2011 Balkan Sobranie Throwdown

As G. L. Pease refers to it, Balkan Sobranie is “The Stuff of Legend“. This long ago extinct brand of pipe tobacco is probably the most legendary of all pipe tobaccos. Even after two decades of being out of production, it is still one of the most talked about tobaccos in online forums.
We now have a collaboration between three of the most prominent pipe clubs across America in sponsoring and hosting the first ever, “2011 Balkan Sobranie Throwdown”, which will be a competition to try to re-create this famous blend.
The Seattle Pipe Club and the New York Pipe Club are co-sponsoring the competition, and the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club will host the final judging and awards ceremony at the Chicago International Pipe Show at 5:00pm on Saturday, May 14th.

The brainchild of Seattle Pipe Club President, Matt Guss, the 2011 Balkan Sobranie Throwdown is as much about entertainment as it is a competition. For anyone that has spent time with Matt, Gary B. Schrier, and other officers of the Seattle Pipe Club, you know that they are not only well-versed in tobaccos and pipes, but they are also witty, humorous, and frequently entertaining. You can get a feel for how the club combines seriousness and fun at the same time by viewing our coverage of the Seattle Pipe Club’s 10th Anniversary.
Regarding the contest, Matt states; “This Throwdown is purely for fun — we don’t expect to faithfully actually recreate Sobranie for many practical reasons. This is just the kind of event that breathes fresh air into the pipe world.” The club acquired an unopened 200 gram tin of Balkan Sobranie 759 dated from the mid 1980’s for the price of $700. It was purchased from well-known pipe collector, author and PhD psychologist Fred Hanna.
Three tobacco blenders will compete to see who comes the closest to the original blend. They are Mike McNeil of McClelland Tobacco, Russ Ouellette of Hearth & Home, and Carl McAllister from Altadis. The three judges will be Rick Newcombe (pipe collector and author of In Search of Pipe Dreams), Joe Harb (renowned tobacco reviewer), and Neill Archer Roan (pipe collector and author of A Passion for Pipes).
The Competitors

Mike McNeil
Russ Ouellette
Carl McAllister


The Judges

Rick Newcombe
Joe Harb
Neill Archer Roan


Each blender has been provided 14 grams of original Balkan Sobranie 759. Their assignment is to come as close to the original sample in taste, look, aroma and overall smoking qualities. They are to submit 3 pounds of their contest matching blend by April 20. Judges will rate each blend on a scale of 100 points. The blend that earns the highest point score wins. This will be a blind contest: all blend entries will be submitted to the judges unlabeled so that they will not know the name of each contestant until the final judging on May 14th. Final judging and Awards ceremony will take place before a live audience in the Smoking Tent at the Chicago International Pipe Show at 5:00pm. Free samples will also be provided to show attendees.
Complete rules can be viewed in PDF form in the 2011 Balkan Sobranie Throwdown Welcome Letter.
Club Websites:
Seattle Pipe Club

New York Pipe Club
Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club

49 Responses

  • Fantastic idea would love to be there,interesting to see the results and to see how close the judges think the winning blend is to the original blend.

  • Wow! This is the most spectacular event in 2011! I hope that the reconstituted mixture of mixture will be an exact replica! Victory the best!

  • We’re really excited about the great response we’re getting on the Balkan Sobranie Throwdown. The Chicago Club folks have been great and this event is guaranteed to be a lot of fun. And who knows? A great new Balkan blend may result! Be sure to get the free contestant samples and vote for your favorite in the People’s Choice Award. This is the first of a series of Throwdowns, so get ready.

  • What a great idea! I’m surprised that nobody has thought of this before. I will be at the Chicago show and will do my best to snag a sample.

  • I have recently come back to smoking a pipe after a 28 year hiatus, my biggest regret is that they disconinued Balkan Sobraine. I do hope the winner matches it perfectly and put the blend on the market. They would have me as a grateful customer.

  • I can’t wait to see and taste the results! I have never actually been to a pipe show before, but this one is close enough to home to make the effort. I will be there for sure. I guess that response is the intention of the organizers though! LOL Well, good job guys, you have had the intended effect on me. I look forward to meeting some of the legendary pipe folks that are in attendence.

