Smooth Sailing with Borkum Riff

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E. Roberts
The Borkum Riff line of tobaccos has a pedigree that dates back to the early 1960s.
It was formerly produced in the Mac Baren factory on an exclusive production line for Swedish Match. Now it is produced in-house at STG’s Orlik factory after the two companies merged in October 2010. Burley-forward Cavendish blends, they still enjoy prominence in the mass-market, or "OTC", pipe tobacco category, and with good reason. Five blends were sampled for this review, and all of them offered smooth and consistent smoking, genuine tobacco flavor, and varied Danish-style aromatic casings that distinguished them well.

From the Editor: With the change in production of Borkum Riff now being produced in Scandinavian Tobacco Group’s own Orlik factory, a few items are note-worthy.

  • The packaging has new graphics. From a marketing and branding perspective this is an improvement because of better imagery consistency. They also now list the year of introduction for each blend, and there is a small, "Imported by Lane Ltd, Tucker, GA 30084", subtlety noting the change in distribution.
  • "Cherry Liqueur" is now spelled in the American-English fashion—Cherry Liquor. "Original Ultra Light", due to new tobacco labeling / naming laws is now named, Mixture Original
  • Most importantly—there is no evident difference in the tobacco’s taste or aroma compared to the former production. We blind taste-tested with three different pipe smokers, and although there were lots of guesses, no one could really tell the difference between the old production and the new. There was a slight aesthetic difference where the new production was so firmly vacuum-sealed in the pouch that the full contents could be removed in one solid piece, as if it were a big candy bar. Personally, I actually thought this was kind of neat, as the candy bar implication was a positive connotation that lent even more anticipation to the flavor sensations to come.—Kevin Godbee

The flagship of the line is Borkum Riff Mixture Original. (introduced in 1982) The Danish style plays well here, with its delicate vanilla casing evidenced quite softly on the palate and room note. In the pouch, it exhibits a pleasing mottle of Virginia and Burley, predominantly dark leaf interspersed with light blonde streaks, and exudes a subdued aroma of vanilla bean amongst the earthier tobacco scent. A bit moist to the touch, it fares better with a short drying time, and keeps quite well in the pouch for extended periods. Taking to the light quite easily, it starts off with a short sweet burst of familiar Virginia Cavendish brightness that quickly settles into an almost metronomic quality of tempo—smooth, light, and steady as a ship in a cool breeze on calm water. It certainly avoids cloying sweetness and a too-heavy hand on humectants, and delivers exactly what it promises—a soft texture with the subtle enhancement of vanilla, burning dryly and easily to the bottom of repeated bowls. Available in a 7-ounce tub or in 1.5-ounce pouches, this is one of the easiest all-day smokes out there, with enough nicotine to refresh and enough flavor to keep it interesting.


Borkum Riff Mixture Original Borkum Riff Original Mixture Pouch Description
Borkum Riff Original Mixture Tobacco Pouch Contents Borkum Riff Mixture Original Tobacco Close-Up


Pouch Description: The original recipe consists of 60% Black Cavendish from The Philippines and Africa, mixed with 40% Virginia from Brazil, India and Africa.

Flavor: Chocolate, Prune and Fruity Notes.

Borkum Riff’s most popular blend is the Bourbon Whiskey, introduced in April of 1962, and aimed at the American market’s palate. Another Virginia-burley Cavendish blend, it shows an even 50/50 mix of light and dark ribbon with a faint aroma that is indeed evocative of our American whiskey. Like the Original blend there is a brief burst of sweetness after the light, which settles into a slightly more complex variety of flavor. The Virginias come through a little more with this one, a little sharper, and serve to highlight the bass notes well for some contrast. Throughout the bowl, the flavor of tobacco is mild and smooth, and the whiskey top-note an ever-present solo voice weaving through. Some care must be exercised when chasing this flavor, as excessive puffing may provoke the tobacco’s slight tendency to nip. Not surprisingly, it excels in a Missouri Meerschaum cob, where the sweet corn amplifies perfectly the liquor’s flavor. Bourbon Whiskey is also available both as 7-ounce and 1.5-ounce packages.


