J. F. Germain & Son Balkan Sobranie

Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture is one of the most legendary Latakia-based blends in history. Dating back to around the 1920s, this is a combination of wonderful Virginias, excellent Orientals and enough Latakia for a robust and flavorful mixture. The balance of tobaccos gives the smoker a sweet and smoky experience, with a finish unlike anything else. The aroma is so bright that it has an incense-like scent that will thrill the senses. Since the Original has gone through a number of iterations over the years, it’s impossible to say if it will remind you of the one you smoked years ago, but it’s a terrific smoke in its own right.
Notes: IMPORTANT NOTE: This is the re-release version of Balkan Sobranie. If you are reviewing the older version, please see the entry under "Sobranie of London", here: http://www.tobaccoreviews.com/blend/1525/sobranie-of-london-the-balkan-sobranie


Brand J. F. Germain & Son
Blended By J.F. Germain & Son
Manufactured By J.F. Germain & Son
Blend Type Balkan
Contents Latakia, Oriental/Turkish, Virginia
Cut Ribbon
Packaging 50 grams tin
Country United Kingdom
Production Re-release


Extremely Mild -> Overwhelming
None Detected
None Detected -> Extra Strong
Room Note
Pleasant to Tolerable
Unnoticeable -> Overwhelming
Extremely Mild (Flat) -> Overwhelming

Average Rating

3.27 / 4





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Displaying 1 - 10 of 88 Reviews
Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Jan 06, 2014 Mild to Medium None Detected Mild to Medium Tolerable
Here's what I wrote about the House of Sobranie version of this blend: 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.

Comparing this 2014 Germain's manufacture to the pouch and tin versions I was smoking in the late 1990's and 2000s, I can tell several important differences. This tin version is moister than the earlier productions. 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.

46 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Mar 29, 2014 Medium None Detected Medium Pleasant
Typical brown and black ribbon blend with the tin nose that says "Balkan!" in a purposeful and unmistakable fashion. Enough has been made about comparisons of this to the old, but two comments come to mind. First, the old Balkan Sobranie is dead and gone. If I thought it was coming back, smoking this version convinced me that I was wrong. Second, even though such comparisons are usually pointless, I'm about to compare this version not to my current stock of old Sobranie, but to my memory of what it was like fresh in the 1990's (tinned rather than pouch versions).

In my experience, there have been three latakia blends that have this particular trait of (and since I can't describe it any better) a massive flavor burst from first lightup that lasts for about 1/4 bowl before it settles down. It's almost like taste overload, but it's addictive. This tendency is common for me with fresh tins of GLP's Charing Cross, the Murray version of Dunhill 965 and 1990's Sobranie. This blend does not possess that trait. Even though that may be the only way I could discern the two, it's enough that I'm convinced I could pick out the two in a blind taste test... not that it's possible for me to prove such a claim! But I'm still heavily inclined to disagree with those that think "nothing ever really was, anyway" with respect to Sobranie White.

At any rate, this tastes an awful lot like my stash of Sobranie. Even this flavor burst I've spoken about has subdued in the old stuff to the point that it's just a memory, albeit a memory I can relive with a new tin of Charing Cross, even though they otherwise don't taste alike. This is an excellent Balkan. It's not like my memory of the old stuff when it was fresh but it's excellent in its own right. Time to stop chasing the past and enjoy this venerable blend in the here and now. Because even the aged stuff isn't like it was when fresh for me and I think Germain was the perfect company to take this recipe and push it forward for new generations of smokers. Enjoy!
Pipe Used: meerschaum and morta
Age When Smoked: New
33 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Jan 02, 2013 Medium None Detected Medium Tolerable
I've been a lover of "Balkan" (English/Latakia) blends since my first contact with THE ORIGINAL during the autumn of 1967, through a tin that a dear auntie of mine —my father's eldest sister– brought me as a present on her return from a trip to London.

Albeit 45 years have passed since that first taste, I still remember with clarity the tangy aroma as I opened the tin and the complex nuances of the blend on the first light. They are burned in my neurones as well as the taste of the first kiss from my first girlfriend. =)

I kept smoking it whenever I could get my hands on some tins —importing tobacco to Mexico was extremely difficult then– until 1989 when I quit tobacco altogether; relapsed some years ago only to find that Balkan Sobranie had all but disappeared from the face of the earth.

