Balkan Sobranie Re-Release Review And Comparison!

By Adam J. Smith
I would like to start this column off by thanking both Mr. Kevin Godbee and, and Mr. Gregory Pease for allowing me this once in a life-time opportunity.
I have to say that I was quite pleased when Kevin contacted me to inform me of the re-release of this blend (and to inform me that I was to secure and smoke some for this column), but when Greg chimed in offering to not only send me a sample of the real McCoy from his cellar; but also throw his Meridian into the mix, I was ecstatic. Not only would I get a chance to smoke a re-creation of a hallowed blend, but I would also get a chance to smoke the real-thing; created before I was! And, as if the deal needed any sweetening, a chance to add Meridian into the experience!

I should also tell you that this article will take on a slightly different format than most of my reviews, as they have appeared in the past. I will not wax poetic about the environmental factors; nor will I use anecdotes to flesh out a review into an article. No, this time, I am left with so much information that I would end up writing a novel; so I have chosen a more simplified format. What follows is a full review on the Balkan Sobranie Re-Release as presented by Arrango Cigar and blended by the house of Germain; a succinct review on both the Original Balkan Sobranie as presented in the 1970’s by the House of Sobranie, a succinct review of G.L. Pease Meridian circa 2010, and finally, the results of my own little "comparison".

Without further ado….

Balkan Sobranie Re-Release Review

Upon receiving my tin of the re-release of this hallowed blend, the first thing that struck me was the label. While the re-creation of the original tin-art is decent, I can’t help but note a graininess; perhaps a pixilation if you will. I should also note that the addition of the text on the wagons does not seem to fit; rather this seems like a last-minute addition. Upon opening the tin, I was somewhat disappointed to discover that not only was the paper liner plain, but folded and crumpled under the doily. While I realize that this does not weigh on the smoking qualities of the tobacco, it does effect ones overall impression of the product, and I feel it should be mentioned.

Close inspection of the cut reveals a melange of fine-cut ribbons, interspersed with small chunks of broken flake and the occasional strand of rough-cut. Hues of tan, copper, khaki green, dark and chocolate brown abound; shot through with charcoal-black. The tin aroma is strong and oily, with notes of peaty camp-fire and an underlying fruitiness that is not at all unpleasant to a self-proclaimed Latakia lover.


With the charring light, the strong-peat like notes found on the tin are carried over, supported by strong sour flavours of the various Oriental leaf. There is an earthy nuttiness present, but lacking in the sweetness often found in Balkan style blends.

With the true light, the strong sour and oily Latakia notes remain in the foreground, while Earthy notes of soil, leather and leaves begin to blossom. A bold spiciness takes hold, while a slight sweetness begins to form on the back of the palate. One also notices the "rawness" of the blend at this point – while the leaf is certainly well aged, the blend itself would benefit from some time to allow the flavours to meld.

Through the mid-point of the bowl, I find the blend begins to take on an earthy, almost nutty sweetness, while losing some of its bold and spicy qualities. The big sour notes remain at the forefront, as does the rich, deep flavour of Latakia.

As I reached the heel of the bowl, the spicy bold notes come back with a vengeance, while the peaty-campfire flavours of the Latakia also ramp up. The sweetness rounds out some, with hints of earth and leather growing more prominent.

I should note that this blend left my mouth with a slightly "dirty" feeling.


The room-note on this blend is actually somewhat pleasant, despite the big, bold tin aroma and flavours. While it does deliver the camphoric peaty notes of the Latakia leaf, there is a sweet undertone that rounds out the smokiness wonderfully. While it probably wouldn’t win you any friends amongst the non-smokers, it very well could at a barbeque competition!

The nicotine level of this blend is on the high-side of medium – while it will satisfy all but the most nicotine crazed smoker; if you don’t handle the vitamin N well, take this blend slowly.

Balkan Sobranie Original Review

I should note that my sample of this blend was from a flat tin, circa 1970; blended by the House of Sobranie. My sample arrived quite dry, and required re-hydrating.

Inspection of this sacred blend reveals a very uniform fine-cut ribbon blend of chocolate and nut-browns, shot through with a charcoal black. Obviously, there was bloom evident, as one would expect with a 40 year old blend.