Borkum Riff Bourbon Whiskey Borkum Riff Bourbon Whiskey Pouch Description
Borkum Riff Bourbon Whiskey Tobacco in Pouch Borkum Riff Tobacco Close-Up


Pouch Description: The Bourbon Whiskey recipe consists of 35% Black Cavendish from Africa, Europe and The Philippines, mixed with 65% Virginia from Brazil and Africa, and as a final treat, genuine Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey is added.

Flavor: Kentucky Bourbon Notes.

Moving a notch up the scale on strength and body, the Black Cavendish (introduced in 1975) offers a richer and darker smoke with a surprising complexity, owing to the addition of dark-fired Kentucky burley to the blend. The dark brown packaging reflects the darker leaf within, interspersed with only occasional streaks of brighter lemon Virginia, and offers the aroma of nougat and nuts very characteristic of heavier Cavendish. Casked and fermented for an extended period, the earthier flavor is more prominent and plays well with the sweetness of the lighter leaf. It perhaps demands a bit more attention than the previous blends, and with proper consideration it rewards with a great deal of depth in which to let one’s palate wander, touching on woody low notes, a musty vegetal sweetness of truffle, a drop of honey here and there, and sweet tea high notes. Its performance was magnified in a century-old clay, and paired exceptionally well to a Darjeeling first flush tea and a viewing of John Huston’s Moby Dick with its brilliant Philip Sainton score.


Borkum Riff Black Cavendish Pipe Tobacco Borkum Riff Black Cavendish Pouch Description
Borkum Riff Black Cavendish Tobacco in Pouch Borkum Riff Black Cavendish Tobacco Close-Up


Pouch Description: The Black Cavendish recipe consists of 50% Black Cavendish from Argentina and India, mixed with Ripe Virginia from Africa, Brazil and India.

Flavor: A hint of prune and plum.

Next up is the Cherry Cavendish in its deep red packet, (introduced in 1979) also blended with dark-fired Kentucky burley and aged in casks. The cherry and vanilla aroma is sweet, certainly, but just refrains from cloying, and is a dead ringer for a Cella’s chocolate-covered cherry. Like the Black Cavendish, it is a predominantly dark blend with only a sprinkling of lighter leaf, and of an equally nuanced complexion when smoked. While not as strong as many cherry-topped blends, it is certainly an aromatic that will ghost a pipe, so does best in dedicated instruments of narrow chamber. It definitely delivers on flavor, both in its casing and its high-quality base components. The Kentucky and Cavendish are rich and ripe with chocolaty, nutty overtones that complement the dark cherry dressing, making for an excellent dessert pipe to be enjoyed at leisure with a cup of coffee.


Borkum Riff Cherry Cavendish Pipe Tobacco Borkum Riff Cherry Cavendish Pouch Description
Borkum Riff Cherry Cavendish Tobacco in Pouch Borkum Riff Cherry Cavendish Tobacco Close-Up


Pouch Description: The Cherry Cavendish recipe consists of 50% Black Cavendish from Africa and The Philippines, mixed with 50% Virginia from Brazil, Argentina and India. On top of that, sweet cherry taste is added.

Flavor: Hints of cherry.

Noticeably lighter in body and casing is the Cherry Liquor blend (introduced in 1972). It is perhaps the most prominent in Virginia Cavendish, with much more bright ribbon and appreciably lower nicotine content. The cherry topping is milder and quite distinct from the Cherry Cavendish blend, strongly reminiscent of a hard candy flavor. After some time in the pouch, it faded a bit and became almost an afterthought in the flavor profile, though not in the room note. On par with the Original Blend, it smoked easily and with an even tempo that allowed for repeated bowls throughout the day, with no tendency to bite at all, while the Cherry Cavendish had a bit more inclination to tire the mouth in that regard.


Borkum Riff Cherry Liquor Pipe Tobacco Borkum Riff Cherry Liquor Pouch Description
Borkum Riff Cherry Liquor Pipe Tobacco in Pouch Borkum Riff Cherry Liquor Tobacco Close-Up


Pouch Description: The Cherry Liquor recipe consists of 40% Black Cavendish from Africa, Europe and The Philippines, mixed with 60% Virginia from Brazil, Africa and Europe. On top of that, cherry liquor is added.

Flavor: Genuine cherry liquor.

