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Esoterica Tobacciana - A History?

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  • Started 6 years ago by misterlowercase
  • Latest reply from oldgeezersmoker
  1. misterlowercase

    misterlowercase

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    Esoterica is one of the most revered tobacco brands today and their blends are legend.

    I was curious as to exactly how these recipes came into existence and who was the originator?

    Not much info to be found and there seems to be several historical versions I've came across,
    but here's what I've been able to hobble together.
    Any additional input is most welcome!

    In either 1989 or 1990, Steve Richman of The Piedmont Tobacconist came up with the idea of having J.F. Germain make a new line of blends to be called Esoterica Tobacciana. Some people have said the blends were launched to fill a vacuum after the famous Smoker's Haven blends had been discontinued and no longer made by Sobranie and later JFG, so we have this:

    Many moons ago prior to 1960, Sobranie made private label blends for Smoker's
    Haven here in Columbus. Sobranie white was Our Best Blend....Cognac was
    Sobranie white with a cognac blender...20th anniversary was White with an Ale
    Blender. And Krumble Kake was unique...essentially Sobranie White made into a
    cake then sliced. The owners of SH had a letter from Dr Redstone, the big boss
    at Sobranie Limted attesting to that. In 1980 with little or no warning
    Sobranie got out of the private label business and the owner of Smokers' Haven
    had to scramble - Dr. Redstone was mortified at his compnay's decision and
    volunteered to help find a replacement company. They came up with 2 --- Robt
    McConnell and JF Germain. Joe Zieve, the owner of Smokers'Haven for some
    reason did not like Mick McConnell and the decision was taken to let JF Germain
    have the account. Thus JF Germain began making these excellent blends.
    Sometime after 1985 the new owners of Smokers's Haven came to a parting of the
    way with Germain...I had left by then and I don't know the reason.

    Then suddenly Esoterica appears. And guess what....an Ale, a cognac, a sliced
    cake and a great English appeared on the scene.

    Our Best Blend = Margate
    Cognac = Pembroke
    20th Anniversary = ...And so to bed
    Krumble Kake = Penzance

    -and this:

    "J. F. Germain and Sons, located on the Isle of Jersey in the English
    Channel, is a tobacco manufacturer. They have a few tinned brands
    with names that they own. Germain also has proprietary recipes that
    are available to retailers in the UK and through distributers
    worldwide.

    For many years, the US importer of Germain tobacco was George
    A.Georgoupolo (I hope the spelling of the last name is close) of NYC.
    Georgoupolo was a specialty and custom cigarette importer/
    manufacturer that and had the US rights to import Turkish cigarettes,
    among others. Georgoupolo also imported and distributed several of
    the pipe tobaccos from smaller manufacturers including Mick McQuaid,
    Rothschild, Carroll and Germain. They offered to retailers three of
    the proprietary Germain tinned tobaccos.

    when Smoker's Haven of Columbus, Ohio was under its original
    ownership, they sold a Germain blend under the name of Krumble Kake.
    To the best of my knowledge, Georgoupolo brought the tobacco in for
    them since they were the Germain distributor. Whether they were using
    the same name under which it was offered by someone in the UK, I do
    not know. When the store changed hands, the new owners quit using
    Germain tobacco that had been sold as Krumble Kake and (I'm told) used
    the name on an aromatic bulk blend.

    In the late 1980's the Panos Georgoupolo, who ran the family business
    was diagnosed with ALS and the company was sold. It became G.A.
    Andron and concentrates solely on cigarette importing. At some point,
    whether at the time of the sale or a few years prior I don't know,
    Georgoupolo and Germain ended their distribution agreement.

    In 1990 or therabouts, Steve Richman began importing Germain tobacco
    blends that were available for private labelling. He used the name
    Esoterica Tobacciana as his brand name and, with the exception of
    "...And So To Bed," named the blends after English coastal towns. The
    blend which Smoker's Haven sold as Krumble Kake became Penzance.
    Steve didn't have the resources to distribute the tobacco very widely.
    A few years ago, after opening a retail shop in Oakland CA (The
    Piedmont Tobacconist), he sold the distribution rights to Butera Pipe
    Company because he felt that Mike could give the tobacco the attention
    that it needed."

    The Magical Alchemist GLP has touched on the subject here:
    http://pipesmagazine.com/forums/topic/since-penzance-is-hard-to-come-by#post-245367
    I was on the original panel of tasters choosing the blends and making suggestions. Penzance is not identical to Krumble Kake by Smoker's Haven, but it's very close. Penzance has a little more Latakia. If you can get KK, it's not likely to disappoint, but since they are both manufactured by Germain, the supply issues are not likely to be any less challenging.

    It's one of those fateful things that Greg Pease was associated with this early on and adds to the soup just that much more flavour. It's an incredible thing about the East Bay that it has been a breeding ground for the most mythic blends we know of. Some of the magic also has Druquer & Sons as a centrifugal force feeding these sacred flames.