The tin aroma is quite mild; but provides one with hints of cedar-campfire over an almost honey-like sweetness.

From charring light to tipping ash, this blend is deserving of the accolades it receives. While the flavour profile remains somewhat subtle for a Balkan style blend, the nuances found in the wisps of blue smoke are blended so well that one cannot help but wonder at the high quality of leaf found in days gone by.

Charring light reveals the mild, beautifully blended, slightly sour herbal notes of the Oriental leaf, which, as alluded to, are so wonderfully balanced that no one flavour leaps to the forefront of the profile. A deep and rich nutty sweetness balances out the slightly salty and cedary flavour of the Latakia. I find that this flavour profile remains somewhat mono-chromatic through the first third of the bowl; but that is by no means a bad thing!

As one progresses through the mid-point of the bowl, earthy notes of leather and soil take hold, rounding out the rich sweetness and mild smoky herbal flavours; while a slight spiciness begins to form on the back of the palate.

As one reaches the heel, the spiciness grows suddenly bolder; while the sweetness all but disappears into the background, allowing the earthy notes of soil, leather and musty leaves to blossom into the forefront of the profile.

One interesting side note; I found that this blend left a honey-sweet note on my tongue for a good half an hour after finishing, with an effect not unlike licking ones lips after smoking a rum dipped cigar.

For those who are wondering; the nicotine level on this blend was somewhat lacking; I would classify it as low to medium.

G.L. Pease Meridian Review

My sample of this blend was from August 2010; and arrived at the perfect humidity to smoke. Inspection of this blend reveals a "medium" cut ribbon (1mm+), with rich chocolate and mocha browns, charcoal blacks and coppery bronzes. While there was bloom evident to the naked eye, of the three blends I compared, Meridian showed the least. The tin aroma abounds with the slightly camphoric note of Cyprian Latakia supported on a honeyed sweetness.

Charring light brings a surprise; at least to my palate. Given the strength of the Latakia notes in the tin aroma, I expected a big hit of wet-campfire; but while the Latakia is certainly there, Greg has managed to find a wonderful balance with the sour and herbal flavours of the various "Oriental" leaf which actually emulates the cedar-like flavour of the Syrian leaf of old.

With true light, the first thing I notice about this blend is how well it highlights the sour flavours of the Oriental leaf, while underpinning said sourness with an almost citrusy sweetness. The cedar-campfire notes of the Latakia are evident (however not overpowering by any-means), while a bold and brash spiciness takes hold. I did note that through the first third of the bowl, I experienced a mouth sensation not unlike smoking a menthol cigarette (note: I did not taste menthol).

As the bowl passes through the halfway point, the sweet citrus notes grow yet more bold, moving to the forefront of the flavour profile. The "mid-range" notes continue to highlight the sour Oriental leaf, and the wonderful interplay with Cyprian Latakia (which continues to eschew the brash peatiness of Cyprian in favour of the more subtle cedar flavours of Syrian somehow…). Earthy notes of soil and leather begin to take hold on the back of the palate.

Towards the end of the bowl, the earthy notes grow even more prevalent, with bold flavours of leaves, leather and wet soil. In addition, the Latakia grows stronger, for the first time revealing the brashness I typically associate with Cyprian leaf. I find that the last half-a-dozen odd puffs of this blend bring with them a honey-sweetness that is simply amazing – a great way to cap off a bowl and leave the palate feeling light and refreshed after smoking rather heavy blend.

I should note that this blend left my mouth, and palate, with the cleanest feeling of all three of these blends. In addition, I found the nicotine level was somewhat lacking, definitely falling on the mild side of the spectrum.

Balkan Sobranie Comparison / Challenge

Before I get into the meat of this portion of my article, I should tell you how I compared these blends. First, I selected five pipes (Meerschaum, conical-bowled briar, two rounded-bowled briar, and corncob); with all three pieces of briar having recently undergone a reaming and cotton-ball/alcohol treatment. Each blend was smoked once per pipe over a period of four days. I left myself a minimum of one-hour between bowls, and utilized Tetley brand Orange Pekoe tea both during and post smoke to cleanse my palate. Each blend was smoked a minimum of once in the morning, during the afternoon, and in the evening.

