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In Search of the Perfect English

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Brunello

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The original 1970s Balkan Sobranie was a favorite part of my steady rotation for as long as it was available. When it became 759 it no longer appealed to me and I started looking for other options. I still haven't found a satisfying replacement, but in the process I've discovered some other styles of English/Balkan that are now favorites.

There are two things that tend to put people off on English blends: Latakia is too overwhelming (Gaslight, Pirates Kake), or they get one of those blends that have a disconcerting soapy note when set to flame. But there is a whole world of variety to explore that avoid those two deal-breakers: there are classic Virginia-Latakia blends that come in light. medium, and full-bodied versions, there are "Dirty English" blends that use Burley instead of Virginia, there are Scottish variants which often have softening portion of unflavored natural Cavendish, or maybe even Black Cavendish, there are "English Aromatics" with subtle addition of flavorings - the crossover blends like Frog on a Log - and there are some interesting exotic blends that use unexpected ingredients like Perique or Indonesian Tambolaka.

Looking at my list of favorites I realize that many of my choices are not the most popular blends that get recommended (for example, Dunhill 965 which is alright but not a favorite). This just shows how individual preferences can be. Some blends seem to straddle two categories, so some may disagree with where I've placed them. If you haven't tried more than one or two of the categories you might consider what it is that you didn't like and perhaps try one of the other categories. Here are my favorites (that are currently 'available') by category:

Light English: Barling Garnet
Medium English: Dunhill (now Peterson) London Mixture; Samuel Gawith Skiff
Full English; Brebbia Latakia Flake; H&H Fusilier's Ration
Balkan: C&D Byzantium; McConnell Oriental
Scottish: still looking (suggestions?)
Dirty English: C&D DaVinci; VooDoo Queen
Crossover: Solani 763 White & Black; C&D Black Frigate
Exotic: Altadis Count Pulaski; Lane Andullo

Tell us what your favorites are so that we can 1) know who to welcome as fellow travelers, and 2) find out if we missed something good! Experienced smokers may also feel free to clarify any of the points made; my goal here is to encourage newer smokers to not permanently close the door on English blends after trying just one or two.

 

MisterE

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It has been a while, but I would strongly recommend GLP Meridian in the medium category. I have no idea if it is still available.

Anything with actual Syrian Latakia is probably worth it's weight in gold these days.
 

Brunello

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MisterE":ga5pyq29 said:
It has been a while, but I would strongly recommend GLP Meridian in the medium category. I have no idea if it is still available.
Meridian looks like a good one that I've missed: lots of quality red Virginia and Turkish, with an easy hand on the Latakia. I wonder if it might fit more in the Balkan category? For newer pipers still exploring (heck, I'm still exploring after 40 years) the choice of a medium category English is smart because they can always adjust to lighter or heavier depending on preference. Or they might end up omnivores like me!

I noticed that the sticky on recommended tobacco blends for newer pipers is 8 years old now and woefully out of date. Lots of discontinued items, and lots of new introductions in the market since then. Most of the old Pease line was actually made in Germany (and now I believe it is all done at C&D). We should think about an update.


MisterE":ga5pyq29 said:
Anything with actual Syrian Latakia is probably worth it's weight in gold these days.
Ah, yes... Syrian was my favorite. I'm glad I was able to set aside a good supply of Mac Baren Vintage Syrian before it disappeared. Worth its weight in gold.... hmmm, what is the price of gold these days?
 

ftrplt

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Not sure about categories, but some other "English" options are;

Charles Fairmorn's Lancers Slices, Arango Balkan Supreme, Dunhill/P'son Durbar or Standard Medium, Peretti's Tashkent, Spilman's Mixture, or Lane's BS-005. FWIW :p :cheers: FTRPLT
 

Brunello

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ftrplt":gc7hl199 said:
Not sure about categories, but some other "English" options are;

Charles Fairmorn's Lancers Slices, Arango Balkan Supreme, Dunhill/P'son Durbar or Standard Medium, Peretti's Tashkent, Spilman's Mixture, or Lane's BS-005. FWIW :p :cheers: FTRPLT
Good picks. The only one I haven't tried is the Spillman. Lancer's Slices is a good bulk option, has an awesome jar note! BS-(Balkan Sobranie)-005 is hardly ever talked about but I like it a lot, and it does have some of that elusive original Balkan Sobranie aroma. Tashkent I'm still trying to figure out: it certainly gets a lot of rave reviews, but I've found it too high-toned and lacking foundation, I always want to tweak it with something else to fill-in the palate. But this is all part of the fun! :)
 

Zeno Marx

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The best I've had since maybe 2005(?) is Beck's Ol' Limey Bastard. Here's where it gets sticky, so proceed with caution. I was gifted some, thought very highly of it, but never got around to ordering more for myself because I so rarely feel like English anymore. Because nobody talks about it, I've questioned if it was actually Beck's, if it was maybe mislabeled, or something. Not that my tastes are everybody's tastes, but for it to get no lip service, I'm bewildered by my limited great experience. It's really the only tobacco since the 80s and 90s that has felt like it was from the 80s or 90s. For me, with certain tobaccos unavailable anymore, English really is the type of tobacco most significantly hit by the lesser bug. My tastes have changed as well, so there's that too.

