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Balkan Sobranie Smoking Mixture - my thoughts

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klause

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So here goes, my first ever tobacco review.

As you know, I managed to get my mitts on some Balkan Sobranie Smoking Mixture that's about 30 odd years old. Originally I had planned to try this next Saturday, but, even though I am a patient chap, usually, events conspired against me today and I found myself in the enviable position of being able to spend sometime in the greenhouse, on my own.

I only smoke now when I have time to sit and relax, to enjoy my smoke, to savour it, and revel in it. Therefore, I only smoke about 5 bowls a week now, and then only when I can sit for an hour or two - I'm not a clencher anymore, I like to hold my pipe.

I arrived home this morning from my trip abroad, and didn't have to go into work (yippee). It's freezing cold here and the water pipes have frozen - so there's not much to do once the fire is lit, while I'm waiting for the house to warm up and the mains pipe to thaw out a little. So, I decided to seize the moment.

I wrapped up warm - triple layers of coats and wooly hat. Made a thermos flask of tea (water out of the dehumidifier), took my new Mark Balkovec pipe and some of the Sobranie and headed to the greenhouse. I can hear the intake of breath from some of you as I type - why is he using that vintage tobacco to start the break-in of his new pipe? Well, I couldn't think of a better way to christen the most gorgeous pipe I have ever owned - and, simply, because I could. But, I know, it really was sacrilege - how could I taste the tobacco properly in a brand new pipe? To heck with it - I did it anyway.

This pipe has the most perfect drilling I have seen in a long time - the air hole hits the bottom of the bowl dead centre and in exactly the right spot - it draws wonderfully. The inside of the bowl has a most beautiful grain. Alas, I will never see that grain again after today!

The tobacco is a wonderful rich dark colour - I should imagine it was once a mix of dark and bright tobaccos, but now, with ageing it has taken on a lovely mahogany hue. It is cut into long strands, the likes and lengths of which I've not see before - it took me quite by surprise. The wonderful aroma I noted when I first opened the tin had become more subdued, but still wonderful to breath in.

I loaded the pipe all the way to the top. I decided to forego the usual break-in of only partially packing the pipe as I packed loose and guessed that it would tamp down quite a bit. The bowl is deceptively deep and took quite a bit of the weed.

The anticipation was near killing me at this point - more in that I wanted to see how this pipe smoked, than what the tobacco was like. A stunning pipe, with, by all accounts, a wonderous tobacco. I teased myself a little by pouring out a cup of the brew I had to hand, taking a few sips and calming my mind.

Then, the charring light! It took two goes - and that first taste, but more the aroma I got a nose full of, was of a strong well rounded cigar. And then it was gone. I didn't get that again.

Once lit the tobacco was somewhat mild, almost nondescript in its taste. It reminded me of my first experience of Parsons Pleasure (that took time to fully appreciate). It was like there was nothing there. Now, admittedly, I was actually more interested in the pipe at this point, and how it smoked and how it felt in the hand (wonderful on both counts), to be paying to much attention to the tobacco. Once well alight and settled, I sipped some more tea, and turned my attention to the tobacco. I had packed a little loose so tamped it in a bit and was surprised to see that it actually tamped down to about half the bowl height - but boy, what a difference.

I was quietly kicked in the taste buds with pepper. Not black pepper, but fresh white pepper. I don't like, and never use, the stuff, but this was very pleasant. As I paid more attention the taste became more pronounced, but mingled with something else I can't put my finger on. Exhaling through the nose only improved it. This was actually very nice. And there, I drifted away from the tobacco and back to the performance of the pipe. "Gently does it," was my approach. And I was well rewarded. It smoked beautifully, all the way to the bottom of the bowl.

Running a cleaner through the stem I noticed that there was very little discolouration from the tobacco - the least I have ever seen from a freshly smoked pipe.

The tobacco smoked cool, not surprising as I was taking it easy, and left the finest grey ash I can remember seeing. I had in my mind that I would like to see a lovely white ash, but it was not to be. I certainly wasn't disappointed, just surprised - doubly so at how this tobacco burned down so completely the quantity burned in no way was reflected in the tiny amount left in the bottom of the bowl.

There was absolutely no bite, only a lovely aftertaste, that is still with me 2 hours later. In fact so nice was it that I decided to give this stuff a try and my full attention in my Dunhill Shellbriar- a veritable old timer that was well loved and well used by its previous owner - a smoker of the first order. So, poured another tea, and filled the Dunhill - right to the very top, and packed a little tighter. Applied a charring light and let e pepper tingle my tongue. Let it sit. Tamped it. Surprised at how far down the bowl it settled with only a gentle touch of the tamper. Sip of tea. Main light - long, slow draw. Wow!!!!