  • Hoo doggie! This is gonna be one heck of a contest! Who’s takin’ bets on the side? 🙂

  • yes,yes,yes !
    Right now I have only half a pack left .
    Too beautiful to be true, but I’m waiting !

  • This looks fun, and there’ a great line up on both sides (blenders/judges), but I have to ask – was Greg Pease asked, and if so, did he decline?

  • Very cool idea. Be interested to see how this pans out. However, I too am surprised that Greg Pease is not a part of this.

  • Awesome! This is a great idea! I can see this happening with several OTHER long extinct blends for years to come. My only concern is that the vintage Sobranie may have aged in the tin to the point that it no longer is like the “Stuff of Legend”. Either way, I look forward to the results!

  • Following the contest….hell, I’ll be following Fred Hanna. $700! Oh Fred, really?…it’s not like it’s Markovitch.

  • Such a great idea and a real “shot in the arm” for our hobby. It’s just what we need to keep the hobby fresh and fun! I am really looking forward to it!
    Lou Carbone

  • As Matt said, “This is the first of a series of Throwdowns, so get ready.” This is a very exciting concept and I am sure we all will be the lucky recipients of some wonderful pipe tobaccos resulting from it. Dare I say, tobaccos in the “Stuff of Legends” series of tinned blends??? How cool this is!?!

  • This reminds me of the legends competition they have with cigar blenders. I’m so thrilled right now I may chuckle. Sadly, I won’t be able to attend.

  • I second the Jack Peterson (Sterling/1776) candidacy. Jack and Steve Brooks (formerly of Rich’s) would have made great throwdown competitors in this contest.

  • I’m camping across the street from Matt Guss’ house, looking for package deliveries!

  • “This looks fun, and there’ a great line up on both sides (blenders/judges), but I have to ask – was Greg Pease asked, and if so, did he decline?”
    Yes, he was, and yes, he did. It was an honor to be asked, of course, but I’m too busy with other projects to give this the attention it would require.

  • There is hope! I was saddened recently that one tin of 759 in my cellar suffered rust and had dried out. Here’s hoping that the master belnders will resuscitate this legendary blend for all to enjoy! Thank you in advance for your labours of love for the Brothers of the Briar.

  • To me the big question is will the winning blend be offerred for sale so we can buy some?!?

  • I can’t speak for Mike or Carl, but we will definitely offer our blend for sale. It would obviously have a greater chance of succeeding if it’s the winner, but I’ll at least make it available as a limited edition, or possibly as an addition to our new Marquee Series.

  • Since Mr.McNeil has access to some sublime Syrian latakia, my early money is getting put down on him. Then again, it could depend on what era the 759 sample is from. Good luck to all.

  • Lat Fan, the “screw top” tins (as pictured) came quite late in Gallaher-era production, so there’s not a whisper of Syrian in there. It’s still anyone’s game.

  • The Dark Lord wrote, “Lat Fan, the “screw top” tins (as pictured) came quite late in Gallaher-era production, so there’s not a whisper of Syrian in there. It’s still anyone’s game.”
    Still, the 759 as described might stll have had Syrian in it. BTW, my 1984 vintage rusted and dried out tin rehydrated quite well, and smokes quite well, despite its sad state. I can taste the spiciness of the Lat, as well as the sweetness of the Virginia content in it.

  • Antonio, the PfP post shows the tin, and has the following description: “The 759 tobacco was produced in the late 1980s and was distributed by James B. Russell, Inc. It was not rehydrated prior to supply to contestants.” Those late 1980s tins were the screw-top variety, and any hint of Syrian latakia had long since disappeared from the blender’s tables. In fact, any Sobranie blend produced by Gallaher (post-1980) was made from Cyprian leaf, alone. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I LIKE Cyprian. I’m just saying that Mike’s got no advantage here by having a stock of vintage Syrian, so it’s still anyone’s game.
    I, too, rehydrated some beautiful tobacco from a rusty old tin, and it was delicious. It wasn’t quite what it would have been had the damage never occurred, but I’d rather smoke and enjoy something good that I actually have in my hands, than just talk about something extraordinary that’s only a dream.
    Sometimes I wonder if Latakia actually survives BETTER if kept on the dry side. If there’s no moisture to fuel fermentation, the spicy edge might hang on a while longer. Maybe the rust was a blessing in disguise. Then again, I often really like aged latakia mixtures. A lot depends on what else is present in the mix to round things out.

