Pleasures of life in Belgium 2017

Shitty weather…

Halfway March it was time again for the annual meeting of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) at Wuustwezel (Belgium). Normally for me this always marks the beginning of spring. You know, sunshine, flowers, birds and bees, girls in short skirts etc. But when I awoke the sky was dark-grey with rain coming out of it and it stayed that way throughout the day, even in Belgium. Argh… This year about 60 people attended and like the previous time Matron, a Scotch-man and Florian, a German, both from the (in)famous Kaervaig Pipe Club, were there.

Mark on the left

In the morning I drove to Deventer to pick up Mark at the train station. When I had parked there I got a message from him. He had to go for a no. 2 when he would come out the train so it could take a while. Well, when nature calls you have to answer right? Surprisingly quick he came walking to the car. “Damned, there was a line where I wanted to change money and there is a long row before the toilet. But I know a McDonald’s just before we get on the highway, let’s go there.” Not wanting Mark to explode in my car I put the pedal to the medal and in no time we had reached our destination. While Mark was inside unleashing hell I texted Ed, who was waiting on the carpool spot further along the route where we were supposed to meet him. “Mark is doing a no. 2 at the McDonald’s in Deventer, you know he likes to take his time so it could be a while until we get to you.” But Ed, who was waiting in the rain, had no patience. “I am not going to wait in this shitty weather, I am coming to you, stay there.” So when Mark came back to my car with a face of relief I said we had to wait for Ed. Luckily he got here fast so we could begin the journey to Belgium. The only sad part was that Johnny, who normally is also driving along with us, could not make it due to private circumstances.

Frikandel XXL 🙂

After a pleasant ride we arrived in Wuustwezel. Like always the first thing was to stop at the local liquor store. This time I did not need much. Last year I had bought so many beers that I still had a reasonable stock in my cellar. The only thing I wanted to buy was some bottles of PiedbƓuf Brune, a table beer of only 1.5%. Not because I like to drink it, but I use it to make hachee. After that we went for something to eat. Throughout the years I discovered that the snack-bars in Wuustwezel have a kind of rotating system about who is open on Saturday afternoon. So this time snack-bar Manneke Friet was the one we could go to. Only thing, the tiny place had no room where you could sit and eat, you could only order food. Which resulted in the snack-bar being crammed with lots of hungry pipe-smokers. I choose the long frikandel XXL with mayonnaise, curry and onions. We took the food to the location of the meeting, the Bellekeshoeve, where we could eat it. When we arrived and I unwrapped the frikandel I immediately got a friendly pat on my shoulder from pipe-maker Meindert who said with a wink: “You will keep your thick head if you eat that stuff!”

Freek on the left

When I had finished the long frikandel I was looking forward to a glass of delicious dark Vlaamsche Leeuw beer. But to my astonishment it was not available. I looked at Jan, the organizer, and he apologetically shrugged. His supplier could not get the mouthwatering brew. So I opted for another beer instead. It were all Belgian beers so in essence I could not pick wrong. I then bumped into Freek. Earlier on the forum he offered a jar of Tinder Box pure latakia for free. Since I was almost out of blending latakia I responded. Since I was the first I got it! The generosity of some people knows no bounds. Throughout the years Klaas gifted me quite a lot. Samples of Balkan Sobranie, Upper Ten tobaccos, De Graaff tobaccos etc. Now he had a tin of John Patton’s Latakia Junction for me, thank you very much!

Me, matron and Jan

And still the Pipe-God was not finished blessing me. Matron called the Fuming Four and Florian together, all members of the Kearvaig Pipe Club. Who also belongs to that exclusive society of fine gentlemen is Bob Gregory, the master-blender from Samuel Gawith/Gawith & Hoggarth. He had given Matron some tins to divide under the KPC members. They were packed per 2 so you could not see what tins you got. I choose… Wisely! When I opened my pack I saw a tin of St. James Flake and Kendal Cream Deluxe Flake. I have never smoked the latter so I am very curious! Afterwards I had some time to chat with Matron, who surprisingly knows a bit of Dutch. Turned out that in time he still looked like a young god he had a girlfriend from the Dutch province of Friesland. When I walked around a bit I was stopped by stone-cutter Martin Romijn. He showed me his new shirt which was pretty hilarious, and beautiful! On it was an image of a pipe-smoking weasel. The story behind it is: the town where the meeting is held is called Wuustwezel. If you roughly translate that to English it is something like “fierce weasel”. Hence the picture on the shirt.

My François Dal tomato shaped pipe

Suddenly Nick called for attention. Like the last years he had been busy with the forum pipe and he wanted to unveil the new pipe-maker. It is… Drumroll… Bruno Nuttens! He is a French pipe-maker (with Belgian roots) and is going to make a cutty shaped pipe with a beautiful silver coloured ring. Since my pipe-cabinet is getting a bit too small I don’t know yet of I will be ordering this one. But it is a beauty for a good price, that’s for sure. One of the reasons that my pipe-cabinet has almost no more room walked around in Wuustwezel: maĂźtre pipier and pipe-maker François Dal. Since some time he is a member of the PRF forum and he continues to impress us with his craft. He brought some of his pipes along and I immediately fell in love with one of them: a tomato shaped beauty with flawless cross-cut and flamed briar. I smoked it several times now and I can honestly say it already belongs to the top smoking part of my collection.

No one can smoke a cigar as tasty as Ed

Sometimes I looked around and thought I had gone to the wrong meeting, a cigar smoker one. Many folks around me were smoking the phallus-shaped rolled tobacco leaves. Don’t get me wrong, I like them very much, especially in the summer, but on a pipe-smoker meeting.. Mwah.. At the end of the afternoon the delicious mandatory sausage rolls were served. I am a big fan of the Brabants worstenbrood but these one are also very yummie! Slowly it got dark outside and the Bellekeshoeve quieted down a bit. I sat at a table with d’Artagnan and had just fetched some tobacco from a jar I brought with me. As a mean of experiment he added a bit of the Tinder Box latakia. I did the same and.. Great! How easy it sometimes is to blend a decent tobacco..

Before we knew it it was time to go home. We almost were the last ones left so we did not have to say goodbye to many people. The ride home was pretty silent from my side, I was tired. I had spoken to so many people.. But it had been utter fun! I would like to thank Jan for organizing the whole, the bar-crew for serving us delicious drinks and Ed and Mark for the conversations on the road. By the way, Mark made a brilliant and funny photo-bomb! As usual I was oblivious to it all..

All pictures were made by Dirk, Klaas, Nick, Marielle, Roelof, Thomas and myself.

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Pleasures of life in Belgium 2016

Group picture

Group picture

Like every year for me the annual meeting of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) at Wuustwezel (Belgium) halfway March always marks the beginning of spring. The lengthening days, the slowly rising temperatures and the anticipation of the meeting make all the shadows in my mind from the dark, grey and rainy winter disappear. For some reason (probably the location in Belgium near the Dutch border and cheap beer) the Wuustwezel meeting always has been the best attended one. This year about 70 people applied and like last year Matron, a Scotch-man and Florian, a German, both from the (in)famous Kaervaig Pipe Club, were there. Tobacconist Rudi even brought a special guest, more about that later.