    PM member atboth was regular at Druquer's and has written a bit about it on his blog, here:
    http://atthebackofthehill.blogspot.com/2011/06/drucquer-sons-ltd-berkeley-institution.html

    http://atthebackofthehill.blogspot.com/2006/10/drucquer-sons-ltd-pipe-tobacco-blends.html

    Any thoughts?

    Posted 6 years ago #
  2. rmbittner

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    Dayton Matlick wrote a piece on J.F. Germain for Pipes & Tobaccos magazine that went into some detail about the Esoterica line. It's in the Spring 1998 issue and is a great read, with some cool photos from the factory. That article is followed by a "Tobacco Talk" piece that features Kevin Cook's reviews of seven Esoterica blends.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  3. misterlowercase

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    That Dayton Matlick article is great and Kevin Cook's reviews are in depth. I love P&T, still building up my collection as its incomplete, but I do have that issue.

    Posted 6 years ago #
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    Smokers' Haven in Columbus still sells Germain pipe tobacco blends under their proprietary labels, with many of the same old names as the "original" versions.

    But of course, like most other Germain blends everywhere else, these blends are very often out of stock and habitually sell out quickly.

    http://www.smokershaven.com/smokershavenimportedblends.aspx

    Posted 6 years ago #
  5. rmbittner

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    After years of checking Smoker's Haven for in-stock Krumble Kake, I just decided to give up. They have never had it in stock, as far as I can tell.

    Posted 6 years ago #
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    Think Smokingpipes.com having Stonehaven in stock. It's like that, only worse.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  7. misterlowercase

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    Germain's Brown Flake is hens teeth too!

    Posted 6 years ago #
  8. yohanan

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    Thanks misterlowercase for the informative read, I greatly enjoyed it.


    Smoke What You Like, And Like What You Smoke...Regardless Of What Anyone Else Thinks...
    Posted 6 years ago #
  9. rhogg

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    Interesting history. Thanks for the lesson. As a side note every Esoterica tobacco I have tried thus far has been at the least good. Some have been great.

    I have yet to get my hands on Stonehaven which causes me pain and suffering.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  10. cigrmaster

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    I was told recently buy a retailer that Germain only employs 6 people for the entire company. A company that small does not have the capability to ever supply the demand that exists. Best to find alternative blends and not bother with a company that is so short sighted. 5 years from now they will have wished they had ramped up production to take advantage of the golden opportunity that is staring them in the face. When tins are 35 bucks here in the US they will be begging retailers to take their products.

    Harris
    Posted 6 years ago #
  11. peckinpahhombre

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    Harris, I wonder if they are looking to sell the company. We can play private equity fund, buy Germain, and fire up those machines. Of course, you will have to leave your pad in Florida and move to Jersey!

    Posted 6 years ago #
  12. judcole

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    I managed to get several of the Smoker's Haven blends when they were still easy to get. Good smokes.
    I enjoy Penzance - I've got a 5 year old tin open now - but I don't chase after it.

    Best to find alternative blends and not bother with a company that is so short sighted. 5 years from now they will have wished they had ramped up production to take advantage of the golden opportunity that is staring them in the face.

    Don't know why they are short-sighted - they sell everything they make, and still manage to keep the company personal. They're on the island of Jersey - total population under 100k. I rather like to see folks doing things the old school way, and not putting profits above everything. More power to them.

    Thought in the early morning, solace in time of woes,
    Peace in the hush of the twilight, balm ere my eyelids close
    Rudyard Kipling
    Posted 6 years ago #
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    Best to find alternative blends and not bother with a company that is so short sighted. 5 years from now they will have wished they had ramped up production to take advantage of the golden opportunity that is staring them in the face. When tins are 35 bucks here in the US they will be begging retailers to take their products.

    With all due respect, Harris, I still don't think you get it.

    Germain doesn't care. Besides, the age of bigger, better, is pretty much over, even in this country. We have to wrap our minds around that. Look, you know about boutique cigars. Think along those lines. It's much the same with Germain.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  14. dragonslayer

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    From the business side of this I have to go with both Harris and Peckinpa on this. In the coming few years is the chance to cash in on the history. Ramp up the production for two years, filling the wholesale companies who would be buying it up no matter how much produced, as the retailers would be flooded with people stocking it up. Then turn around and sell it. With the books open and the sales figures increased 10 fold or more, the company’s value would be greatly inflated. The tobacco industry profit margin is not huge, but in this case a company has the chance to cash out before the tobacco industry takes a smack down. There are always bean counters that would scoop up companies like this without the true forecast of the industry. It’s a golden time, a golden product with a fantastic history. They should take total advantage of it and walk away set for life. Let history payoff as so many others without it will be going under.

    I agree Roth that sometimes history is worth more than money. But in this case we are looking at a near future that trumps history and knowing when to cash in on that history is just plain business. This could be done with such minimal expense by leasing out some space and equipment and a solid business consultant. Take the money and run.

