The History of Mac Baren Tobacco

The History of Mac Baren Tobacco | Daily Reader at

Harald Halberg Cigar and Tobacco Factories, from

This is a revised version of an article published July 31, 2020.

In Svendborg, Denmark, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, a very small tobacco factory with the name S. Bønnelyckes Tobaksfabrik opened in 1826 and did business primarily in snuff and chewing tobacco manufacturing. It continued for 50 years, never seeming to attain much success, and in 1887 its owner lost it in a poker game. The winner of that poker game traded it for a horse and a barrel of whisky to Harald Halberg, who had recently completed a four-and-a-half-year education in tobacco rolling for chew tobacco. It was an education taken very seriously; it took longer to become a certified spun-tobacco master than to earn a bachelor's degree. Halberg applied his specialty, knew what he was doing, expanded the company, and made it a family business that has evolved into one of the largest manufacturers of pipe tobacco in the world: Mac Baren.

"Can you imagine rolling tobacco for four and a half years," says Per Jensen, retired Head Blender at Mac Baren, "before you got your grade as a spun master? Nope. Nobody today can imagine that. It was an education that was discontinued in 1964. The very last graduate became a production manager at Oliver Twist."

Early History

After acquiring S. Bønnelyckes Tobaksfabrik, Halberg changed the name to Harald Halberg Cigar and Tobacco Factories and later changed it to the Harald Halberg Tobacco Factories. "He was educated in spun tobacco," says Per, "and a roller. He also made a new product called Gentleman Twist, which was a smaller version of spun tobacco that was easier to have in your mouth without developing too much saliva."

It took a great deal of time and hard work for Halberg to develop the company into a thriving business, and he faced considerable competition. "You have to remember," says Per, "that in 1887 there were around 400 factories in Denmark and there were four factories in Svendborg." By 1900, however, Halberg's was the only tobacco company left in Svendborg. "And today," says Per, "there are only two factories left in Denmark making smoking tobacco." Besides Mac Baren, there is Scandinavian Tobacco Group. "But Mac Baren supplies, more or less, if you take into account all of the subsidiaries, between 60% and 70% of all pipe tobacco smoked on this planet."

Generational Evolution

Harald Halberg left the tobacco company to his son, Einar, who also served as Svendborg's mayor for a time. Einar sent his own son, Jørgen, to the U.S. in 1939 to learn about tobacco, but during that time, the Second World War broke out, and Jørgen was stranded, unable to return home. "He started working at tobacco companies, and with tobacco producers," says Per. "He also worked with pipes and pipe tobacco producers. Of course, in the almost six years he was in the States, he learned a bunch. When he came back to Denmark, he had some ideas for a new line of pipe tobaccos." Those ideas became a line of pipe blends that would be given an English name because the company wanted to avoid the possibility that a Danish name might be misunderstood as German. Following the war, German names were unpopular with consumers.

Serious consideration for this line was given to the name Mac Laren, but there was already an automobile by that name, as well as an airplane. "So Jørgen changed one letter," says Per, "and it became Mac Baren."

In 1887 there were around 400 factories in Denmark

New Styles of Tobaccos

The History of Mac Baren Tobacco | Daily Reader at

Among the first tobaccos in the new line was Golden Blend, and its success was based not only on the blend itself but on a marketing tool that Jørgen had discovered while in America: providing samples to consumers. Offer samples and people will try it, and if it's good, it will succeed. Golden Blend succeeded.

In April of 1958, Mixture was introduced and similarly marketed. "Within three years," says Per, "Mixture had taken 25% of the Danish market for pipe tobacco.

"It was also helped by the heavy English mixtures that were popular. Wives didn't like the smell of English blends. And if you look at Mac Baren advertisements from the '60s, they clearly emphasize the pleasant aroma of Mixture. It was more than the pipe smokers who made Mixture so popular; it was also their wives."

Demand Skyrockets

The popularity of Harald Halberg Tobacco's Mac Baren blends, especially Mixture, required upsizing to accommodate demand, and in 1975 a new factory was built in downtown Svendborg. "Without Mixture," says Per, "there would be no Mac Baren Tobacco today. Even now, Mixture accounts for almost half of all the Mac Baren-labeled tobacco produced." It's the most popular blend in all of Denmark and Germany and continues to rank very highly around the world.

Success was based not only on the blend itself but on a marketing tool that Jørgen had discovered while in America: providing samples to consumers.

So popular was the Mac Baren line of tobaccos, and so recognizable its name, that Harald Halberg Tobacco changed its name to Mac Baren in 1995.

