GQ Blends Classic Balkan (Izmir): an oriental delight

This is the second blend from GQ Blends that our editor kindly sent to me for review. The last few weeks of fighting a sinus infection have been near torture with this pouch laying in wait for me to be able to try out. I am a big fan of Balkan blends, but not-so-much of Latakia bombs, so I expected I would really enjoy this blend.

I decided to totally “wing it” on this one, opting to not look up the description on Glynn’s website. I figured the name told me all I needed to know to start out. Only after smoking it, making my notes, and then preparing to write this article did I read the description of the blend. What I found explained a lot of what I tasted. I’ll go ahead and share what I found on Glynn’s websight now and I think you’ll see how it matches what I tasted:

A Balkan blend is often comprised of Virginia, Orientals and Latakia, with the Oriental being the main component in the flavour profile. Our Izmir Classic is just that, a complex and honest Balkan blend using Turkish Izmir tobacco. The tobacco’s origin began with our Breakfast Blend by means of the addition of a few differing Virginias and of course, Latakia. This tobacco was first blended in 2010 after a request from a member of the Nottingham Pipe Club and it now has a few “to die for” fans. The addition of sweet, grassy, lemony Virginias from the New World gives a light and refreshing edge to the blend. Fire-cured Virginias and Burley (Kentucky), even in the amounts used on this blend keep the smoke leathery and earthy. While the combination of Latakia and Izmir adds a wonderful creamy smoky core that runs all the way through the tobacco.

Even with this wide selection of tobaccos, we have carefully blended them to create a symphony of flavours that will appeal to most Oriental smokers. The relatively light body (compared to our other Latakia blends) makes this a great introduction to Oriental blends with Latakia.

I opened the pouch and inhaled the tobacco’s scent deeply. I found the note unremarkable, in a  good way; there was nothing that jumped out in an overpowering-kind of way. The scent was mostly smokey Latakia, not overwhelming though and even a bit light in an odd way, and that earthy aroma I can only describe as pure, good tobacco (the fire-cured tobaccos fooled me as I went in blind here). GQ Izmir (2)The appearance of the blend was very pleasing to the eye: a variable rainbow of the tobacco spectrum. It was easy to rub out and at the perfect moisture level for my liking.(A note- the tobacco likely dried some in its pouch as it sat awaiting me to smoke it.)

The flavor-factor backs up the condimental-use of the Latakia; at times it is almost unnoticed. This blend really does let the orientals shine through. With the smokiness being far from prominent, to my palate, the Virginias and Izmir are clean and tasty, un-muddled by the other components. The blend has this wonderful sweet and sour interplay going on that’s kind of tough to describe – but I’ll try!

There is a wonderful citrus note in this blend. Not only can I tell you it is citrus but I can tell you it is lemon! Sometimes it is a sour lemon and others its is like lemon zest with a sweetness but it is definitely lemon. (After reading Glynn’s description I realized what/why I was tasting lemon.) The (other) Virginias are are nice and sweet and they all go very well with the Izmir, giving a bit of a tingly zestiness. And the balance is so well done with the Latakia (and the fire-cured Virgina and Kentucky I wasn’t aware of) I got lost in the flavors at times. This is a complex blend that deserves to be smoked when you can savor it; being an everyday “puffer” is below this blend in my opinion.

I would normally tell you how the blend changes through the bowl but I can’t do that with this blend. It is so consistent that there were no real “peaks and valleys” but delightful from start to finish, never loosing my interest.

I should also note that this blend has something that is often mentioned by reviewers but seldom really noticed by me: mouth feel (another thing I learned was Glynn’s intent after reading his description). There truly is, when savored slowly, an almost velvety “texture” that coats my mouth. I rarely get am honest “feel” of velvet, creamy, or any other type texture from the smoke but with this blend I do. And it is consistent.

I experienced no bite or anything that I could characterize as unpleasant with this blend. While the pouch note wasn’t much, as I said, that made the blend all the better when I began smoking it with lower expectations. I needed few to no pipe cleaners in any bowl I smoked. And the tobacco burned so well, cool and dry, from beginning to end, a delight to me.

Overall, as the title implies, this  blend was an absolute delight to get the opportunity to try. I found it so consistent and pleasurable that were it easily obtainable for me it would become my “go to” for this type of blend without question. In my last GQ review I gave an idea of how one that can’t get Askwith Kake might make an attempt at replicating it; for this review I can’t do that. The closest thing I can think of would be Squadron Leader and playing with adding some fire-cured Virgina and Kentucky but it would be tough to even begin to go any further than that for me. If you are fan of true Balkan blends and can get it, I would definitely recommend giving it a try.

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