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Gates at the Deventer train station

The day of the meeting began at 07.30 am but I was already awake because of my bad back… Great, ageing… But when I came from under the shower and had a small breakfast (their would be plenty of food and drinks during the day) I felt re-energized and ready for the day. Normally good friend Ed would have picked me up but he moved away from his old town near me to a location pretty far away due to some private stuff. So now I had to first pick Mark up at the train station in Deventer. I parked my car there and texted him where I stood but no response. And I waited, and waited.. In the end he turned up. At the train station they have small gates and Mark’s public transport pass malfunctioned so only after a lot of trouble with the security guards he could get through. That soon was forgotten and we drove to a parking lot somewhere beside the highway where Ed waited for us together with Johnny.

Pipe-smokers munching away

Pipe-smokers munching away

After a pleasant ride we arrived in Wuustwezel where, just like the other times, our first stop was the local liquor store. Only once a year I get the chance to properly re-fill my beer basement and I take that chance with both hands (while carrying a stocked beer-crate of course). “No cash payment  because we got robbed” said a sign on the door. How sad.. I mean, Belgian beer is so delicious that one could steal it but to actually do that.. Bastards.. Inside the store I noticed I was not the first Dutchman there that day because the shelf with the delicous St. Bernardus Abt 12 was already half empty. Luckily there was enough left and together with my standard favourites and a few tips from Johnny my beer basement bulges out again now. Then we went to the snack-bar. Unfortunately Zodiac from last year closed down permanently. No not the recession, the owners were old and decided to quit. Thank the fried-heavens another snack-bar was open, the one we went to in 2014: Fritsnack, with the remarkable choice of Dutch (sweet) and Belgian (sour) mayonnaise. I went for the Belgian one this time together with a snack called “Twijfelaar” (doubter), which includes small bits of all their meat snacks on one stick, very yummie! Half the establishment was already taken by hungry familiar looking pipe-smokers under which Matron and Florian (this time with no hang-over from the previous evening). Matron had brought the prices which I won at the KPC raffle with him: a tin of Bothy Flake and Holger Danske Royal Navy Flake. Thanks! I sat across Arjen who had a big portion of fries (and in Belgium that is BIG, I had a medium fries which was too much for me..) together with two more snacks. While we were talking I watched with amazement how he devoured it all in no time. Wowzers!

Rob and his home-made tin-guitar

Rob and his home-made tin-guitar

When we arrived at the Bellekes Hoeve, the location of the meeting, organiser Jan sat beside the door to collect the money for the traditional Belgian sausage rolls and rent of the place. Which by the way was only €1 per person due to the fact we drank so much last year. Jan used the profits he made then to keep the entrance fee low for us. First thing I did when I put away my belongings and shook a few hands was order a Vlaamsche Leeuw at the bar. Utterly delicious! Which was also the opinion of Matron, Florian and Ed who all praised the Belgian beer. Then I bumped into Rob who had made a guitar out of an empty tin of WO Larsen Indigo, hilarious! On a table I made some space to place a mason jar which had to serve as a money box. In September my girlfriend Ellen is going to climb the Mont Ventoux in France for a cancer fund. Louis, one of the forum members, suggested that I put a money box at the meeting so people could make a small contribution. Well, small, in the end €131,60 was put in the mason jar! So unbelievably great! By the way, supporting Ellen is still possible through this site.

Marielle

Marielle

For Marielle I had some Amphora pouches. The evening before the meeting she asked on the forum if anyone had some and could bring it to Wuustwezel. Last year on the Inter Tabac PipesMagazine.com host Brian Levine gave me some Amphora pouches since MacBaren produces them. I never smoked Amphora and to be honest the blend not really seems my cup of tea, so giving hem away to a lovely lady was pretty easy. And in return she gave me a tin of one of the only aromatics I smoke: DTM’s Sweet Vanilla Honeydew. But I had more for Marielle. For some years I own a small 1980 Dunhill group 1 pipe which in essence is a ladies pipe. It came from the time when I snatched up every Dunhill below a certain price but I never had a click with it. So Marielle could have it, I mean, a pipe is meant to be smoked. But surprisingly she did not want it. What I did not knew was that Marielle is a filter-smoker and the Dunhill is non-filter. So she said “Give it to someone who really wants it and is really going to smoke it.” Ok, so if any female pipe-smoker reads this and you want this Dunhill, mail me at arnovangoor@gmail.com with a picture of yourself while smoking pipe and perhaps you are the lucky one! And gents, please no pictures of yourself in a dress or lingerie while puffing away ok? Thank you.

Per Jensen and his wife

Per Jensen and his wife

Talking about Amphora and MacBaren, Rudi tapped me on the shoulder, “Look there, our special guest, he wants to speak you”. I turned around and saw Per Jensen, the product manager of MacBaren who I already met at the Inter Tabac. Wow! I know he goes to big American meetings but a humble Dutch/Belgian one.. So nice to see and speak to him again. He brought all kinds of MacBaren tobaccos that are not for sale here so we could try them out. I lit up a pipe filled with the excellent HH Pure Virginia. Per had a question for me, he was busy with re-creating an old Amphora blend but he could not find any info of it. So if I perhaps could dig up some information. I’ll do my best Per! Of course I also had question for Per. This year I am busy with a new forum tobacco made by Samuel Gawith, but over 2 years perhaps MacBaren is a nice option. So a bit hesitant I asked Per if he was interested in producing one of our forum tobaccos. Hesitant because I know MacBaren only produces large quantities and around 250 tins is just total peanuts for such a company. But surprisingly he was willing! I get back to you in 2 years Per!

Freek

Freek

The generosity of the people on the forum never ceases to amaze me. I saw Freek sitting and he motioned for me to come closer. Last year at the Heukelum meeting I got a bottle of Westvleteren blond from him. One of the best blonde beers I ever drank. But now with a sly smile he produced 2 bottles of the mythical Westvleteren 12! “Here, these are for you. They were a gift to me but I don’t really like the beer.” Wowowowowowow!!! I mean, Westvleteren 12 is chosen as best beer in the world multiple times. What Balkan Sobranie is in the pipe-tobacco world, Westvleteren is in the beer world in my opinion. Last week I drank one bottle and I must say, a truly exceptional brew! Thanks Freek!

Klaas on the left

Klaas on the left

Still with a smile I bumped into Klaas, one of my pipe tobacco mentors. “Arno, I enjoyed your Upper Ten blogpost so much, here is a tin of De Graaff Kegelbaan for you.” Wow again! One of the earlier latakia blends I smoked through Klaas was the no longer made Kegelbaan, one of the house-blends of the once famous tobacconist De Graaff in The Hague. This mixture is really something special and spoiled my taste buds. It contains Syrian latakia, Old Belt Virginia, Brown Cavendish and the elusive Yenidje. Thanks Klaas! Later I spoke with Andre, who has a very good site where he sells refurbished estate pipes for beginning pipe smokers or people with a small budget. At Heukelum he gave me a blasted Orlik bulldog, a surprisingly fine smoker, and now he produced another Orlik, a good looking billiard. I could also have that one. Thanks Andre!

print-19-mar-2016_em5-7612Suddenly every one was being hushed to silence. Nick took the floor and directed himself towards Arjen. In a couple of months Arjen is getting married with a lovely Canadian woman called Misty. Behind his back the forum members collected money so we could give them a dinner at a restaurant. Well, we ended up with giving the soon to married couple a 5-course meal at the fancy Las Palmas restaurant, a night at the Hotel New York Rotterdam and two glasses and a bottle of bubbles.

