Sobranie of London The Balkan Sobranie

(3.69)
This traditional mixture of rich Virginia, Latakia and rare Yenidje tobaccos is Sobranie's oldest blend and offers a mild yet rich taste. A cool and long-lasting smoke.
Notes: Presently, the best readily available production/date information is per John C Loring's "DATING ENGLISH TINNED TOBACCO", 1999: 1970s: (and prior) Sobranie Limited, Sobrainie House 1970s: (briefly) Sobranie Limited, 17 Worship Street 1970s: (late) Sobranie Limited, Chichester Road 1980s: (early) Sobranie of London, 65 Kingsway 1980s: Sobranie of London, 34 Burlington Arcade 1990s: Sobranie of London, 13 Old Bond Street Then Gallaher produced this blend until the mid-2000s.

Details

Brand Sobranie of London
Blended By House of Sobranie
Manufactured By Gallaher
Blend Type Balkan
Contents Latakia, Oriental/Turkish, Virginia
Flavoring
Cut Ribbon
Packaging 50g Pouch, 50g Tin, 100g Tin, 200g Tin
Country United Kingdom
Production No longer in production

Profile

Strength
Medium
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Extremely Mild -> Overwhelming
Flavoring
None Detected
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
None Detected -> Extra Strong
Room Note
Pleasant to Tolerable
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Unnoticeable -> Overwhelming
Taste
Medium to Full
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Extremely Mild (Flat) -> Overwhelming

Average Rating

3.69 / 4
75

10

5

3

Reviews

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Displaying 1 - 10 of 93 Reviews
Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Jan 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.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Jun 06, 2004 Mild to Medium None Detected Very Full Very Pleasant
BALKAN refers to the Greek Macedonian yenidze [ jenidze, yenidje, etc.] tobacco that gives this blend its characteristic flavour and aroma. I know of no other in which this essentially condimental tobacco is so much to the fore. It has a peaty, brackish astringency that is quite unique as a taste?it reminds me of some olives, in a way. To this is added a large quantity of fiery, tenebrific, real, SYRIAN latakia, all of it held together by the background?and it is very much a background?of red Virginia.

You can see how it is a hard composition to blend, with ingredients often hard to obtain, and whose consistency over 130 years has been variable to say the least!

That and its uncompromising flavour do not augur success with the masses. It was always ?caviare for the general?, and not, lately, much of a money-maker: English tastes, in this as in everything else, have become coarsened and vulgarised; and so, once it was deprived of its big American public, this blend simply became problematic and unprofitable. It has now disappeared altogether.

I guess I first tried it nearly 35 years ago. I have smoked it many times since, but it never became part of my standard repertory. It was an occasional treat, like the driest gin. The insistent Turkish twang was fun, but not all the time. I always found its sister blends, RATTRAY?s Red Raparee and DUNHILL?s London Mixture more conservatively and more finely integrated; in comparison, Sobranie seemed a little bloated sometimes, a little relentless. Its post-modern re-incarnation, BALKAN SASIENI, is the same mix, yet not the same mix at all: the grade of tobaccos and the proportions may be the same, but modern-day orientals seem to be blander, more generic than formerly, and the Cypriot ?latakia?, a nice tobacco in itself, is like California ?chablis?: the more it tries to be, the more it is not.

I suppose a classic chapter in pipe-smoking is now closed, although I am sure that lovers of this blend in its heyday would envy us our personal acquaintance with people like, say, G.L. Pease. To everything there is a season, if I may coin a phrase.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Jan 04, 2014 Mild to Medium None Detected Medium Tolerable
The smoky, woody, earthy, musty sweet Cyprian Latakia is the lead component. The Orientals (Macedonia being one of them) provide a lot of earth, wood, floralness, a light dry sourness and buttery sweetness, along with a little spice and leather as a supporting player. The Virginias offer some grass and hay, a little dark fruit, and a hint of citrus. The light unflavored soda note or two along with some dry wood, earth, floralness from the yenidje is always noticeable. The 1990s and later versions have drier in taste than it was in the 1980s, due to the decrease in the red Virginia, which disappeared by the mid-1990s. The strength is a couple of steps short of medium. The taste is medium. The nic-hit is just past the center of mild to medium. Won't bite or get harsh. Burns at a reasonable pace, cool, clean and moderately smooth with a very consistent, mildly sweet and floral, savory, campfire flavor. Requires few relights, and leaves little dampness in the bowl. Had a pleasant, lightly lingering after taste and room note. An all day well balanced smoke. Four stars despite the number of changes that occurred.