The History of Mac Baren Tobacco | Daily Reader at

Henrik Halberg, Image from

Jørgen Halberg died in 1996, leaving the company to his son Henrik, who continues to run the operation and who has overseen enormous growth. A large part of that growth came with a contract in 2002 between Mac Baren and Swedish Match, which owned Borkum Riff and asked Mac Baren to produce it. It was among the most popular brands of tobacco in the world and comprised almost half of Mac Baren's total output. The company found itself dependent on that part of its manufacturing, so it was a devastating development when Scandinavian Tobacco Group merged with Swedish Match and announced it would move Borkum Riff manufacturing away from Mac Baren.

Mac Baren was given a year to divest itself of Borkum Riff. Any company faced with losing half of its production finds itself in difficult times. "That was a very, very dark day in Mac Baren history," says Per. But Mac Baren learned an important lesson from the experience and became determined to produce only those tobaccos that it owned. By the end of the year, it had increased production with new blends and made up for the loss, a feat that most companies would not have been able to accomplish.

The Advantage of a Family-Owned Business

Mac Baren is a family-owned business, rather than one with shareholders anticipating quarterly returns. "When you have to perform every quarter," says Per, "sometimes the decisions you make are not the best for the future, because you need to show immediate profits. Mac Baren doesn't experience that pressure. So if there's an idea we think will be good for the future, then it can be done without thinking about what will happen to the profits for this quarter."

"Without Mixture," says Per, "there would be no Mac Baren Tobacco today.

The company was also producing tobacco for the Imperial Tobacco group, with brands such as Capstan and Three Nuns, brands that Mac Baren bought outright in 2015. "That was the biggest investment for the company ever," says Per. "We are talking really big numbers." Large production numbers in pipe tobacco, however, are very small in comparison to cigarette production. "Imperial Tobacco didn't even send a message to the stock exchange because the sale didn't have any influence on their results, while we were just sitting there with our empty pockets."

Remarkable Expansion

That purchase also included the Amphora line of tobaccos, as well as many brands made specifically for Spain and France, including Scaferlati Caporal. "It's a very old French brand," says Per. "The brand was named for a corporal in the army named Scaferlati who delivered tobacco to the troops. Scaferlati Caporal is the kind of tobacco delivered to the army; it's recognizable for the cigar leaf in it, producing what's become known as the 'French taste.' It's in cigarettes too, in the French Gauloises and Gitanes cigarettes; they have this very cigar-ish taste because they have cigar leaf."

It was a devastating development when Scandinavian Tobacco Group merged with Swedish Match and announced it would move Borkum Riff manufacturing away from Mac Baren

Mac Baren also acquired all of the Planta blends when it bought Imperial's pipe tobaccos, so they have a lot of production going on and are beginning to run out of manufacturing space, though there are no immediate plans for expansion or for moving to a more spacious location. "There are no square meters left," says Per. "If the possibility comes for a bigger facility, I'm sure it will happen. Even if you say that pipe tobacco is a declining market, it could be, but it's not been felt at Mac Baren."

Mac Baren has expanded dramatically and is dedicated to pipe smoking around the world. Pipe tobacco is their specialty, and they make enormous amounts of it, more than any other company. It owns many of the brands that pipe smokers depend upon; even here in the U.S. Sutliff Tobacco is owned by Mac Baren, and Sutliff alone accounts for an enormous footprint in the pipe tobacco market, but it's only a small part of the Mac Baren operation. This influence and importance has certainly become something few could have anticipated 150 years ago — when its original factory seemed worth only a barrel of whisky and a horse.

Planta blends when it bought Imperial's pipe tobaccos, so they have a lot of production going on and are beginning to run out of manufacturing space,

Category:   Tobacco Talk
Tagged in:   History Interview Mac Baren Per Jensen


    • David Wakser on August 2, 2020
    • I found this article fascinating, since I have smoked Mac Baren's "Mixture" since 1967, and still purchase it from you! Thanks for the enjoyable history.David Wakser

    • Bill on August 2, 2020
    • Very interesting read. Nice job

    • Seth on August 2, 2020
    • Macbaren makes some incredible Virginia tobaccos, especially in the HH line. Glad they are around to carry the pipe tobacco torch, hopefully far into the future.

    • Fred Brown on August 2, 2020
    • Per usual, great writing and wonderful read from Chuck.

    • Steven Evers on August 2, 2020
    • Discovered Golden Extra in 1974 and still enjoy today!

    • Rock on August 2, 2020
    • Great read. Really enjoyed the history lesson. Thanks much for these types of writings.

    • Mark S on August 2, 2020
    • Hey, Mac Baren! Bring back those old tin designs!So much classier than what exists today. If I could get tins of Golden Extra with those old designs, I would buy a hundred of them to scatter about the house, car, office, garage, or wherever I spend time. They raise my mood.And where did Royal Twist go? That was a one-of-a-kind spun cut. Nothing else in the world tasted like it. And the aroma was intoxicating. It's very difficult to believe that the tobaccos used in it are not available these days.