WinslowYou probably know the feeling when you see a pipe and that it just speaks to you like in, I am beautiful, I will smoke good, buy me! I got that when I looked at a pipe amongst Rudi’s wares. A gorgeous D-grade Winslow bamboo. It was precisely what I was looking for, a small to medium sized pipe in which I could smoke Virginia or VaPer mixtures and flakes. And Winslow bamboos are relatively rare. I already have one (a B-grade) which is a terrific smoker. I must say, all my Winslows are excellent smokers and I can’t say that of all my Dunhills.. Rudi saw me (almost drooling) looking at the pipe but the only thing holding me back was the price. But Rudi knew he had the fish on the hook and only needed to haul it in. He made me an offer I could not refuse, a discount. I immediately shook his hands, the deal was closed.

IMG_0138I am a big fan of Lemmy from Motörhead and so is Matron. When we heard about his death we were both devastated. During an e-mail conversation we came up with the idea to bring a toast to Lemmy in Wuustwezel. Of course that would happen with the favourite drink of Lemmy, a Jack Daniels/cola. So I brought half a bottle of Jack with me (the other half I drank on the evening of the day I heard Lemmy died..) and to my delight I saw that Matron had taken 2 Motörhead shirts with him. His shirt was without sleeves. “You know, this shirt once had sleeves. But on a day when I was hiking I realized I forgot to bring tissues with me when I just had taken a shit. So I ripped off the sleeves of my shirt…” The shirt he had for me was a perfect fit, “size fat bastard” he said to me with a wink. We filled our glasses and raised them in honour of our fallen hero. R.I.P. Lemmy!

My acquisitions

My acquisitions

In the morning when we drove to Wuustwezel Johnny said “Always when I go to a meeting time suddenly goes very fast from the moment I enter the building until I leave it.” I also precisely had that. It was a fun day as always, I had spoken with lots of people, also did not speak with lots of people (better next time!), the sausage-rolls were delicious, the tobaccos great, the beer tasty etc. Around 20.30 we shook hands with the remaining forum members and half an hour later (you know how it goes..) we finally sat in the car on our way home. After a long journey which seemed short we arrived at the parking lot beside the highway. It appeared our cars were well guarded by some men around and in a van who were.. Ehmm.. Jerking off. So we hastily said goodbye to each other (and of course wished the masturbating men a pleasant evening) and went on our merry way.

I want to thank Jan, Sas, Miep and Dirk for organising the meeting and keeping us all hydrated. All pictures were made by Klaas, Jan, Dirk, Nick and Jef.

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oremy_28oremy_71EDIT 09-05-2016: The Dunhill ladies-pipe has a new owner! Lots of pictures of ravishing pipe-smoking ladies were send in. Some even showed me totally new and quite interesting ways to smoke a pipe.. And no you pervs, I won’t show those photos! In the end there was a clear winner: Italian pipe-smoking lady Emilia. She is the vice-president of the Pipa Club Italia and owner of one of the biggest pipe-smokers website communities: Fumare la Pipa. She started smoking when she was 21 years old. Her first pipe, a Savinelli, was given to her by a friend. Her second pipe she bought at the Peterson factory during a study-holiday in Dublin. Today Emilia attends many events where she had the opportunity to meet many pipe-smokers and pipe-makers (like Tom Eltang and Manduela). For 90% Emilia smokes Italian made pipes. Her favourite is the Kronos pipe, made by Bruto Sordini from Don Carlos. Surprisingly (for a woman) Emilia likes the taste of latakia! Her favourite tobacco is GL Pease Maltese Falcon and she often likes to smoke Tuscan cigars. Emilia is also participating in the slow smoking Italian Championship for several years. Last October she even contented in her first World-Championship in Italy near Venice: 71st out of nearly 300 participants. Currently she holds the women’s title in Italy. Emilia, I wish you lots of happy smokes with your Dunhill!

Pleasures of life in Belgium 2015

Group picture

For me the annual meeting of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) at Wuustwezel (Belgium) halfway March always marks the beginning of spring. The lengthening days, the slowly rising temperatures and the anticipation of the meeting make all the shadows in my mind from the dark, cold winter disappear. For some reason (probably the location in Belgium near the Dutch border and cheap beer) the Wuustwezel meeting always has been the best attended one. This year 80 people applied under which Matron, a Scotch-man and Florian, a German, both from the (in)famous Kaervaig Pipe Club. PRF goes international!

Johnny (notice the longer beard)

Johnny (notice the longer beard)

The day of the meeting began early at 07.30 am. After a shower, shave and breakfast I gathered all the tobaccos and pipes I wanted to bring with me and waited for Ed, who rang the doorbell at 9.00 am. I almost walked outside when Ed said, shouldn’t you give a goodbye kiss to Ellen? Oh! I forgot.. So I rapidly went inside, pressed a kiss upon her lips and went to Ed his car while Ellen shook her head and sighted “just like giddy schoolboys going on a field trip..”. Like last year we picked up Mark at the Deventer Central Station and Johnny near the highway.

st_bernardus_12The journey to Wuustwezel from Deventer Central Station takes about 2 hours but to me it felt like only half an hour. Conversations enough in the car. When we arrived in Belgium our first stop was the local liquor store where we also went last year. Of course I had to re-stock my supply of Belgian beers, can’t live without! I almost did not recognize the store, apparently it had a huge renovation. Some walls were broken down and now there was a big space which housed all the liquor. It did not matter to me, the beers were easily found. Johnny is somewhat of a connoisseur on that field so he gave me some advice about what to buy besides my old favourites.

Frituur Zodiac

Frituur Zodiac

When I planned our route I noticed that the snack-bar we went to last year was not open at the beginning of the afternoon. Luckily there are enough “frietkotten” (snack-bars) in Belgium so another one, “Frituur Zodiac“, was easily found. We arranged with some other forum members (and also Matron and Florian) that we would meet there, the more the merrier. To our surprise there was another PRF group present when we arrived. And just when we ordered our food other forum members walked in until the small snack-bar was filled with hungry and noisy pipe-smokers. I went for a small “frietje stoofvlees” (Belgian fries with a meat-stew). Yes, small, I saw someone who had a regular size and it was.. Huge.. But it tasted divine! I am sorry for the snack-bar we went to last year but Zodiac was much better. Mark struggled to devour a frikandel XXL so being the good guy that I am I helped him with it. Just when we left the place Matron and Florian finally arrived together with Wilfred, who picked them up. I advised a bit what they should take and later that day I (luckily) heard they ate very well.

Willem and Jan

Willem and Jan

Almost precisely on time we entered the Bellekeshoeve, the location of the meeting, where not yet everyone had arrived. I liked it this way because in relative quietness I was able to put away my belongings, order a Vlaamsche Leeuw beer and fill up a pipe before plunging into the busy crowd. We were all welcomed by Willem and meeting-organizer Jan, with whom we had to pay for the traditional Belgian sausagebreads. Talking about Willem, he is a real character, a large man who’s presence commands attention. Last year he only was there for a short while because he does not like big gatherings (“You know Arno, in the old days I was forced to go to receptions and I thoroughly hated those..”), and had things to do. But now he stayed right until the end! With him he brought his charming wife, the green baroness, who started smoking pipe! I believe Rob (Robbie-San) bought her an elegant ladies pipe and soon she was smoking some aromatic tobacco. “Much better than those awful smelly Davidoff cigarettes she uses to smoke”, Willem whispered in my ears.

