Esoterica Tobacciana - A History?

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misterlowercase

Preferred Member
May 31, 2012
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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?

 

rmbittner

Preferred Member
Dec 12, 2012
2,099
1
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.

 

misterlowercase

Preferred Member
May 31, 2012
4,296
2
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.

 

rmbittner

Preferred Member
Dec 12, 2012
2,099
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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.

 

yohanan

Preferred Member
Oct 1, 2011
1,636
190
Thanks misterlowercase for the informative read, I greatly enjoyed it. :clap:

 

rhogg

Senior Member
Jun 14, 2011
443
0
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.

 

cigrmaster

Preferred Member
May 26, 2012
13,897
2,023
United States
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.

 

peckinpahhombre

Preferred Member
Dec 24, 2012
7,118
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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!

 

judcole

Preferred Member
Sep 14, 2011
4,724
134
Detroit
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.

 

dragonslayer

Preferred Member
Dec 28, 2012
1,027
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Pittsburgh
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.

 

misterlowercase

Preferred Member
May 31, 2012
4,296
2
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.

 

jpberg

Preferred Member
Aug 30, 2011
1,033
140
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.

 

judcole

Preferred Member
Sep 14, 2011
4,724
134
Detroit
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.

 

peckinpahhombre

Preferred Member
Dec 24, 2012
7,118
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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.

 

peckinpahhombre

Preferred Member
Dec 24, 2012
7,118
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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.

 

misterlowercase

Preferred Member
May 31, 2012
4,296
2
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!"

 

peckinpahhombre

Preferred Member
Dec 24, 2012
7,118
50
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. :nana:

 
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