Scandinavian Tobacco Group is delivering well on its mission to preserve, maintain and even improve on the blends under its charge, and this is demonstrated admirably with the Borkum Riff marque. Scouring through older reviews of the blends, it is apparent that they are now avoiding the pitfalls that tend to give aromatics a tarnished reputation—the leaf is of excellent quality, with very little stem or clumping; the casings and toppings are expertly joined with, but very subservient to, the taste of the tobaccos; and the overall presentation and consistent quality of smoking characteristics make for a thoroughly enjoyable addition to the rotation. Personally, I found them to be superior smokes in a well-used cob for when I’m behind the wheel. They all present ready-to-load straight out of the pouch once they’ve had a little time to air out, smooth and dry to smoke to the bottom with only a few relights, and while uncomplicated enough to allow my attentions to be focused elsewhere, they all delivered much more than a simple nicotine fix, with enough flavor and variety to maintain interest and enjoyment over repeated, all-day smoking. Having worked my way through five blends—nearly a pound of tobacco—in under a month, I can confidently recommend them all as solid performers in their category of mass-market aromatics.

21 Responses

  • Thanks for an excellent survey of the Borkum Riff product line. I remember trying one of them back in the late 60’s, and I don’t know why I ever stopped smoking it. I guess it’s time to revisit some of these very interesting blends.

  • Well done, Mr. Roberts. It’s great to see all the blends presented in one spot like this.
    A much admired teacher in high school smoked Borkum Riff, inspiring my first experiences with the pipe. I screwed up my nerve, and picked up a Medico sandblast bent from the local druggist, and a pouch of the BR. I can’t honestly say that was the day I became a pipe smoker, but the seeds were certainly sown. I’ve moved on, since, but still have fond memories of the aroma of BR. I revisited the stuff once, a few years back, and enjoyed the nostalgic trip into my own past. I think, now, I just might have to take that trip again.

  • I remember smoking the Original extra-Light, and really enjoyed it. It is one of the few tobaccos I’ll smoke, as I’m not too fond of anything heavy.
    Glad it’s making a comeback, and I can deal with the new name – it’s the same old friend I used to smoke, and that’s all right with me!

  • Thak you for your review
    I was enquiring about this blend just yesterday as here in South Africa we have an constant shortage of great tobaccos.
    Youve now enticed me to go out whilst there stock

  • Very useful and well-written reviews, thank you. Might have to try one of these mixtures for PR purposes- somehow not everyone around me appreciates my Balkan “kill squad” and VAPER tobaccos.
    I read some time ago that R.L. Will had a hand in creating the flavoring for one of the BR mixtures (Whiskey?). Mr. Will is of the Solani and R.L. Will tobacco lines fame. Anyone else recall his role in BR history?

  • Borkum Riff certainly has some nice stuff but all I can say is O M G! WEhy’d they ever stop with the BK Rum Tobacco! It was Awesome!! Smoked a heck of alot of it back in the day when it was sold! HELP Bring it Back!~!~!~! JEEZ! I miss that flavor

  • Sounds like a must-try for a new young piper like myself. Consider these blends added to the TAD list.
    Thank you for the very informative article!

  • I just realized that nobody commented on the fact that Borkum Riff used to be made by Mac Baren. That was a highly guarded secret up until now.

  • Actually, while it probably wasn’t well-known, it was advertised in a trade magazine back in 2002. You can find the info on the link below-scroll down. They (Mac Baren) took over in 2002. I suppose a lot of people assumed it was Stokkebeye probably since it just said “Made in Denmark.” The tobacco in no way resembled typical Mac Baren-style of manufacturing. They seemed to have faithfully reproduced the blend in all aspects from what is was at the time made by Swedish Match.
    If any are interested, I posted a history / review of the brand (see link below). This blend always held a special place in my heart since I was a little boy in the early 70’s. Hope you enjoy; have a great day…Joe G.

  • Please let me also add that I’m thrilled that STG / Lane are continuing the production/distribution of the Borkum Riff line, with their own new special touches..Kudos to them!-Joe G.

  • Thanks very much for this comprehensive review of the BR blends! I had looked into the Cherry Liqueur in the past, but the inconsistency of the reviews both for it and how it related to the other BR blends prompted me to walk away (in an Internet sense). The Original Mixture sounds interesting, too. Once I’m through my current stash of 1-Q, I will need something to fill that light vanilla-ish spot in my rotation.

