- Jan 1, 2020
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In another thread on Esotorica and casings RSteve pulls up some good information which got me to thinking about Balkan Sobranie. First the quote, then my mental connection with Balkan Sobranie:
"Pilón is the term for a large pile of tobacco, arranged for fermentation. Pilónes can be enormous, weighing 3,500 or even 4,000 pounds or more. After curing in a curing barn, tobacco is brought into a warehouse and assembled in bunches of leaves called hands, and made into a pilón. The leaves sit flat in a pilón, one on top of the other, with boards, cardboard or old tobacco stems beneath. The weight of the tobacco, the moisture in the leaf, and casings that are added by processors creates heat, which causes fermentation to begin, changing the chemical structure of the tobacco, removing impurities such as ammonia and rendering the tobacco smokable."
Like many enthusiasts I have tried every tobacco that anybody has ever said reminded them of Balkan Sobranie. I've even painstakingly followed Greg Pease's recommendation of adding 10% Yenidje to Germain's version of Balkan Sobranie. Not even close in terms of what I identify as the elusive Balkan Sobranie character. All of these master blenders have been so focused on varietals, and carefully picking out each component leaf from a vintage tin in order to determine exact portions, and they are all barking up the wrong tree. This is why I believe that casing and processing make such a huge difference. Remember, as far as I know none of these guys have degrees in chemistry, they just discovered they had a knack for blending and things took off from there.
I believe the missing piece of the puzzle has to do with the dank conditions of the Sobranie House warehouse in the old tobacco wharf district of London. As these massive piles of tobacco sat under their own weight the interior began to ferment, and excess sugars became susceptible to a specific strain of the non-toxic microbial Brettanomyces yeast that feeds off of moisture and sugar. There are six strains, each giving a specific "flavor" such as leather, truffles, clove, smoked meats, tar, or barnyard. I've tasted all of these characteristics in different tobaccos, but only Balkan Sobranie had the barn yard smell, which is why I believed a tobacconist in 1979 when he explained that Latakia was made by burning dried camel dung.
Interestingly, as I've visited dozens of wineries in France and Italy, I came across one in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, that when I entered the barrel room I immediately exclaimed "This smells like Balkan Sobranie!!" Sure enough, this wine maker intentionally inoculated his wines with Brettanomyses bruxellensis in order to give a unique and somewhat funky (in a good way) barn yard aroma and taste to the wine. Remember, this is not a bacteria or anything toxic, just one of nature's quirks at work.
Any chemists out there care to weigh in on my hypothesis??