Sunny Semois

Semois tobacco field

Semois tobacco field

My neighbour-country to the south, Belgium, has it all: haut de cuisine, excellent beers, stunning nature, beautiful women and wonderful tobacco. Especially in the Semois tobacco you can almost taste the rich Belgian heritage of living the Burgundian lifestyle.

First some history about Belgium tobacco in general. There are/were 3 major regions where tobacco was cultivated:
Wervik in the province of West Flanders
Appelterre (Ninove) in the province of East Flanders
Semois in the province of Namen

672_001Wervik: The city archives show that already in 1650 in Wervik tobacco was grown. The southern part of Wervik (Wervicq-Sud) was permanently transferred to France by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). Soon the border town became known as a paradise for the so called “toubackblauwers” and developed an intensive and particularly lucrative smuggling business to France. Thanks to the sandy loam soil, the many generations of experience on cultivation technique and the successive tobacco institutions having their seat in Wervik, it became the main growing region in Belgium in the 20th century. For more info visit the National Tobacco Museum in Wervik.

071_001Appelterre: Already around the Napoleonic age this small village was well known for its tobacco cultivation. Not so strange because in 1811 192.000 tobacco plants were counted. Characteristic of the Appelterre tobacco cultivation is the fact that it rarely was a full occupation. For most farmers it usually was a lucrative additional income.

808_002Semois: Since the 16th century tobacco is grown in the valley of the river Semois (hence the name). But only for limited personal use. It was not until 1847 that Semois tobacco really took off because of a young teacher from the town of Alle-sur-Semois: Joseph Pierret. His idea was to introduce more intense tobacco cultivation along the sunny valley. Gradually the landscape from Bohan (French border) to Poupehan changed its appearance and besides the gentle wooded hills lots of tobacco fields were visible. In 1895 about 85 ha. was cultivated. Fifteen years later nine million plants were grown on 400 ha. A success!

Unfortunately WO II, the import of American cigarettes and tobacco, mildew and finally the ever growing taxes on the production almost caused the end of Belgium tobacco cultivation. Wervik just had some 40 ha. left of tobacco fields in 2009. In Appelterre there only is one manufacturer left: Torrekens Tobacco. The few farmers in the Semois region can only survive hobby-wise because of tourism. And that is just how I got to know Semois tobacco.

The Dutch/Belgium pipe-smoker group in the museum of Vincent Manil

The Dutch/Belgium pipe-smoker group in the museum of Vincent Manil

In the spring of 2011 a delegation of the Dutch (and Belgium) pipe smokers forum (including me) made its way to the small town of Corbion (where some tobacco manufacturers are located) in the Semois region. For quite some time Jan (from the Wuustwezel meeting) enthusiastically was talking about Semois tobacco on the forum. So people got curious about this Belgium weed and Jan decided to organize a meeting. As a child he spend many holidays in the Semois region so he knew his way around there.

Viewpoint at Rochehaut

Viewpoint at Rochehaut

I had never been in the south of Belgium and I was flabbergasted about the beautiful nature. An instant holiday-feeling. Shaun (forum nickname Nekker) was riding along with me and he said that if Flanders (were he lives) had such nature he never had to go on a vacation. On small curvy roads along the wooded hills we slowly rode through the Semois region.

Vincent Manil

Vincent Manil

In Corbion we stopped at the house/museum/factory of the most well known Semois producer: Vincent Manil. Not that there are so many Semois producers today. In 1995 there were only 9 and now there are 4 left: Of course Vincent Manil, Jean-Paul Couvert, Joseph Martin and C. Didot. Vincent Manil is a very friendly man who bought the small factory from his cousin, Albert Conniasselle, in 1988. Albert (then age 78) and his wife had been making Semois tobacco for decades on centuries old machinery that still work to this day. Vincent became an apprentice of Albert and the old man learned him all the ropes. Today Vincent still manufactures Semois tobacco and runs a small but very nice museum which we visited.

50 gr. of pure Semois tobacco

50 gr. of pure Semois tobacco

Semois tobacco originates from an old burley seed. Because of the unique soil and a peculiar microclimate it became what it is today. Making it is pretty simple. You plant it, let it grow, harvest it, dry it (air-cure), humidify it again, cut it, toast it (heat-cure), get the moisture level right (rather too dry than too wet) and wrap it. The end result is a nut-brown, dry and broad cut tobacco. Manil and other manufacturers in the region offer it in packages of 100, 250 and 500 gr. They look like a gold coloured paper brick with a simple and antique looking label except for the C. Didot offerings which are wrapped in a sturdy brown paper.