Having smoked the late 1960s and the 1960 versions, I found the red Virginia was a little more prominent, and the wine-like, earthy, woody, floral Syrian Latakia was used, which created a drier, lightly less fragrant smoke. The 1980's and later versions used Cyprian Latakia which added a little different sweetness to the mix. The yenidje seems to have been the same in all versions. The amount of red Virginia was decreased by 1982. The production ceased in 2005.

The above review doesn't cover the current version. In that one, the smoky, woody, earthy Cyprian Latakia is the lead component, but lacks the depth and mustiness of earlier productions, and little less is here than before. The Orientals are less potent, offering earth, wood, floralness, a light dry sourness and a touch of buttery sweetness, along with a little spice as a supporting player. The very grassy, citrusy, barely dark fruity and earthy Virginias have little of the complexity it once had, and there’s more of here than before. The unflavored soda note from the yenidje is virtually missing. The strength is in the center of mild to medium. The taste is a step past that center. The nic-hit is just short of the center of mild to medium. Won't bite or get harsh. Burns cool, clean and a tad fast as it’s thinner cut now. It’s moderately smooth with a very consistent, mildly sweet and savory, lightly floral, very grassy flavor. Requires an average number of relights, and leaves little dampness in the bowl. Had a lightly lingering after taste and room note. An all day smoke that lacks the depth and complexity of past manufactures. This one gets two stars.

-JimInks
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
May 02, 2014 Mild to Medium None Detected Medium to Full Pleasant to Tolerable
First: I never really imagined smoke the legendary The Balkan Sobranie. A two or three months ago one friend called me on the facebook messenger, and says me: "Hi, i have a some tins from The Balkan Sobranie...". I had thought: O My Lord, J.F.Germain's new blend already arrived here in Brazil... But later he said, these tins are the Original Balkan Sobranie, and was propriety from a collector, who died and your daughter gave me. This tin, my tin, had more or less 30 years, and was perfectly conserved, yesterday a smoked the last bowl... during all the time I used a Savinelli King Cross, This is a small pipe, burns a 20 minutes, but a did a 40 minutes... for enjoy each portion of this tobacco. Many people say of the Balkan Sasieni, McClelland's Blue Montain are examples of tentatives from your blenders to get close of the Balkan Sobranie. Now I know how was the original and now i can compare. Has a rich experience for me and this tobacco was a unique in months because even when stored for so long, still provided good smoked, full of flavor. I will prove the New Balkan Sobranie and I really wish they would have achieved a blend as good as the original, because I think just like that, honestly, never will be.
Pipe Used: Savinelli King Cross
Age When Smoked: 27
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Mar 16, 2008 Mild to Medium None Detected Mild to Medium Very Pleasant
This is my favorite in the old Sobranie line. Not as heavy on the Latakia as 759 and plenty of that marvelous old Yenidje leaf to sate the palate.

For me, this is a very difficult tobacco to review as I don't really have anything to compare it to. Perhaps its uniqueness is one of the reasons why so many pipers love it.

The Original BS smoked mellow, cool, dry and somewhat sweet. The Latakia was toned way down, yet was a presence. I have been fortunate to smoke many of the older tins, but the leaf lacks the punch it contained when fresh. Old tins these days are just too mellow - although still MARVELOUS!
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Jan 14, 2015 Mild to Medium None Detected Medium to Full Pleasant to Tolerable
I got my hands on a 25+ years old tin that needed rehydration. After using the paper towel method and transferring the whole thing into a jar, I waited for a few days so that the tobacco flavors settle.