Rob

Rob

I was glad that another prominent forum and another Rob (robvoorburg) was present at the meeting. At first he did not want to go, not because he dislikes meetings (I think Rob almost attended all of them), but because of private reasons. To the delight of us all he was able to come because in my opinion a meeting without Rob is no meeting. No one can visibly enjoy a gathering of pipe-smokers more than Rob. And a pleasant side-effect of him coming was that he brought friend and forum-photographer Klaas with him.

IMG_2681Peter, one of the forum-moderators, had brought a lot of bags with him containing new PRF shirts and hoodies, designed by myself of course. Peter does the communication with the printing-company and the distribution. I bought one shirt and one hoodie with the new “smoking goat” design. With which we had some problems because the black print would not really show on the dark army green background I had planned originally. So we opted for a more.. Uhmm.. Visible kind of green. When I wore the hoodie at home Ellen almost burst out into laughter, “Finally you are wearing some colour!” Thanks darling…

Winslow bamboo B-Grade

Winslow bamboo B-Grade

Then I bumped into Fred, who had a lot of goodies for me. To start with 3 tins of Hearth & Home Magnum Opus. He has connections in the USA who can get the Hearth & Home range so when I heard that I asked him to order some tins of Magnum Opus. I smoked that blend once through my German friend Rainer and really liked it. When of the few blends out there containing the legendary Yenidje tobacco. Fred also had a pipe for me. And not just a pipe, no, a gorgeous Winslow bamboo B-grade! A while ago Fred had bought a collection of pipes from the family of a deceased pipe-smoker. He photographed them all and with the help of Peter put the lot for ridiculously low prices on the market-place of our forum. First come first served. And I was first so had the luck to buy this astonishing beautiful Winslow. The last item Fred had for me was the (in)famous Bothy Flake from the Kaervaig Pipe Club (made by Samuel Gawith). After the Inter-Tabac fair last year Fred ordered tins for anyone who wanted it at the forum and I was one of them.

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Matron digs up a surprise for Marielle..

Talking about the Kaervaig Pipe Club, Matron and Florian had brought presents for me and the forum. Florian gave me a bottle of German “Schnapps” from his home region and Matron presented me with an original KPC mouse-pad. For the forum Matron had something very special. From out of the unholy depths of his bag (which he suspiciously carried around with him all the time) he dug up a large package with 500 gr. of Samuel Gawith Golden Glow. “This is a gesture from the Kaervaig Pipe Club to the PRF, do with it what you want”, he said. Dumbfounded I thanked him and put the package away. Later at home I divided the 500 gr. in smaller amounts of 100 gr. and set up a lottery for all PRF members.

Whisky AND beer?? Germans.... ;)

Whisky AND beer?? Germans…. 😉

I especially liked talking to the German KPC member Florian. Before the meeting we had some short but pleasant mail conversations but that was it. In reality he proved to be a well-spoken, polite, intelligent man. I can understand German pretty good (speaking it is another thing) but for some reason we both stuck to English. We talked about all kinds of things; the forum tobaccos, German tobacco companies, German pipe-smokers forums etc. I can’t exactly remember any more what we all spoke about (the Vlaamsche Leeuw began to work) but we certainly had fun. I really hope he is going to be at the meeting next year.

Martijn and Monique

Martijn and Monique

It was also nice talking to Martijn, one of the new members, it was his first meeting. It always amazes me how easy it is to talk to new people I never met before, as long as they are pipe smokers. Because then you have at least one thing in common. And we had several things in common, amongst other things that we started smoking pipe because of our pipe-smoking grandfathers. Suddenly all conversation was stopped because Jos blew on his deafening brass ship’s horn. Time for the group picture. We went outside and when we all found our positions a huge banner was unfold with on it: Flakeroker sterkte (Flakesmoker lots of strength). Jorg came up with the idea (and it was executed by Peter), he wanted to let Flakeroker (real name Sandor) know that we all thought about him and wished him strength. This because Sandor has terminal cancer (in his whole body except his lungs..). In the weeks before the meeting Sandor sold all his pipes and tobacco because every day counts for him. I hope he lives long enough to properly say goodbye to all his loved ones.

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Freek, winner of the crap-price

On a more happy note Jos had decided to open a competition a couple of weeks before the meeting. Jos has a thing with.. Poo.. So the one who brought the tobacco which smelled most like poo would win the crap-price and an accompanying book. Freek won with a tin of Merde de Cheval, which translates as “horse shit”. What certainly did not smell like shit were the traditional Belgian sausage-rolls. Always a true delight, also the next day. I took a doggy-bag with me so Ellen and I could enjoy some later at home. I think the local bakery in Wuustwezel is very pleased with our annual meeting and accompanying sausage-roll order.

Capstan_1898Someone who also was pleased was Robbin. On a Dutch market-place site he found a tin of ancient Capstan. I did some research and came to the conclusion it was even older than the tin I brought with me last year! Robbin was hesitating if he should bring his tobacco gem with him and open it and I was glad to see he did. The tin had lost its lid so he had to cut the thin foil open with a knife Matron dug up from out of his unholy bag. And… The tobacco was intact and still moist! Gotta love those old knife-cutter tins! I had the privilege of smoking a bowl and although different than the current incarnation, it undeniably was classic Capstan. I liked it even better than my old tin!

Willem and Carro want you to come (again) next year!

Willem and Carro want YOU to come (again) next year!

Too fast the hours went by, so many people and so little time. Slowly the group got smaller and smaller until only a few were left. Willem put his arm around my shoulder and said with a wicked smile “Please have another beer, you can put it on the bill of my wife!” But I graciously declined his offer, I already had enough of the Belgian nectar. It was time to go. After many handshakes and some hugs (especially Carro and Willem would not let me go) we walked to the car. The ride back home went smooth and I was glad to softly snuggle against the warm body of an already sleeping Ellen. I want to thank Jan and Sas for the organisation, all the volunteers behind the bar, Willem for the party-tent outside and Ed for driving! All pictures were made by Klaas, Jan, Rik, Dirk, Rob and Marielle.

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Semois expedition 2014

The group of the first Semois expedition in 2011

The group of the first Semois expedition in 2011

At the Wuustwezel meeting this year I talked to Jan about him organizing another Semois expedition. The last one had been in 2011 and was my introduction to the unique Belgian leaf, the breathtaking landscape of the Ardennes and the excellent beers of our Southern neighbours. I had such a blast then that I wanted to repeat that experience. So somewhere in the first part of this year a date was picked: 24 May. We would meet again before the castle in Boullion and then make a trip past the remaining Semois producers.