In choosing my criteria for scoring, I decided that I would ignore room-note for two reasons. Firstly, these are three Latakia forward blends. Let’s face it, none of them smell all that wonderful to anyone but a Latakia smoker. Secondly, the three blends offer up such a similar aroma that I never would have been able to differentiate between what is latent stale smoke and what is emanating from my bowl.

I chose four main criteria on which to rate these blends against my sample of the Original Balkan Sobranie; these are: Appearance, Tin Aroma, Flavour, and Burning Quality. I broke flavour down into an additional four criteria, being charring light, top 1/3, mid-point, and heel; the cumulative winner of which will take the category overall.

This is what I found.

Appearance Winner: G.L. Pease Meridian
While the cut of the Arango re-release of Balkan Sobranie does indeed resemble the fine-cut shag of the blend as produced by the House of Sobranie; I found that the colours of the Meridian more closely resembled the component leaf the original.

Tin Aroma Winner: G.L. Pease Meridian
This category was extremely close, however the Arango re-release lacked the marked honeyed sweetness found in the Original.

Flavour Winner: G.L. Pease Meridian
As I noted above, I broke this down into four categories; and I should tell you that Meridian took three of them. While I did find that the Arango re-release more closely matched the flavour profile of the Original at the heel, I found both the Latakia and the sour Orientals too far too bold; and the blend lacking the sweetness that characterizes the Original. I suspect this is by in large due to the Original having 40 years of aging to allow the flavour profile to meld and round out, while the re-release does have a rawness about it, due to being blended "yesterday" as it were. However, I wasn’t asked to compare how this blend would stack up in 40 years; so I have to go with my guts…er…tastebuds.

Burning Quality: Arango re-release Balkan Sobranie Original Blend
While I found that all three of these blends burned very well, I found the fine-cut ribbon of the Arango re-release actually burns the best…yes, blasphemy, I know. I am sorry folks, I would like to tell you that the Original lit itself, and didn’t require any tamping or relights, but that just isn’t the case (however, I am the only person in my household currently not laid up with a flu – I like to think that this is due to the Original Blend being the cure for the common-cold.).

Overall Winner: G.L. Pease Meridian
While the Arango re-release of the Balkan Sobranie blend is a wonderful tobacco in its own right, and given time to age, may even become as sought after as its namesake. However, if you want to try something that resembles the real McCoy, the Original Balkan Sobranie Original Blend, you would be better served with Gregory Pease’s Meridian. While not an exact clone, Greg has outdone himself on this one, not only recreating a hallowed blend of past (whether intentional or not!), but even managing to emulate the distinct subtle and complex flavour of Syrian Latakia through blending alchemy, and prime Oriental and Cyprian leaf.

Now if you are looking Now if you are looking to try a bold and brash Balkan blend that will grab a hold of your tastebuds and take no prisoners, the Arango re-release blend is going to be right up your alley. While it does lack in the sweetness found in the Original blend and in Meridian, it more than makes up for it in bold and brash spiciness; and is certainly a quality blend. It’s just not the Original Blend as was produced by the house of Sobranie to my palate.

Still; I highly recommend it – and if I get the chance, I plan to cellar more than a few tins of this new blend, along with a few tins of Greg’s Meridian.

 – Adam J. Smith

Epilogue – G.L. Pease

When Kevin told me he was asking Adam to review the recently revived Balkan Sobranie, and figuring that Adam hadn’t been on the pipe smoking planet long enough to have experienced the original Balkan Sobranie Smoking Mixture, I decided to sweeten things up a little with a mid-1970s sample from a 1-oz tin I’d recently opened. (You can be jealous, now.) Of course, we all know it’s unfair, if not impossible, to compare a newly produced tobacco to one with 40 years under its belt, but I thought it would be fun for Adam to at least have the experience of smoking the old stuff, and that it might broaden the base of experience he could draw from when writing his review. The tobacco was a bit on the dry side, but was still smoking beautifully, and hadn’t really lost anything, so I bagged up a few grammes to send him, and didn’t bother with rehydrating.

