The Inter-Tabac in Dortmund, Germany, is the leading (and biggest) trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. More than 380 exhibitors from 45 countries present themselves on an area of over 30.000 square metres! In 4 exhibition halls renowned companies from all over the world present trends and innovative tobacco products. This includes cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shop fittings, press and spirits. The average reader of this blog must now think like “Yeaahh!! I am going there next year!!” Well.. It is a fair for retailers, not for consumers. Since I belong to that last category, how did I get in?? I got lucky, I was able to secure a ticket through someone I know and who wishes to remain anonymous. Fortunately I was not the only Dutchman there, Paul, Rudi and Martin from the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum also attended the fair. The more the merrier!
In the morning of Friday September 20th I arrived at the Westfalenhallen (where the fair is held) in Dortmund after a relaxed two hour drive. Around the building people were guiding the coming cars smoothly to their parking spaces. Leave it to the Germans to organize such a big event. After a few text messages I knew Paul, Rudi and Martin also had arrived and were waiting for me at the main entrance. I already had a ticket and I chatted with the group while Rudi got their tickets. The group was even bigger than I thought, a small friendly Belgian man also named Paul (nickname Polleken) had joined the ranks. When we entered the halls I noticed that indoor smoking was allowed! It turned out that an exception had been made for the fair. Despite the severe anti-smoking laws I still could light up a pipe, such a blessing!
First we rushed off to the Scandinavian Tobacco Group stand. They represent pipe brands like Dunhill, Winslow, Stanwell, Peterson and Butz Choquin in Europe. Paul always picks out good looking high grade Winslows which he then buys through Rudi. Rudi had a tobacco-shop in Middelburg for quite some time but sold it a couple of years ago. Now he just runs an online store, tobaccoshop.nl. As soon as we entered the stand we recognized the unmistakable figure of Poul Winslow himself. Whoaaahhh!! While I stood there practically drooling Paul and Rudi warmly greeted mr. Winslow, they are year long acquaintances. Soon I got introduced to mr. Winslow and we shook hands. I must admit that I was too shy to talk to the good man.. I wanted to say I am a big fan of his pipes and wanted to thank him for fixing my Winslow Harlekin a year ago. Oh well.. Martin wasn’t shy and he offered a handout of his work to mr. Winslow (Martin makes exquisite hand crafted stone ashtrays, pipe-stands and tampers). “Very nice!” Poul Winslow murmured while looking at the handout. “You know, I got a lot of connections, maybe I can hook you up with someone!” Martin’s smile never left his face for the rest of the day. Further it was a shame to hear that mr. Winslow had a rough year health wise. He is approaching retirement age and sometimes has troubles coping with the stresses and demands of his profession.
In the same room a big part of the wall was taken by The White Spot: Dunhill. As a huge Dunhill fan I felt like a kid in a candy store. Dunhills in all shapes and sizes, with all the know finishes. When looking closer I noticed the stamping of the pipes had changed. Up to 2011 one i.a. saw the well known oval Dunhill stamp. Since 2012 that is replaced by the text “Alfred Dunhill’s The White Spot”. I know there have been discussions on online fora that the Dunhill name was eradicated from the pipes. As far as I could see, that was not the case.
After Paul picked out the Winslows he wanted we could move further. For the first time I had the time to properly look around. The halls were huge and packed with all kinds of stands. From very big ones with multiple levels to small ones with just a couple of white walls with some tables. The stand of Kohlhase & Kopp certainly belonged to the first category. Roughly one side of the stand was dedicated to pipe-tobaccos and the other to cigars. They even had some old Cuban guy making cigars at the spot. I am not a cigar-guy but it was impressive to see skilled age-old hands swiftly pack the filler-leaves and roll them into the upper leaf. The newer Kohlhase & Kopp tobaccos were all aromatics which smelled ok, but nothing special in my honest opinion. What was special were the exquisite looking tobacco-tins, collectable objects which would look good in the house of every pipe-smoker.