Since my return to pipe smoking I've been on the quest for the successor. Tried Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader, Balkan Sasieni, all the classic English blends of Gregory Pease, Lagonda, Sextant, and finally Hearth & Home Black House which I deemed the closest to what my taste and smell remembered as THE Balkan.

Right now I'm comparing two almost identical meerschaums from Sinan Altinok that I've devoted exclusively to Balkans, one filled with H&H Black House and the other with the present incarnation of Balkan Sobranie; both from freshly opened tins. I must say that tho the new BS is a superb blend in its own right, the Black House is truer to the 1967 blend.

Here are my senile asessments on the BS:

The smell on opening the tin is a bit bland and lacks the pungent tang of the old. Here Squadron Leader takes the palms.

The packaging is cheaper too. Gone are the nice card stopper and the finely pleated paper. The new treatment is, simply, cheap. Kudos to Greg Pease in this step.

The color of the mixture is different, somewhat redder, and the cut thinner. Practically gone the lemon Va's. It's also quite wet and requires a good amount of drying to get a cool smoke. The old blend was a joy to load on the pipe, this one is a bit tasking and demands a light hand.

Gone is the sweet first taste that the very elegant Virginias provided; also gone is the sour-sweet taste of the orientals. The Latakia is rather prominent without being overwhelming, which is as I remember it. The room note is decent. Here, on the taste comparo, as I said before Black House gets the prize.

OK, those were the gripes. Now let me tell you that this is an extremely good Latakia blend and that it's worth every expensive penny you will pay for it. It's not the old king but it's a true crown heir. A year of aging in the tin and it will mature to a real ruler. Nevertheless, it will have several pretenders to the throne and the list is long.

You and I, as Balkan smokers can only benefit from the struggle. The variety has made for a great rotation list.

Happy puffs!
30 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Dec 26, 2012 Medium None Detected Medium to Full Pleasant to Tolerable
Here is the issue with those that compare this to days gone by: When BS was in production, there were many changes made to the blend at different points in time. The 90's era of BS was not the exact same recipe as the 70's era (and not as good IMO) and so on. So to say that this doesn't compare, then the question is, "to what?" I have smoked 3 tins of the 90's era BS along side with the new Germain era tins. I find them to be very close from a quality standpoint. Now, the 90's stuff had the benefit (or lack thereof as more often than not the Latakia softens) age on the tin. The fact is that there are so many different BS versions that to compare them is pointless. The bottom line is that the new stuff is very good. With that said, is it worth the extra coins that are being charged on some sites or on ebay? In my opinion the answer is NO. Hopefully Germain will bring more to market and the demand will naturally die down. But since they can't meet demand for many of their Esoterica blends, I'm not holding my breath. The new BS is a very good quality medium Balkan blend with some nice Orientals. It is cut very thin and needs to be packed with care. It also needs a little "dry" time. The smoke is somewhat creamy and very balanced. If you enjoy medium Balkan's than this is worth a try.
24 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Nov 26, 2013 Medium None Detected Full Pleasant to Tolerable
I guess I had my first pouch of BS back around 1964. I smoked it off & on until it went away, & I certainly agree that it changed over the years, maybe a little less Oriental, maybe different Lats. Anyway, I'm sure that the "Golden Age" of tobacco blending is RIGHT NOW. The new BS is very reminiscent of several iterations of the old, just as smooth, complex, cool burn, slightly sweet on occasion, with a wonderful perfume (for the smoker). On a par with Compton's Macedonian, York Full, etc.
Pipe Used: clay, meer, Dunhill patent billiard gr 3
PurchasedFrom: Online
Age When Smoked: I'm 70. The BS was new.
15 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Mar 31, 2015 Medium None Detected Medium to Full Tolerable
Some day everyone who tried the "original" version of this blend will either be dead or too old to write about it. Then future generations won't have to put up with all that crap.

This is a great Balkan blend that has a real creamy smoke to it. The flavors of all of the tobaccos are balanced almost as well as Nightcap. In fact, if it had Nightcap's nicotine level I would have given 4 starts. It's more like 3.5 for me.
11 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Jan 03, 2014 Medium None Detected Medium Tolerable
Back when you could get it in the stores, I would pick up a tin of the original from time to time. That was a long time ago, and while my taste buds have probably changed, I have to say this is the experience I remembered.