I thought the Park-Lane Bengal Slices were pretty darn good too. The best of the Bengal attempts. For me, for sure. I just did a search, and I'm not seeing a Park Lane webstore. It's been a while since I checked in, because the last I noticed, it was like $80/LB + shipping. I hope they're still in business.
 

kxg

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In the Scottish category, I lean toward Watch City Fat Bastard. Ernie, a week or two ago, released a very limited micro-batch of a blend called Undead Scottsman (sic). It is quite good but was only available 4oz to a customer and it sold out quickly. It will not be made again because some of the constituent tobaccos are no longer available. On a side note: while I love to try new and even limited blends, I'm torn between liking them too much and no more being available.

Another blend in the English/Scottish vein that I've recently tried for the first time is Wilkie Surbrug's Crystal Palace. Reportedly a recipe that predates the Civil War. It is an interesting blend that is a bit different than anything I've smoked previously. I like it.
 

Brunello

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Zeno Marx":gchjh5vp said:
The best I've had since maybe 2005(?) is Beck's Ol' Limey Bastard..... It's really the only tobacco since the 80s and 90s that has felt like it was from the 80s or 90s.  For me, with certain tobaccos unavailable anymore, English really is the type of tobacco most significantly hit by the lesser bug....
Well know you've got me scurrying down the rabbit hole, damn it. I've just opened another tab and looked at reviews on Tobacco reviews and it's another that I didn't even know about that sounds like a must-try. Sorry about the partial quote but I wanted to focus on something you said that has me puzzled: tobaccos that taste like they are from the 80s and 90s. Not sure what you mean, but with some serious head scratching it did dawn on me that the most recent 965 I tried did taste different from what I remembered from about 1981, and I liked it less this time around. That's because the producer has changed. Is that what you mean, that other than Sam Gawith and Mac Baren many of these brands have changed producers over the years? Also, what do you mean by "lesser bug"?

I'm hoping you'll elaborate before I scratch a hole in my head! :scratch:
 

Brunello

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kxg":3pel2r9a said:
In the Scottish category, I lean toward Watch City Fat Bastard.  Ernie, a week or two ago, released a very limited micro-batch of a blend called Undead Scottsman (sic).  It is quite good but was only available 4oz to a customer and it sold out quickly.  It will not be made again because some of the constituent tobaccos are no longer available.  On a side note: while I love to try new and even limited blends, I'm torn between liking them too much and no more being available.

Another blend in the English/Scottish vein that I've recently tried for the first time is Wilkie Surbrug's Crystal Palace.  Reportedly a recipe that predates the Civil War.  It is an interesting blend that is a bit different than anything I've smoked previously.  I like it.
Crystal Palace has been on my radar to try, as soon as I'm back to ordering. I'll also look into Fat Bastard. The whole limited edition thing I find annoying and have often been burnt just grabbing stuff during a feeding frenzy.

There is a Scottish that I like that I didn't list because I'm not sure it is still available, and that is Hayes Scottish Moor which is a slight variant on McClelland's Scottish Woods. I like it a lot, and last October I bought 4 ounces when I visited the shop in Winchester, VA. Matt said he had about ten pounds of the stuff, but who knows how long that would last when people find out it's made from McClelland product.
 

Stick

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Never mind the 'baccy, there's some great English names popping up here. Father used to live a stone's throw from Crystal Palace in London too.
 

Zeno Marx

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Brunello":y0n5218e said:
Zeno Marx":y0n5218e said:
The best I've had since maybe 2005(?) is Beck's Ol' Limey Bastard..... It's really the only tobacco since the 80s and 90s that has felt like it was from the 80s or 90s.  For me, with certain tobaccos unavailable anymore, English really is the type of tobacco most significantly hit by the lesser bug....
Well know you've got me scurrying down the rabbit hole, damn it. I've just opened another tab and looked at reviews on Tobacco reviews and it's another that I didn't even know about that sounds like a must-try. Sorry about the partial quote but I wanted to focus on something you said that has me puzzled: tobaccos that taste like they are from the 80s and 90s. Not sure what you mean, but with some serious head scratching it did dawn on me that the most recent 965 I tried did taste different from what I remembered from about 1981, and I liked it less this time around. That's because the producer has changed. Is that what you mean, that other than Sam Gawith and Mac Baren many of these brands have changed producers over the years? Also, what do you mean by "lesser bug"?

