Robust Rustica

prototype macbaren rustica

Prototype of the new MacBaren Rustica flake

The Rustica story begins
For me this story began at the Inter Tabak fair in Dortmund last year. Or better said, in a private room in the nearby Dorint hotel, only a short walk from the Westfalenhallen. There the mighty MacBaren was holding court and when the doors swung open we were warmly greeted by product manager / master blender / tobacco ambassador Per Jensen. One of the highlights of the conversation we had was when he produced a blank tin while telling that it was another project on which he was working. It was a blend which also contained the powerful, vitamine N rich Nicotiana rustica. He asked me to smoke it, a prototype, which I did in a small pipe. Of course I said it was good but the truth was that my tasting palate was totally shot after a day of smoking at the Inter Tabak. Not to mention my stomach was pretty empty so the nicotine wreaked havoc on my body. I did not finish the bowl. But I made a firm mental note to keep an eye out for it in the time to come. It had certainly piqued my interest. I mean, I had Nicotiana rustica before in the shape of snuff (Toque USA Whiskey & Honey, which kicked like a mule) but never as a pipe-tobacco, unique!

mayan smokingAncient “creative” uses of tobacco
Most tobacco consumed by us humans is from the Nictotiana tabacum variety, a tall broad leafed plant. Nicotiana rustica looks alike but is shorter with slightly thinner leaves. Both species are native to the Americas where mankind stumbled upon them roughly 18,000 years ago. But the first area where tobacco was cultivated was the Peruvian/Ecuadorean Andes around 5000-3000 BC. Throughout the years the use of it moved northwards. It was used by all kinds of cultures and civilizations for all kinds of purposes in all kinds of ways. For rituals but also purely for personal pleasure. I can’t begin to describe how “creative” the South-American tribes were in the use of tobacco. It was chewed, snuff was made out of it, it was smoked in the form of cigars or in pipes etc. Even some kind of tea was made of it which would be “drunk” anally with the help of a clyster/enema, like a bulb made of animal skin and a tube made of bone or reed. Or a man would flay his gentleman sausage and soak up the blood in pieces of paper or strips of cloth, add some tobacco and then burn it as an offer to the gods. I am glad that nowadays we only smoke, sniff or chew it orally…

John Rolfe and Pocahontas

John Rolfe and his wife Pocahontas

The savior: John Rolfe
By the time Columbus discovered America in 1492 tobacco had reached every corner of the continent. At 14 May 1607 a group of settlers from the Virginia Company of London established the Jamestown settlement in the Colony of Virginia. In May 1610 John Rolfe arrived there after a long and difficult journey and he was shocked by what he found. The Virginia Colony was almost destroyed by famine and disease. They had tried selling the local tobacco smoked by the Powhatan and Chesapeake Indians (hint: that was Nicotiana rustica) but the settlers themselves and more important the English market did not like it. It burned poorly and hot, tasted bitter and was very strong. THE tobacco back then was called “Spanish Tobacco” (Nictotiana tabacum) because Spain had the monopoly on it. But somehow John Rolfe had obtained seeds of the Spanish Tobacco, even though Spain had declared a death penalty to anyone selling such seeds to a non-Spaniard. In 1611 he was the first to commercially grow Nicotiana tabacum in North-America. And in 1612 the export of this sweeter tobacco, called “Orinoco” by Rolfe, made the Virginia Colony a success. And what about the Nicotiana rustica? Well, it still exists today, it is known as ucuch in southern Mexico, mapacho in South America, thuốc lào in Vietnam and makhorka in Russia. Also it is used for Swedish snus and chew bags.

rustica leaf

Nicotiana rustica leaf

Backstory
And those snus and chew bags is where the MacBaren part of the story begins. It is damn difficult to make a decent pipe-tobacco out of Nicotiana rustica. But at the end of 2018 MacBaren began producing chew bags. The ingredient was Nicotiana rustica although different from the original tobacco smoked by the Indians. These leaves were sun-cured which means there is more sugar in them. It was then that the idea sprang into Per’s head to create a blend from the original tobacco that made smoking popular in the Western world. But the journey was long and difficult because he did not know how to combine the rustica with other tobaccos, a process of experimenting, trial and error. In the end a dark air and fire cured Virginia in the style of the old colonists was used, which was a big step forwards. The use of some modern Burley to balance out the tobaccos was the final ingredient. Last but not least the result was steam-pressed, so all the flavours could optimally meld together, and cut in flakes.

