 German version. Let me know your findings!

      I’ll mail Planta about acquiring Presbyterian. With some luck they answer 🙂 Indeed, something that is nice to know.

      @ Rob: I still believe the German version has no orientals 😛 The brown-black component could be cavendish, which replaced the orientals. That happens more. Kohlhase & Kopp replaced the (also Macedonian) orientals In Ashton’s Old London Pebble cut with cavendish. And destroyed what the blend was all about…

  7. Yes, you’re right. There is at least one Oriental in the US & old Canadian version. I think it’s Basma or something very close to that. I a-b compared the two tins and aside from age they seemed the same to me. With the packaging being the same I think Planta made them both.

    I went a little further. One can take apart the mixture and separate the various leaves and bits by colour and texture. It’s a bit laborious and tedious but one ends up with uniform little piles that are much easier to identify than just smoking the uniform mixture. We tend to be unreliable at identifying blend constituents with casual smoking. Perhaps you’ve smoked blindfolded or in the dark and realized that it’s a challenge to know that the pipe hasn’t gone out! 😉
    I separated the US version and can confirm that there really is Oriental tobacco in it plus some Latakia. The rest seems to be Virginia in a a number of colours. There is less Latakia than I thought but it is there. One need not do this with the whole tin since the mixture is fairly uniform. An initial amount corresponding to a bowl or two of the mixture is sufficient and even that is a little laborious. If one is careful and thorough one can probably determine proportions but I didn’t pursue that. One can burn individual leaves (using tweezers) if there is some doubt about what it is, and there usually is doubt. I usually do this anyway just to verify.The scent of the burning leaf gives its identity away and ultimately we can also smoke the little piles of separated leaf in a pipe – that usually nails it pretty quickly. That’s kind of fun. I didn’t find any Perique.

    So it confirms your sense of the mixture. It’s still quite different than the original though and that adds a question – why did Planta change it?

    • Hello Rusty, the oriental could not be Katerini? I read that somewhere. Of course I can’t remember where exactly, grrr….

      Cool you “dissected” the mixture 😀 I am glad I was right hahaha 😉 but indeed, when one really wants to know what the ingredients are of a blend, dissect it! Although I have never done that to be honest. I usually take out similar strands and place them under my tongue to taste them. A trick from ol’ Stokkebye.

      Further I mailed Planta, I hope they respond. I asked this: 1. In which year did you acquire the Presbyterian blend? 2. From who did you acquire it? 3. Is the recipe from the current international version the same as the old A. Gale & Co Ltd. recipe?

      Merry Christmas!

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