I also had a recently opened tin of the first-production run of my own Meridian, with about a year behind it. I’d received a few emails from people suggesting that they found it similar in character, in some ways, to the old Sobranie, so I figured he might enjoy some of that, too. I bagged up bit, and sent it on its way to the Great White North along with the original Sobranie.

I did label the bags’ contents, but said nothing more to Adam about them, other than what they were and the fact that they were on their way, and that I looked forward to reading his review of the Sobranie re-release.

It was certainly not my intention for his his review to turn into some sort of "comparison," with all the awkwardness that entails, so I was pleasantly surprised by his choice to add reviews of the other two blends, bringing some interesting perspective to the picture. In retrospect, it might have been better to send him the tobaccos blind, but that would have been something quite different. I’m thrilled with his reaction to Meridian, of course. Now, if I could just get the stuff into Canada without having to disguise it as illicit drugs, which sail through customs far more efficiently than tobacco.

In the future, we may do more of these multi-tobacco reviews, if the readers like them, and our resident reviewers are game.


36 Responses

  • I really liked this review and the “throwdown” concept! While this isn’t a blend I would personally enjoy, I loved the comparisons and really appreciated the comments on the packaging. Packaging is very important to me as it shows a company cares about their product and the total experience of the customer.
    Great job, Adam!

  • Thank You Mr. Smith, for the wonderful and informative review. Although I was hoping the new release of Balkan Sobranie would be an exact copy of the Original, I am not dissapointed. I will try the new release when it becomes available and I will also be trying the Meridian, I would also like to thank Mr Greg Pease for his contributions to make this review very interesting. And of course I would like to thank Mr. Kevin Godbee for for making this great review possible.

  • Well conceived and executed Adam, thank you for this “uber” review.
    Kudos to Kevin and Greg as well for making this review possible.
    Efforts like this are invaluable in the information shared and go such a long way in the growth and spread of TAD!

  • Excellent review and done in depth.I smoke Germain blends and hope the Balkan Sobranie re-release will be available in Europe. Well done Adam

  • What an opportunity! To present three blends having such close flavor profiles would be more challenge than I could pull off as effectively as Adam has done. Excellent review!
    I don’t remember exactly what the old blend was like, but it is marvelous to have new opportunites to try similar recipes now! I have been holding onto a tin of Meridian I bought earlier this year….I have to try it now.

  • Great presentation Adam. I loved the comparison notes and your incredible talent at describing specific flavor adjectives. I am old enough to say that I have enjoyed many tins of the Original Sobranie and have always enjoyed it fully. I also have tried the new Arango release of Sobranie Original. Now it’s time to get some of Mr. Peases’ Meridian blend and treat myself to another fine Balkan Blending. Thanks to Kevin for the idea of comparison, and to Greg for sending you some Original Sobranie to compare. I don’t know your age but you certainly have a complex and developed palate. I would be very interested in reading more of your future reviews and as difficult or more entailing as it may be, blind tastings are even more revealing.

  • A very good review. I really enjoyed the Throwdown aspect. I think that this one of the best reviews I have red to date.

  • Thanks for a great article, and comparisons that I consider a rare privilege to read. Doing a tobacco review can be a daunting experience; and comparing three related blends would overwhelm a reviewer with lesser skills. Excellent insights and descriptions abound. Many thanks also to Mssrs. Pease and Godbee for underwriting the project.

  • Another excellent review by Adam. I really liked the throw-down concept as well. I am most certainly going to give the new Balkan Sobranie a try, and also Greg’s Meridian.

  • I smoked the original Balkan Sobranie way back in my late teens as a fledgling pipester. I loved the taste and aroma. That latakia always drew me into tobacco shops at whatever mall I would be at at the time. However I had no idea of what a quality tobacco was. what I was smoking was something that everybody near me said smelled like old socks burning. I liked tht stuff and that is what mattered. My father, who encouraged me to smoke a pipe like he was didn’t say much about it.
    I really like seeing the throwdown concept. I am a little disappointed that none of the blends reviewed were very strong. but then flavor is what pipe smoking is about, right? Nah for me I like to have a bit of a punch to my smokes. I’m going to be purchasing both the re-issue and Meridan and Lagonda and do my own throwdown. With an interesting review from Adam like this I just can’t let them go without having my own tins of both. Thank you Adam for your interesting approach to reviewing.

