Just read a second reference to Deer Tongue over on tobaccoreviews.com
Leiconnsel 01/04/2009 Medium to Strong None detected Medium to Full Strong
The original Balkan Sobranie is the holy grail of pipe tobacco, and when even its subsequent, inferior versions garner four stars from virtually every reviewer in these pages, it deserves more than a few words from an old codger who's never found an acceptable substitute. Between 1965 and 1970 I smoked pound after pound of the real Balkan Sobranie Smoking Mixture. I say “real” because that was the last of it. From the company's (the name and the recipe's) sale and in sale after sale after that the blend has been cheapened and diminished, with production moving to Jamaica (“Made in the U.K.”) and elsewhere. By the mid 1970's, as inventories of the real stuff had disappeared, the changes became obvious.
First, a bit of history learned from Joe Zieve, the founder of Smokers' Haven in Columbus, Ohio, where I went to Ohio State and, with a friend from Kent State, studied more with Joe than at school. Balkan Sobranie literally was Our Best Blend at that time. During the Second World War Joe was stationed in England, where he visited Balkan Sobranie and made a deal with them to sell Balkan canned by them in London and labelled as Best, exclusively. This was an open secret at the store by the '60s, and many's the two, four or eight ounce can of Our Best Blend we opened and found inside the Balkan Sobranie rice paper or card stock insert. Joe made a similar agreement with GBD, and became the largest distributor of that pipe in the world. I don't know if he wholesaled GBD to other dealers in the U.S., but certainly he bought his stock directly, and at all times had just about every grade of every shape they made on hand and available in the periodic brochures he sent to those on his huge mailing list. Joe worked closely with GBD on developing new shapes, e.g., #263 extra long Canadian, the “glass-blasted” Militaire, and his masterpiece, the original, Collector-sized Cognac (#9621), made exclusively of Greek briar (as were Charatans). He considered the Cognac the perfect shape, growing thicker as the smoke proceeded, keeping the pipe cool. It's a great mouth pipe, hand pipe, and sitter. Joe had some sort of preferred agreement with Charatan, I believe, and also sold lots of Dunhills. Those were the three pipes he believed in, BBB, Petersen, Comoy, Sasieni and even Barling having already begun to slide. At that time one never saw a fill in a GBD. . . until their sale in the '70s. Then it was no fills in Virgins, and then it was fills in them, too. (By the way, the letters die-stamped on GBDs indicated which subcontracted carver had done the pipe after initial curing. Joe maintained that the curing after carving was determined by grade, Virgins, and later Pedigrees and Uniques, getting, of course, the longest cure.)
British pipes were it, and though Joe had other makes on hand, I don't remember any Danish or Italian goods. British tobacco was it, too. Better, he used to say, to let the expert blenders blend and then find what you like rather than try and have a store, or you yourself, do the mixing. While he had Baby's Bottom, Three Nuns, various Dunhill blends and many others, along with a logically progressing series of tinned, Lane-blended American tobaccos exclusive to the store, the main event was a complete line of English tobaccos based on Balkan/Best. Ones “below” Best were proportionately milder, and the only one stronger than Best was Exotique, which was merely Balkan with some prime cigar leaf added. Balkan made them all, including Krumble Kake, which was Balkan pressed and sliced, considered by “flake” smokers to be superior. I don't remember seeing 759 until Balkan was sold. It was, at that later time, a more piquant, far more acrid blend with other orientals added. I don't think it was ever labelled by Smokers' Haven.
Before the (retroactive) taste test, here's some more history. The Redstones were a Jewish family who left (fled?) Russia and settled for some time in the Balkans. They perfected Sobranie (which simply means “parliament” in Slavic languages) either there or in London, their eventual home, along with their delightful, white Turkish cigarettes, and their renowned Russian Black and Gold (- tipped) cigarettes. They, too, were masterpieces. The sad history of Balkan Sobranie after its initial sale, years later, is available in other reviews on this site.
The original Balkan purportedly contained latakia (I don't know if it was Syrian, Cyprian or both), Virginia (I don't know the varieties, but none of these ingredients were toasted except, of course, the latakia), high grade English Cavendish, and Yenidje from Macedonia, as advertised on the can. To my knowledge, the only other ingredient, that which imparted some of the creaminess and the hint of vanilla, was deer tongue, the leaf of a weed(!) apparently admissible under the non- adulteration laws at the time, which prohibited all topping but did permit Cavendish. I've tried dried deer tongue leaf broken or crumbled in blends and gotten nothing out of it. Perhaps, despite the common wisdom, Balkan used it fresh. I've heard that its inclusion is why Balkan was labelled a “smoking mixture” rather than “tobacco.” I don't know any of the ingredient ratios, but I was told that the ratios changed every year to compensate for seasonal changes in the individual ingredients' strength and taste.
