esoterica stonehaven | Dutch Pipe Smoker (2022)

Martin

Some years ago I did an interview with stone-cutter extraordinaire Martin Romijn, who makes pipe-accessories out of stone. Throughout the years we kept in touch and saw each other at meetings. It was at the end of 2016, beginning of 2017 that I learned that he also was making pipes. This piqued my interest because I know that Martin has a feeling and eye for lines and shapes. Something one can not learn. With his first pipes I had to laugh a bit, he treated the wood like stone but his style was undeniably unique. A bit further along the way his talent really began to show and his pipes became more refined. Always trying to show off the beautiful patterns of the briar just like he did with the fossils in the stone. Now I consider him one of the best if not the best pipe-maker in The Netherlands.

(Video) REVIEW | Esoterica Tobacciana "Stonehaven"

Martin’s workspace

So last month I paid him a visit. Martin still lives in the city of Leerdam and behind his house he has a shed where the magic happens. I have been at the work places of several pipe makers and where some are pure unadulterated chaos Martin absolutely has one of the tidiest. Everything is neatly and orderly arranged and the machinery looks reasonably clean. Talking about equipment, Martin has a wood turning lathe in stead of a metal turning one. It was a gift from his parents when they saw his pipe-making talent. Besides that he thinks he has more freedom shaping pipes on it. Also he has a sanding disc and a slack belt sander, which he took over from another pipe-maker (Vandaahl) who had stopped. Further you can find in his workplace a bandsaw, dremel, some hand work tools (files etc.) and a polishing machine. Last but not least on one of the shelves stands a laptop that powers a loudspeaker which blurts out non-stop music of the great Johnny Cash, one of Martin’s heroes.

When I asked how and where he did learn to carve and shape briar wood he answered that he is mainly a self taught pipe-maker. In previous years he refurbished quite a lot of estate pipes. Also because of his stonecutting day-job (and all the tampers, ash-trays, stands etc. he made) Martin has 25 years experience of shaping and modelling. At one point he started experimenting with some briar blocks and when it turned out he did pretty well it became more serious. Nowadays Martin uses briar from Italy and in the future he wants to try his hand at olive wood. His mouthpieces are made from ebonite and acryl and some have the craziest colours and patterns. But Martin makes sure that visually the stem goes together with the bowl.

(Video) FIRST IMPRESSIONS | Esoterica Tobacciana "Stonehaven"

Twisted Pickaxe

Martin has a pretty unique way of making pipes. Other pipe-makers decide what shape they want to make and begin. If a sandpit surfaces, well too bad, next one! But not Martin, this is what he has to say about his method: “I start with watching, studying, “reading” the briar. Every block has its own story. How does the grain go, what can you expect when you cut it in a certain angle etc. It can be that I have had the briar piece in my hands dozens of times before I know which pipe it hides. And even then, sometimes the wood has its own plan. When I come across a sandpit or another irregularity I have to adjust my plan to fit the briar. In such a case I always say that the briar speaks to me and that I should listen. This way you often get the most surprising and beautiful results.”I have to agree with Martin. All his pipes are showcases for the stunning grains they possess. Because of this he does not make shapes on request. It would be a waste of a piece of briar to make a pipe out of it which does not agree with the grain. When asked what is the most favourite pipe he ever made Martin hesitates. “That is a tricky one.. They are all my favourite. The process of making a pipe takes up lots of hours of hard labour. When you work that long on a piece you get attached to it. It is your design, your creation, born from your creative thoughts and moulded by your hands into something tangible. But if I really have to pick one it would be the Twisted Pickaxe. Recently made, beautiful organic shapes, stunning grain, a pickaxe but with a twist. My twist.”

Martin, when did you start smoking pipes? “30 years ago I began smoking pipes. My first one was a Tattoo pipe, made by Dutch pipe maker Gubbels/Big Ben. I saw it at someone and decided to also give it a try. I liked it and soon I bought a regular pipe to go with it, and another one, and another.. Well, you know how it goes.. Of course then also began the search for the finest tobaccos. A journey which never ends but which I enjoy to the max.” Ok, so what is your favourite tobacco? “Ehrrr… Can I name two? Esoterica Stonehaven and GL Pease Embarcadero. Oh! And Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader and hmmm.. Damn, there are so many delicious blends, hard to pick out one.”