Macbaren Rustica tinPackage / tin:
MacBaren Rustica comes in a pretty plain flat 50gr. tin with artwork in the vein of the other HH blends. You see the MacBaren lions on a dark background with in the middle the HH logo with underneath it “Rustica, hot pressed flake”. My tin is German and on the backside it says (translated): In order to make this strong pipe-tobacco Nicotiana Tabacum and Nicotiana Rustica are being blended together. Since the beginning of pipe-smoking in the 17th century this style of tobacco is rare. The tobacco is being hot pressed to let the natural aromas blend together perfectly.

Mac Baren Rustica flakes tinContents / Cut / Ingredients:
As I open the tin I am greeted by a classy golden MacBaren wrapper. Inside that are neatly stacked thin brown flakes with lighter spots throughout them. One thing I have never seen before, the top flake is laid down diagonally. The ingredients are of course Nicotiana rustica, dark air and fire cured Virginias and modern Burley.

Smell from the tin:
When I first opened the tin the flakes smelled like fermented straw (cattle feed) with a slight sour funky undertone. I liked it because it immediately transferred me back to my youth and the farm of my uncle and aunt. However, when I now smell the remaining flakes it is more earthty, woody and I detect a faint BBQ odour.

Taste:
First of all I have to honestly admit that I am a bit of a Burley noob. For some reason I rarely smoke the stuff and mostly stick to English / Balkan / Virginia / VaPer blends. And boy, am I at a loss! I was honestly positively surprised when I first lit up Rustica. I expected a full assault of pungent tobacco taste but instead it was, ok, still bold, but round, creamy, cool and inviting. Taste-wise I noticed earth, wood, nuts (sometimes even a bit almond-paste like whiffs), toast with unsalted butter, roast and the gentle perfectly dosed sweetness of the Virginia. There is no roller-coaster of tastes throughout the bowl like with a good Balkan. But in the last half the flavours intensify a bit, more wood, more toast, more pure robust tobacco taste while the Virginia sweetness remains until the end.

macbaren rustica tin nicotineMiscellaneous:
Because of the steam-pressing Rustica is smooth like Ellen her buttocks after a hot shower. Of course when smoking I tried to put the pedal to the metal several times by puffin’ really hard but no bite, it keeps smoking cool. The flakes are moist but immediately smokeable from the tin. Fold them or break them into smaller pieces. I choose the latter method. Make sure to not pack the bowl too tightly and try not to tamp too much during the smoke. Now nicotine… Whoooaaaaa….. Nicotiana tabacum leaves have a nicotine content of about 1 to 3%. Nicotiana rustica leaves contain 9%! The curing and steam-pressing processes made the rustica somewhat friendlier but still.. The only way I could smoke and enjoy it was in a small pipe (Dunhill group 1-3) right after dinner with a sweet beverage beside me to counteract vitamin N effects. Then there is the “Limited Edition”. USA pipe tobacco giant Smokingpipes.com says that only 7100 tins of this special edition blend were produced worldwide. Uhmm… My German tin does not mention any kind of limited edition. After some careful reading I found out, the limited USA version is 3.5 oz (about 100 gr.), the regular not limited German version is 50 gr.

Room-note:
This is a strong tobacco and has a strong room-note. Most noticeable by the fact that when I had smoked it in the evening Ellen used the Lampe Berger the next morning.

Price:
In Germany you pay €12,- for a 50 gr. MacBaren Rustica tin. In the USA you pay $21,- for a 3.5 oz.

macbaren rustica conclusionConclusion:
MacBaren Rustica really surprised me taste-wise in a very good way. Loved it! Robust, bold, strong, yet refined flavours that make you look out to smoking a bowl of it. Technically it also is a very good flake, well made and when properly handled it burns ok. My own personal concern is the level of nicotine. Each time I smoked it it was like stepping into the ring with Muhammad Ali. You know you are going to be knocked-out but when… All you can do is make the proper preparations, sit back in your favourite chair, brace yourself and go ahead. I swear I grown some extra chest-hair in the past weeks! For some reason when smoking this, perhaps it is the flavour or the hallucinative rustica, I imagined myself sitting on the porch of some farm-house looking out over the fields. Ha! If the Vikings had MacBaren Rustica they would have stayed at home with their blond wives instead of trying to conquer Europe!

