• Smokers' Haven Blends

    A couple of weeks ago, I got to do something I've been wanting to do for at least ten years now: I pulled the trigger on a little order from Smokers' Haven in Columbus, Ohio, and finally got a chance to try the majority of their storied imported blends. I've been reading about these ever since I first discovered tobaccoreviews.com, and I've been interested in trying them because they have some real historical significance here in the States.

    First, a little history of the shop from Smokers' Haven's website:

    A Brief History of Smokers' Haven:
    In June of 1940 Smokers' Haven was opened by its founder Joseph Zieve, his wife Ina, and his brother in-law Sid Ritter. Joe and Sid were pioneers in the Retail market of pipes and tobaccos, and established a real Specialty Tobacco shop. From 1940 until the late 1970's, Smokers' Haven was one of the largest and most distinguished Pipe and Tobacco shops in the world with an inventory of over 10,000 English pipes and a range of some of the best Pipe Tobacco Blends. Joe and Sid would take frequent trips to England to develop new tobacco blends and new shapes for GBD pipes so they could offer unique and quality products for their customer base which numbered over 60,000. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, the pipe market started to dwindle and many of the pipe and tobacco suppliers discontinued their products. In 1983, Joe Zieve retired and sold Smokers' Haven. The 2nd owner did not adapt to the market, and Smokers' Haven almost disappeared. In 1987, my father Arvind Chheda, purchased Smokers' Haven and rescued it from demise. Throughout the late 1980's and 1990's Cigars were the primary focus for Smokers' Haven. In 1999, I was passed the torch, and I have taken an interest in Pipes, and the methods in which Joseph Zieve serviced his customers. From 2000 to present, Smokers' Haven has re-introduced the Specialty Products it was known for, and I hope to create a similar experience for our customers that Smokers' Haven did in the past.
    Premal Chheda

    Smokers' Haven became known for a custom line of imported tobaccos which have been made for them by the esteemed J. F. Germain & Sons for at least thirty years, and they continue to make them today. There are a number of legends and anecdotes surrounding these blends, though some of this information is unattributed hearsay, so please take them as just that. Nonetheless, I've attempted to compile the source material that I can recall having read about them.

    The origin reputedly dates to founder Joseph Zieve's time as a soldier in World War II:

    First, a bit of history learned from Joe Zieve, the founder of Smokers' Haven in Columbus, Ohio, where I went to Ohio State and, with a friend from Kent State, studied more with Joe than at school. Balkan Sobranie literally was Our Best Blend at that time. During the Second World War Joe was stationed in England, where he visited Balkan Sobranie and made a deal with them to sell Balkan canned by them in London and labelled as Best, exclusively. This was an open secret at the store by the '60s, and many's the two, four or eight ounce can of Our Best Blend we opened and found inside the Balkan Sobranie rice paper or card stock insert.
    http://www.tobaccoreviews.com/blend_...=20#theReviews, Leiconnsel 01/04/2009

    Additional blends were introduced over time, each one bearing some relation to OBB in that they all contained the traditional ingredients of an English-style mixture, though they varied widely in “fullness” and flavor. At some point in the late Seventies or early Eighties, Sobranie closed up shop and sold the rights to their blends to Gallaher, and Smokers' Haven picked Germain to continue producing their own private-labeled blends (see below).

    As you probably know, Germain also produces the Esoterica line of tobacco, as well as the re-released Balkan Sobranie white label under license from Arango Cigar here in the US. There are reputed to be parallels between Esoterica's line and the original Smokers' Haven blends. For instance:

    In either 1989 or 1990, Steve Richman of The Piedmont Tobacconist came up with the idea of having J.F. Germain make a new line of blends to be called Esoterica Tobacciana. Some people have said the blends were launched to fill a vacuum after the famous Smoker's Haven blends had been discontinued and no longer made by Sobranie and later JFG, so we have this:
    Many moons ago prior to 1960, Sobranie made private label blends for Smoker's
    Haven here in Columbus. Sobranie white was Our Best Blend....Cognac was
    Sobranie white with a cognac blender...20th anniversary was White with an Ale
    Blender. And Krumble Kake was unique...essentially Sobranie White made into a
    cake then sliced. The owners of SH had a letter from Dr Redstone, the big boss
    at Sobranie Limted attesting to that. In 1980 with little or no warning
    Sobranie got out of the private label business and the owner of Smokers' Haven
    had to scramble - Dr. Redstone was mortified at his compnay's decision and
    volunteered to help find a replacement company. They came up with 2 --- Robt
    McConnell and JF Germain. Joe Zieve, the owner of Smokers'Haven for some
    reason did not like Mick McConnell and the decision was taken to let JF Germain
    have the account. Thus JF Germain began making these excellent blends.
    Sometime after 1985 the new owners of Smokers's Haven came to a parting of the
    way with Germain...I had left by then and I don't know the reason.
    Then suddenly Esoterica appears. And guess what....an Ale, a cognac, a sliced
    cake and a great English appeared on the scene.
    Our Best Blend = Margate
    Cognac = Pembroke
    20th Anniversary = ...And so to bed
    Krumble Kake = Penzance