  • Very good review and the comparison is fun to read. On one note I used to smoke Germain tobaccos alot (And So to Bed – was a mainstay for me throughout the 90’s) and I remember that in the tin – the crinkle paper and cardboard top were the norm. Nothing to fancy – but nothing to quibble about either.
    I definitely want to try the new version of the Balkan Sobranie and perhaps a few years will bring out the mellow sweetness that seemed to be lacking.

  • Well done Adam, another fine review. Being a Balkan Sobranie smoker from the 70’s I found the explanation of the real stuff to be quite what I remember. I am off to order some Meridian to try for myself.

  • I paricularly like the use of the word “subtle” in the description of the Original blend – to me that was it’s defining quality rather than the Lat. bomb Gallaher’s pouch version and of so many folks’ expectations.
    To be honest, I feel well served with what is blended today by GLP and others without any element of throwdown competition needed.

  • Thanks for the review, well done! I missed out on the original Sobranie, so your descriptions serve to whet the appetite as well as provide a glimpse into the past of a great blend.

  • How can you compare two new tobaccos to a 40- year old tobacco. Is the comparison to what it taste like now not like what it tasted like in the past I guess. This is a excellent review I look forward to more reviews in the future.

  • Excellent review! I am now much wiser in the characteristics of not one, but three fine blends. Good job.

  • I certainly appreciate the effort put forth by Kevin, Greg, and Adam for this review. I really like the methodology Adam worked out to make the comparison as fair as reasonably possible.
    Like all older smokers of the leaf I am very disappointed that this re-release doesn’t really resemble the classic Sobranie all that much. I mean if it isn’t a close approximation what’s the point?? Of course, if I can ever stumble over any of this blend I will give it a try.
    On the other hand I am now motivated to try Meridian as latakia blends with strength are my favorite blends

  • Excellent read,I shall have to return to the tin of Meridian I mis-placed around here somewhere…..

  • I don’t understand why Meridian was put into a comparison of two Sobranie samples. Should we be comparing Squadron Leader to corn on the cob? MM 965 to outboard motors?

  • @Shane –
    It’s explained in Greg’s Epilogue; “… I also had a recently opened tin of the first-production run of my own Meridian, with about a year behind it. I’d received a few emails from people suggesting that they found it similar in character, in some ways, to the old Sobranie, so I figured he might enjoy some of that, too.”

  • Will this new incarnation ever be available again? Will it ever be available n the land where it is made? Absurd to think not a single tin was available on this side of the pond. I hope it will be in future.

  • I am disappointed that this taste challenge, as it’s been billed, has taken place the way it has. I suspect that many of the readers were not in attendance at the Chicagoland pipe show this May or they would have known immediately that deja-vu feeling. There, under the big-top smoking tent, a church-hushed crowd (the largest I’ve ever seen gathered there) were treated to a unique event. By the original design, club-financed production, and sponsorship by the CPCC, two pipe clubs–New York City and Seattle–held a taste challenge between today’s popular tobacco houses in a bid to see who could mix something closest to the legendaty Balkan Sobranie 759. The challengers were McClelland, Hearth & Home, and Altadis. In the end, Hearth and Home won the three-judge vote, while McClelland won the popular vote of show attendees who smoked their mixtures and voted. It was a wonderful event with many commenting that it was the freshest material ever added to the three-day pipe-show affair. My disappointment lies with the similarities of this online magazine’s taste challenge, or throwdown as it was billed at Chicagoland, and that no credit was given the real source for this style of event and use of the original 759 mixture. That the NY and Seattle clubs were not at the very least credited with this concept of a taste challenge for 759 is a mis-step of both Mr. Smith and this magazine. Indeed, the Chicago club was also slighted as they were the host of this well-produced event. I think many will be excited to sample these new Balkan blends from Arango and Pease, and to be interested in reading of well-considered taste comparisons between the two and original mixture, but the writer and editor of this feature have failed their readership in their literary responsibility by not recognizing the original artistic talent that made this copied story, this tangent of a taste challenge, possible. I know the magazine can do better than this. Pipemen deserve it, too.