Our holiday-house in Corbion

Our holiday-house in Corbion

Back in 2011 Shaun drove together with me and I stayed the evening and night at his place so of course I asked if he wanted to join me again. Unfortunately (for me) he was in the process of moving into a bigger apartment with his charming girlfriend so he could not make it. I wished him all the best and started to think about other options. Perhaps a bed & breakfast? Or a simple hotel room? Hmm.. I knew that from The Netherlands two other forum members would join the group: Rob and Teunis. Perhaps it would be fun (and cheaper) if we together could rent a holiday-house somewhere in the Semois region and stay for the weekend. So I sent a message to the both of them and luckily they loved the idea. After a short search I stumbled upon a few suitable holiday-homes for a decent price. In the end I choose one in Corbion (after the approval of Rob and Teunis) where Vincent Manil and J.P. Couvert reside.

Friday 23 May: At 3 p.m. the holiday-house would be available and it was a 4 hour drive from my home (without traffic-jams). So to be on the safe side I decided I would drive away from home at about 10 a.m.  I woke up pretty early that morning and packed my belongings under which 2 corncobs for the Semois tobacco of course. It was nice driving weather so I programmed the TomTom and began the journey. The first part went smooth until I came in the vicinity of Maastricht. For some stupid reason you have to pass some traffic lights instead of speeding over the highway to the Belgian border. The result was a big traffic-jam which took me about half an hour before I could press the gas pedal properly again. TomTom is not the smartest device so once in Belgium in stead of sending me over the ring-way near LiĂšge I was directed right through the city. Beautiful to see, don’t get me wrong,  but driving there was pretty sh*tty because of all the busy traffic. Once I hit the highway again a real sense of vacation washed over me. This because the landscape became more sloping. In The Netherlands almost everything is flat so when a Dutchman sees hills and slopes, *bam*, instant holiday-feeling. The rest of the journey was smooth sailing under a sunny sky until I arrived exactly on time in Corbion at the vacation-house. There I paid the remaining sum at the owner, got the key and was left alone. I unpacked my belongings, sat outside, lit up a pipe, started reading in Tolkien’s Silmarillion and waited for the other guys to arrive.

Baguette, some Ardennes sausage inside and fries on top

Baguette, some Ardennes sausage inside and fries on top

After almost an hour I heard a car and yes, it was Rob (Teunis would come by motorcycle). We shook hands and chatted away until Teunis arrived some time later. The holiday-house had 2 sleeping rooms, one with a 2-person bed and one with 2 bunk-beds. Because Rob was the oldest of us he could sleep in the 2-person bed and Teunis and I would sleep in the bunk-beds. While Teunis unpacked his stuff Rob and I decided to do some shopping. Fortunately there was a supermarket in the village at which we bought  Belgian beer and already some things for breakfast, fresh bread we would get the next morning. We then picked up Teunis and drove to Boullion to have dinner. After walking a bit through the town-centre we managed to find some kind of luxury snackbar. With the food I guess I made a good choice (no idea what I was ordering, the menu was in French..). This because I ended up with an open cut  baguette which had some Ardennes sausage inside and fries on top! Yummie! Back at the holiday-house in the evening it was becoming too soon too chilly outside so after a couple of beers we moved inside where Teunis more or less managed to get a fire going. We did not know if we were allowed to smoke inside but on the kitchen table stood a small ashtray. For us a sign that the pipe-God granted us permission to puff on our pipes indoors. Besides, the smell of the hearth would mask all odours. Needless to say it was a great evening with lots of great beers and great discussions. Pretty intoxicated we hit our beds late at night.

The group at the café terrace in Boullion

The group at the café terrace in Boullion

Saturday 24 May: Semois D-day had finally come! Without a major hangover we all awoke surprisingly fresh. After a shower Rob and I went once again to the supermarket which had fresh bread and croissants. Back at the holiday-house Teunis had set the table inside (it was too cold outside) so Rob could begin with the baking of some ham and eggs. Nothing better than a sturdy breakfast if you have a long day ahead. At the end of the morning we drove to the castle of Boullion where at a nearby café the other members of the expedition waited for us: Jan, Geoff, Tommy, Joyce, Hans and Herwig and his wife. We warmly greeted them and because the weather cleared up a bit of sun drove away the outside chill. Beers and snacks were ordered and after some cosy conversations we decided to go on our way. First stop was our holiday-house where some group members wanted to grab a quick bite. I made use of the opportunity to step into my own car. This because I like driving on curvy roads in the hills. It is a male thing I guess. Next stop: Vincent Manil.

The attractive daughter of Manil in the store

The attractive daughter of Manil in the store

When we entered the store with the group we were soon nervously greeted by Vincent’s daughter. I had seen her in 2011 but it was obvious to the eye she underwent some pleasant to look at changes. She tried to speak some Dutch but because her Dutch is as good as my French she soon fell back on her native language. At least we were all able to buy some tobaccos and bouchons de la Semois. The daughter then asked if we were willing to go downstairs to Vincent’s workrooms and the museum. Some group members had already seen that in 2011 and decided to wait outside.

Vincent gluing on the labels

Vincent glueing on the labels

Below we met Vincent himself who was working furiously to get a big order ready for The States. For you Americans who do not know this yet, since the beginning of this year Vincent’s Semois is available at The Pipe Guys and in a short time also at SmokingPipes.com & PipesAndCigars.com. Despite Vincent being busy he generously took the time for us and encouraged us to fill up a pipe with the tobacco laying around. Vincent is a man with passion for his profession and in rapid French (Arrgh! My French is so bad!) he explained the process of making his Semois. For those of you who want to know more about this, please read my Sunny Semois blog-post. Because of the increased demand Vincent tried to speed up the process but to no avail. Three days is the minimum he needs for a big batch. He also bought some “new” machines (building year 1920!) to help him with the packing of the tobacco. But he still has to manually glue the labels on each and every package..

Jan and Vincent looking at ancient Belgian

Jan and Vincent looking at an ancient Belgian tobacco-tax book

In the museum we were left alone for a while so we could watch a video about the Semois-making process. After that Vincent came back and like the teacher he once was sat before us to tell us about his craft and answer questions. Suddenly he went to the other room to fetch something. He returned with some old Belgian government tobacco-tax books dating back to 1900, impressive! After a good look at the also impressive museum (Vincent has collected some rare stuff throughout the years) we said goodbye. Unfortunately the shop of J.P. Couvert was closed. It is only open on Monday and Wednesday because the dear man does most of his business online. So we went on our way to Bohan to Joseph Martin.

The store of Joseph Martin

The store of Joseph Martin

After a magnificent ride over curvy roads with stunning far-sights and lush forests we arrived at the place where the store of Joseph Martin is located. And I must say, the location of the beautiful stone building is jaw-dropping. Just over the Semois river with amazing views on the green hills. I just wanted to sit down, fill up my pipe and do nothing for the rest. But that was not what we came for. We entered the shop where Mr. Martin was a bit surprised to see such a large group. I especially came for his “Langue de Chien” (tongue of the dog) variety. The name comes from the size of the leaf used, it is as large as, yes, the tongue of a dog. These leaves are a bit younger and thus smaller than the regular ones. This makes that the blend tastes softer, sweeter and has less nicotine. I asked if I was allowed to take pictures inside of the man himself and his blends but unfortunately he wanted none of it. Where Manil has a very open and outspoken personality Martin is a bit shy. Lucky for me Joyce, the charming girlfriend of Tommy, just clicked away with her camera without asking. However, Mr. Martin was kind enough to give us all a real Semois cigar which tasted exactly like the pipe-tobacco.