What are your favourite pipes and why? “My collection is rather large, about 75 pipes. They all have something special, that can be their smoking qualities but also some have their own story that makes them special. I especially like to smoke Winslow pipes. Good smokers, nicely shaped, good open draw and handmade by a pipe-maker I admire very much. In 2018 I got to meet Poul Winslow himself at his home and saw how he worked in his workplace. Very special and informative! What an experience, I watched with growing admiration how he creates a stunning pipe with breakneck speed. Since then I like these wonderful pipes even more.”

Do you have any famous last words for the readers? “I hope to make pipes for many, many years. I hope my creations will find their way to the people who love them. That they will find owners who will experience delightful moments of relaxation and pleasure thanks to good tobacco and a pipe I worked on with love and dedication.” With that our conversation was over for the time being. Martin began working on one of his new creations while I sat back sipping a good whisky, smoking a pipe, listening to the soul-wrenching voice of Mr. Cash and watching the magic hands do their job on the immortal briar.

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At the latest Heukelum meeting I talked to fellow PRF-member Franz. Besides a fondness for old English made pipes (except Dunhill) he also very much likes the tobaccos made by the well known J.F. Germain & Son company from the British Channel Islands. Throughout the time I know Franz I was able to smoke quite a few Germain-made samples provided by him. Now he also did not disappoint me because from England he had ordered a vast amount of Germain Rich Dark Flake! I always wanted to try that one because according to a lot of stories it is similar to the famous Esoterica Tobacciana Stonehaven. I asked Franz if I could fill up a decent sized sample bag so I could compare it to Stonehaven at home. With a smile he said: go ahead!

Background information:
Rich Dark Flake: Unfortunately I have very little background information about Rich Dark Flake. It is only available in the UK and is sold solely in bulk and not in tins. According to Mr Germain some of their blends maintained their recipe for 60 years. If that is the case with Rich Dark Flake, nooo idea.. I would love to hear from some elderly English pipe-smokers how long they are buying the blend.
Stonehaven: The origins of Esoterica Stonehaven are easier to trace. The range of Esoterica tobaccos was founded by Steve Richman, the owner of the Piedmont Tobacconist in Oakland, somewhere halfway the 1980’s. He was looking for someone who could produce his blends. J.F. Germain & Son heard about his interest and made contact through the British embassy. They must have been what Steve Richman was looking for because they started doing business together immediately. For the evaluation of the created blends Steve Richman founded a panel in which GL Pease also took place. Stonehaven is the only blend in the Esoterica range which includes Burley.

Package/tin description:
Rich Dark Flake:
“A great medium to strong dark flake made using a combination of Virginia and Burley tobaccos. Very similar to the popular Germains Stonehaven blend.” Rich Dark Flake comes in standard plastic pouches of a variety of gram weights with a lot of health warnings and in the same gold-coloured sealed bag as Stonehaven. It is always hit or miss if it comes all broken up or in thin juicy flakes.
Stonehaven: “A marriage of air-cured leaf and Burley with selected dark Virginia. Hard pressed and aged to produce brown flakes with dark undertones. A traditional English flake favoured by experienced pipe smokers.” Stonehaven comes in a gold-coloured sealed bag of 8 ounce with on it a simple but elegant label. As far as I know it never was available in tins.

Contents/cut:
Rich Dark Flake:
Burley and Virginia. The flake looks dark, long and thin but just not as thin as Stonehaven. On the picture the flake looks a bit broken up but this comes or from the journey to Franz, him dividing it in smaller portions and finally me putting it in a sample bag, or it was a batch which was a bit broken up.
Stonehaven: The same as Rich Dark Flake: Burley and Virginia. Apart from the slightly thinner cut both flakes look the same. According to Mr Germain Stonehaven is made with 22 cuts an inch. To me this is the thinnest flake I know of.

esoterica stonehaven | Dutch Pipe Smoker (12)Smell from the pouch/bag:
Rich Dark Flake: When I hold the tobacco under my nose I smell milk chocolate, liquorice, treacle, leather, hay, raisins and some “earthiness”.
Stonehaven: Upon opening the mason jar in which I keep the tobacco I am greeted by a whiff of dark chocolate and some kind of liquor (cognac?) which reminds me of certain Belgian bonbons. Close to my sniffing organ the chocolate still dominates with a faint odour of hay and treacle. Obviously Stonehaven has a “darker” smell than Rich Dark Flake.