Vincent Manil working

Vincent Manil working

When you open such a “brick” you notice a kind of fresh, organic and grassy smell. Some types of Semois also have something of a light anise, aniseed aroma and others (like the Langue de Chien variety made by Joseph Martin and Didot) are bit less robust and sweeter. The tobacco is pretty dry (it is supposed to be) so when you put in your pipe, press hard. Talking about a pipe, I favour a corncob when smoking Semois. In my honest opinion the light corn-taste of the cob goes well together with the taste of the Belgium tobacco. Also be sure to dedicate a pipe to the Semois because it has a strong tendency to leave a ghost behind. Upon lighting your pipe the tobacco smokes very mild on the tongue. After just a few sips the full aroma of the Semois comes forth. It has some kind of cigar-like taste, all very natural. As far as nicotine goes it is in the medium to full range so you have to be careful.

Bouchon de Semois

Bouchon de Semois

Every bouchon is 100% hand-made

Every bouchon is 100% hand-made

Regular Semois tobacco is not the only product Vincent Manil makes. His speciality is the so called “Bouchon de Semois”. A short and stumpy kind of cigar that you can put into your pipe and smoke.

Here are some pictures about how to smoke such a bouchon:

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ensemble-tabacSome of the most well-known Semois tobaccos are:
– C. Didot: Langue de Chien
– Jean-Paul Couvert: Vallée du Mont d’Or – Semois Superieur, Tabac Maison Leclercq Semois
– Joseph Martin: Langue de Chien
Vincent Manil: Val Ardennais – Semois Grosse Coupe (be sure to get the Grosse Coupe, it has the broadest cut)

The shop of J.P. Couvert then and now

The shop of J.P. Couvert then and now (with me in front of it)

Semois can be bought all around Belgium in tobacco stores like Jerry’s Cigar Bar in the beautiful city of Brugge. Also be sure to check out local markets, often a vendor that sells tobacco is present. With some luck he has the real Semois..When you are living outside of Belgium you can order through the internet. Vincent Manil, J.P. Couvert and Joseph Martin have a website with ordering info. But be aware, they only speak English a little bit..

There are also a few other sites that sell Semois tobacco:
JPP Cigares (sells both Manil and Martin Semois and ship abroad)
Au Plaisir de Vivre (they also sell the Bouchons de Semois)
La Tete d’Or
Le Roi du Cigare (see Les Tabac à pipe)

Semois tobacco field illustration

Semois tobacco field illustration

Here are some links to Semois related videos (beware, most of it is spoken in French):
Tabac de la Semois – Vincent Manil
Il reste 3 producteurs de tabac dans la région de la Semois
Le tabac de la Semois
Tabac de la Semois 1° partie
Tabac de la Semois 2° partie
Vincent Manil, producteur de tabac semois

A link to a interview (in French, use Google translate) in which Vincent Manil admits that due to combustibility his Semois offerings contain 85% real Semois and 15% other tobaccos.
Audience chez le pape du Semois

And here is a link to an excellent article (written in English!) about Semois:
Tobacco That’s So Brooklyn but Made in Belgium

So if you ever are in Belgium, be sure to visit the beautiful Semois region, buy some Semois tobacco, put it in your pipe and smoke it while enjoying an excellent Belgian beer and some haut de cuisine. I’m sure I did!

Also see my blogpost “Semois expedition 2014“.

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EDIT 14-04-2013: forummembers Salabreuil and Rhodog pointed out to me that no real Semois is used in the production of Semois from Didolux, Flandria and Windels. On Didolux (Didot) I have to disagree with him, that is the real deal for sure. So I removed Flandria and Windels from my list. Further Salabreuil had some informative, interesting and useful tips:

The article in NYT is a great article, and it is great writing. Being French and pipe smoker (something very rare in my country now), it is great to read about Semois from a famous American blender. However, I don’t agree with only one of your sentence, and all the Semois smokers I know would neither, and they would even been offended by it : “It does not pretend at finesse or sophistication”.
You may have been misled by the typical smell of “terroir”, this mixture of leaves, undergrowth, mushrooms, earth after rain. Maybe you do not have a complete and thorough experience of Semois or, more likely, this sentence was written too fast. Despite its rustic appearance, the tobacco Semois is one of the more complex and less monolithic tobacco that exists: it is like a great wine. Its evolution is constant during smoking. Tastes of fruits, woods, licorice, toast, brioche, caramel can appear.
I will not pretend to be a great expert of Semois, but when I discovered it, it was not so long ago, it was a revelation. And I had the chance of being advised by pipe smokers far more experienced than me. As many here seem to be interested by the Semois, I would like to draw your attention to a few points.