In the flavor profile, I get orientals, Virginias and latakia in that order. The result is spicy, sweet and smoky all at once. There is a smoky quality to the orientals (as there is in Presbyterian Mixture), and the combo is very tasty. It works very well, and manages all this without overwhelming or clobbering you with one flavor over another. I guess that is they call balance. Even if this type of blend is not your cup of coffee, you owe it to yourself to try a bowl or two of this.
Pipe Used: various briars
PurchasedFrom: gift from friend
Age When Smoked: fresh from tin
11 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Dec 14, 2013 Mild to Medium Mild to Medium Mild to Medium Pleasant to Tolerable
This is the stuff legends are made of. The tin note is just fantastic. The room note for me is absolutely amazing. All the tobacco elements combine for an extremely fine smoking experience. Last time I had a chance, I got 2 tins (the limit at that time in one order from my online source) and I miss it much since last smoking some of this great weed. Definitely something to put on your wish list if it unavailable at the present time. If not, then by all means get some whilst supplies last. You won't be disappointed. Very highly recommended.
8 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Aug 15, 2012 Mild to Medium None Detected Medium Tolerable
I don't think it's fair to the original Balkan Sobranie that the newer reviews of Germain's interpretation should be lopped together. It's a confusing mess sorting it all out, so I'm glad this listing exists. They are, after all, two very different products, despite what we've been told.

The new Sobranie is a fine, if derivative Balkan, as Germain's reputation. But...I feel it might have been entirely inconsequential if marketed as a new blend. Nostalgia and curiosity have fueled the sell outs, which have reached the status of a select few, FVF and Stonehaven, among the highly sought.

Its characteristics--the blend is quite mild, with a very high percentage of Latakia, far more, in comparison, to a blend like Nightcap. Peering into the tin contents will tell you that--this is a dark mixture. There is a considerable spice, offered by the Oriental leaf, the varietal unstated but likely the common variant Smyrna or some generic microblend. If there is a whisper of Yenidje or some other exotic varietal, I would be surprised, and we would certainly be told.

Like many of Germain's mixes, Balkan Sobranie comes in a fine ribbon, making it easy to overpack the pipe, and prone to a quick, hot burn. Yet it's elegant, and beautiful in the tin. And how was the original cut up, by comparison? In the end, it's not a bother. You really do have to put the comparisons aside and accept this new Sobranie for what it is, on its own merits, of which it admirably succeeds.

Yes, this is a fine, high quality blend. But it does not deserve the attention it receives, and I wonder what might happen when the curiosity has been satiated. You may blame the recipe holder for their decision to reissue Balkan Sobranie, but how many other companies out there might have done the same? And in a mark of irony, the bulk consumers of the blend will be those who have never tried any variation of the original, myself included.

It's a bit pointless to drone on about the multitude of factors that combine to produce something so seemingly simple as a tin of pipe tobacco. And just observing the obvious...on the factory floor, what of replicating the original leaf, the warehouse stockpiles, the production process and its machines...elements that undoubtedly contribute significantly to the overall character and flavor of a blend? It would be impossible to control those variables. More, of the many versions and revisions to come of the original mixture, which model was chosen? Why? I suppose we could have done worse. Imagine if Orlik had delivered the production orders to Borkum Riff. Or even a respected blender like MacBaren, with their bitey, bland and weak blends? Relax, I know, I'm sorry for insulting Diddy McB.

If all of this sounds familiar, I'm pretty sure it's entirely lifted from Mr. Pease's article on the matter. A damn fine read, by the way. I apologize, it's a while since I read the thing.

I would like to note the branding of the product, including the tin art, which feels amateurish, especially when compared to Sasieni, of the same style as the original, but better polished. I suspect a high schooler in a graphic design class could put together a more impressive presentation. The redrawn image, reasonable, yet lacking clarity and definition, the font entirely different, and, strangely plastered onto the background wagons, looking very out of place. It seems as if the resultant design possesses less class.

Criticisms aside, I've smoked two tins and have another two in waiting. For that, I suppose I'm a bit of a hypocrite here. Again, I apologize. For comparison, as noted, I smoked Balkan Sobranie in tandem with a tin of Nightcap. I found that moving from Nightcap to Sobranie felt like sucking steam. I had to kill the Nightcap tin before moving back, and then the adjustment was fine. You shift from relishing in the power that the Dunhill blend carries, to appreciating other qualities--the spice and smokiness.