    and according to Greg Pease:

    Mike Butera now owns the brand, but Esoterica Tobaciana was formed by Steve
    Richman, now owner of The Piedmont Tobacconist, Oakland, California, in
    The blend chosen for Penzance is nearly identical, if not exactly the same
    as the tobacco which had been made for Smoker's Haven in Columbus, Ohio
    called "Krumble Kake”...
    I feel a strong bond to the original Esoterica line. Steve has been a very
    good friend for nearly 20 years, and when he started bringing in tobaccos
    for consideration, he asked me to be one of the "official taste testers."
    Together with a few other worshipers of the leaf, we carefully selected from
    the many samples sent by Germain.

    Regardless of the origins or eventual influences, the fact remains that Joseph Zieve worked very hard to introduce English style blends to the American pipe smoking public years ago, and was very successful in doing so both from his brick and mortar store front as well as his impressive mail order business. As a confirmed aficionado of that style of tobacco, I feel a debt of gratitude to him and his shop.

    For as long as I have been aware of these fine blends, they have been virtually impossible to find. Of course, almost anything produced by Germain (short of their own line of tobacco, oddly) is on nearly perpetual backorder and flies off the shelves at lightning speed when it is in stock. I managed to score some 20th Anniversary Mixture about a year ago when a friend was in Columbus on a little day trip, but the remainder have been elusive up until recently. Exotique and IN-B-TWEEN Mixture followed a couple of months ago, and now Cognac and Select Mixtures have joined the line-up again, for a total of five of the original seven. Still absent are Our Best Blend and Krumble Kake, though Premal expects them back in stock soon, with shipments arriving from Germain on a more regular basis going forward.

    What's more is that the tobaccos are now being sold in two ounce tins, making sampling them a bit more painless than ordering them in the traditional eight ounce cans, although it would be nice to see those available again as well. I owe a great debt to Premal, by the way: my budget constrained my order to Cognac, IN-B-TWEEN and Exotique, and when we talked after I placed my order (a minor glitch with the credit card system precipitated the phone call), he mentioned that he was going to throw in a sample of 20th Anniversary for my trouble. I told him that I already had some and loved it, so he tossed in a “sample” of Select Mixture instead - a full tin, actually. He's certainly one of the good guys in the pipe and tobacco business.

    So now that you understand my fascination and excitement at the prospect of tasting these legendary tobaccos, I will begin reviewing them in installments over the next couple of weeks. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that every last one of them has been worth my wait, and all come highly recommended by me. Although there are similarities in the blends, each of them has it's own special character that makes it worth at least trying, both on their own merits and for historical interest, and perhaps adding to your rotation. Personally, I could fill my cellar with the lot of them and not be left wanting for much of anything else, nor become bored. Far from the average “house blends” common to many tobacconists, these are world class tobaccos brought to this country in a labor of love by a true connoisseur of the style.
    This article was originally published in blog: Smokers' Haven Blends started by HCraven
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Markw4mms's Avatar
      Markw4mms -
      Great article Herb... looking forward to your reviews of these blends.
    1. Peter Piper's Avatar
      Peter Piper -
      Yep, looks like a good bit of themed smoking here, all in the name of research, of course!
    1. Hawky464's Avatar
      Hawky464 -
      Wow! I can't believe I've never seen this part of the website (only the forum is available through Tapatalk). I know I'm a little late to the party but I really enjoyed this article, good job Herb! I've now tried everyone of the original 7 except the Krumble Kake and they are all delightful, Exotique and Cognac Mixture being my favorite.

      I hope to see more articles like this in the future!
    1. lestrout's Avatar
      lestrout -
      Holy Smokes! (SWIDT?)

      This is a hidden gem. Never seen this cubby.