Erik Stokkebye: The Fourth Generation

Erik Stokkebye

Portrait of Erik Stokkebye by Artur Lopes

Representing his family's fourth generation in the tobacco business, Erik Stokkebye has been immersed in the trade over his entire lifetime. Appropriately, Erik is the founder and driving force behind Erik Stokkebye 4th Generation tobaccos and 4th Generation pipes.

His family has been entrenched in tobacco since 1882, when his great-grandfather, Erik Peter Stokkebye, launched the Stokkebye Company in Odense, Denmark. "When he started the company," says Erik, "he moved into a four-story building with a factory in the back, apartments upstairs, and a retail store in front. The factory entrance is actually depicted on the tin for the limited-edition tobacco we released last year: Small Batch Jubilæums Flake. "The building has not housed a tobacco shop since the 1960s and is now a women's clothing store, but it and its history are intact. The original structure continues to stand today and is an official historic building. "So it can't be torn down, because it's under the supervision of the Danish government, which is kind of cool."

The First Stokkebye Tobaccos

The company started as a cigar retail shop, with Erik Peter rolling cigars in the back. It was a common business model in the late 1800s and there were hundreds of similar shops liberally scattered around Northern Europe, but Erik Peter soon expanded the business to include pipe tobacco and chewing tobacco, and as his reputation expanded, so did his offerings.

"Nasal snuff was huge during the late 1800s, so he did quite a bit of that. He had some cigar production and a little bit of pipe tobacco production." He also insisted on quality leaf, and had a knack for knowing what people liked. "My grandfather started a brand called Oliver Twist, a chewing tobacco manufactured in our factory. It was enormously popular. So he had different types of tobacco products."

"Nasal snuff was huge during the late 1800s"

The Stokkebye Company did well. When Erik Peter's son, Erik Poul, joined at age 28, he did not immediately accept a position of authority. It was an important moment in Stokkebye history because a tradition was started. Intuitively, the pair knew that a complete understanding of every operation was necessary to efficiently lead, so Erik Poul started by learning every facet of the industry, just as his grandson would.

Erik Stokkebye 4th Generation: Small Batch Jubilaeums Flake 3.5oz Pipe Tobacco

Learning the Tobacco Trade

There are three Erik Stokkebyes in the four generations dedicated to the tobacco trade, and the Erik we know today began in earnest with an internship at a local cigar factory. "I learned how to roll cigars and color code them so they all had the same colors in the boxes. That was interesting.

"I remember sitting with these guys who were hand rolling cigars, and they're these cigar smokers. I was about 16 at that time, and I asked if I could smoke my pipe there while I was learning how to roll cigars. They said sure, but a week later when I walked into the room, they complained about the smell of pipe tobacco on me. They were diehard cigar smokers."

"I asked if I could smoke my pipe there while I was learning how to roll cigars"

Erik spent the year in the U.S. before starting college. He learned about leaf tobacco in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. His father, Peter Stokkebye, arranged the educational sabbatical with one of the larger leaf tobacco companies. "It was quite an experience for me at age 17."

His next educational excursion was to Germany. "At that time," says Erik, "Germany was the biggest pipe tobacco market, and it still is." He worked with the country's largest importer, located in Hamburg. "I think I spent nine months there, learning about German tobacco, learning about the German market, and just working with that importer."

Early Professional Life

Erik Stokkebye 4th Generation Bulk Pipe Tobaccos

Erik's parents moved to the U.S. in 1979 to start a company in California importing Stokkebye products. Erik and his wife joined them later the same year. Erik spent a couple of years working for the company, then decided to explore something different. "I hooked up with this advertising company in New York City, and my wife and I lived there for the next eight years. That's when my father asked if I had an interest in rejoining the company, and I decided that it could be fun."

Peter Stokkebye had been supportive of his son's career decisions. "But after a while, I just thought it'd be fun to come back to the company and see what I could develop in terms of brands, and that worked out well. His business was always very strong in the U.S., but less strong in Europe. One of my tasks was to develop more European business. I hopped in my car and drove all over Europe, meeting people and making some inroads."