1) The article focuses on Manil Vincent and La Brumeuse. Vincent Manil is one of the three producers of Semois. The two others deserve to be named : they are Jean-Paul Couvert and Joseph Martin. They are no better or worse: they are all different, and connoisseurs appreciate the characteristics and huge qualities of each.

2) Beware : the Semois is not an AOC. Any tobacco may take the name of Semois – and a lot do. It was never protected by law. So be careful: if these tobaccos are not signed by one of these three producers, this is not Semois.

3) I would also not advise to discover the Semois with “La Brumeuse”: this is one of the strongest. “La Réserve du Patron” from Vincent Manil, “Lux No. 3″ from Joseph Martin or “Cordemoy” from Jean-Paul Covert are more indicated for beginners, and all of them are highly-acclaimed tobaccos. The “Cordemoy” is a delicious, fruity – and the end of the bowl, with flavors of brioche, is a pure delight. You cannot go wrong with that one. Of course this is all without additives.

4) It is important not to keep Semois with humidifier : being 100% natural, molds can arrive quickly. You should know that the Semois must be smoked dry. As it is smoked dry, it burns much faster than usual mixtures. It also heats much, but the risk of burning a pipe is minimal because the embers down quickly.

5) The Semois is the perfect tobacco to break in a pipe, whatever the tobacco you will choose for your pipe after this. Semois prepares remarkably new pipes and authorizes any tobacco after.

6) Semois should be smoked veeeery slowly – but isn’t it true for every tobacco ?

7) You can also try some mix with Semois – specially the Brumeuse which is quite strong. A friend advised me to try adding a few pinches of Latakia : great result…

All of this, I did not invent : these are tips that are given by other and more experienced pipe smokers, and believe me, I do not regret to follow them. I hope this will be the same for you.

EDIT 06-12-2013: Confidential sources exclusive to tell that the fabled Semois tobacco, made by Vincent Manil in Belgium, will be imported into the United States and be available for purchase in January 2014.

It is told that Mr. Manil is finalizing the Customs and Border Patrol approved English labels for export to the U.S. and that by the end of January the product will be shipping out to customers from the domestic importer.

Here are the details so far:
1. The release of Semois in the U.S. is confirmed to be taking place in the month of January.
2. The initial release will include solely La Brumeuse (thick cut) pipe tobacco, but plans are to introduce new products over the coming months.
3. The product will be available through only one online retailer… (this is due to the next detail…)
4. Since Semois is a hand-roasted artisanal tobacco, the supply is very limited. Vincent can only produce a certain amount each month for the U.S. (This is not much different than the situation with J.F. Germain & Sons.)
5. It will be available in 100g and 250g packages. does not currently have the identity of the importer / retailer, and will update the readers as soon as the information is confirmed.

The Pipe Guys having dinner with Vincent and his family (December 26, 2013) in Manhattan, (New York, NY, U.S.) ©

The Pipe Guys having dinner with Vincent and his family (December 26, 2013) in New York ©

EDIT 28-12-2013: According to Vincent Manil’s Semois tobacco will be available in the U.S. exclusively from on, or about January 15, 2014.

EDIT 07-06-2014: Kevin Godbee from just received exclusive news that Semois Tobacco will be available from & next week, sometime between June 9th – 13th.

You may recall that this extremely unique tobacco had not been available in the USA at all until last year when obtained exclusive rights to its retail distribution.

The owners of, Jon Guirguis and Philip Assad, have formed a new company for wholesale distribution. The new company is named Brunswick Distribution Group.

(Incidentally, the name is inspired by the town of New Brunswick, where Jon attended Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, which also incidentally, is the area where I grew up, specifically, North Brunswick, NJ.)

Brunswick Distribution will be focusing on boutique products and exclusive items with the mission of being a curator of unique items in the pipe world.

Look for further announcements directly from and in the coming days.