The store of C. Didot

The store of C. Didot

The time had come to visit the last Semois producer of the day: C. Didot in the town of Rochehaut. The ride there, what can I say, I love the Semois region, so beautiful. When we arrived at the store I was a bit disappointed after having seen the nice buildings of Manil and Martin. It just looked like a standard souvenir shop which it basically is. One of the shop-windows displayed some smokers-wares and inside behind the cashiers-desk there were some shelves with tobacco. Here I also bought the Langue de Chien variety, the difference being that this one was produced by Didot. Mr. Didot I did not see, Ms. Didot did the selling. But according to Jan I did not miss much. Mr. Didot seems to be somewhat of a smile-less sourpuss..

Imagine smoking tobacco that grows here

Imagine smoking tobacco that grows here

Rochehaut is famous for its high viewing point on the town of Frahan below. So we walked there and despite the fact that I also saw it in 2011 the view is absolutely magical. You see a valley where the Semois river makes a loop with on its borders lush green fields where in past times the famous tobacco was grown. Now only an old drying shed remains.

Having dinner at La Cabane

The group at La Cabane

Besides the howling of the wind we could also hear our bellies growling, dinner time. We went to the same place as in 2011: La Cabane. Basically an oversized snackbar but that term would not do this business justice. You can also get food like steaks and meatballs. Which was precisely what I took, boulettes de la maison, meatballs of the house. The fries are also a thing which makes the place pretty unique. This because they are still fried in lard and not in some vegetable oil. Not so good for the body but oh so yummie!

Teunis trying to get the hearth started

Teunis trying to get the hearth started

After dinner we all said goodbye to each other and went our separate ways. Rob, Teunis and I went back to the holiday-house where more beer was waiting for us. And Semois tobacco! I was able to smoke some of the Joseph Martin Langue de Chien from Teunis and.. I personally liked it better than the more robust Manil Semois to be honest. Sweeter and softer indeed. A pleasure to smoke. The evening was once again great with lots of interesting conversations. And lots of alcohol of course. I like the personalities of both men. Rob is very witty and has a perfect feeling for timing his often funny and well-thought one-line remarks. Teunis is a well-balanced spiritual man with a lot of experience in life who loves to sit in a chair and play the role of shrink. Before we knew it, it was time to sleep.

Martin's Langue de Chien, Didot's Langue-de Chien, Manil's La Brumeuse and bouchons de Semois

Martin’s Langue de Chien, Didot’s Langue de Chien, Manil’s La Brumeuse and bouchons de Semois

Sunday 25 May: I was the first one to wake up and thus the first to hit the shower. The outside weather was (finally) very pleasant. A blue sky, sunshine and no cold winds. We had some leftover bread and camembert which I thankfully ate. When we all were downstairs we drank some much needed coffee after which Rob decided to head home. Lucky for me Teunis wanted to relax a while longer and said he would clean the dishes and bring back the key to the owner so I also could leave. Back on the road it saddened me to see the hills and sloping landscape slowly become flat again. A good reason (besides the tobaccos, beers and food) to go back sometime!

Thanks go out to Joyce, Tommy and Herwig for the permission to use their pictures!

 

 

 

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Pleasures of life in Belgium 2014

Group picture

Group picture

Saturday 15 March it was time for the 2nd (for the first one, see here) annual Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum meeting in Wuustwezel, Belgium. For weeks the forum had been buzzing with anticipation because it was going to be the biggest meeting yet. About 70 people were coming to the farm in the outskirts of the tiny town! Reason for this is, I think, because Wuustwezel is in Belgium but near the Dutch border. So it is very accessible for forum-members from both countries.

Johnny, not really looking like The Undertaker huh?

Johnny, not really looking like The Undertaker huh?

The day of the meeting I awoke early and after a shower and breakfast I started to pack, I had a long list of things to do.. My girlfriend Ellen had to laugh, she thought I behaved like I was going on a field trip. Well, it surely felt a bit that way. Around 10.15 the bell rang, it was Ed who was going to pick me up. After a cup of coffee we drove to Deventer Central Station where we were, once again, going to pick up Mark. For a change his train was on time, he was already waiting for us. We had one more member to pick up: Johnny (nickname: The Undertaker, after my favourite WWE wrestler). He had conveniently parked his car at a big parking place near the highway so with almost no delay he joined us and we could continue the journey to Belgium.

st_bernardus_12With me I brought a bag of empty Belgian beer bottles so I could return them at a liquor store for their deposit. In Belgium alcohol is much cheaper then in The Netherlands (as is tobacco) and since my supply of Belgium beers was running dangerously low a visit to the local liquor store in Wuustwezel was mandatory. We were a bit early thanks to the lead foot of Ed so I had all the time to explore the immense store. Yes, immense! I have never seen a liquor store that big! Alcohol Valhalla! Whoohoo! After a bit of looking around we came to the section of the Belgian beers. In my head I had a list of them which included brands like St. Bernardus, Corsendonk, Chimay, Ciney, I’m getting thirsty now, Rochefort, BarbĂŁr Bok, Kasteel Rouge and Julius. Happy as a child I filled my cart with bottles and went to the pay desk. €53 for the vast amount of beer I had put together was NOT much! In the Netherlands I surely would have paid around €100.. So that fact made this cheap Dutchman very happy.

frieten-met-vleeskroketA lesson we learned from last year was that we had to have lunch before the meeting. Since Belgium is also famous for its fries (no not the skinny French fries but a somewhat thicker version) we decided to go to a snack-bar alongside the road. It was around 1 o’clock so we were the only customers. Most of us ordered fries and an extra snack, mine was a croquette. The friendly lady behind the desk asked if I wanted Belgian mayonnaise with my fries or Dutch. Hmm.. Belgian mayonnaise is sour and Dutch is sweet. I am bit ashamed to say this but I choose the Dutch mayonnaise. Usually when I am in a different country I adapt to the food that is being eaten there. But I really do not like sour mayonnaise.. Sorry!

Shaun, Jan and Willem

Shaun, Jan and Willem

After we had filled our bellies it was finally time to go to the meeting. At the farm lots of cars were parked and when we did go inside the crowd already was large. First went to the table where Shaun and Jan were sitting. They were collecting the cash for the rent of the farm and the sausage rolls which would come in later. A new member, Willem (nickname: Meester W.), also stood at the table. We shook hands and I made a mental note to look him up later. Unfortunately he went away early, he had some other things to do so I never got the chance to really speak to him.

Arjen and a forum corncob

Arjen and a forum corncob

I wanted to place my bag with smoking gear and tobaccos somewhere so I could fill a pipe when I was stopped by Arjen (nickname: Bananabox-Ninja). In the months before the meeting he had arranged Missouri Meerschaum corncobs with the forum logo for forum-members. I had ordered a Country Gentleman together with some some black Danish bits which he gave to me. I tend to gnaw a bit on my mouthpieces so some spare bits were very welcome. But I also had something for him. Due to a sharp eye-tooth there was a hole in the mouthpiece of one of my GBD princes. Arjen learned a method from Steve from Reborn Pipes where you fill up holes like that with some kind of glue. I hope it works! (EDIT 15 May 2014: Arjen has done an incredible job with the mouthpiece and it looks like new!)