  • Thank you for providing a link to your review, Joe. I enjoyed the additional history. Your statement that R.L. Will had a hand in the creation of the original products confirms what I read in a Pipes & Tobaccos Magazine article on R.L. Will. He seemed quite proud of the success of the original recipes. Of course, he is one of the very best blend designers there is, so his creating a successful product is no surprise. I wish BR did not have the reputation for tongue torment that it does. Every time I’ve considered trying it, those pained souls shriek warning, but descriptions of the room note call out for a try, too.

  • My pleasure, Pipeline. Glad you liked it. Give it a shot…treat it with respect…you will be pleasantly surprised! Regarding R.L. Will, he’s a class act, as is his importer and distributor Steve Monjure, of Monjure Intl. I can’t wait to find the new release of BR in my local far, no luck. All the best…Joe G.

  • “I wish BR did not have the reputation for tongue torment that it does.”
    A lot of OTCs get a bad rap for this, and I have to admit I was a little timid, perhaps, at the prospect of reviewing this line. How pleasantly corrected I stand–they were all fantastic, flavorful tobaccos, and only had a tendency to bite if pushed, which any Virginia / burley will do. I keep a pouch in the car at all times now.
    “Why’d they ever stop with the BK Rum Tobacco! ”
    Apparently they made an orange blend too–I’ve been searching for a decent orange blend, would have loved to try this one. Don’t know if it’s available in Europe.

  • It’s one thing to get hold of a vintage pipe tobacco commercial, but someone posted 5 or 6 on this youtube link (not sure how/where they got them)! Ah, long live the memories of days when pipe tobacco companies could advertise during prime time t.v. programming. What has become of our world! Hope you enjoy!..Joe G.

  • BTW. Meant to give Kudos earlier to Mr. Roberts for his lovely review and presentation in general of the new Borkum Riff Line. Great Job- Thanks!

  • Thanks! I’m glad this stirred up the ashes of memory for some, as it were, and hope it inspires more to try the line. I finished the day with Original mixture last night, and started today with it, in fact.

  • Minor update: I found yet another tobacconist in my town (that’s four quality B&Ms within an hour of my house, and three within easy walking distance from my office) and this one had a fair collection of Mac Baren and… Borkum Riff Cherry and Cherry Liquor. So I picked up a pouch of the Cherry Liquor. Yet another tobacco to add to my rotation that now is over a dozen open tins and pouches. Thanks again for the great review.

  • I was finally able to secure a pouch of the latest release of BR Bourbon Whiskey..of all places, CVS! All of my regular haunts have a huge amount of the old version in their back-up stock, so I was hesitant to try a drugstore, thinking of all places, their stock wouldn’t move much. The stars were aligned that day and I was able to get my pouch, but not without a problem. I had to argue with the clerk, as there was one old version and the new one there and the new one hadn’t had a stock number assigned to it, so they asked why I couldn’t take the older pouch, as it came up unrecognized in their system. Then, I explained that the distributors changed, etc., so they begrudgingly sold it to me and used the old stock for the scan…go figure..I’m an easy-going guy, but I wasn’t leaving the store without my STG Borkum Riff! To make a long story short, Mr. Roberts gave an excellent review and presentation of the new versions; many thanks. Without re-hashing a blog entry that I’d written a few years ago, the stuff is excellent. The presentation is spot-on as well as the manufacturing. STG has made this product what it once was in the 70’s, made by Swedish Tobacco Co…dare I say even better?! That unique and unmistakeable raisin-like pouch aroma stayed with me in the dark corners of my mind since I was a tiny lad and it’s resurfaced here. The tobacco is of top-notch quality and as mentioned above in the review, there’s a great seal on it. The flavor of the tobacco and whiskey have melded as one. I implore anyone who has ever doubted the quality of this blend, to go out and try some. There are no twigs, moisture level is perfect. Fear not of the infamous tongue bite associated with this blend. Smoked normally, there are no worries. All I can say is BRAVO to STG and their distributor, Lane, Ltd. In this day and age, it’s great to see that efforts of a few select companies are keeping our hobby alive and well. I look forward to trying the other varieties!

  • I’d like to add one final thing. It’s very, very rare that I get hit by the amount of nicotine in a blend; this blend definitely has a hefty amount in the strain of burley they’re using. Not saying this is a bad thing at all, just a general comment. Joe G.