THE PROFESSOR'S PIPE TOBACCO REVIEWS

J. F. Germain & Son Tobaccos


Germain's is officially of Jersey (Channel Isles, UK) as far as I know, but at least one of their mixtures, Germain's Mixture No. 7, bears a "Made in Germany" indication. Their Esoterica Tobacciana series of tobacco blends is the most known Germain product here in North America and is available from numerous American retail and mail-order dealers. Their blends are reputed to be made in small batches the old-fashioned way and the quality of the mixtures I've tried is outstanding as far as my own taste is concerned. Stonehaven and Blackpool are strong, smooth, fully matured Virginias made in the old-English style which is uncommon in North America.

When Pipes and Tobaccos magazine published a few of the following reviews, one reader wrote a letter to the editor stating that my article "must have been written, edited and approved by Germain" and that it constituted "pure propwash." Understandable given that the media content sometimes seems to contain more falsehoods and half-truths than useful information, but I can't apologize since my comments are genuine. As with any pipe tobacco, some of these blends won't be to everyone's taste, and their fairly high cost is also a drawback, but they certainly have an appeal all their own.

Esoterica Tobacciana Mixtures:

And So To Bed
A ribbon-cut blend of mostly dark tobaccos—about half blackish and half dark reddish-brown, with a sprinkling of blonder strands. In the pouch this smells like a heavy latakia-based English, although perhaps a little sweeter and less smoky than expected. Flavour-wise, this reminds me a bit of Balkan Sobranie 759 with its heavy smoothness, but a notch darker. There is a hint of a sweet flavour that serves as the backdrop for the dominant full and dark taste. I find this to be as appealing as Margate and Pembroke in terms of its richness and its thick, creamy smoke, but a little spicier, darker-tasting and less sweet than those two. Another very pleasant smoke for aficionados of smooth, full-strength, English blends that are mild on the tongue. It burns cleanly and slowly to a fine salt-and-pepper ash. '97

Blackpool
This is a medium-cut tobacco that is about as black as they come. Closer examination shows that it isn't completely black and that there is a fair amount of dark brown in the mixture. The tobacco has a sporadically greyish appearance due to fine sugar crystals that have formed on the surface. Composed of well-matured Virginia tobaccos, this is the way I think a Virginia blend should be: smooth and non-biting. A liquorice topping is added, which seems to be a great complement to the tobacco's naturally dark, full taste. This isn't a sweet blend, but it is more sweet than it is bitter. It does have a certain pungency to it though that reminds me a bit of a raisin-flavour with the sweetness removed. I still find it interesting that I like this flavour added to tobacco, since I detest (will not eat) liquorice-flavoured candy. It lacks the subtle fresh-fruity complexity of flavour that many lighter Virginia blends possess; instead, it is a thoroughly full and fairly uniform-tasting blend. It burns very dry; in fact, the tobacco doesn't even tend to stick together much in the pipe. It burns slow and cool (the ideal blend for a pipe that tends to smoke hot), but doesn't necessitate constant relighting like some slow-burning blends do. It produces quite a thick smoke with little puffing effort required, which is a positive quality for me. Although not strong on the tongue, it is a very relaxing, full-strength blend that some might prefer to smoke in a smaller pipe. Still, it's not quite as full as Stonehaven, which is further spiked with burley. Burns to a fine whitish powder and leaves a heavy, natural tobacco aroma in the room. '96

Dorchester
This medium-cut, Virginia-perique blend is overall a medium, earthy-brown colour that is punctuated by lighter beige and darker, blackish threads. It has a sweet, musty aroma in the pouch, which is very similar to what you taste upon lighting up. The balance of seasoning is strikingly good, with neither the sweetness of the Virginias nor the pepperiness of the perique dominating each other. Still, the perique is there in ample quantity to come through clearly with its subtle bite. A bowl of this becomes more peppery as it is smoked and the sweetness subsides quite a bit. It provides a medium-bodied smoke that is clean-tasting and quite refreshing. Although I've only smoked this mixture in a meerschaum, it seems to be very smooth and creamy for a Virginia-perique mix, except near the bottom of the pipe, where it gets sharper. It seems to have a little less kick than Dunhill's Elizabethan, but it's still a very satisfying smoke, especially due to the rich, full flavour of the Virginia base. This is one of the best Virginia-perique blends I've had to date, since I find many of them to be too strong on the tongue. I find this makes a good morning smoke. The room aroma is unmistakably that of a Virginia-perique mixture: slightly sweet, slightly pungent. Thanks Spiff for the excellent sample! '96