EDIT 21-09-2014: I just saw that Vincent Manil’s Semois tobacco is also available at 4noggins.

0 thoughts on “Sunny Semois

  1. I was curious if you ever considered changing the structure of your website?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.

    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or
    2 pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

    • Hello Oscar! Well.. Ehrr… I try to make the blog as readable as possible. Only, with “Sunny Semois” there is soooo much info. When I usually have that I divide a post into 2 parts. Only with this one I did not do that.. Besides, I only have this blog for 2,5 month now, I am still learning the “blog make” ropes 😉

  2. Howdy Arno, thanks for this post. I’ve tried to communicate with both Manil and Couvert to place an order with them, but no response. Has anyone from the States had success placing an order with either of them? Looking for helpful advice. Thanks!

    • Hello Arturo, thank you for reading the post! Did you communicate in English with Manil and Couvert? I know that their English is shaky at best.. I did not hear an American having success at ordering. Last thing I heard was that Manil was trying to set up postage to the States and that he was flabbergasted at the amount of orders he received. Also, it is the holiday season. It could well be that Manil or Couvert are away or are taking things more slowly..

      • I speak a bit of French and that’s how I emailed JPC. I emailed Vincent in English first. I hadn’t thought of holidays, thanks for pointing that out. I’ll give it a bit more time…but I’m desperate… 😉

  3. i heard from JP Counvert today. He said there are too many customs formalities to ship to the U.S. Still waiting to hear from Vincent.

    As blog administrator, are you able to see my email address? If so, feel free to use it. 😉

    • Damn.. That sucks.. I am curious what Vincent Manil answers. I don’t know the exact rules for the shipping of tobacco to the USA. All I did was sent samples and then I wrote something like “hobby supplies” on the customs form.
      No, I can’t see your e-mail address. I can see it only if you contact me through my “contact” form.

  4. Howdy Arno, a quick update:

    Vincent Manil sent an email to a bunch of people in the States in early August saying he was in the process of partnering with an American firm to sell in the U.S. Not sure where that stands at the moment.

    I had the pleasure of trying Couvert’s Cordemoy today, thanks to the efforts of a good Dutchman. 😉 Wow…a really unique tobacco. Lots of anise, licorice, elderflower, violet, alternating with peppermint, spearmint, clove, and I did catch that toasted brioche a few puffs before the end of the bowl. Sort of like an herb garden for your pipe? Best metaphor I could think of.

    It is a dry tobacco, so best not to rush it, and I can see how it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But man, I really enjoyed it. Very happy to have it on my shelf.

    • Hello Art,

      he did not let know anything after that?? I think he is losing momentum. If the import of his Semois ever happens in the USA a lot of people will have lost interest..

      Ah, Paul send you some 😛 A friendly guy by the way, Couvert, I once met him in Corbion. His Semois is a bit softer than the Manil one. Perhaps next spring I will go to Corbion once more and replenish my stock. Did you already try the Bouchon de Semois?

      Yup, smoke sslloooooowwwlllyyy. Enjoy it!

  5. I hope not. I’m sure it will take some time to set things up. Fingers crossed.

    Haven’t tried his Bouchons yet, a buddy and I are supposed to smoke them together. Slow in a corn cob, yeah? I have a new Missouri Meerschaum ready to go!

    I smoked the Cordemoy in a small Peterson tomato, went very well. Will probably try a narrower-bowled briar next, what do you think? Or maybe an actual old Meerschaum?

    • If I were Manil I would have offered the Semois through ebay to start with. “The value is in the packaging not in the contents” Aha! 😉

      I think they will taste great in a corncob. The bouchons taste softer then the cut up Semois.

      I would say, use big bowls, not small ones. And press the dry Semois a bit tighter in the bowl while filling.

  6. Hi guys, I’m Vincent’s son. Just to let you know our tobacco will be available in the US by the end of January 😉

    Sorry we kept you waiting that long

    Robin. M

      • I was excited to get your father’s email, Robin. (Had the chance to smoke a Manil bouchon recently and it was wonderful stuff.) Here’s an excerpt for anyone who’s waiting to buy Semois in the States:

        “…now is the time to try “la Brumeuse”; it is time to take a good bowl and smoke it, thinking of how we made it, of how long it took us to make that very tobacco and to enjoy the old fashioned handmade tobacco we produce. Here is the one place you will be able to order from: The Pipe guys

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