    • Gordon on August 2, 2020
    • My favorite Mac Baren was Navy Flake. Liked Plumcake a lot too.The newer version of 3 Nuns is nothing like the original. (I'm talking about late '60's and '70s).I don't smoke anymore, but really did enjoy these tobaccos.

    • Terry Wilde on August 2, 2020
    • Great article Chuck!

    • Brad on August 2, 2020
    • I only recently tried the Mixture blend; it certainly is excellent, as is your essay on the history of Mac Baren.

    • Joe Thornton on August 2, 2020
    • This is an excellent article about Mac Baren! I enjoy Plumcake, Virginia No. 1 and Mixture.

    • indoeuropa on August 2, 2020
    • Bang up job, Chuck. Always a pleasure to read your stuff.

    • Tom Doss III on August 2, 2020
    • If they ever come up to something that compares with Dunhills London mix, I’ll try it.

    • Seth P on August 2, 2020
    • @mark S, royal twist is now called “roll cake” still being produced just under a different name.

    • Bill on August 2, 2020
    • How can one obtain a tin of Scaferlati Caporal in the USA?

    • Nick Marikian on August 2, 2020
    • Excellent article. always like to read about tobacco and pipe history.

    • Mark S on August 2, 2020
    • @Seth P, thanks for the info. I have smoked Roll Cake and like it quite a bit. But the formula is different. The old Royal Twist had an absolutely unique tin note and room note. Utterly intoxicating. And I miss it!

    • Ac worleu on August 2, 2020
    • Great article

    • A.C. WORLEY on August 2, 2020
    • Great article

    • ERIC C CRANSTON on August 3, 2020
    • No one mentioned that horse was MAN-O-WAR,and that whiskey was the first barrel of JackDaniels.....

    • Eric Cranston on August 3, 2020
    • No one mentioned that the horse was MAN-O-WAR and the whiskey was the first barrel ofJack Daniels.

    • Mark on August 3, 2020
    • Enjoyable and very informative article, as usual. I am another of those who like the history lessons. However, isn’t MacBaren more a Scottish name than an English one? (Of course one could compromise and call it British.) Anyway, the name change worked on me. For years I assumed it was a Scottish company, or at least had been originally. A wonderful company in any case.

    • Andy Camire on August 3, 2020
    • Chuck thanks for another history lesson and to Per for his knowledge within the Company and blending such wonderful leaf for us. Golden Extra (Golden Blend) as it's called today has been a mainstay in my smoking since the 1960's. The quality of MacBaren has never changed and the selection of blends is wonderful and tasty. Long live MacBaren tobaccos.

    • Jim Norwood on August 3, 2020
    • Enjoyed the article. I’ve been smoking McBaren’s since 1970. While I was in Vietnam, a friend of mine from home sent me a “care package “ that included a tin of McBaren’s. A few years later in a local pipe shop, I discovered McBaren’s “Norwood”. Imagine, a name like that. I’ve not seen any tins of Norwood since. Are there any still around?

    • Jim on August 3, 2020
    • Been smoking Mac Baren tobaccos since the 1970s. Tried 'em all and seem to keep returning to Mixture Scottish Blend and Mixture Modern.

    • Frrank Bialota on August 3, 2020
    • I enjoyed Latakia and plum cake. Today it's Prince Albert. High Quality fair price. Non aromatic

    • Manuel Pintado on August 6, 2020
    • Thank you for this great article on Mac BarenI mostly use the Mixture Scottish Blend and Virginia N°1.Been waiting for some of the Planta mixtures such as the Black Vanilla.

    • Luis Vargas on August 6, 2020
    • So.. when can we expect Scaferlati Caporal in the US market?

    • Serge on September 2, 2020
    • A very interesting article, thank you!

    • Walkman on May 9, 2021
    • Great article, Chuck. I always wondered how and why a Danish tobacco company acquired a Scottish sounding name.

    • Shug PhD on March 10, 2022
    • I've been going through a lot of Daily Reader articles the past couple weeks and Chuck's articles have very quickly become my favorites. I really like your style, Mr. Stanion

    • MarkinAZ on April 14, 2024
    • Thank you for sharing this revised version of the article published on July 31, 2020. Informative and a very good read on this Sunday morning. Question: Since Planta is owned by MacBaren, will we see at some point in time the re-introduction of "Planta Full English" pipe tobacco blend in the 500g bag?

    • David St on April 14, 2024
    • Loved reading this article. History like this is like a fine historic automobile and its days of production, workers and hardships. The good thing is we can still afford tobacco better than cars and get a taste of the paste sometimes. .

    • Craig Hairrell on April 18, 2024
    • As always, a superbly researched and written article, Chuck. Perhaps you should someday consider publishing a book which consolidates your many excellent articles on tobacco history.

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