    “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government - lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.” Patrick Henry
    Posted 6 years ago #
  15. misterlowercase

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    While I do wish that the intense market demand could be supplied, I also celebrate the independent principle of traditional production techniques, the old-fashioned manner in which these tobaccos are made cannot be replicated with a modernized factory. If J.F. Germain sold out to Kolhause & Kopp or Scandinavian Tobacco Group then sure, demand would be met, but the bacco wouldn't be Esoterica anymore, just like it can be argued that Rattray's ain't really Rattray's no more. There's a long list of famous British tobacco houses that've got gobbled up by the big fish and as a result we've lost some of the best smoking tobacco that was ever known to man.

    Of a once proud tobacco industry in Britain, who's left now? Only JFG, SG and GH&Co and it was because they were so small that they survived while Wills's, Ogden's, Gallaher's etc have all gone to the ghostworld.

    I'm glad we still got some real old-timey British stuff to be blessed with.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  16. jpberg

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    Yes to Mr. Lowercase. If Germain, SG and GH had been tempted to "cash in", they would have ceased to exist one or two decades ago. I'm thankful that they haven't given a rip for any of the faddish and shortsighted business models of the last half century. As hard as it is to fathom, there are companies out there to whom money isn't everything.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  17. judcole

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    there are companies out there to whom money isn't everything.

    And thank heavens for that! It's an old-fashioned family business. Nowhere near enough of those, these days.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  18. peckinpahhombre

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    Very quaint guys. Kind of like the little store on an old episode of the Waltons. Makes me weep with Nostalgia.

    Also makes me want to buy it and run it like a business should be run. I have seen way too many business fail because the owners aren't focused on how to maximize long term growth and profits at every turn.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  19. dragonslayer

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    Too bad it’s a private company and would never sell. It would be a great two year return on investment.

    Posted 6 years ago #
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    makes me want to buy it and run it like a business should be run.

    I'm sure you're not the first enterprising fellow to think they can "do a better job" -- and we've seen how well that works (thanks Troy!).

    it’s a private company and would never sell.

    I hope to God they never do.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  21. judcole

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    I hope to God they never do.

    Amen, friend Roth. They've been in business nigh 200 years; I think they might have a clue as to what they are doing.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  22. peckinpahhombre

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    They've been in business nigh 200 years; I think they might have a clue as to what they are doing.

    I heard similar sentiment expressed a few years back about General Motors and Eastman Kodak.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  23. misterlowercase

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    Quaint indeed, thankfully.

    quaint (adj.)
    early 13c., "cunning, proud, ingenious," from Old French cointe "pretty, clever, knowing," from Latin cognitus, past participle of cognoscere ("to know").

    Sense of "old-fashioned but charming" is first attested 1795, and could describe the word itself, which had become rare after c.1700 (though it soon recovered popularity in this secondary sense).

    Quaint can also be used to show that you do not approve of something, especially an opinion,
    belief or way of behaving, because it is strange or old-fashioned
    "What a quaint idea!" she said, laughing at him.

    SG 1792

    JFG 1820

    GH 1854

    Samuel Gawith and Company also hold the distinction of employing the oldest piece of industrial equipment still in production use in the world, a device manufactured in the 1750s.

    http://lohandbehold.com/2011/03/17/samuel-gawith-factory-visit/

    http://rinconpipa.foroactivo.com/t3239-samuel-gawith-reportaje-fotografico-de-marcelino-piquero

    Most cellared blends (by weight):
    Samuel Gawith-Full Virginia Flake with 255 lbs 0.9 oz
    Esoterica Tobacciana-Penzance with 154 lbs 0.7 oz
    Marquee Series-Black House with 128 lbs
    Esoterica Tobacciana-Stonehaven with 121 lbs 2.7 oz
    Samuel Gawith-Squadron Leader with 84 lbs 6.2 oz

    Pipe tobacco sales have been on a downward spiral for years, this recent phenomenon we're going through in the USA is unprecedented, so much so that even the largest manufacturers like Mac Baren and K&K are having problems keeping product on the shelves.

    As a side note, here's some interesting reading from the pipe tobacco brand manager for Gallaher in the 60's, it provides an inside glimpse of things:
    http://futureobservatory.dyndns.org/2010.htm

    "I had market research reports coming out of my ears. All of them said exactly the same thing. Pipe tobaccos, and in particular Condor, were declining at an absolutely steady 1% per annum. This literally was as pipe smokers died off, and there was nothing we could do about it!"

    Posted 6 years ago #
  24. peckinpahhombre

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    Perhaps the biggest problem with my idea would be involving Harris. He'd be stashing bags of Stonehaven under his shirt as they came off the line. They call this "shrinkage" in the retailing business.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  25. jpberg

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    Very quaint guys. Kind of like the little store on an old episode of the Waltons. Makes me weep with Nostalgia.

    Also makes me want to buy it and run it like a business should be run. I have seen way too many business fail because the owners aren't focused on how to maximize long term growth and profits at every turn.