  • Gary, thanks for taking the time to voice your opinion. Now that you mention it, it probably would have been a good idea to give a nod to the clubs that sponsored the event at the Chicago show. Then we could have linked to the two posts where we promoted the event. So I agree with you there.

    However, the concept of comparing things in reviews is far from new. A “Taste Challenge” isn’t new. I recall “The Pepsi Challenge” ad campaign from the 1970s.

    The clubs’ event used Sobranie 759. That is a different blend than the original Balkan Sobranie for which the above article was written. News of a legendary tobacco like Balkan Sobranie being reintroduced to the market is certainly big, and it is our duty to provide the best information as possible to our readers. Based on the comments here and on other forums, it appears that 99% of readers felt we did a great job.

  • A brief comment about Meridian is perhaps in order in the context of this article, and the ensuing thread of responses. A recent review elsewhere implied that Meridian was in some way meant to be a copy of Balkan Sobranie, a conclusion based on the reviewer’s reading of this article, and this is simply not the case. Meridian was developed specifically to fit into the overall scheme of the Old London Series, and was never intended to replicate any extant or historic tobacco blend. Any perceived resemblance to the old, original Sobranie is purely coincidental. Of course, how can any creation of a new blend in the classic style of Meridian not beat least somewhat informed by the prestigious blends of the past, most of which I’ve smoked in some abundance over the past 30 years, and any comparison with a blend of Sobranie’s immense stature, especially when it comes from veteran smokers of the classic blends, is something I will graciously, if somewhat reluctantly, accept as a true compliment.
    Neither was my sending of the tobaccos to Adam an attempt to turn his review into a contest of some sort. It was simply a chance to expand his own landscape of experience, knowing that he’d never had the opportunity to smoke the original as it was produced in the 1970s. (Neither have I, really, though the late-1970s produced stuff that I was smoking in 1979/80 is arguably fairly close, experientially.) Of course, it’s impossible to compare anything new to anything that old with any reliability. After so many decades in the tin, that old tobacco has evolved into something quite different from what it was originally. But, it still reflects the character, the structure of what it was originally, and perhaps that’s the point, here. That the profound presence of Latakia is still evidenced in abundance in that old sample is telling of the fact that it did, in fact, contain a rather large percentage of the stuff, something I may address in an upcoming Out of the Ashes column, since the topic seems both relevant and of some interest.
    It’s remarkable to me how effortless the net has made it for people leap across vast chasms of sparse logic to reach untenable conclusions, and then publish their opinions as fact. But, that’s another topic.

  • O-M-G! How elequently you put folks in their place! I absolutely love your style Mr. Pease. Bet it takes a week for some of the folks this is directed towards to figure out that they just got their a** chewed here. LMAO! Nice work man.

  • thanks for the article adam! great piece. looking forward to more.
    although one comment confuses me. Gary expresses disappointment about how the article was somehow billed as a taste challenge and implies it is a copy of what the clubs organized in chicago. i understand his points regarding some possible similarities (and potential for credit), but, firstly, this article was not billed as a throwdown or taste challenge. it was billed as a ‘re-release review and comparison’. and correct me if i’m wrong but wasn’t the chicago throwdown between ‘sobranie 759’ and three tobaccos (black house, blue mountain and altadis) trying to emulate the blend? if that’s the case, how is this copying that event if it’s simply an online review and comparison of an old sobranie and a new one, with meridian thrown into the mix?
    as an ironic side note, it’s interesting that there is issue about this article somehow “copying” someone else while the original intent of the event itself was about trying to “copy” something else and then crowning the winner for being the best “copy”.
    a couple of months ago i actually posted something i called “my very own thowdown” on SF about my review and comparison of blue mountain and black house (it was clear in the post that i had never tried any sobranie tobaccos), i love both these tobaccos for different reasons. implied in a piece like this, especially in a community likes ours, is a tip of the hat to the inspiration for such a post. it’s a compliment.

  • Loved this article/review. Gave me a few ideas of my own regarding experimental