Margate
Here's a deliciously dark latakia-based blend, heavier yet than Penzance, that burns slowly and provides an exceedingly smooth and dry smoke. It falls into that category of mixtures that tend toward a slight sweetness, not toward bitterness, probably owing to the presence of certain Virginia tobaccos. Its rich, bite-free, nutty latakia flavour has a chocolate-like character that is an outstanding complement to a cup of fragrant black coffee. Its aroma is analogous to its flavour—heavy, rich, smoky—and I wish it would linger longer. Dark-brown to blackish medium-cut tobacco with medium-reddish-brown flecks. Absolutely superb. '96

Pembroke
This is Margate with cognac. It's a somewhat fine, medium-cut blend that, whose long strands tends to cling together a lot when fresh out of the tin. It has a fairly high moisture content for an English blend and definitely is easier to pack and smoke after being dried out a little bit. Even though I tend to prefer my tobacco fairly dry, I find this one has superior flavour when it is still a bit moist. Overall, it's quite dark in colour—blackish and dark, reddish-brown tobacco dominates, but it also contains lesser quantities of lighter, beiger strands. The pouch aroma is multifaceted, with a rich dark Virginia aroma mixed with that of a good helping of latakia and a cognac topping. The cognac topping adds a certain degree of sweetness and a pronounced fermented, almost flowery, aroma to the mixture. This fermented aroma, which is fairly typical of tinned tobaccos, is intense enough that it is passed on to the smoke's flavour. In fact, the flavour upon lighting up is surprisingly similar to its pouch aroma, a little bit sweet, and very rich due to the latakia and matured Virginias. With this much latakia, it is a smoky-tasting blend, but balanced with the Virginias, it has a bit of that chocolaty flavour that characterize some English blends. It's unequivocally a richly bodied, full English blend, smoother than many, very mild on the tongue, and seems to produce a fairly large volume of smoke. The combination of a hint of a sweet perfume and latakia makes it a smoke that you might want to keep close to your nose while the bowl is burning; it's very pleasant blown out the nose. As the commercial description of this blend goes, "A symphony of delicate aromas and elegant flavors". Not as strong as blends that contain discernible quantities of perique, it provides a mildness that makes it one of the best heavy English blends I've tried for all-day smoking. It burns well, and slowly too, despite its slightly fine cut. However, when it's still very fresh and moister, it isn't always so easy to keep lit. It produces a dark and distinctive, yet slightly sweet room aroma that I, as a latakia lover, find very comforting, but some bystanders have commented that it is quite strong. It smokes dry and clean, despite my occasional mention of moisture, reducing to a fine pepper-and-salt ash. '97

Penzance
Dark brown in soft, self-crumbling flakes, this is very similar to Bengal Slices with its slow burning (but it does burn well) and its smooth, smoky flavour. Here though, the flavour is more lively and not so one-dimensional. A subtle sweetness, probably due to richer, sweeter Virginias being used in the recipe, joins the rich latakia flavour. The room aroma is also slightly more pronounced. Since this burns cool, I like to smoke it in a big pipe that smokes well but a bit hot. An excellent and relaxing full-English blend that I seem to smoke mostly late at night. '95