Lohmar pipe-show 2019, the last one…

© Lohmarer Pfeifenmesse

One of the highlights of the year for me is always a visit to the Lohmarer Pfeifenmesse (Lohmar pipe-show) the first Saturday in May. So you can imagine the shock when I first heard that this years pipe-show would be the last one. What?? No more Lohmars? Disbelieve.. You know, beyond all the exhibitors with their beautiful wares I mostly enjoyed the atmosphere created by all the pipe-smokers. I met so many lovely people there. Organizer Volker Bier explained it all in a YouTube video. For those of you who don’t speak German, in a nutshell it comes to this: Next year the location where the pipe-show is always held, Villa Friedlinde, is getting a big renovation. So no activities then. Also Volker had enough of organizing the show year in year out. All those years were great, but now it is enough. Luckily two friends of Volker, Kelvin and Toto, stepped in. I was immensely happy to hear that next year a brand new pipe-show is organized by them in Hamm on May 16th.

Mark

Back to this year. Normally I would have drove along with good friend Rob, except he could not make it, he had to work. Regarding pipe-meetings it is “the more the merrier” so I asked Mark (the organizer of the annual Dutch pipe smokers forum Zutphen meeting) if he wanted to tag along. He was happy to go together with me. Only, one day before the pipe-show he texted me and I had to silently laugh a bit. The week before Lohmar Mark started in the gym, his first time ever. Being enthusiastic in trying to shed some weight, gain some muscle and improve his condition he tirelessly outdid himself. Only to discover that the next morning he could not get out of bed because of all the muscle pain. “If this continues I won’t be able to go with you tomorrow.. I can’t even get in the car this way!” he said. “Just relax and let me know early in the morning.” I answered. I was happy that apparently the aches lessened because Mark felt good enough to visit Lohmar.

The Lohmar 2019 pipe-show blend © HU Tobacco

The drive there went smooth despite the whimsical weather. Which was really sad because with almost all the previous Lohmar editions it was good to excellent. We arrived pretty early which had a reason, I wanted to go to the table of HU Tobacco as fast as possible. A couple of days before Lohmar I read on the Facebook page of Hans Wiedemann (owner and master-blender of HU Tobacco) that he was releasing a special pipe-show blend. A mixture of sweet Virginias, Burley and Latakia, advertised as: Is it a Virginia blend with Latakia in the background or is it an English mixture with a pronounced Virginia sweetness? But the thing was, there were only 50 tins! I tried to reserve a tin on Facebook and crossed my fingers. When I had finally reached Hans through the vast crowd at his table I was disappointed. All pipe-show tins were gone.. In fact, lots of Hans’ blends were already sold out! Especially the newer ones that I wanted to try.. So besides some tins that friends had asked me to buy I ended up with Moroccan Bazaar (as a lover of the oriental spice markets I just have to try this blend) and RaiKo InBeTween (formerly known as RaiKo ChocoLat, due to German regulations).

Thomas Nietsche putting some final drops of aroma on my No. 7 blend

Beside the table of Hans there stood a guy with lots of jars filled with all kinds of mixing tobaccos in front of him. It was Thomas Nietsche, the master-blender of Kohlhase & Kopp. I also read on Facebook that he and Hans had put up a contest. You could create your own blend there and let it mix by Thomas. After Lohmar all the entries are smoked and the best will become the 2020 Hamm pipe-show blend plus you get a €50 HU Tobacco coupon. I know I have been not so positive about Kohlhase & Kopp in the past but I have to say this was a brilliant initiative and Thomas is a very nice bloke. While I was waiting for my turn I explained to Mark (in Dutch) the purpose of all of this. “I understood some of that!” Thomas said jokingly while blending some tobaccos. When it was my turn I had a faint idea in my head. I wanted a kind of Balkan blend with a touch of aromatics. Very tricky because Latakia does not do well with added flavours. I instructed Thomas to begin with 30% Cyprian Latakia, then 20% orientals. I asked if he had a good Red Virginia and he did have some aged one, he put in 30%. To round it off I let him add 10% Bright Virginia and 10% unsweetened Black Cavendish. I already saw that he had some small bottles with concentrated flavours so I instructed Thomas to add just a few drops of milk-chocolate and vanilla essence to the mixture. The result was a blend that at least smelled heavenly. Vanilla-like toffee with a smoky background. Thomas saved a sample for the contest (entry no. 7 on the list) and the rest was given free of charge to me.