  • Hello again, Greg;
    I am so sorry for the confusion on my part, you are absolutely right. What confused me with respect to the photo was that I did not see the ‘759’ designation on the tin. My 759 tins (and especially the 200 gram ‘pop-top’ that rusted out) are with the black label from the mid to late 70s and definitely before Gallaher took over. I also am fortunatel to have 200 gram tins of the ‘Original’ with white labels. Paradise on earth?
    Best Rgards,
    Tony, aka Antonio

  • No worries, Tony.
    Those screw top tins were odd ducks. They held a vacuum (usually) sealed aluminized mylar bag. Neither the seals on the tins nor on the bags were particularly sound, but the combination of the two seemed to work out okay, and it certainly prevented rust. I’ve actually been smoking some 759 from a similar era tin, just for fun. I’ve got a few of those old paradise versions, too. Maybe it’s time to open one. We only live once!

  • Just curious why they’re trying to recreate 759 and not Original. I liked both back in the day, I liked Original better.

  • Both myself and my good friend Tad Gage were asked to participate as either a blender or as a judge. Like Greg, I declined as I do not have the time. I offer my best wishes to those who are participating in either capacity. I hope blenders come up with something great.

  • And the winner is Russ Ouellette!
    Second place was Mike McNeil of McClelland Tobacco, and 3rd place was Carl MacAllister of Altadis.

  • I hate being out of step on many issues, but I can’t help wondering if someone will respond to bpgoldmanday’s May 3rd question.

  • “I hate being out of step on many issues, but I can’t help wondering if someone will respond to bpgoldmanday’s May 3rd question.”
    The reason is that the Seattle and NY Pipe Clubs were able to locate and acquire a vintage tin of 759 and not the Original at the time that this idea was born.
    Lou, NY Pipe Club

  • Hi, Everyone:
    IMHO, the Sobranies (both black and white) were great in the 70s and suffered in the 80s. However, I didn’t blame the difference in taste on Latakia, but on the quality of the Virginia tobacco. There were many great English blends then, tinned and loose, and I thought it was because there was a really great crop of Virginia tobacco available. The old Sobranie 759 (I smoked many pounds of it!) had a wonderful, almost lemony citrus taste, and I remember having to open the tin with the provided cutter lid. I haven’t tasted an English blend since the 70s that I loved so much, but I have to say there are some really good ones I’ve tried by McClelland and others…..

  • Sorry guys. While I am familiar with and respect Russ and Mike as blenders (not an Altadis smoker)I cannot imagine how anyone would think any of the blends submitted were more than very remotely similar to 759. Not only did I find them to be dissimilar to that which they strove to emulate, but frankly, they were, for me, disappointing solely on their own merits. Perhaps we should try to repaint the Mona Lisa, instead. Fred, you have that for sale too, right??

  • The Balkan Sobranie Throwdown did a number of things for me: 1) raised my respect for the challenge the team of blenders were faced with, 2) impressed me with the passion they embraced the challenge with – they love their work! 3) I found a couple of new blends I look forward to smoking a lot of in the future, 4) I’m eager to try laufenstoc’s 759 entry, even though it will be late (just having fun!), and 5) I think “lauf” is onto something: let’s broaden the field of competition – next year we’ll do a Grandma Moses Thrown. Gentlemen, bring your brushes. -Kevin, aka briarflyer, Seattle Pipe Club

  • Btw, if someone comes up with a “real” 759 scratch-and-sniff mustache wax, my pipes are up for sale!

  • Srs. junto con saludarlos quiero hacer la siguiente consulta, tengo una lata sellada de tabaco THE BALKAN SOBRANIE de 50 gramos del año 1970, Âż Cuanto podria valer?, gracias.
    José Miguel Carrasco

  • Mr. Carrasco of Chile asks how much his 50 gram sealed can of B.S. made in 1970 might be worth. Good question.