    When you've had a successful business for 221 years, come back and tell us how it should be run, would you? Until then, I'll take The Waltons.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  26. peckinpahhombre

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    Well JP, no one lives that long, so I assume you mean the longevity of the business and not the folks running it. My business is over 100 years old and going strong, with profit growth of at least 7% per year. Not too shabby. So yes, I think I know how to run one.

    Posted 6 years ago #
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    My business is over 100 years old and going strong

    You're more than 100 years old? Wow you don't look a day over 90!

    Posted 6 years ago #
  28. jpberg

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    So, you're doing almost half as well as Samuel Gawith. Keep up the good work!
    PS, I've heard the second hundred years are a real bitch.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  29. jiminks

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    My observation from watching new people changing well established practices in small quality companies end up with less quality and occasionally no company. People who think they know more than the people who've been doing it right, usually don't. New and bigger is not always a good thing, though it temporarily feeds the ego maniacal.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  30. peckinpahhombre

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    And the Germain guys look pretty good for 193 years old too? That, of course, was precisely my point. Business conditions change. I like to think my business is run better than how it was run 100 years ago. I certainly know this - if you don't adapt and change and revitalize, and learn how to respond to changing market conditions, then any business will fail. Nostalgia only carries you so far.

    In Canada we have our own germane (pardon the pun) example in the Hudson's Bay Company. One of the oldest corporations in the world, established by Royal charter in 1670. They ran on nostalgia for many years and came very close to the end a few years ago because they didn't adapt to change. Lucky for us, a yankee far smarter than I am purchased them for a song, turned them around, and has made a fortune in the process. Food for thought.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  31. jpberg

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    The guy that bought them was interested in making money, not dry goods. Show me a business model that has remained constant and solvent for 200 years.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  32. peckinpahhombre

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    EVERY business is interested in making money. That's the nature of business. Anyone who says that they're not in business to make money is just fibbing.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  33. dragonslayer

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    Well with SG, they use the same press, but did see a video that the government forced them to switch to a modern flake slicer and it really does one hell of a job cutting. Can't find the Utube addy, but it's there. Watching that machine dice up the flake and the tins hand fille, very cool.

    Blends are blends, the mixtures and all that is easily replicated. Unlike cigars, tobacco is purchased from many growers, not their private plantation, and vary from year to year just like the tobacco quality itself, mostly due to weather. There's no secret beyond what and how they do it. If they had something unique it would have a patent. The boat is sailing, and really what they do does'nt matter to us, just a lost opportunity for them.

    Don't smoke the stuff anyways, and just bought the Penzance to trade years from now. There are fewer pipesmokers every year and all that is happening is stocking. Pipe collecting is on the rise amd will continue not matter what happens with the tobacco trade.

    It's going to hit from the bottom and the top. Right now there's not tax on raw leaf, can you imagine when they throw the 300% tax on that. Then throw an expensive sales licence for tobacco sales, plus the banning to sell to many states. The Internet tax and so many others - federal, state and even local. The small shops will be crushed.

    On and On and On.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  34. peckinpahhombre

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    I have to say, I love threads like this where we can have an adult conversation about an issue that is important to us. Even if we disagree on points (as appears to be the case here), I still love the fact that we can respect one another's strongly held views (even when they are so clearly wrong, LOL).

    One thing that drives my wife nuts is that I am almost never personally invested in my opinion - I never associate criticism of my views as criticism of me, and I always assume that others operate in the same fashion. The wife and her family don't operate that way, which drives her nuts. Oh well, serves her right for marrying me.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  35. jpberg

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    have to say, I love threads like this where we can have an adult conversation about an issue that is important to us. Even if we disagree on points (as appears to be the case here), I still love the fact that we can respect one another's strongly held views (even when they are so clearly wrong, LOL).

    Well said. And Dragon, as far as "blends are blends", two words - Three Nuns. One word, Nightcap. Two words, Balkan Sobranie.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  36. dragonslayer

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    Sorry JP, should have been more specific, I wasn't talking about other companies replicating them, but the companies themselves replicating and increasing their volume, as in what and how they do it. The companies have their way of blending that makes the blend unique to them. What they are getting to make the blends is available to anyone. But what they're buying, and how their using it is the blend secret. Cigar manufacturers do have plantations devoted just to their companies and not available to others.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  37. judcole

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    I heard similar sentiment expressed a few years back about General Motors and Eastman Kodak.

    And they are both still around, aren't they?

    A much more valid comparison would be to Morgan, in the automobile world. A small company, serving a particular audience, and being successful. Small, boutique companies can be and are successful. You don't have to be big to be successful.

    Posted 6 years ago #
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    Cigar manufacturers do have plantations devoted just to their companies and not available to others.

    This is true, but only for a few of the "big boys" like the Fuentes, the Plasencias, the Eiroas (until they sold out Camacho a few years ago), Pepin-Garcia family and other "families." Most of the others either have their cigars made by the big boys (Keith K. Park by Fuente, Michael Chiusano who was with Davidoff, and Matt Booth who was with Camacho), or made by large independent factories (Ernie Padilla, K. Hansotia, and Rocky Patel -- the latter until recently; he now owns his own factories).

