The Celebrated Bengal Slices

23rd August, 2010: Posted by glpease in Editorial

When I was a young pipester, a relative newcomer to the fold, I was always deeply intrigued by The Celebrated Bengal Slices. There just wasn’t anything else quite like it. The rich, wonderful tobacco, served in their elegant little black, red and gold tins had the deep Latakia flavours that I loved, and a beautiful pressed virginia sweetness, and exotic oriental spice, all harmoniously joined together and augmented with a delightfully subtle, artfully and precisely applied floral note. (To be clear, this is not the aromatic version, which was, even to my inexperienced mind back then, an abomination against all things sacred.) Legend has it that this was Balkan Sobranie in cake form, and I’m not going to dispute that. In fact, everything that I’ve learned about this blend in recent years has provided more credence to the claim.

The story, briefly, is that Sobranie House, wishing to take advantage of the success of Smoker’s Haven’s Krumble Kake (which Sobranie produced for them) decided to market their own version, made unique by the addition of a special topping. Though the blend became somewhat popular, it was always eclipsed by the overwhelming stardom of the better known and more widely available Balkan Sobranie mixtures.

Once Sobranie House shuttered, manufacture of the Smoker’s Haven blends was transferred to J.F. Germain & Son on the Channel Island of Jersey, while the tiger’s production was moved briefly to Denmark. The Danish-made product was still excellent, and remained something of a cult classic, but it was different enough from the original, I suspect, to impact sales. In the mid- to late-1980s, the blend was summarily discontinued, never to be seen again, while Krumble Kake continues, to this day, to enjoy great success.

There is something about Bengal Slices that still engages me on very deep levels. It’s not just the flavours and the room note of the tobacco, but the whole presentation. The beautifully elegant tin, the perfectly stacked thick slices, the amazing aroma that tantalizes as soon as the tin is opened. Unlike many lovers of English mixtures, I don’t really lament the passing of Balkan Sobranie, though I know I’m supposed to. There are many excellent tobaccos available today that fill that particular niche. But I do very much miss Bengal Slices. It was always, to me, something a little decadent, something special, even opulent. Fortunately, I have, over the years, squirreled away a few tins, and, it’s always a real treat to open one, which I recently did.

After all these years — I’m guessing this one to be from the 1970s —  the Latakia has softened somewhat, has given up some of its edge, and the additional scent has integrated more completely with the rest of the tobaccos, adding a little baroque ornamentation to the overall experience, without being in any way ostentatious or overbearing, and subtly enhances what would otherwise be just a really good mixture. It’s dark and opulent, a tobacco that Carvaggio might have painted. I can’t claim that I really remember how it was in its youth, but age has been very, very good to this. The thick slices have become almost completely black, with the occasional glint of red or deep brown shooting through the darkness. It is, in a word, magnificent in every way, and how often can we honestly say that about any tobacco, past or present?

The Celebrated Bengal Slices may no longer be produced, and there is nothing that can really take its place, but, at least until my small supply runs out, it will continue to be celebrated.

19 Responses

  1. Adam Davidson Says:

    I actually have a tin of this at home. One tin. I’ve never smoked a bowl of this, and will most likely just keep my squirreled away for many more years. It’s nice to know that this will be something special once I decide to crack it open.

  2. Kurt Simmons Says:

    My, how you taunt us latecomers. It’s not enough that I’ve never tasted Balkan Sobranie, now I must suffer the injustice of never tasting Bengal Slices too. It’s too much.

  3. Colin Rigsby Says:

    I agree totally. I am and was not a huge fan of Balkan Sobranie, but this and Krumble Kake are lovely indeed. I too love the presentation and cut of the cake - the time that it sometimes takes to get it going well is time well spent - the aroma is such a special treat. I believe that Latakia is at it’s best when it is pressed like this - to marry with the other flavors and take on a whole new life.

  4. Rick Says:

    You must have a friend with a large cache of Bengal Slices that’s going to place them on consignment. You just doubled or even tripled the price of it!

  5. glpease Says:

    Ha! Rick, I wish that was true. I’d have scored my friend’s tins for my own cellar, and then sold off a few tins on ebay to finance the balance!

    I guess I should have thought of that first…

  6. Rick Says:

    You can’t forget you’re a rock star, Greg. Or would that be pipe star? Either way, if you mention something interest in it will definitely increase.

  7. Frank Tehan Says:

    I remember Bengal Slices from the 1970’s, when I would buy it at Drucguer’s in Berkeley. I loved both the look, and the smell and taste, of it. Long gone, but not forgotten.

  8. Dave Gofstein Says:

    I still have a few tins….Not for everyone, but it was a defining smoke for me in the 70’s. I remember camping in New Hampshire one summer, and it would drive the small birds they call mosquito’s away.

  9. vic Says:

    damn. checked and i’m down to my last 20 tins. help

  10. Moe Says:

    I just searched for these on eBay; I’m too naive.

  11. Alex Weiss Says:

    Greg, shall we look forward to a Latakia Flake from you? :)
    take care, A.

  12. glpease Says:

    Alex, Quiet Nights is a Latakia flake, and Key Largo could be considered one, as well, though it does have the cigar leaf in it, but I’m pretty sure you can expect another, more classic one or two in the near future.

  13. Duncan. Says:

    Greg,
    Although I never had the pleasure to smoke the original I have had the pleasure to smoke a copy, I love it!! Its deep, dark smokey tobacco by Paul Bonacquisti of “Park Lane Tobacconist” in Albany NY. He has named it “Bengal Mix”.

  14. D. Marrold Bent Says:

    Ah, Bengal Slices. I have one tin left. Saving it for some momentous event I suppose.
    I have to say it always struck me (when I was a younger pipe smoker) as the most luxurious tobacco I ever smoked.
    Michael Linder whom I met online through the original Pipes Digest sent me a tin, gratis, to try. What a gift and what a shame it is no more.

  15. B. LeGrande Says:

    Ahhh.. Yes…
    I remember buying Bengal Slices tins at the Tinderbox in the ‘Santa Anita Mall’ (next to the racetrack) in Arcadia CA back in the 70’s when I worked security there (back when a person could walk their beat with a pipe or cigar, fired up), but somehow got sidetracked on Pre-Sandy Joya De Nics, and moved away from the pipe a bit.
    When I looked for the ‘BS Tins’ again - they were all out. Must have been near the end of production (also near impossible to get the Pre-Sandys now as well). Are the copies of the BS anywhere near the original ?
    Got a lot of compliments from patrons on the aroma of the BS’s and also a mix called ‘Cptn Spice’ that I was into at the time.

    PS: Don’t forget I.P.S.D. (Intl Pipe Smokers Day) coming up this next Monday (Feb 20th 2012) (ipsd.eu)

  16. Robert Kane Says:

    I have one can left which I stare at and wonder if I should smoke.

    Gregory, do you reproduce any of the great Drucquers blends? The University Avenue store was so awesome.

    Thanks, Robert

  17. glpease Says:

    I don’t at this time, but I’ve thought about it. It would not be an easy undertaking, as some of the base tobaccos were actually blends themselves, originally created by Drucquers, but then manufactured for them by other now out of business companies.

    I do know that my own Piccadilly bears some resemblance to old Red Lion when I smoke it, and Samarra isn’t to far removed from Sublime Porte.

  18. pipedreamerjohn Says:

    Do you have an Ardor collection? That tobacco was great in them.

  19. ram2711 Says:

    Mr Pease would it be possible for you to recreate this legendary blend? Someone must have the recipe. What an achievement it would be! Please give it some thought.

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