Another large stand was that of Planta, which also included the Designer Berlin pipes. They had a big wooden barrel standing there of which, when opened, the contents smelled very, very aromatic. It turned out it was filled with the Planta year-tobacco which was free for everyone to sample. Which we of course did. I smoked it that evening when I was back home and my first impression was that it was an “ok” mixture. Not good, not bad. On the tables stood little glass jars with other blends and while I was a bit reluctant to sample some Rudi pushed me to do just that. “That is one of the reasons we’re here!” He said grinning.
While Rudi was doing business Paul, Martin and I walked by the stand of Northern Briars. A British family concern led by third-generation pipe maker Ian Walker. As soon as he saw us he pointed with gleaming eyes to the pipes Paul and I were smoking from: Dunhill, British pipes! As it happens to be Ian Walker is going to make the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum 2014 forum pipe. He was delighted to see a small delegation of the forum and enthusiastically began to tell about the pipe. It is a prince shape (he pointed to prince I was smoking from) with pretty thick bowl-walls, we are going to get his best wood with a very nice grain, silver bands (which he makes himself, a skill taught by his grandfather) and cumberland mouthpieces. Ian is really a very, very amicable fellow and I will be delighted to smoke from a pipe made by his experienced hands. The picture you see on the left was made by one of the men from the next stand: Samuel Gawith, another British company.
Most of the stands of the well known pipe-tobacco manufacturers were large or very large. The stand of Samuel Gawith was shared with Ian Walker and consisted of just three tables. One to sit at and two with the complete tobacco and snuff range. As if saying, f*ck you, we are Samuel Gawith, we are making tobacco for centuries and we don’t need big and many adornments and decorations. I complimented the men with their company and confessed that I am a big fan of their tobaccos and that I have almost their entire pipe-tobacco range at home. I looked at the displayed tins and suddenly saw a couple I did not know. “Yeah that is our new range, it is called “Four Seasons”. One tobacco for each season of the year. All very natural.” The last few Samuel Gawith outings were pretty aromatic so I asked if I could smell the Winter Time Flake. I just say one thing, if this one comes out I will definitely buy it!! On the right you see a picture with all the new Four Seasons tobaccos. They still had to find an European distributor but more or less assumed that Kohlhase & Kopp would going to do that. Besides the Four Seasons I sniffed at the new Limited Edition 2014 mixture. Luckily pretty natural. I really think the company should stick with their more natural outings instead of trying to jump on the aromatic bandwagon. That is done enough in Europe.. I also asked if they expected to produce tobaccos for a long time to come, bearing in mind the very strict British tobacco laws and including witch-hunt. “Oh we pretty much fall under the radar of the British government. They won’t really bother us, a small and old company. They aim at big companies like Imperial Tobacco. So don’t worry, you will be able to enjoy our tobaccos for many, many years to come!”
One of the halls we walked through Paul called the “not-interesting hall”. Here were mainly stands of smoking accessories (lots of lighters), waterpipes, waterpipe tobaccos and electronic cigarettes and pipes. Especially those last items seem to be booming business. Lots of young people like it and… I really don’t know why.. Oh cool, blowing out flavoured water vapour with some nicotine.. Ehrr… Like having missionary-position sex with your longtime girlfriend or wife while she’s on the pill and you are wearing a condom plastered with semen-killing pasta and just before your climax you pull out. Just not exciting..
Talking about sex, what a lot of manufacturers still believe is that sex sells. At the entrance we were greeted by beautiful girls who were handing out brochures and samples. At quite a lot of stands luscious ladies were trying to lure you inside. While walking through the halls we saw all kinds of stunning women in all kinds of sexy outfits handing out flyers with big tempting smiles. The price for best costume went to the lady in the tight-fitting catwoman/ninja suit. No idea what it had to do with tobacco but eey, you won’t hear me complaining! Even Penthouse had a stand, complete with a woman in lingerie and a muscled Chippendale macho-man..