"I hopped in my car and drove all over Europe"

In 1994, Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG) and Georg Gunderson, Chairman of Alex Gundersen Tobacco, visited the Stokkebyes. They had formed the Orlik Tobacco Company and wanted to export more pipe tobacco into the U.S., which was an impressively growing market. They told the Stokkebyes that they wanted to purchase their company because they needed more U.S exports, and the company was sold.

Erik then joined Orlik Tobacco. "In 2000," says Erik, "they decided that they wanted to have both an import and distribution company in the U.S. We had some products that were very popular, especially in pipe tobacco and roll-your-own. They asked if I wanted to run that company. That's when my family and I moved to the U.S. for the second time." He found himself working in Charlotte, NC, where he still resides and where he now runs Erik Stokkebye 4th Generation.

"I worked with Orlik until 2005, when they decided they didn't want to have that company anymore. That's when I made a partnership with the Villiger Cigar Company in Switzerland. We were partners until 2012 when they decided they wanted somebody who knew a little bit more about cigars than I could muster." He resigned. There he was, one of the leading tobacco experts in the world, shelved because he hadn't specialized in cigars.

The Birth of Erik Stokkebye 4th Generation

"So I was in between jobs in 2012, and I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do, whether I wanted to leave the business or start something else. But I had been working in the tobacco industry since I was eight years old when I was helping my grandfather in the factory, and I realized that changing to an entirely different industry didn't feel right. I had this thought about contributing to my family's tobacco heritage. A friend at an ad agency said, 'Well, you're a fourth generation. You should call it 4th Generation.' That was the birth of it. I decided to stay in the business, and I decided to make this brand." It started with a partnership between Erik and Phillips & King, a leading distributor, but the two parted ways in 2019, and Arango Cigar Company stepped in as Erik's partner.

"I realized that changing to an entirely different industry didn't feel right"

Erik's company has three bulk blends: Morning Blend, Afternoon Melange, and a delightful Va/Per called Evening Flake. Several tinned blends also highlight the selection, four of them named for the birth years of Stokkebye patriarchs. "My great-grandfather was 1855. My grandfather was 1897, my father was 1931, and I'm 1957."

A New Blend Arrives: Resolution

4th Generation Small Batch Resolution

Erik Stokkebye 4th Generation Small Batch Resolution is the first 4th Generation tobacco made by Cornell & Diehl, and it's an impressive mixture. Erik and C&D's Head Blender, Jeremy Reeves, worked together to reimagine traditional Danish flake tobacco, combining high-grade Carolina Mahogany and Canadian Bright Virginias with matured Orientals from Greece and Turkey. It's pressed and cut into flakes, with a satisfying sweetness and undertones of citrus, caramelized sugar, freshly baked butter cookies, and a subtle hint of hazelnut.

The packaging is almost as pleasing as its contents, especially for those who are attracted to the sea. A special gift box houses the blend, with an image of the ship Resolution proudly displayed.

That image was the first step in creating this blend. "Erik knew from the beginning," says Jeremy, "that he wanted that image on this tobacco — it's a painting of the ship Resolution. It's a very important painting for the Stokkebye family and their history."

"The label motif," says Erik, "is the ship captained by Erik H. Stokkebye in the 1700s. Before tobacco, our family was one of sea captains." At that time, Norway depended on Danish ships to bring goods to trade for lumber, and Captain Stokkebye took that route often. "Sadly, he went down with his ship under stormy conditions in the North Sea. It's a difficult chapter in the Stokkebye family history, but it's part of our identity."

"Before tobacco, our family was one of sea captains"

The Development of Resolution

The two talented blenders, Jeremy and Erik, found lots of common ground and mutual respect. "Jeremy initially brought a whole slew of samples to me that we tried at the Chicago Pipe Show last year. We smoked some and discussed them, and I took them home and smoked some more. We sent samples back and forth between North Carolina and South Carolina and narrowed it down. It was a fun process."

