Blog by Norman Skiba
Norman is a new contributor to rebornpipes and I welcome him to the blog. He is a member of the Meerschaum group on Smokers Forum UK and trying to add fresh life to it since the death of Fred Bass. I have enjoyed our emails back and forth over the past week and when he sent this second piece I really appreciated his thoughtful reflection on his favourite blend of tobacco. I invite others of you to write your own and add to the sense of community we have. Thanks Norman. – Steve
If it were not for Latakia, I never would have stayed with the pipe. I never liked cigarettes, even the Indonesian Djarum’s and Kretek clove cigarettes. The Bidi’s of India are just plain nasty! The Turkish were still not even close. But there was and still is something about Latakia and the heavy English and even Balkan blends that intrigue me to this very day. To me, the aroma is just wondrous!
When I first started smoking a pipe it was in my mid-teens. I tried the (Palladin’s?) Cherry Blend, Borkum Riff, Sail, and two sips of Sir Walter Raleigh – yech! Then one day I walked into this tiny smokeshop and pipe maker – Smokestacks it was called – which I had been to before and bought a nice natural finish prince he made that was a very nice pipe and my first decent pipe, and I fell in love with what I smelled. I asked him what it was that he was smoking, and he said a new Turkish blend he had blended, and it was Latakia that I was smelling. I knew right there and then THAT was for me. And to this day it has ever been, although in various manifestations. Looking back I can say that maybe the first phase of what used to be called drugstore pipe tobaccos lasted a month or two. I then found Latakia. So I feel I was fortunate in that case. I bought an ounce of this stuff to smoke and went through that rather quickly and then bought a 1/4 lb. of it. I then saw this tin of the White Label Balkan Sobranie and bought that and loved it even more. Within a couple of weeks or so I found the tins of Balkan Sobranie Black Label No. 759 and that was history.
I started to buy really nice pipes that were made by the late Milt Kalnitz using 100 yr. old Grecian briar that he made for me and also some pipes from his personal collection. I also had gotten a nice meerschaum or two from him. All this time I was smoking the 759 Mixture and he had the larger round cans of it and not just the thin round tins. The smoke shop was called Bellezia Tobacco. They also had Bengal Slices which I also smoked as an adjunct to the 759. That was all I ever smoked until one day I stopped for reasons I no longer recall. Then 759 was no longer available. It still isn’t. This blend was so funky – in a good way – to me – but people around you would wonder if you were smoking your underwear or your socks.
A funny ‘true’ story: In 1972 I used to have to fly a bit for school and also as a professional musician. I had to put up with all that cigarette smoke in the cabins or even next to you – which at that time you could smoke on planes. Well I was smoking Balkan Sobranie Black Label #759 then, I had this huge free-form Danish Preben Holm – I mean a huge bowl. So I lit it up and smoked the whole bowl – people looked at me rather strangely and some thought I was smoking my socks – but no one said a word. But later I thought they must have thought I was nuts and also could not wait for the plane to land! I still have to laugh!
Anyway, when I got back into my pipes I knew another famous musician from California that I played a concert with and he had some wild Danish free-forms too and I smelled a wonderful sweeter Latakia English blend and he said it was a Dunhill custom blended My Mixture – No. A7859 – soaked in Jamaican rum. I had Dunhill in New York City auto ship me a pound every month. It was actually a very nice blend and unlike 759, but Latakia. Life moves on and I took a hiatus again. When I started again briefly it was impossible to get any of my former favorites so I stopped. I did try the McClelland’s Oriental Mixture #14, but that was just Ok and had changed from the earlier ones I tried years before. But it never wowed me like 759. I later found Greg Pease’s Abingdon and found that to be the best at the time and still believe it is a great tobacco, and if I had to – I would smoke it. However, The Dark Lord came up with Gaslight! And that was it after all of these years of searching. The Holy Grail! (To me and my likes.) Yes I have tried some others; even a half pound of Penzance was acquired but never finished it because it just didn’t do it. Gaslight was the Magical Mystical Wondrous blend that is so superb in my Mind that I see no reason to smoke anything else. It IS Special; yet I see no need to have a bowl on a special day and the rest of the time smoke other things. Every day and every bowl is special so why not smoke it every chance you can in a nice pipe. I think of it as analogous to a nice bottle of pinot noir which I love – some people say I am going to put this away for a special day. I have no problem laying stuff down to age and save; however, what I say is that you take a nice bottle of wine and open it and enjoy it and it can take an average day and make it extra special and magical. The day does not make the wine – the wine makes the day Special! That is what Latakia and Gaslight do for me. Now to sit back and have a bowl in my floral meer.
Addendum – I like Greg and he is a master tobacconist/blender/creator; however, it is not my intention to use this little text piece as a means of offering free or hidden advertisement for his blends. They are mentioned in context to the actual relevant info in this short piece.