I'm hoping you'll elaborate before I scratch a hole in my head! :scratch:
I meant a couple things. For one, because some tobaccos are no longer available in a blend, they've used other tobaccos as a substitute. Not only because they've changed producers, but because the actual ingredient tobaccos are no longer available. Part of the recipe has gone the way of the Dodo. Lastly, when the producers have indeed changed, something about their process is not the same. Equipment? Tobacco supply? Recipe? Skill level or craftsmanship?

As for the lesser bug, I meant specifically for me that with changing producers, different tobacco supplies, or whatever, English blends have taken the worst hit. English blends don't taste as rich, as complex, as smokey, as...they once did. It could be me. It probably is, but I know when I tried Beck's, I felt like I was transported to long ago. None of the 759 re-makes, or 965 re-makes, or the Crown Achievement re-make have done that for me. It wasn't just that they didn't taste like 759, 965, or CA, but they didn't even take me back to the flavors of old. I don't have this issue with Virginias. Even if some don't taste like their namesake, I still find the flavors of old in Virginia blends here and there. It's probably yet another reason I've moved to smoking so many more VAs.
 

SteveMKentucky

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My favorites have been Squadron Leader (heavy on the Latakia though), Skiff and of course the legendary Balkan Sobranie you mention. After Balkan went away I started smoking Penzance and LOVED it, however, it too went the way of many of my favorites.

AFAIK, Squadron Leader and Skiff are still available. I have a good bit of both cellared though.
 

Brunello

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Thanks for the clarification Zeno. It all makes perfect sense, so now I can rest easy tonight!

Although Balkan Sobranie and 965 no longer taste like what we remember at least I've derived some enjoyment by discovering some of the newer alternative categories like Dirty English and such (with a lot of costly trial and error to separate the wheat from the chaff), whereas as you have migrated to Virginias. The main thing is that of all the thousands of choices there is bound to be something for everybody to enjoy!

McTucky: Skiff is one of my favorites and SL not far behind. The advantage with Sam Gawith is that as far as I know has never changed hands and still uses the same recipes and equipment. But I don't have a huge stockpile and it is becoming more and more difficult to replenish my supply. That's another reason not to get attached to just a few blends.
 

Brunello

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Stick":c3i5in1g said:
Never mind the 'baccy, there's some great English names popping up here.  Father used to live a stone's throw from Crystal Palace in London too.
Well you Ol' Limey Bastard! Said with love, as my grandmother was from Ipswich, and my grandfather on the other side was from Scotland. We enjoy travelling in Britain and have been to the Crystal Palace. :lol:
 

Brunello

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MisterE":0cs3e3d6 said:
Brunello":0cs3e3d6 said:
Dirty English
I've never heard of this category. Pray tell.
It may not be an 'official' term but I've seen it used here and there. It's not as interesting as it sounds, it just means it uses Burley instead of Virginia. Because Burley has a more earthy character maybe that's how they came up with the name.

If anybody has a more definitive version of the story, Pray tell! :lol:
 

swhipple

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Brunello":noa9t5l8 said:
Well you Ol' Limey Bastard! Said with love, as my grandmother was from Ipswich, and my grandfather on the other side was from Scotland. We enjoy travelling in Britain and have been to the Crystal Palace. :lol:
Small world! My Mother's side of the family is from Ipswich. Spent quite a lot of time there when I was young. Still have a few relatives that live in the area.
 

Brunello

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swhipple":evnty78f said:
Small world! My Mother's side of the family is from Ipswich. Spent quite a lot of time there when I was young. Still have a few relatives that live in the area.
Lucky you were able to spend some time there. By now any relations of the Barker family would be very distant, not close enough to go knock on the door. But it's fun to go visit places and see where one's lineage has come from.

By the way, I forgot we share the same birthday! :)
 

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Some of my favorite latakia blends are John Aylesbury Latakia Blend, Beck's Ol' Limey Bastard, Boswell's Northwoods, and C&D Byzantium. There are others, but I can't think right now.
 

Brunello

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Corncobcon":3h2a02dt said:
Some of my favorite latakia blends are John Aylesbury Latakia Blend, Beck's Ol' Limey Bastard, Boswell's Northwoods, and C&D Byzantium.  There are others, but I can't think right now.
Another vote for ye Ol' Limey Bastard, I'll have to put that at the top of my want list. Solid picks here all well-balanced (no Lat-bombs), plus you've got your bases covered with Balkan, classic, and crossover.
 
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