Dre and Jorg

Dre and Jorg

When I had put my bag away I finally could light up a pipe and talk to some people. I had some things for them and other people had things for me. Jorg tapped me on my shoulder, he had a generous sample of Davidoff Flake Medallions for me. I had never tried it but after having recently smoked a couple of bowls of it, it now is on my wanted list. Thanks Jorg! When I saw forum administrator Nick (nickname: Massis) we shook hands. He had a bouchon de Semois and asked if I still had those. No, I gave away my last one to Kevin, the owner of PipesMagazine.com. So he graciously gave me a bouchon. When I turned around Carro asked what I was holding. I answered it was a bouchon de Semois and explained how one should smoke it. Of course I gave it to him and got a pint of Vlaamse Leeuw beer in return. Then I bumped into Dre (nickname: Annie69) and he had a sealed tin of vintage De Graaff perique for me! A gift from a friend of him and fellow forum member Ignoro, who could not attend the meeting. So thanks Ignoro!

Paul and me

Paul and me

Near the sliding door at the corner of the room Paul had set up a small table with all kinds of whiskeys for everyone to sample. Very nice but I decided not to taste any of the “water of life”. That could not have turned out well for me in combination with the heavy Belgium beers. Once in a while Paul orders at Dan Tobacco in Germany and people of the forum can add their wishes to his list. So that way I ordered a tin of Skipper’s Flake through him only to discover that he bought a tin of Skipper Special Navy Cut Mellow Mixture instead. Whoops! Luckily I did not have to pay for that tin and on top of that, as a surprise, he gave me a tin of… Skipper’s Flake! Thank you Paul!

Klaas (on the left)

Klaas (on the left)

In the distance I spotted Klaas (nickname: Upper Ten), I still had his forum-tobaccos. “Keep them until the Wuustwezel meeting, that saves me the postal costs.” He said. “I have enough tobaccos in my treasure chamber to go by”. Which is true, he really has a tobacco treasure chamber. For years Klaas invested in his tobacco collection by buying brands like Upper Ten (hence his nickname), De Graaff (the famous house-blends of the De Graaff store in The Hague) and Balkan Sobranie. The first time I smoked that legendary blend it was from a pouch which he gave me. Klaas has a fondness for latakia so I had a sample of GL pease Gaslight for him. It has a kind of cigar-like heaviness which could be just Klaas his cup of tea. I also gave him a sample of Heinrichs Curly Block. At my visit to Heinrichs I bought a tin of Dunhill Deluxe Navy Rolls for him because he wanted an impression of the taste of current production Escudo. He did not like it very much, in his memory the old Cope Escudo version was way better. Unfortunately he did not stock up on that one.. But according to lots of German pipe-smokers the Curly Block is similar to the Cope Escudo. So I am curious what Klaas thinks of this tobacco.

Geoff

Geoff

At the meeting there were lots of new members who had never attended such an event. Geoff was one of them. He approached me and said he was a fan of this blog, how nice! Normally I am having a hard with speaking to people I do not know, but with pipe-smokers you always have something to talk about: pipe-smoking! Duh! He said he had an avatar of a smoking monkey but that did not shone a light in my brain. It was not until later, back home, that I saw him on the forum. Ahh!! The smoking monkey avatar! It was nice talking to you Geoff! Another new member, Rinus, asked me if I was the one who knew a lot of tobaccos. Well.. I do not know a lot, but I do know something. Rinus discovered he had a fondness for latakia. He was missing something in the blends he bought and found out that was the dark leaf. So I made a list for him with mixtures containing latakia that are available in The Netherlands. I hope he finds something he likes.

Dwayne and Martin

Dwayne and Martin

Then I had something special. I approached Martin and asked if he could help opening a 90-year old tin of Capstan Navy Flake. Well, he is an old Dutch marine man so if someone could do that job, it was him. I grabbed my camera and just at the moment Martin pierced through the foil of the knife-cutter tin my battery died.. Arghh!!  Luckily Martin was able to make some pictures with his smartphone. But those will be for a another blog-post. Astoundingly the condition of the tobacco inside the tin was perfect! I had brought a mason jar with me and quickly transferred the contents. In the mean time Dwayne had joined Martin and me. He his an American pipe-maker who now lives in The Netherlands and was also amazed about the vintage Capstan. Needless to say both could fill up their pipes with this old treasure.

Tommy and his girlfriend Joyce

Tommy and his girlfriend Joyce

When ordering a beer at he bar I saw Tommy. We had e-mailed a couple of times before because one of his hobbies is to sing and write lyrics for songs. Only, he can’t make the music that would go with those so he asked on the forum if someone could help him with that. I have made music for years so I definitely was interested. When singing Tommy has a warm, baritone voice that resembles the one of Dutch artist Ramses Shaffy. What followed was an animated conversation about our passion for music. When I have the time I will definitely try to make some music to match the lyrics.

Franz shows his British pipes

Franz shows his British pipes

After dinner, which existed once again of the delicious Belgian sausage rolls, I sat down. My feet were hurting from standing and walking around. I already talked to so many people. I joined a group who was talking about buying tobacco abroad, which I frequently do. The big man next to me said if he could get all the tobaccos he wanted in The Netherlands he would buy them there. An honest opinion. I detected a strange accent in his soft voice and asked if had lived abroad for a period of time. Franz (that is his name, nickname: Dinck) told me he was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but already lived for quite some time in The Netherlands. While talking my eye suddenly went to his pipe-bag. With a smile he took a couple of pipes out of it. All of them were made in England. It appeared we both had a passion for English pipes. Only, I (try to) collect Dunhills, he collected everything but Dunhill. He pulled out a Sasieni prince which made me drool. Immediately I, quasi joking, asked for how much I could buy it from him. Of course it was not for sale. Damnit! I hope it brings him great smoking pleasure.

Jan is waiting to let us all out

Jan is waiting to let us all out

Too fast the hours crawled away, when you are having fun time always goes (too) fast. Hora ruit tempus fluit! So the time came to say goodbye. We thanked Jan, his wife Sas and Dirk and Miep who had stood behind the bar the whole day. The journey back went swiftly and before I knew it I stood before Ellen, who had fallen asleep on the couch and slowly woke up. “How was your day?” “It was wonderful darling.”

Overview of the place

Overview of the place

Big thanks to Ed for driving, to Johnny and Mark for the conversations in the car, to Jan and Sas for the organisation and everyone I talked to! I can’t remember who took which photo so all pictures from the meeting were made by Klaas, Janneman, Dirk, Mark, Rik and myself.

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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: VallĂ©e 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 Ă  pipe)
Philbo

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: PipesMagazine.com 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 RĂ©serve 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 PipesMagazine.com 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.

PipesMagazine.com 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.) © PipesMagazine.com

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

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

EDIT 07-06-2014: Kevin Godbee from PipesMagazine.com just received exclusive news that Semois Tobacco will be available from SmokingPipes.com & PipesAndCigars.com 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 ThePipeGuys.com obtained exclusive rights to its retail distribution.

The owners of ThePipeGuys.com, 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 SmokingPipes.com and PipesAndCigars.com in the coming days.

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

Pleasures of life in Belgium 2013

Being an active member on the Dutch/Belgium pipe-smokers forum is fun. Up to a certain level you get to know a lot of like-minded people. But what is even more fun is meeting them in real life! Internet is fine but nothing can substitute actual human contact. So some people from the forum organize a meeting once in a while. And I really thank them for that because it is a LOT of work.