Back in the more interesting halls we came across the Dan Tobacco Manufacturing (DTM) stand. Since my forum-tobacco adventure last year I know a few people there. Of course year long company figurehead Heiko Behrens was the first to greet us followed by managing director Maria Sousa. Then I suddenly saw DTM master-blender Andreas Mund who guided us through the factory and with who I worked together for a short time last year. Unfortunately Andreas knows no English and my German is shaky at best. Despite that using hands and feet we had a long nice talk, it felt like seeing an old friend again. Like me Andreas is someone with a passion for tobacco and that is where we really connect. I complimented him with the superb flakes he made together with Hans Wiedemann for HU tobacco and got a heart warming smile. Also he was busy with new aromatics for HU Tobacco with new flavours. I’m very curious about that project! Business-wise I think DTM is going through a rough time. With a sad face Andreas told me that they are taking a shot in selling water-pipe tobacco.. Luckily DTM got some business from Rudi so that is why Martin and I discreetly went searching for…
… Mac Baren. And we could not find the stand.. We looked on the information monitors and got the hall and stand number. Still no sight of the famous Danish tobacco brand. Then through a kind of window I saw the Mac Baren logo. Aah, they had a stand within a stand. Lots of people were sitting and talking inside. We walked to a small counter with little jars of the whole Mac Baren pipe tobacco range. I pointed at the HH Vintage Syrian, in my honest opinion the best blend they have and Martin pointed out his favourite, HH Old Dark Fired. Behind the counter stood a middle-aged men, thankfully nodding while hearing our favourites. I also complimented him with the new Capstan, which Mac Baren now makes. And then a question popped up inside my head; the last couple of weeks I heard from several Dutch tobacconists that they could no longer order Capstan. A bit logical because the Dutch importer changed. From the Pronk company, which imports all Orlik/STG products to Van Landewijck, which imports Mac Baren. But still, the change to Mac Baren already happened at the end of last year. So I asked the friendly man why Dutch tobacconists no longer could get Capstan. With a questioning look he said that it should be available in The Netherlands and found it strange that it wasn’t. But he did not have a straight answer so asked me to come back later. Unfortunately I did not made that in time.. Back home I discovered that the friendly man I spoke to was no one other than Per Jensen, Mac Baren Product Manager and master-blender. Fortunately another forum member, Godfrey, went to the fair on Sunday. So he went to Per Jensen for me and came back with an answer. Unfortunately the fault lies not with Mac Baren, but with their Dutch importer Van Landewijck. They decide which Mac Baren-made tobaccos get imported. So the best thing we can do according to Per Jensen is moan and complain with a lot of people at Van Landewijck. But to be perfectly honest, I talked a bit with Rudi who knows much more about the Dutch tobacco trade then I do, I think that Capstan no longer will be available here.. Too small a market, too high prices.
At the end of the day Martin and I tried to score some free cigars. I don’t smoke them, but Martin does. We saw that Rudi and Polleken had sample bags with some kind of Chinese cigars so we went to look for them and came out by a huge stand called “Big Wall of China”. Yup, looks like this is the place. By the way, one of the things I noticed at the fair during the day was the large number of Eastern people. The Chinese economy is growing and apparently so is the their tobacco industry. At a desk with a couple of nice looking long filler cigars on it I talked to a Chinese guy. I kept on chatting away while taking out one of the long fillers and praised its appearance. Unfortunately the guy did not take the bait and I had to put it back.. But we did get two other cigars! Whoohoo!!
Around 5 o’clock my feet were killing me and we all decided to go home. I thanked the group, said goodbye and went looking for my car. The trip home went not as smooth as I hoped, I stood in a traffic-jam for over an hour.. Oh well, back at home I fell into the couch next to Ellen and gave her a big hug. Dream – Visit the Inter Tabac Fair: Check! So anonymous ticket-provider, thanks!!! And also thanks to Rudi, Paul, Martin and Polleken for a wonderful day!