A musty, fermented, sour and Latakia rich smell invades the nostrils as I fill my pipe. The tobacco ranges from black to dark brown, there are some lighter bronze strands but overall it's a dark mixture.

The medium to fine ribbon cut lights easily, the intoxicating flavor is instantly upon me. The Virginias drive this tobacco for the most part, with the Orientals making an appearance from time to time, all this under the supervision of a most delicious Latakia that has a red wine like flavor.

The Latakia is leathery, smoky with an characteristic peat flavor. The dominating Virginias bring a good amount of tang and subdued sweetness that sometimes, play with the Orientals that are deliciously sour with a sparkling taste, for lack of a better word.

It's a slow burning, cool and dry smoke with an incense like aroma, very smooth. I realize that even though The Balakan Sobranie is gone and that the tobaccos used in it's making are no more to be found, you can still get quality stuff from some dedicated blenders, finding them could be quite a challenge though.

I can see why this tobacco is the one that started the whole "Balkan" designation. Balanced to a fault, yet it's the sum of its ingredients that makes it so distinctive and so hard to imitate.

Smoking this mixture was a unique experience. I feel elated and relieved that I managed to have TBS so that now, I can become a better judge when it comes to distinguish between, the somehow subjective appellations of "Balkan" and "English". I can now fully enjoy Abingdon and any other mixture that I can relate to as my ideal Latakia mixture, my holy grail.

Virginia lover
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Feb 07, 2014 Medium None Detected Medium to Full Pleasant to Tolerable
When I first reviewed BS, I did it with the old TR website and compared several era’s to the new blend by Germain. Since TR has now carved out the new BS under Germain, (a good thing), here are my thoughts on the “old” Balkan Sobranie. As I said in my first review, it is difficult to make comparisons with this blend because even in the days prior to the current Germain production, there were many changes to BS. IMO, the 70’s version, which is the oldest I have smoked, was outstanding. It was a creamy, well rounded smoke with the perfect balance of Latakia, Virginias and Oriental tobacco. It was the perfect blend IMHO. This was true for me into the 80’s too, but by the time the 90’s came about, the blend had changed and not for the better. Once it was in the 90’s plastic fold up, the Latakia was more dominate and not due to the blend being less aged. I do find the 90’s version to still be good and similar to the current Germain version, but overall it was a shadow of its former self. To be a very good blend in the “downfall” years speaks to how excellent it was in years past. It’s hard not to look at the whole ball of wax and not say that this was one of best blends ever made.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Jan 10, 2016 Strong None Detected Overwhelming Pleasant to Tolerable
This spectacular blend stands on top of the rostrum of the Hall of Fame, together with famous 759, and only few others. Still nowadays the TBS and the 759 are THE benchmark for all Oriental Mixtures. Countless proficient blenders have tried hard to copy it. Only a few got somewhat near to it. The unequalled art of original TBS and 759 is the most perfect ever marriage of the very best Latakia with the very best Orientals in a bed of robust Virginia, delivering an overwhelming palette of aromas. This is fact for both, The Balkan Sobranie and the 759 Mixture. I am not going into the subtle differences of these two blends of heaven. Those who regularly smoke them in the past, already know. If I was given the difficult choice of one tin, either TBS or 759, I would go for TBS. Matter of personal preference.

In the late 70s and 80s I took this mixture for granted and smoked a lot of it and I highly appreciated it – until it suddenly disappeared. Thousands of pipe smokers have been lamenting since. But let us be honest: the incredible variety of mixtures available today – and there are a lot of excellent ones – offer several perfectly acceptable and enjoyable alternatives for EVERY pipe smoker.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to smoke plenty of TBS for many years. I also liked other mixtures of “Sobranie of London”, like the rare Birdseye Cut, and the famous 759 for example. But IT’S GONE NOW, like many others, by the way. C’est la vie! I have found many delicious blends that perfectly match my needs, and I enjoy smoking them as much as I did TBS. And I am always happy to try and evaluate new mixtures. Take care of and estimate your favourites, they may disappear as suddenly as TBS did.
5 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Oct 26, 2011 Medium None Detected Medium to Full Tolerable
Over the past year I have been slowly smoking 50gm's from the early 1990's and this review is based on that now finished tobacco. I wanted to make sure my review didn't reflect a myth.

