This year the Dutch/Belgium Pipe Smokers Forum exists 5 years. Because of that last year the idea arose for some special forum tobaccos to celebrate the jubilee. Of course I had to open my big mouth and I became responsible for the creation of those tobaccos and the artwork. Why? Because it is a dream of me to see a blend which is created by myself is made available for others.
So how do you accomplish this? In comes Rudi. Rudi is the retired owner of a big pipes and tobacco shop in Middelburg. Now for fun he runs a website on which you can order what he once sold in his shop: tobaccoshop.nl. Because of his past Rudi has a vast knowledge about the world of tobacco and he still has the connections. He also has a passion for pipe smoking. That way he was willing to take the financial risk for the forum tobaccos. Of course Rudi would get a little percentage of every sold tin. My work would be for free, a labour of love. I don’t care so much for money.
After a meeting with some other forum members we came to a few conclusions:
– 30 kilo of tobacco had to be made by a foreign pipe-tobacco manufacturer. Here in The Netherlands there are none left.. Belgium also has none so the obvious choice was Germany. DTM to be precise. Well known for their aromatic tobaccos like Sweet Vanilla Honeydew and their American History Mixtures. Why them? Because they were flexible enough to produce such a small batch of tobacco and invest some time in the creation of the recipes together with me.
– That 30 kilo of tobacco was to be divided into 3 blends: an aromatic, a Virginia based one and a latakia mixture.
– Together with DTM I would create the recipes and first samples. Then I would smoke those and report my findings so the recipes could be altered. After the second round a panel of smokers from our forum would test the tobaccos and report their findings to me so the final versions could be made. The ready tins would get labelled with my artwork (that I already had partly finished) and tax-seals would be placed before shipping to Rudi who would sell them to the forum members.
At the end of June last year my good friend Ed (forum nickname St Patrick) and myself drove off to the German town of Lauenburg. We would stay there for 2 days and visit the DTM factory which is located just outside the town near the river Elbe. Soon after arrival we were greeted by master-blender Andreas Mund. Managing Director Dr. Heiko Behrens was not there so he took it upon himself to give us a guided tour. Every corner of every room was shown to us, no secrecy. We were allowed to touch everything, ask everything and smell everything and we did just that. An amazing experience!
After the tour Andreas excused himself. He was busy and would discuss the forum tobaccos the next day when Dr. Heiko Behrens was also there. So Ed and I walked around the wonderful DTM shop (with an old interior from 1920) where you can sample and buy all of their tobaccos and more. The main salesman in the shop is Michael Apitz which some of you may know, he created the famous Sweet Vanilla Honeydew mixture. Besides a very, very nice man Michael is also a walking pipes and tobacco encyclopaedia. I learned a lot from him regarding the creation of aromatics.
The next day we met the very friendly Dr. Heiko Behrens (“please call me Heiko, everyone does”). Together with Andreas we spoke about the forum tobaccos. “Why don’t you take some of our excellent tobaccos and re-label them?” said Heiko. I explained him my dream of a self made mixture which he understood. In the end I was given permission to make 3 mixtures together with Andreas! I told him what I wanted and he immediately went to his lab to prepare some samples. Just before Ed and I went home we got samples of two of the forum tobaccos (the latakia mixture and the aromatic). The third one was a flake and it takes a while to make that.
In the next two months I smoked the two samples and wrote down what I liked and did not like about them. At the beginning of September I phoned Andreas, told him my findings and also mailed them. Then it became very quiet.. I e-mailed Andreas a couple of times, phoned but no reaction. I had no idea what to do. Be more persistent in contacting him? Get angry? Just wait? I was dependent on the guy so I really did not want to piss him off. It was not until the beginning of December that I got an e-mail from the other Director, Maria Sousa. She said that they no longer wished to cooperate in the making of the forum tobaccos in the format that I wanted. I could use existing tobaccos of them and maybe perhaps change them a little bit.. I still don’t know what made them change their minds.. So I contacted Rudi and asked him what to do. Pull the plug with DTM he said. We go look further.
After some discussions we decided to ask if another German pipe-tobacco manufacturer was interested: Kohlhase & Kopp. Famous for making the European version of Ashton tobaccos, Peterson, Rattray’s, Solani and McConnell. In the mean time I asked master-blender Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco if he was willing to help. Hans has a vast knowledge about the creation of new tobaccos and has good connections with Kohlhase & Kopp. But a talented man like him has to be paid (which made the forum tobaccos more expensive) and I could sense he was not really enthusiastic to participate in the whole process. However, if I had any questions whatsoever I could always knock on his door. Things were also not going smooth with Kohlhase & Kopp. They only worked with existing tobacco importers. So Rudi asked if Dutch importer Pronk was willing to import the forum tobaccos, put a Dutch tax seal on them and send them through to him. And they were willing. Downside of this all were the extra costs. Kohlhase & Kopp manufactures excellent but pricey tobaccos. Pronk also wanted their share for putting on the Dutch tax seals. In the end it all bounced off on the fairly small amount of tobacco we wanted, only 30 kilo. Such manufacturers are used to quantities like hundreds or thousands kilos. Besides I think the extra work with me (the creation of the recipes) also scared them off.
At the Heukelum meeting Rudi and I spoke to each other once again. Rudi has good connections with yet another German pipe-tobacco manufacturer: Planta. Well known for their Black Vanilla and Presbyterian Mixture. Rudi phoned them and said I could send a mail. Which I did at the beginning of March this year. Now we are halfway April and I still have not heard anything from them.. To be honest I think it is the same as with Kohlhase & Kopp: the low tobacco quantity and the extra work for the creation of the recipes scared them off.
Now Rudi has mailed Samuel Gawith twice to no avail. Also through a friend I am waiting to hear if J.F. Germain has any interest. But to be perfectly honest I have lost my faith.. The quantities are too small and no tobacco manufacturer wants to have extra work with the creation of the recipes in these times of economical crisis. Maybe I was naive to think that those companies would easily cooperate. It is all about money, money and money. I understand that, companies have to make a living, but still… Where has the passion for tobacco gone? Must it all be strictly business? I guess so.. Dreaming is no longer allowed.
The only thing I can do now is to go to Hajenius in Amsterdam who have recently built a My Own Blend bar. There I can design a mixture, or several mixtures and let those be written down so other forum members can buy them. Better than nothing I guess..
Surprisingly enough the quest for forum tobaccos continues in part 2.