Penzance. What can you say about a tobacco so magical and elusive that it has entire fansites about it? It has the fanbase of a fictional anime or some kind of bizarre film. There are people who spend hours a day putting their names on lists and making documents and spreadsheets and getting credit card information ready just so they can get a single bag of the mighty Penzance. What is this all about?
Esoterica Penzance, Balkan Sobranie, Samuel Gawith and Germain’s Brown Flake are but a few of the mystical tobaccos which eluded me for years, always lurking just out of reach. I would hear people praise them in forums or at my local smoking parlor and get angry because I wanted to be a part of the discussion.
I am hiking the bright Kentucky hinterlands, walking with camera in hand, pipe in my teeth and dogs at my side as the cold dew clings to the cuffs of my jeans and the smell of thick forests sweep past my olfactory senses. There is a blank slate in the clarity of winter air that allows the coppice space to make magic.
The autumn night wind crawls over the rolling hills of the Kentucky landscape in the background. It slips it’s sinewy, leaf-stained fingers through the crack in the window and comes to meet my hands, which are warmed by a crackling match.
My lids feel heavy, and the sulfur dissipates as the starry breeze dances around me, down to my bare ankles where it settles and nibbles at my senses.
I hold the flame to the full bowl and puff short and even for the char as my eyes drift to the full-dark sky past the pane. I move the match in small circles.
J.F. Germain & Son’s Medium Flake is a tobacco you’ve likely seen around, but I’m often surprised at how few people I’ve met have tried it.
Upon opening the tin, I’m greeted with a beautiful presentation. A nice stack of shuffled yellow-brown flakes, slightly moist to the touch. I set a bowl-full aside to dry for an hour.
The tin note is sweet and citrusy with a hint of scattered hay, sliced oranges, and lemons. A light note of dried tea leaf meanders in and out as well. My mouth begins to water at the beautiful aroma.