Now imagine again, had Germain given the blend another name, there would be a fair portion of us looking the other way. It would still be popular...most all Germain products fly off the shelf. In the end, they're doing something right, unlike Gallaher, which managed to go broke while pedaling one of the world's favorite smokes, to critics and simpletons alike. Good going, guys.
8 people found this review helpful.
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Reviewed By Date Rating Strength Flavoring Taste Room Note
Jul 31, 2012 Medium Very Strong Extremely Mild (Flat) Unnoticeable
I smoked Balkan Sobranie, (usually from the white tin), pipe tobacco almost exclusively from 1966 to around 1980, until I stopped smoking entirely for about 10 years. I had been a cigarette and pipe smoker for many years prior to that. I never went back to cigarettes but took up the pipe again in the 90s and did obtain some of the 90s version of Sobranie in plastic pouches that I had sent to me from England until it was discontinued. The 1960s-80 version had a very long ribbon cut yellow-orange tobacco which jumped up out of the vacuum packed tin to greet you when you popped the top. There were also darker fragments of coarse cut brown to black fragments in the mixture. That tobacco had a taste and aroma, which was unique and to me has never been duplicated by anything I smoked since. The 1990s version was coarse cut and had a similar taste and smell but the burning characteristics were quite different and not particularly appealing to my taste. I still have a single pouch of it left but dried out. The fact that it is still there says a lot about my disappointment with it when compared to the 1960s version which I smoked through medical residency training in NYC. Now this new stuff is said to be "Made under licence in the British Isles from a recipe which reflects the excellent qualities of this famous pipe tobacco from years gone by" and Imported by: Arango Cigar Co. I received a 50 G tin of it from Cup o Joes on 3-1-2012. I opened it this morning with great anticipation after giving it 5 months to settle down, hoping to have a great treat... Forgettaboutit!! It is a quite moist mixture of light ribbon cut yellow tan stuff, coarser cut brown leaf and the black stuff which looks like and tastes like latakia when chewed. There is no bright orange- yellow tobacco as in the 1960s version and the ribbons are much, much shorter than the 1960s. I took out enough to fill a Danish Navigator pipe, a delicate very light briar in which I smoke only Balkans . The first pipe load was allowed to dry for 1/2 hour in an air conditioned room. The pipe was packed and I retired to the outside covered deck to enjoy a morning smoke on a nice padded rocker. I lit up and in a short time my taste buds were assaulted with an overwhelming spicy topping of ?cloves, cinnamon?, eugenol? It had all of the characteristics of Pease's Samarra and Caravan which I keep around but smoke only twice a year to remind me of how much I hate them. But this spice assault was much more intense than the Pease mixtures. I don't know if they made a mixing mistake at the factory and I just got a bad batch, but if they actually paid for a license to make this stuff, they didn't get the right info or didn't mix it correctly. In the evening I dried out some more for 1 1/2 hours to see if some of that flavoring would disappear. It was still moister than I would expect, suggesting that PEG had been added as a moisturizer. I stuffed a Barling post-transition bent, which is my best smoking pipe for Balkans, and lit up. Arrrgggh!! Even worse than before. I am not sure that I can even smoke this twice a year. I will have to dilute it with some unflavored burley to render it bearable to smoke. They tell me that orientals can be "spicy". I smoked Sobranie for years and never thought that it was "spicy". No way this intense spice flavor can be natural tobacco flavor. More likely this is an attempt to boost the flavor of a tobacco that has weak natural flavor and that effort is overdone. So what to smoke if I would like to have a vision of the old Balkan Sobranie while I am puffing? I have settled on Balkan Sasieni, aged for as long as I can stand it and touched up with some McClelland Yenije Highlander. The Sasieni has been good when aged 3-4 years. Or straight Sam Gawith's Squadron Leader as an exemplary Balkan for my taste buds. I have some Bill Bailey's Balkan around which I smoke here and there and have smoked McClelland Syrian Full Balkan without regret. Synjeco's Sodalit from Schurch Tobaccos was recommended somewhere in a Sobranie discussion so I had some sent from Switzerland. It is an interesting old tobacco with a generous nicotine jolt, but does not remind me of Sobranie at all. The Balkans that are heavy in latakia and weak in orientals soon have me smoking English mixtures e.g. Penzance, Margate and Solani White as a better choice. I still wistfully get the Sobranie urge which will never again be properly satisfied, I guess 🙂 I am smoking more and more Virginias these days on a regular basis, as they had been readily available but now even they are getting hard to locate.
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