There are a few tobacco blending and tinning companies that get talked about so often that the subsequent noise washes away from the horizon many other excellent producers. Esoterica is one of them.
By now many of us realize why. Without mentioning those two blends that seem to get hailed rather loud and clear by the hundreds of voices of pipe smokers in cyberspace, Esoterica delivers some terrifically good blends.
Esoterica Tobacciana is essentially the brain-child of American pipe-man Mike Butera and Master Blender Robert Germain of J. F. Germain & Son. Mike’s talent is as without question as is his contribution to the contemporary pipe community. Germain’s reputation is undeniable. Together these two have dreamed up some incredible stuff. And of their top four offerings, ‘And So To Bed’, somehow is not among them.
This doesn’t surprise me. The blend is not up-front. It doesn’t get in your face with a unique, bold sensation. Fresh from the tin it’s downright boring. Timing is important with this English; the mix starts shining when the tin has been opened once or twice over eight months to cool off.
|Like most Esoterica blends, 'And So To Bed' is a bit moist straight from the tin. It will smoke just fine for most folks this way. However, this blend really comes alive when given the opportunity to breath and dry off|
Esoterica blends are usually packaged a little wet and smoke great with some moisture. In this way not all blends are created equally. But the quality can be deceptive. Every Esoterica blend does better dried out. Particularly this one. The butcher paper wrapper has to be soft and damp from top oils and the contents have to be a variety of degrees of moist. This is where the magic starts. Open the new tin, but hold off from smoking it just yet.
‘And So To Bed’ is gentle because it’s so well balanced. I’ve read that this particular offering from the Esoterica line consists of a Maryland component, which I find likely. Often processed in a way similar to Cavendish, this leaf is buttery like burley. Delicately rich Maryland, added with Virginia for depth and sweetness, starts the show with an earthy, easy smoking base. As always, a Cyprian latakia inclusion is easily detected, here lending a smoky, leathery hand to the brew softened only by a quiet Oriental presence. All the players are working together; none have the strength to overwhelm the other. If you’re looking for something dumbfounding and powerful you won’t find it here. Not dynamic, but dimensional.
It’s a complex blend that takes some patience. ‘And So To Bed’ needs a good long stretch and yawn before it will fully open up and share itself. In time I’ve found it to be as fantastic as some of the crown jewels of the Esoterica line. Like many of their labels it’s far too underrated, at least.
Penzance. It’s fantastically popular, utterly delicious, and can be extraordinarily difficult to come by; but not impossible. The trick to scoring a tin or two (or an eight ounce bag) of this dark English flake will, more often than not, boil down to a matter of tenacity. This is a sad but true reality. With the covetous demand for this tobacco far outweighing any retailer’s meager supply, I was only able to make my first stash of Penzance by checking websites like Smokingpipes.com twice a day for weeks at a time. If this kind of obsessive acquirement disorder is too intense for your pipe smoking habit I suggest abandoning the quest for this blend in search of another, regularly available sort. There’s a lot of wonderful stuff out there. But for those of you intimate with the pure delight of this treasure by Esoterica, I’m sure you appreciate my plight. It’s my humble opinion that Penzance is as good as it gets.
I mention all of this because I’ve wanted to talk about Penzance here for a while. As of yet, I’ve not, simply because I’ve sworn myself from talking about tobaccos that someone couldn’t turn around and buy. It would be cruel of me to poetically wax some blend that many of us will never have the chance to smoke. To sit back and muse on how lucky I am to sample Stonehenge or Balkan Sobranie or just about anything by Sam Gawith is downright unfair. So I’ve shied away from some of my favorites. That’s OK, because there’s a lot of wonderful stuff out there.
Nevertheless, Penzance is out there and it’s delicious. At that, there are dozens of great blends that are hard to snatch unless you stay diligently watchful. Keep in mind that a lot if this stuff gets sold just about as fast as it gets received. Sometimes it can’t be found for weeks, even months, at a time. But the truth is this: if you want it, you can have it. Keep an eye out, be tenacious. Trust me; the juice is worth the squeeze.