Mouth full of cool, rich, spicy smoke. Sit with it for a while and swill it round, then out through the nose.

The temptation to rush back and take another pull was quite strong. This stuff is nice. The smoke is full, creamy, thick, rich, tingly, cool, dry - it you could poke a finger into it you would almost feel it give, and resist a little as it enveloped your finger. It has the consistency of a soft fluffy meringue in the mouth - you can practically feel it, not just taste it. The smoke from Squadron Leader doesn't match up to this one.

I smoke. I sip tea. I'm trying to work out the rhythm of this smoke. I'm trying to identify flavours and sensations - there's more than pepper here, but it will take a better palette than mine to identify them and describe them.

It burns crisply, but slowly. There is absolutely NO heat in the pipe bowl. I'm not wearing gloves, even though its flipping freezing, as I like to hold the pipe and feel its warmth. There is none, yet it's burning well. The smoke is still cool - the heat is in the spicy flavour - in spite of my faltering effort to make this an even burn, to set a consistent rhythm.

I need to relight. So, I tamp a little on the lovely fine ash, and again it sinks further than expected. I relight.

If I had smoke a minute ago, I have a bonfire now. If I had flavours, I have sensations now. Everything is magnified by the tamping and relighting. I let it settle and drink some more tea. I decide that this is a smoke I can exhale through my nose with every puff. It doesn't cut like others, that I need to exhale nasally with caution. This smoke is like nothing I've had before- and I don't mean that in the way I thought I would, in the way I was expecting - this is just different. This is just lovely. This is standing over a straw bonfire on an autumns evening and breathing in the outer-wispy-edges of that think billowing smoke - this is carefree childhood evenings that you want to last for ever, but only ever end up pining for for the rest of your adult life.

All to soon the bowl is finished. Just a tiny amount of fine grey loveliness to show that there was once tobacco in there. This stuff is a grower. I'm thinking of leaving it there. Why push it? No tongue bite, not detrimental effects, no negative thoughts. Just the knowledge that this is only going to get better with every smoke; that I'll taste more, feel more, think more with each bowl. I shouldn't rush it. I need to leave it. I need to pee!!!!

Before I leave the greenhouse I run a cleaner through the Dunhill. Again, I'm surprised at how little tar and general nastiness there is on it - it's really a tan coloured moistness.

At this point I notice how cold I am. I hadn't noticed all the time the pipe was lit. I conclude that that's it for the day and wander into the house. Still no water!!!! However, there's still some tea in the thermos. Hmmmm!!! That's in the greenhouse..........

I return to the greenhouse carrying my Zettervig Freehand (Bigger than the Dunhill) stuffed to the brim with this sublime weed - for so it is, I realise. This time I have packed it tighter to see how it goes, and, I now realise, subconsciously to ensure a longer smoke.

More tea. Charring light. Let it sit, while savouring that initial assault on the taste buds. It is an assault. I'm noticing it now - there is a lot going on - I'm tuning into this smoke. Another couple of sips of tea and then fire her up.

The tighter pack makes a huge difference - great globulous mouthfuls of smoke from long gentle draws. I watch this ascent to the roof of the greenhouse and begin to envy the spiders their unwitting good fortune.

I play with the cadence of smoking this tobacco. Short, rapid and regular puffs - produces thin wispy smoke that has flavours at what I can only describe as a higher pitch. Slow, long, regular puffs - produce rich, think smoke, with deep tones of flavour. Soft gentle puffs, interspersed with long deep ones gives a kaleidoscope of flavours and intensities. I like them all. I realise this is a tobacco that can be smoked to suit a mood, to suit an occasion, to suit a time and place - just adjust your rhythm - it takes them all. It doesn't fight you - it's as if it wants you to enjoy every nuance it has to offer.

It is in this spirit that I decide not to fight it, in return for its kindness - I'm taking onboard something I read by Yak in a post, about letting the tobacco set the pace etc (thanks Yak, great advice).

I slow down the smoke, I sip tea more frequently, I admire the pipe, it's smoothness, it age, it's story, I smoke. I relight. I experience new tastes. I repeat.

With each relight, this tobacco gets richer, deeper, more smokey. It seems to respond well to this way of smoking. Or, perhaps, I am concentrating more on the tobacco, than on trying to keep it steady, to keep it lit, to keep it consistent. I think I've opened up to what it has to offer, as it is prepared to offer it. The pepper is more mellow, more aged, more agreeable.

Finally, it ends, and I've hardly noticed where the time has gone. I will not have another bowl today. I have to just relive the three I have had - each different, but equally as good, for different reasons.