Jan (forum nickname "Paasei" which means "easter-egg". Noo idea where the name comes from ;)

Jan (forum nickname “Paasei” which means “easter-egg”. Nooo idea where the name comes from ;))

Last Saturday we had a meeting in the Belgium town of Wuustwezel. It was organized by forum member Jan (nickname “Paasei”, which translates as “easter-egg”) and his wife.  They had been busy with it for months and on the day before the meeting… Jan’s father died.. Of course the man was devastated. He saw it coming but when it happened it still was very hard to cope with. Nonetheless he wanted the meeting to go on. So some of the participating members put their heads together and in no time all the tasks were divided. A great example of the camaraderie of the forum.

A few minutes before 10 AM Ed (forum nickname St Patrick) rang my doorbell. He was going to pick me up because he drives almost for free; a car from his business, very handy. I just made coffee (essential on an early morning) and we chatted away while I packed my stuff (read: pipes and tobacco).

Mark (Deadl0ck)

Mark (Deadl0ck)

At 10.45 AM we picked up Mark (forum nickname Deadl0ck) at the train station of Deventer. He has no car and public transport all the way to Belgium was not an option. We had space left in the car so.. The more the merrier! Mark is a BIG guy and luckily he has got a heart to match that. Both Ed and me were very glad we took him with us.

Bellekeshoeve at Wuustwezel

Bellekeshoeve at Wuustwezel

After a 2 hour ride we arrived at Wuustwezel. The meeting was held at a farm in the outskirts of the town. There was a large room complete with beer-bar besides the building. Very nice! We opened the door and were overwhelmed by the warmth of both the room and the people. To my surprise Jan was present. He already had arranged a lot for the funeral and was glad he was able to make it. A welcome distraction for him and his wife.

I wanted to buy a beer but only after an hour of non-stop chatting I was able to do it. Talking about beer, we Dutch may be (in)famous for weed but the Belgium claim to fame are their more than excellent beers. Dutch beer, German beer, English beer, Irish beer etc. forget it. Belgium beer is THE best. And that was proven once again by the lovely ladies behind the beer-bar. I had a Vlaamse Leeuw (never had it before) and drank it for the rest of the day.

Jorg (Sidekickelvis)

Jorg (Sidekickelvis)

It always amazes me how many different types of people come to a meeting. Not only old and young, rich and not so rich (like me hehehe), small and large but also real characters. A member new to meetings was Jorg (forum nickname Sidekickelvis). Hair straight to the back, curled moustache, vest with pocket watch and that combined with a jovial personality and a booming voice made it easy for me to remember him.

The generosity of forum members often knows no limits. I was chatting with Klaas (forum nickname Upper Ten), he is a pensioned man and smokes pipes for quite a while. He complimented me with this blog and said he learned so much from me. Out of gratitude for that he presented a vintage tin of De Graaff Abu Riha to me. I was flabbergasted! I smoked it once before and it is my favourite latakia flake (even better then Penzance). Unfortunately it is not made any more. I know that Klaas only has a few tins left of it so his gift meant a lot to me.

Paul (Winslow Collector) and Gaëtan (Jarnogab) comparing pipes

Paul (Winslow Collector) and Gaëtan (Jarnogab) comparing pipes

Also near the end of the meeting I walked over to Paul (forum nickname Winslow Collector). Besides a devoted aromatics smoker and free-thinker Paul is a whisky expert. He brought some (expensive!) bottles with him so everyone could try some. I already had a glass with dinner (more about that in a minute) but now he was gathering his belongings. There was half a bottle of 12 years old Springbank Cask Strength left. “Ah, that is something for you”, Paul said. “Slightly peaty, you’re going to like it. Here, take the bottle. I can’t use it for a whisky tasting any more”. “Ehm, take the bottle? Still half-full? You’re sure?” I asked. And he was sure. So nice of him!

Belgium sausage rolls

Belgium sausage rolls

At 16.30 PM dinner was served. Jan had arranged for the local bakery to bring some kind of sausage rolls. Puff pastry with one or two tasty sausages inside. A real belly-filler, yummie! Fortunately I pre-ordered more than I could eat so I was able to take some of the food home for Ellen, my girlfriend. The next day at home we both enjoyed the Belgium sausage rolls again.

Pacco and Carl from the movie "Up"

Pacco and Carl from the movie “Up”

Pipe smokers often have a good sense of humour. One of the Belgium members is Ghislain (wonderful name, forum nickname is Pacco). An enthusiastic small elderly man with big black glasses and one of the most tuneful accents I’ve ever heard. In the days after the meeting somebody said that he looked a lot like Carl from the movie “Up“. To illustrate that he put together a picture of Ghislain and Carl who indeed bear a striking resemblance.

Sander (Hagar666) and Sofie

Sander (Hagar666) and Sofie

Like all men most pipe smokers like women. And behind the beer-bar stood a pretty example of the female species called Sofie. I am a lover of Belgium women (love the accent, they can even arouse me by reading the phone-book out loud) but Sander (forum nickname Hagar666) took a special liking towards Sofie. Sander is well known for smoking out of a pink poker pipe. It is just his style. 50’s, 60’s, bright colours, flame tattoos and loud music. And also for a big part the style of Sofie. So with twinkling eyes and a big smile Sander flirted away with our beer-girl. He even got her to take a picture with him and her while she lurked on a pipe. Nice sight.

And so the hours flew away until it was time to go, hora ruit tempus fluit. I thanked everyone who was left and in special Jan. He stayed all day and was really tired. Respect! When I wanted to walk out the door I was called back by Robbin (forum nickname Robb). I totally forgot to take all of my pipes with me.. Whoops.. Maybe it was the beer.

Janneman staring at the snow

Janneman staring at the snow

Ed and I decided to bring Mark home, in Zutphen, and to have one last drink in Mark’s favourite pub. A beer pub with the music I like (hard rock/metal) and… where you can smoke! Very rare in The Netherlands. So I will be back there pretty soon!
After the beer Ed brought me home through the snow. Snow that unfortunately prevented Janneman (the pater noster of the forum) from coming to the meeting. He only rides a motorcycle and with slippery snow that is not an option. But luckily for him and the other forum members there will be other meetings!

Rudi

Pipes and tobacco salesman Rudi

13

People chatting away at the beer-bar

11

Martin Romijn, his son and another Sander (Culann)

9

Robbin and me

8

Forum administrator Shaun (Nekker) and Jan

6

Me babbling away once again..

5

Floris (Godewinus), Peter (Eliminator) and Ed

3

Tobacco pouches for sale by Rudi

2

Tobacco tins for sale by Rudi

The large room inside the Bellekeshoeve

The large room inside the Bellekeshoeve

Rudi and me talking

Rudi and me talking

24

You really should try that whisky!

23

Smile before the camera

22

Me talking once again

21

Cheers!

20

Roger (Generaal) and his wife Chris. Lovely couple!

18

The lovely ladies of the beer-bar

17

Richard (Luys) and Jos (Whitesnake) talking

16

There even was a poker-game

15

Rob (Robvoorburg) and Sander (Hagar666)

19

Jan thanks everyone for coming