Ramsgate
This one reminds me a lot of Blackpool. Quite black in appearance, but with a bit of a greyish patina caused presumably by natural sugars exuding from the tobacco. Like Blackpool, this is also a Virginia-based preparation with a liquorice topping that is not in any way aromatic. The manufacturer's description is very similar to Blackpool, except that mention of an "aroma enhancement" is made with regards to Ramsgate. Indeed, it smells slightly more flowery, and its actual flavour seems a little lighter and smoother, but not much. In any case it is dry in the pouch, doesn't cling together, and smokes dry in the pipe producing a small quantity of very fine, light grey ash along the way. It burns cool and slowly, and provides a smooth, no-bite, but strong smoke. The flavour is full, dark, and just a touch bitter in a pleasant way. There is the suggestion of sweetness without there actually being a sweet taste. Although the smoke is smooth and soft on the palate, it has a stimulating, subtly piercing, effect when it drifts into the nostrils. The flavour doesn't get harsher as one gets further down a bowl of this, but it does get richer. An excellent blend, but I think I personally prefer the slightly more vibrant taste of Blackpool. '97

Stonehaven
This comes in long, wide slices of a dark, blackish brown colour that is typical of many old-fashioned British tobaccos. In the packet, it has a strong sweetish aroma that is also sourish and fermented-smelling, almost wine-like. The tobacco feels rather moist on the fingers and requires a certain effort to crumble from the slices, with the occasional segment being particularly stubborn and almost rubbery. When smoking flake tobaccos, I like to have some strands less rubbed out than others to encourage a slow burn, so this is a positive quality for me. As it is, this is a very slow-burning tobacco that nonetheless seems to stay lit quite well. A pipe full of this seems to last forever! Slow burning is not only a matter of smoking style here—this is a full-strength tobacco that would probably be less pleasant if smoked fast. The flavour, although uniform due to the aging and pressing processes, has various nuances that make it noteworthy. Overall, it has a dark and full-bodied taste, yet it is soft and smooth and not quite as full-bodied as its flavour suggests. The sweet and sour aromas of this tobacco in the pouch both come through in the smoke's flavour, equally it seems, and translate into a very pleasant flavour combination. Such a taste suggests fruitiness, but there really isn't any fruity taste here, except perhaps that tart, wine-like fermented sweetness that seems to become more prominent as a pipeful is smoked. There is also just a hint of a greener, fresher tobacco flavour within. I can't avoid the obvious comparison of this tobacco to two very popular smoking blends of the same genre: Condor and Saint Bruno. Although closer to Saint Bruno perhaps because it has a more natural tobacco taste than Condor, the fact that it seems a little sweeter than Saint Bruno and is stronger and creamier in body reminds me of Condor. The best of both worlds? During the second half of the bowl, the flavour evolves. The sweetness burns off somewhat, the natural taste of the tobaccos seems to intensify and become vaguely peppery, or perhaps just increasingly tart. This might be the burley component rearing its head (this blend is supposed to contain both burley and Virginia tobaccos). It's an extremely relaxing smoke that leaves you with a small quantity of fine grey ash at the bottom of your pipe that you won't be disappointed with. Special thanks to Rick for the generous sample! '96

Other Germain Mixtures:

Mixture No. 7
"Made in Germany," proclaims the label. This is a distinctly aromatic tobacco in the pouch that is dry and clean to the touch in a way that old Captain Black could never imagine. "Clean" also describes the slightly perfumy and fruity aroma that, after a while, one might conclude is peach- or apricot-based. It comes in a medium-length, medium-width, ribbon cut with some shorter, broken bits. The overall colour is a light, golden brown, punctuated by flecks of darker and lighter tobaccos. One of the excellent features of this blend is that it is truly mild and mellow. Unlike many milder tobaccos, this one produces a rich, medium-bodied smoke of decent volume, and it doesn't burn hot or start smoking wet after the halfway point. And although it is an aromatic, the fruit flavour is not syrupy at all and is subdued enough that one can taste some of the mild tobacco underneath. My guess is that the base includes both Virginias and light burleys, as well as a touch of black cavendish. After half a bowl of this, the fruit flavour diminishes significantly, leaving a slightly sweet, plain-cavendish taste that I personally enjoy. It burns down to a fine salt-and-pepper ash. If you are attracted to milder tobaccos, but find that they sometimes bite too much, this one might be worth a try. Unfortunately, it isn't common in North America, but you can order it from Dan Pipe in Germany. Thanks Ken for introducing me to this. '96