    Except the the big boys, most cigar blenders buy at least some if not all their tobacco from growers -- which can range from spicy Habano from a small privately owned farm in the shadow of the Ometepe volcano in Nicaragua, or shade grown that rivals the best CT leaf from the vast Oliva tobacco fields of Ecuador.

    The cigar industry, even today, is a business where your word is your bond and multi-million dollar deals are still made with a handshake while enjoying a cigar.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  39. peckinpahhombre

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    Good one Jud. Funny stuff.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  40. misterlowercase

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    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekRzYGGJ8z0
    .
    I think Jud made a good comparison there.

    You can't repeat the past, but you can be inspired by it.

    The biggest hit of 2012 may have been MB ODF. Can you find any on a shelf right now?

    One reason ODF is so popular is because it's a great example of a classic British flake done up proper.

    In an interview with Pipes&Tobaccos magazine Spring 2012 issue, Frank Blews of Mac Baren said some things which are worth quoting here in excerpt:

    "Mac Baren is a great company to work with. This is a tobacco company. Tobacco people make decisions here, not some financial person who doesn't know anything except for bottom lines..."

    Surely any bottomline beancountin' pencilpushers would've advised against how ODF was developed. The company insisted on doing it up proper and went to England to obtain some old steam presses just for making certain niche blends. Crazy ain't it?

    " I have been involved in tobacco manufacturing around the world -- there are different processes throughout, although the tobacco itself may be the same. The English-style manufacturing process in general uses steam presses, which were predominantly used only in the United Kingdom, and many (if not most) of those old English tobacco houses are gone now."

    "The project on our plate is to come out with a brand of tobacco made in the English style -- whether it be a readyrubbed or a cake -- made to the standards of the old-time English tobaccos from the 1940's and 1950's. This is a process of understanding history and manufacturing and then looking at products that were manufactured at that time and seeing what we could do to make that product properly today."

    "Even if the English-style tobacco was a 1,000 percent hit, you're still talking about 2 to 3 percent of the total U.S. market. What influence would that really be except to say that we're able to produce that tobacco and distribute it worldwide."

    "While most of the other tobacco companies look at the entire pipe tobacco market as an unprofitable niche that's more trouble than it's worth, Mac Baren's personnel are so dedicated to their tasks that they get excited about filling the niches in that niche market. They are, by and large, pipe tobacco geeks who eagerly seek new ways of expressing their professionalism and expertise one puff at a time."

    "I'm just one little tobacco peddler in the U.S." he explains. "Only real tobacco people can see the long-term benefit of what we are asking them to do today. A new upstart business or a tobacco business that's run by finance people wouldn't do it."

    :
    :
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFg25Oit3AI

    Posted 6 years ago #
  41. peckinpahhombre

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    I thought the Morgan comparison was good, I just assumed that the reference to Kodak and GM still being around was intended to be funny. It's always good when venerable old companies learn a lesson about what they are not doing right, but when they only do that in bankruptcy proceedings I think we can safely assume that they were doing something wrong and were, perhaps, resting on past laurels.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  42. atboth

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    I seriously doubt that anyone buying Germains could ramp up production. It would require a major investment in machinery and equipment, as well as sourcing a larger supply of basic tobaccos. Which, given that these would have to be processed and aged specifically for the blends they produce, would take several years - especially when you consider that leaf tobacco is virtually unsmokeable for at least two or three years after harvesting (more likely four or five), and tobacco companies have adapted their methodologies to specific supplies and materials. As an example, Samuel Gawith boasts enough high quality Latakia to last a decade, but only at current levels of production.

    By the way, most Burley and Virginia is grown in Brazil and Africa. Specifically for the cigarette industry, which determines exactly what is produced, to what quality standards, and according to which "taste" profiles.

    Turkish is generic, rather than region and type specific. And most of that is destined for the cigarette industry (fields have been converted to Bright Leaf, and they now flue-cure it rather than sun dry, in addition to spraying the finished leaf with sugar for American style filter kings).
    Latakia is limited to Cyprus (yeah, yeah, everyone claims they have Syrian..... that's a load of horsepuckey; Syria produces almost nothing, and Cyprus is running out of combustibles for smoke-curing, and out of water because of increased agricultural and urban demand besides).
    Perique? One area, and not the most profitable crop in that area.

    Quality control is always an issue. Remember Dunhills after BAT gave the blends to Murrays? Stalks, stalks, stalks, crud, and really abysmal leaf. Mostly stalks.

    Yes, it CAN all be done more efficiently. Which is why Dunhill STILL hasn't recovered from what BAT did to the blends (farming it out, then off-shoring it in Denmark). And several of the Dunhill blends of yore were just not worthwhile for BAT to even try.
    Balkan Sobranie is another prime example. Gallaghers diddled with the recipe so much that it became a mere generic Balkan.
    By the time Greg Pease left Drucquers, many of the varietals that had been important components of the blends there were no longer available.