I've tried Balkan Sasieni, the current Balkan Sobranie, the current Best Blend from the current Smokers' Haven, and Balkan Sobranie throughout the '70s, '80s, 90's and '00s, as well as Margate (probably the currrent Best, as Germain now blends for Smokers' Haven, I've heard), Caravan, Penzance, McClelland's Yenidje Highlander and Yenidje Supreme (which lacks latakia), and countless other English/Balkan/Oriental blends from the late-lamented Dunhills to those corner tobacconist bulk-bought or hand blended attempts to clone Balkan. None have answered, though many are excellent. Yenidje Highlander, though rather light and not very sweet or creamy, at least gives one a real taste of the Yenidje-latakia interplay.
The high quality of the tobacco in Balkan might have been just as important as the types of tobacco in it. Samuel Gawaith's Balkan Flake, supposedly 30% latakia and 70% Virginia (despite the Balkan name) is a good, honest, high quality tobacco to which one could maybe add high quality Cavendish, Yenidje and deer tongue and get somewhere close to Balkan (despite Balkan Flake's caked form). Most related blends already contain Virginia and latakia, so the ratios are problematical. Gawaith's Commonwealth is supposed to be 50%-50% Virginia-latakia and is not caked. Who knows? I've had no luck trying to blend existing blends to emulate the original Balkan.
When taking the little built-in triangular “knife” in the lid of the old Balkan Sobranie, retracting it from the lip and reclosing the can, thus piercing the inner tin lid, the escaping hiss was divine. As one spun the lid, cutting out the inner lid, one caught the full old-leather, old-whisky, old-wood aroma that promised the same consistent taste as always. Yes, the contents were a bit moist and could do with a couple of days' drying, and were springy thanks to the ribbon cut. But who could resist, especially after retrieval of an eight ounce can from a ten can rotation, grabbing an immediate smoke?
As the tobacco rose on the initial light and one tamped it with the index finger and relit, all the wonderful, contradictory adjectives began to pertain. The smoke was so creamy and rich, yet light and subtle, so sweet yet so interesting, it was magical. We used words like “ephemeral” and “protean” to try and capture it, but one couldn't. The smoke, always changing yet always characteristic and steady, could never be ignored, no matter what you were doing: each draw was a conscious pleasure, the whole, like true art, more than the sum of its parts.
Now, it wasn't perfect. Balkan could smoke wet if you didn't dry it out just right, and hot and bitey if too dry. The ribbon cut was tricky to load, and if clumped up could cause voids. There was lots of relighting. While the ash was white, the pipe's heel usually got wet, which certainly demanded a pipe's traditional day's rest for every time smoked. The room note was pretty awful (until you were hooked), almost as gross as that of a yesterday's cigar. Balkan was definitely true to the old bromide that the worse the room smelled, the better the tobacco (don't the girls just love the smell of Cherry Blend).
But such pleasure, such balance, such lack of bite, such a variety of delicious flavors melded into a rich, creamy whole that was somehow also light and fleeting. . . . To this day I don't see why some blender with a microscope and a Japanese degree of patience couldn't reverse engineer a can of pre-sale Balkan strip by strip, testing the pieces against known samples and smoking from each separate pile to verify its identity as accurately as possible. Sure, a truly faithful representation would cost a lot, but what a ready market in the curious, and in anyone else who wanted to smoke heaven to the extent his budget permitted. Anybody out there game?
I welcome other reminiscences, additions, corrections; but, N.B.: the above description is not an unattainable, sentimental concoction born of distorted, rosy memory: it is as accurate as I could make it. Balkan's near universal appeal in those days to lovers of English/Balkan/Oriental blends as a steady or special smoke attests to that fact.
this weed imparts a vanilla like quality which would be very much in the back ground in the mixture. If it improves it towards the "Sobranie" taste. i will let you know.
Marcovgv is doing the same I suspect. One concern though, Is that it was banned as a food additive some time ago but tobacco used it in spite of this. What are the real risks in smoking Deer Tongue?
As far as this recipe adventure goes i am alarmed by the old fellows remarks in this review that the Sobranie was always changing. I too have experienced differences between several tins and pouches that I have tried which I attributed to aging and other factors. however if it is true the formula was always in a state of flux then I am trying to hit a moving target and can only hope to get in the range. If thats the case I am already there.