This tobacco is the comforting warmth I feel when I catch a whiff of turf smoke on a bright frosty winters morning, or in the evening when returning home from a long hard day outdoors. This tobacco is relaxation on a late summers evening when the chainsaw is quiet, the wood is cut, and you can sit quietly and listen to the sounds in the woodland and coming across the fields.

This tobacco is a grower, in the best possible sense. I wish this tobacco was still being produced - my jar of it now seems to be incredibly small, and will be, I know, in existence for what will seem a fleeting moment.

Still, I am lucky. Heavens above I am lucky. I can temper the impending sadness when I smoke the last bowl by telling myself that there are other tobaccos out there that will give me the same thoughts and feelings, I just need to open up to them and let them in. I need to stop fighting the tobacco, and enjoy it for what it is, whatever it is.
 

Natch

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Nice review, Klause. I took more from the delightful description of the geography and emotions of the event than the analysis of that lovely tobacco you were ever so lucky to have received. I love descriptions of "places" that evoke such strong connections for me that I can smell, taste and even see what is occurring there.

Natch
 

monbla256

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Sounds like you enjoyed some very nice VINTAGE 'bac. One thing to remember, smoking 30 yo 'bac IS NOT the same as smoking it when it was fresh! It will still have the basic profile as when it was fresh but greatly altered by the ageing process. I have several tins of 30+ yo Sobranie 759 which I used to smoke alot of back in the 70's and this is similar though not as "up front" flavor wise as it was when I bought it and smoked it fresh. All the component 'bacs have had time to marry with one another and sort of "meld" into a single flavor profile. Don't get me wrong, I like it but it is NOT what I smoked back then for sure ! Enjoy it for what it is, a nice unique taste of the past so to speak that you can savour :p
 

DrumsAndBeer

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Wonderful review and thanks for taking the time to write this.

Sounds like you happened across some excellent vintage tobacco that has you truly inspired. I always love when that happens. :D
 

klause

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Gentlemen, thank you for your comments - I really appreciate them.

Monbla, I'm really glad you said that, because I was beginning to wonder if I'd missed something. I certainly didn't expect the experience of a fresh tin, but with age, if you see what I mean - I wasn't really sure what to expect.

I'm really glad I've tried this. I guess it's like a really good, well aged, blue cheese.

You can enjoy a good fresh blue cheese, but that lovely lump you put on your cracker that has been matured for a couple of years longer is a whole different animal, even though they may have originated from the same batch.

Each has its merits, each has to be appreciated for what it is, though with slightly different terms of reference.

I'm confusing myself now, so I'll just shush-up!

Thanks again for the kind words chaps.
 

alfredo_buscatti

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The oldest I've smoked is 7 y/o Cumberland and 5 y/o Redwood. Both were melded and the flavor was more subdued; but in neither case did they not bear strong resemblance to fresh. But then neither is 30 years old.

Superb.

I liquor store clerk said that to him very old spirits are so changed that they have no resemblance. In a former life I would have liked to put that to a test:).
 

Kyle Weiss

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I felt a little shamed reading that, as I wasn't sure if it was a pulp novel featuring pipes or...

...:lol:...a little vicarious enjoyment never hurt anyone... ;)

Calmly descriptive, flowery in all the right ways, I actually was drawn into the whole experience. I don't think "storytelling" reviews are going to satisfy the on-the-go folks that require instant information, but since I was sitting back and having a pipe experience of my own while reading, it fit the pace quite well.

Seems like you liked the old Balkan Sobranie. I was going to suggest you try the stuff out in your new USA-Dane pipe you picked up--to hell if anyone thinks it's "sacrilege." :lol: It's your enjoyment here, and that's evidenced by your penning this little story. :cheers:

8)
 

KevinM

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That's freakin' IT!!! In it's best form, pipe smoking is a heightened moment (or afternoon) of smoker, pipe, tobacco, and surroundings all blending together to transport the smoker while the frozen water pipes, the month's bills etc all fade into the outer darkness. Even the spiders take on a finer presence. Instant classic. Well done!
 

klause

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Thanks Kyle, I appreciate your comments :D

Yep! I got a bit carried away by the moment - It wasn't my original intention, but, hey-ho! Thats what its all about - i think.

For me, its the whole experience - I think Kevin hit the nail firmly on the head.

Another day, another time, another mood, it could simply have been, " Bah"!!!!

 

bosun1

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Excellent recounting! So much more than a "this stuff was great" report. I got the feel of the atmosphere, the overcoming of obstacles and annoyances, the sense of peace and not having to rush. It's what life and pipe smoking should be. I especially liked getting water from the dehumidifier for your tea! (G)
 

Simple Man

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That was a very enjoyable review! Well written and fun to read. Loved your line, "this is carefree childhood evenings that you want to last for ever, but only ever end up pining for for the rest of your adult life." I know that feeling well. :D
 
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