    Given that pipe smokers are barely icing on the cake for most tobacconists, and far less than that for the entire tobacco industry, the incentive to keep steady and rely strictly on the supply lines and the markets that still exist outweighs any consideration of expanding and taking risks. If the proprietors of Germains have extra capital, they've probably invested it wisely in many other industries as well as a portfolio of bluechips. And considering the uncertainties of regulatory laws and labelling, there is little point in increasing production quite as yet. If ever.

    It's quite likely that taxes and lung-cancer labels will lessen the number of smokers even further. The only expanding market is China, where pipe-smoking is seen as a luxury for the up-and-coming bourgeoisie. And even there, excepting Chinese grown flue-cured compost, all day smoking is becoming rarer. They'll probably follow the route of Hong Kong and ban smoking in all offices, parks, and shopping malls, as well as doubling the taxes to discourage any but the hard-core addicts.

    If Germains produced specialty coffees, they'd be in the cat-bird seat. As a manufacturer of a mere niche of something which all governments in the first world are discouraging, they're holding their own in a dying industry.

    Again, I stress that tobacconists DO NOT NEED US. Cigar sales pay the rent, we don't. And cigarettes are well over ninety percent of the total market in any case. Cigarettes are way more efficiently produced than any pipe tobacco, and far more profitable with lower investement.

    By the way, I'm smoking one of my own blends right now. Everything that I like will eventually become unavailable, so it only makes sense to figure out how it was made.
    In addition to stockpiling like crazy; I've got a thirty year supply which is still growing.
    Mmmmm, Virginia.....

    Regards,

    ---Atboth

    -----ATBOTH
    Boring wafflegab about tobacco.
    Posted 6 years ago #
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    Just want to say WTG and thank you to misterlowercase and atboth for taking the time to remind me and yes, "educate" me on the aspects of this hobby that are, sadly, too often overlooked and forgotten.

    If we don't know where we've been, there's less likelihood we'll get to where we want to go.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  44. jpberg

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    I've bitched about it here and elsewhere, and since this seems pretty level headed and thoughtful, I'll bring it up again and ask for opinions, as I think it speaks to marketing and business plans.
    My opinion is that Germain's reintroduction of Balkan Sobranie was a terrifically poor decision. The idea of ramping up a new (to them) blend when so many of their benchmarks lay unavailable - forget about Penzance and Stonehaven, how about the majority of the Smoker's Haven blends - was just terrible. Sure they are selling a bunch of BS that isn't really close to BS, but they always sell all the Krumble Kake, 20th Anniversary, Exotique, etc. that they can make.
    So why muddy the waters with a reproduction of a blend that can never live up to the hype?

    Posted 6 years ago #
  45. judcole

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    Good points, atboth. And JP,I gotta agree with you. Let Sobranie go, and just get us Esoterica and Smoker's Haven blends. I was able to try some of those SH blends - I would love to see Krumble Kake or Exotique available again. I've made a note of some of the blends Germain sells under their own label to try, too.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  46. jiminks

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    JPBerg: If the new Balkan Sobranie was equal to the old, would that make a difference in your opinion that they shouldn't have reintroduced it? Makes me want to open one of the new tins and see how close it is or isn't.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  47. cigrmaster

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    I will stick to my statement that in 5 years Germain will have wished they increased production. They have the formulas it unwise for any business to not take advantage of market conditions. I have a hard time believing they could not be increasing production on Stonehaven and Penzance and putting less emphasis on their lesser selling brands.

    When Don Carlos and Hemingway cigars became so popular, Carlos Fuente created more rolling rooms,trained more rollers, increased production and did not lose one iota of quality. It can be done. He is the smartest guy I know in the cigar industry and is always ahead of the curve.

    Posted 6 years ago #
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    I can't speak to the qualities of the old Balkan Sobranie, but in my opinion the new one is fairly pedestrian. It's a decent Balkan that's a little more oriental forward. I'd put it in the same class as the current production My Mixture 965 or Squadron Leader. Solid citizens, all -- tobaccos that I'm certainly not going to throw away, but I'm not going to buy more of, either.

    As to whether or not Germain should have reintroduced it, that's another story. I think it's probably a smart business decision on their part, given that they've now got ANOTHER tobacco in their stable that's almost impossible to get, sells out everywhere, and commands a premium in the secondary market. Sure, it's no good for those of us that have never tried Penzance or Stonehaven and "chase" those blends more, but everyone knows the Sobranie name. If Coca Cola went out of business and sold someone else their formula (granted, the new BS isn't the same, but stay with me for analogy's sake), I find it highly unlikely the recipient would just sit on it and say, "Nah, our production of our other sodas is already suffering, let's not sell this."

    Posted 6 years ago #
  49. jpberg

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    JPBerg: If the new Balkan Sobranie was equal to the old, would that make a difference in your opinion that they shouldn't have reintroduced it? Makes me want to open one of the new tins and see how close it is or isn't.