4th Generation Small Batch Resolution

"Erik wanted to find some way to create a blend that would give him a framework to use this painting," says Jeremy. "We developed a blend of Old Belt Virginias, Canadian Virginias, and Orientals — Basma from Greece and Ismir from Turkey. We used a subtle hazelnut top note to accentuate some of the nutty character of the Orientals, and to draw out the fruitiness of the Virginias and some of the fruity character of the Orientals. But the inspiration for the blend started with the painting of the Resolution."

The tobaccos in this blend deliver notes of molasses and hay as well as a nutty character. "Hazelnut just seemed like a good fit," says Jeremy, "and it certainly worked out that way. With the addition of the enhancing flavors of caramelization, it expresses a counterpoint to the underlying fruitiness and tartness with a deep, round, nutty flavor. Where all of this comes together is with its creamy character, pairing well with the Oriental. I think it really worked."

It would be a great smoke to accompany a morning coffee. "There's certainly a bit of strength to it," says Jeremy, "but I would place it firmly in the medium category. It's a nice first smoke of the day and it's a nice smoke in the afternoon. And I think that a lot of people would enjoy it as a dessert smoke after dinner. It's not at all a big, bold, sum-up-your-whole-day kind of blend, but I think that it's easily palatable in lots of different circumstances. The tobaccos work beautifully together and the top note does what a top note should do and ties the components together without overpowering any of the other important elements."

The primary challenge was to find the right balance for all of these disparate tobaccos. "Any time you're putting a blend together," says Jeremy, "there's a little wiggling and nestling that happens for all of the elements to harmonize, to make room for the flavors you want to emphasize, and to diminish the flavor aspects that you want to minimize." Erik and Jeremy were crafting a blend that would demonstrate the breadth of tobacco agriculture across the globe.

Ships like the Resolution were what made tobacco blending possible 200-300 years ago. "By employing the characteristics of Virginias grown here in the Old Belt of the U.S., where the industry of tobacco farming really began in this country," says Jeremy, "and then moving to Canada and even out to the far East, we thought the result would be thematically parallel, that a Virginia and Oriental blend would demonstrate the way that tobacco became global after its discovery by Europeans."

"... a Virginia and Oriental blend would demonstrate the way that tobacco became global after its discovery by Europeans"

Resolution is an exciting blend that demonstrates what Cornell & Diehl is capable of. As the first C&D-blended 4th Generation blend, and a Small Batch Limited Edition crafted from the talented minds and hands of Erik Stokkebye and Jeremy Reeves, it's expected to be a sensational tobacco, especially for those who appreciate aging tobaccos and the irresistible characteristics of flakes.

Upcoming 4th Generation Additions

"We have quite a few things in the works," says Erik. "We have some new accessories, and we have some new bulk tobaccos, and a new tin coming out under my son's name, Max Erik. It's a flake tobacco and a very nice Virginia blend. It should be coming out in the spring or early summer."

Max Erik's birth year will eventually be representing the fifth generation of Stokkebye tobaccos, but whether the name of the company will be changed has not yet been decided. Max is currently working with STG in Richmond, learning the trade just as his forebears did.

The Stokkebye family has become a dynasty of tobacco production, and tobacco a part of the family's DNA. They are irretrievably intertwined. "The industry means a lot to me," says Erik. "Pipe tobacco is a very small business, but I think that's the fun part — everybody knows everyone, and there are a lot of multi-generational families involved, either in cigars or pipe tobacco." The Stokkebye family is certainly among the most significant for pipe smokers. They have provided us with delectable tobaccos for 140 years so far, and there's more to come.


    • howard on March 5, 2023
    • i used to smoke a tobacco named GALVINS, the company was bought out at least 40 years ago and the tobacco named GALVINS was no more...i would think the name was changed at the buy out, does anyone have any information on this????? thank you

    • HB on March 5, 2023
    • i used to smoke a tobacco named GALVINS, the company was bought out at least 40 years ago and the tobacco named GALVINS was no more...i would think the name was changed at the buy out, does anyone have any information on this????? thank you

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