(Video) Pipe Tobacco Shootout: Esoterica Stonehaven vs J.F. Germain Rich Dark Flake!

esoterica stonehaven | Dutch Pipe Smoker (13)Taste:
Rich Dark Flake: Already after the first few puffs you know you are on to something good. It has an “ancient”, traditional typical tobacco flavour to which only British manufacturers hold the secret. The first part of the bowl is utterly delicious and the creamy, rich flavours I encounter remind me of the typical Dutch “kerststol“: yeast, butter, (brown) sugar and almond. I did even taste some hints of dried fruit (plum?) and raisins. In the second part of the bowl the burley rears its head, the flavours deepen and the tobacco becomes more “manly”. A certain leathery earthiness develops and the sweetness sometimes gives way a bit to a pleasant bitterness. The flakes harmoniously burn down to a fine grey ash with no gooey stuff left behind.
Stonehaven: Dark chocolate hits my taste buds upon lighting and with the first couple of puffs. Pretty fast a dark sugary flavour comes in which diminishes the chocolate tones. There is not as much going on as with Rich Dark Flake in my opinion but the overall taste is excellent and harmonious. Here also a rich and creamy smoke but with a darker edge. Halfway the bowl you can really notice the burley (kept in check with a dark treacle sweetness) and the smoke becomes even deeper, fuller, with hints of nuttiness. Stonehaven clearly has a higher amount of burley than Rich Dark Flake. I detected nothing in the smoke itself of the liquor I smelled before on the bare flakes. Stonehaven also burns down to a fine grey ash.

Both tobaccos and the pipe I smoked them in: a Rattray’s Old Perth

Miscellaneous:
Rich Dark Flake / Stonehaven: I don’t know how they do it but I seldom have tongue-bite with British made tobaccos. Rich Dark Flake and Stonehaven are no exceptions, even though they contain burley which has a tendency to cause pain on my tongue. They both smoke deliciously cool. Because of the thinner flakes the combustibility is good although they benefit from a bit of drying time. Nicotine-wise Stonehaven packs a bit more punch in my opinion and it is advisable to smoke both tobaccos after a good meal.

esoterica stonehaven | Dutch Pipe Smoker (15)Room-note:
Rich Dark Flake / Stonehaven: Both tobaccos I could actually smoke in the vicinity of my girlfriend Ellen. Not that she liked the odour of the smoke but it was bearable. Especially with Stonehaven I detected a faint cigarette like smell in the morning when I came downstairs but nothing too bad.

esoterica stonehaven | Dutch Pipe Smoker (16)Price:
Rich Dark Flake: At MySmokingShop you pay £11.65 (± $18.24 /± €14.62) for a 50 gr. pouch and it seems the stuff is readily available. But beware, the shop does not ship to the USA..
Stonehaven: At 4noggins you pay $29.95 (± €24,-) for an 8 ounce bag. IF you can get it. Like so many offerings from Germain Stonehaven sells out almost the minute it hits the shop.. Oh, you can often get it on ebay but then an 8 ounce bag will set you back at over $ 100..

Conclusion:
In my opinion Rich Dark Flake and Stonehaven are not the same. Like Mr Germain said, they are similar. But not too similar. In Rich Dark Flake Virginia is the main component and in Stonehaven burley plays the leading role. For me in Rich Dark Flake there is more going on, more flavours, more sophistication. One of the few magnificent traditional British tobaccos. My mouth waters at the thought of some well-aged Rich Dark Flake.. Yummieyummieyummie! Stonehaven is more “Americanized”, an occasional treat and no all-day smoke but nonetheless superb. Very broadly speaking I think of Rich Dark Flake as milk chocolate and of Stonehaven as dark chocolate. The first I can eat all day long but the second is only tasty now and then. But then again, if you are a lover of dark chocolate… I would like to end with a thank you to Franz for making this blogpost possible!

(Video) **SUPER HYPE REVIEW Esoterica Stonehaven Pipe Tobacco

(Video) Esoterica Stonehaven Review

Videos

1. Esoterica Tobacciana "Stonehaven" Review (HAPPY IPSD!)
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3. Smoking Esoterica Stonehaven
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4. Esoterica Stonehaven - Aged vs. Fresh
(Derek Tant)
5. Esoterica Tobaccos / Smoke Rings
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6. Esoterica Stonehaven vs Germain's Rich Dark Flake
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