    In my little world, no. Of course, I don't have a nickel in it, so it's nothing for me to sit here and be preachy. I realize that the relationship between SH and JFG had become a bit tenuous (though I am led to believe that things have leveled out), and I also see the potential positives associated with the BS name. That being said, we have enough tobaccos that aren't what they once were, and while Rattray and Dunhill (and Warrior Plug, and on and on) blends may still be acceptable tobacco, I can't get excited about them.
    I well realize that no tobaccos are what they "once were", crops change, geographic locations become inaccessible, etc., but as much as is possible, SG, GH and JFG have stuck to their traditional guns, and I would hate to see that change.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  50. judcole

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    putting less emphasis on their lesser selling brands

    You already can't get the blends they were making for Smoker's Haven. They also have the blends they make under the Germain label.

    I will stick to my statement that in 5 years Germain will have wished they increased production

    I would bet that they have considered everything you guys have suggested it, and rejected it for their own reasons. I am sure they have considered the costs involved - more machinery, a larger building, getting their hands on the tobacco and aging it, finding staff - especially important when your business is located on an island with less than 100,000 people. Even if they resolve all those issues, and sell more product, and make more money, are they going to be any happier? If not, why bother?

    It's just like the guy who lives in a smaller town or in a rural area/ Yes, he might be able to make more money if he moved to the big city - but what would he lose in quality of life issues?

    Posted 6 years ago #
  51. misterlowercase

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    Thanks Atboth for bringing the bigger picture into frame. An interesting read, especially about the leaf supplies and the amount required to be in bond.

    As far as Germain and the new BS, it does seem that would eat up some production hours, slicing the pie even thinner across the already somewhat broad range of stuff they make.

    I wonder what size batch runs they have?

    Another thing is if it's true that the SH blends were variations of Sobranie White, then Germain's has been making BS for quite some time, yes?

    Who did Arango buy the trademark from?
    JTI?
    And is the Arango trademark valid only in the US?

    I've also read that Germain's bought some of the machinery & equipment from House of Sobranie in 1980, as well as employing former Sobranie employees. Any truth to that?

    Does Germain's not import Rich Dark Flake here because it's so similar to Stonehaven?

    BTW
    I recently had a pouch of Warrior Plug and loved the stuff, was it ever imported here back when Murray's actually made it?

    Please forgive all these questions!!!

    Posted 6 years ago #
  52. judcole

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    Another thing is if it's true that the SH blends were variations of Sobranie White, then Germain's has been making BS for quite some time,

    I think that SH Exotique might have been close to Sobranie White. I've smoked both, but it's been a long time since the Sobranie - better than 25 years, for sure. The others were variations of English blends.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  53. arno665

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    As far as Germain and the new BS, it does seem that would eat up some production hours, slicing the pie even thinner across the already somewhat broad range of stuff they make. I wonder what size batch runs they have?

    Nooo idea. I only know that for example Penzance takes 2 weeks to make. They only have 1 press for it. See the picture.

    Who did Arango buy the trademark from? JTI?

    I guess so. Gallaher was bought by JTI in 2007. Do JTI still hold the rights now for Europe? They must ask a fortune for those rights. Otherwise companies like Kohlhase & Kopp would have already bought the rights and produced it.

    And is the Arango trademark valid only in the US?

    Guess so, none of the newer Balkan Sobranie was ever for sale here in Europe.

    I've also read that Germain's bought some of the machinery & equipment from House of Sobranie in 1980, as well as employing former Sobranie employees. Any truth to that?

    Where did you read that if I may ask? I also read it somewhere, but can't find the source.. :s

    Posted 5 years ago #
  54. misterlowercase

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    Thanks for the additional info Arno.

    Where did you read that if I may ask? I also read it somewhere, but can't find the source

    I can't remember either! LOL I'm glad you confirmed it though,
    that I did actually read it and it wasn't just a figment of my eldritch imagination!
    Reminds me I should be taking better notes, often I'll read something in passing and not realize it's importance until later and then have difficulty finding the source.

    quick check---
    I can cite the bit about the machinery & equipment as coming from Jon Guss in a comment stream,

    "When Sobranie shuttered their pipe tobacco factory in 1980 Germain bought some of their equipment to supplement existing facilities on the Island of Jersey..."
    http://www.apassionforpipes.com/neills-blog/2011/10/15/jf-germains-revival-of-balkan-sobranie-original-mixture.html

    ...but I also read somewhere about the Sobranie House worker going to Germain, but I cannot find my original source for that.

    Something else I read somewhere that I've lost citation for is that one of the special tricks of Sobranie House was when steaming their tobacco they would sometimes use certain herbs to infuse a very distinct flavor profile.

    A whole book could be written about all the "lost arts" of tobacco manufacture and the time-consuming techniques used back in the old days...