The very first thing that stands out for me is how "buttery" the Orientals are in this blend verses others. I do not know if this is a result of aging or as it was at that time as I was an avid cigar smoker in those days and never smoked a new tin. Secondly it is very balanced with each tobacco playing very well together. The flavor is very deep and rich and burns to a clean white ash. A very, very smooth English. If my wallet actually agreed with me, I would be seeking out much more of this wonderful English blend. It is my understanding that the version that I was smoking was not the quality of tins sold in the 1970's. If this is the case and the viewpoint hasn't been romanticized too much, I can see why this was a Hall of Fame blend as even the era that I smoked was excellent. Some reviewers have claimed this to be sharp or harsh and I did not have that result, but it could be due to the age of the tobacco. At least for this one time, the cost of the tin was well worth it.

It remains to be seen if the new production, coming from a quality blender that currently has trouble meeting demand for its best blends will be able to supply enough product and of high quality. I am rooting for them as this is very highly recommended!

***UPDATE***12/31/11***

I was gifted a fair number of bowls of the new Germain production BS and smoked it side by side with my remaining 1990's era BS. This is SOMEWHAT of a comparision, understanding that I am comparing a new tin verses an aged tin and the 90's era Original Mixture was, by most accounts, not the best era of the blend. So with that in mind, I find the new Original Mixture to have the same creamy/savory quality of the 90's mixture. I find it to be better balanced and the flavor is outstanding. The cut is comprised very thin ribbons that are a little too moist, but given the cut, it dries quickly. The quality of the tobacco is very high. It burns very cleanly and leaves a white/grey ash. Germain has really done a fine job with this blend, so much so that for my personal taste, the new era BS wins hands down! I hope that the folks at Germain have considered the demand and are prepared to meet it rather than leaving pipe smokers frustrated with a lack of supply. Four Big Stars for the new Original Mixture!
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Aug 01, 2012 Medium None Detected Medium to Full Strong
I would like to start out by saying that i am extremely annoyed by the two main ways this blend seems to be reviewed.. on the one hand, there is the reactionary camp who compare their current experience to the echoes of memories of long lost years.. then there is a progressive camp that seems all too willing to embrace and wax poetic on something they have recently discovered. moreover, to put it bluntly the overall hype of something, mainly because of its rarity does a great disservice to those trying to take it for what it is, and experience something as it exists now. although i have nothing of great worth to say to sway someone one way or the other i can try to describe my own subjective opinion briefly and to the point, but the ultimate judgement or perception is up to you. the blend i am smoking is the current j f germain version. i find it to be very well put together.. at first i thought, wow, this is not radically different from balkan sasieni.. i find that the overall first impression is not all that different from other balkans. but that makes sense considering this is considered the benchmark, therefore a lot of imitations have hit upon it, and some very well. what i like most about it is not necessarily the overall impression.. i like the details and the subtlety. it touches upon every flavor component.. sweet, bitter, salty, sour, savory, spicy etc.. but it remains one package.. it is not a shocking experience.. it is kind of gentle and simple in a way. so my 2 cents are- don't expect to be knocked on the head with epic greatness, don't listen to all the flowery stanzas.. just smoke it and see for yourself.. i like it very much

update: I found a small clump of hairs in my tin.. couldnt tell if they were of human or animal origin.. could this be the secret ingredient to balkan sobranie? was it merely an oversight at the factory, or is this really some kind of mythic witches brew. in any case, all humor aside, it hasnt effected the quality of the smoke
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