    ...I read an interview with pipemaker Brad Pohlmann and he was talking about when he visited Rattray's in Perth how the blender was using some sort of gas-heated copper table or something like, to toast the tobacco.

    Stuff like that is very interesting, but that info kind of falls into the "trade secret" realm, so maybe no hard data will ever be known?

    Here's an article about Germain that you may be interested in, if you haven't already seen it, it's the same one that ran in the great US magazine Pipes & Tobaccos, it's a good read...
    http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/action/document/page?tid=bjp09b00&page=63

    Posted 5 years ago #
  55. burlpettibon

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    Thanks for Necro-Bumping this thread! A lot of interesting reading!

    Posted 5 years ago #
  56. woodsroad

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    one of the special tricks of Sobranie House was when steaming their tobacco they would sometimes use certain herbs to infuse a very distinct flavor profile

    I do this with meats when grilling or roasting in the convection oven. A tray of hot water, with herbs and spices, to hydrate the meat as it cooks. Stands to reason that this would be an exceptional way to infuse tobacco.

    Posted 5 years ago #
  57. metalheadycigarguy

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    Interesting read. Thanks for bumping the thread.

    Posted 5 years ago #
  58. thedudeabides

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    MLC, I think an interesting part of that article is the section on their use of a Black Cavendish. This is rarely mentioned in descriptions or reviews of their blends, but many of the great English blends have used some sort of Cavendish (using the term to describe tobacco treated by this process).

    Russ' article this month sheds some more light on this interesting process, and helps dispel a myth or two.

    As a side note, your posts are always a pleasure, and I hope you are enjoying your new status as one of the site's "historians." : )

    Posted 5 years ago #
  59. neverbend

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    Another perspective about JF Germain is that they are struggling to stay in afloat in a business that's under attack in most of their traditional markets.

    While it might seem shortsighted on their part, adding a single worker (Five to six) would probably increase their production by 20% (or more) and they'd quickly find that they've gone from under to overstocked in a declining market and have difficulty remaining solvent.

    Posted 5 years ago #
  60. settersbrace

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    Even if the inventory could be increased to a more Modern standard if bet that Penzance and Stonehave would still remain nearly un-obtainable and it's because of us stupid Americans and the current "prepper" mentality everyone seems to have. Go out and try to find a box of .22 rimfire shells and you'll see what I mean.

    I was gifted a vintage sack full of Krumble Kake back in 2001 or 02 and I smoked it alongside Penzance and like Pease, I found some differences but not much. I enjoyed both and if Penzance was easier to get I'd have some layed in but since it's not, there's plenty of other great tobaccos to be had.

    As is always the case, MLC has revealed some very interesting tidbits!

    De gustibus et cloribus non disputandum.
    'There is no arguing about tastes and colours.'
    Posted 5 years ago #
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    BUMP - This is a great read

    Posted 4 years ago #
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    + 1 ^^

    Posted 4 years ago #
  63. jpmcwjr

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    A blast of history from three years ago and earlier. A good read. Thanks, gents.

    I know that you believe you understood what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.
    Posted 3 years ago #
  64. simong

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    Cracking thread/discussion! Should be more conversations like this one given the amount of members posting, instead of talking about Penzance or mixture 79.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  65. jpmcwjr

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    Quite right, simon. Haven't seen you about recently. All OK?

    Posted 1 year ago #
  66. davet

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    I checked in on Simon, he's doing fine. Miss his posts though.....

    Posted 1 year ago #
  67. brendhain

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    Bump! Great discussion

    Posted 1 year ago #
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    I don't think anybody is suggesting they grow to the size of STG, but increasing their labor force to even 10 would be great.

    Posted 1 year ago #
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    As I noted in another thread, last summer a young man posted a selfie on one of the Facebook pipe groups. He was standing in front of a booth at a jobs fair in the UK that had a very professionaly designed banner that read J.F. Germain and Sons. He did apply for a job there, no word that I saw on whether or not he got it.

    They are currently producing a lot of product. They filled Premals order for the Smokers Haven blends. All of the domestic market tins literally had to be pulled from the shelves of all retail outlets in the UK after a certain date last year. Germain was literally unavailable except in bulk until new packaging could be distributed. The result was that shops rather quickly ran out of bulk. From looking at the web sites of UK retailers, it seems that all of the product for the domestic market is now back in stock in pouches and bulk. They seem to have a good market in Asia (Hampton Flake for example leaks back here from people doing trades or mule purchases with hobbyists in Taiwan). I can't judge the size or frequency of drops here, but I have been able to buy all I want of the lesser demand blends simply by going to the trouble of a 45 minute drive and walking in a store. That was never the case until this year. And I have managed to get Sobranie, Stonehaven and Penzance tins from IRC because I signed up to their email alerts. I have also gotten Penzance and Stonehaven bags from three different etailers this year. And the last two drops I passed on some bags because the price with shipping was too high. I used to not even look. So the product is out there.

    An impressive accomplishment for seven or eight old pensioners using antiquared machinery. Really impressive.

    Posted 1 year ago #

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