The Lucifer’s Pipe duke and HU Tobacco’s Moroccan Bazaar

Because of the bad weather it was crazily busy in the tents where a lot of the exhibitors showed their wares. I opted to go to the villa itself, still crowded, but more space to manoeuvre. Almost immediately I bumped into Rudi, Fred and Paul. Especially the last one I had not seen in quite a while. After talking a little bit we discovered we were in the way so I went along. There are many skilled pipe-makers at Lohmar but often the prices they ask.. Woww.. So I was pleasant surprised when I saw a pipe I wanted for a fair sum made by Berlin based Lucifer’s Pipe. It was a nicely shaped duke made of morta. Since I always wanted a pipe made of the dark wood I did not have to think long of buying it. I even got a discount without asking for it! When I turned around a gentleman approached me. “Hello Arno do you remember me?” Although his face was vaguely familiar I could not remember him. “I am Hans-Walter, we met here some years ago, there is a picture of me on your blog. Which I love by the way! The history of for example De Graaff or Capstan blends is what interests me.” Some wheels turned in my head and suddenly I remembered him. If you read this, Hans-Walter, sorry I did not recognize you immediately! I meet so many people… And thanks for your kind words! Hope you will come to Hamm next year.

Me fitting a bracelet, on the left is Adrian

Back in one of the tents I decided to pay a visit to Adrian. Every year he is there with his hand-made leather wares and is he a very nice chap. I always have to think a bit of Blackbeard the pirate when I see him. Well, actually I see him sometimes that way because Adrian loves to celebrate the carnival dressed up as a pirate in his home city of Cologne and puts pictures of it on Facebook. After talking a bit to him I took a look at his leather stuff and spotted a cool bracelet I liked. I fitted it and yes, I wanted to buy it. The price was a tad high but with my inborn Dutch skills I haggled it down. Mark also succeeded in that while buying a pipe at another stand, not my kind of pipe but really something Mark would go for. It is good we don’t all have the same taste.

The Ashton Pebble Grain I bought at Peter Heinrichs

Mark and I almost wanted to go (the weather got worse and worse) when we bumped into some Belgian pipe-smokers forum members: Geoff, Paul and his wife. We told them we were heading to Peter Heinrichs in Bergheim for a smoke in their pipe-museum/smoking lounge and maybe something to buy. The more the merrier so the Belgians agreed to join us. On the way really everything that could fall from the sky (except aeroplanes) hit us. Snow, rain, hail.. Blah.. When we arrived we were greeted by the widow of Peter Heinrichs (who is in charge together with her lovely daughters). I must say the old lady has an iron memory. Once I had mentioned I liked estate pipes, especially vintage Dunhills. So she produced some cases with in them old Dunhills, Charatans, Ashtons and more. I face-palmed myself because I knew this was going to cost me money. Lucky for my wallet there was no Dunhill that really took my fancy. But I did like an Ashton Pebble Grain Zulu like shape, which I bought. I also purchased a tin of Château Henri No. 24; Latakia from Syria (although I beg to differ…) and Cyprus, Virginia, a bit of Burley, orientals and Java-tobacco. In the smoking lounge I could not resist smoking the Lohmar No. 7. It was way to freshly mixed but despite that, not bad, not bad at all!

Dinner!!!

At 4 o’clock Heinrichs closed. I wanted to do some shopping at the German Lidl in Bergheim and afterwards get some dinner. The rest agreed and went with me. I just love to go to the Lidl in Germany. They have many products that we in The Netherlands do not have, they are cheaper and of better quality! Almost every time I am in Bergheim, regardless of whom I am with, I go to Dönerburger for dinner. It is a Turkish style take-away restaurant where you can also just sit and eat. Nothing fancy but the quality of their food is excellent and cheap. I repeat, cheap! That always makes this greedy Dutchman happy. I had a big plate of Döner kebab (lamb meat, I also had the choice to go for chicken) with fries, tzatziki sauce and a cola and I had to pay exactly €10! In The Netherlands you can’t go out and eat like that for that price.

The Belgians at the Rauch Lounge

To round off the day I proposed a visit to the Rauch Lounge in the German town of Wassenberg. I had never been there and since it was more or less situated on the way home (also for the Belgians) we decided to go there. Inside we immediately bumped again into Rudi, Paul and Fred. They had gone there directly from Lohmar. Very nice because now I had the chance to talk to them a bit longer. Rauch Lounge has not been active for long, since November 2015. I must say, kudos to them, starting a tobacco shop in these anti-tobacco times. The store is loaded with all kinds of pipes, tobacco, spirits and cigars. And the best thing, they have a modern smoking lounge which is open late. It was bigger than I had imagined looking at the pictures on their site. Mark and I picked out some cigars in the humidor and together with the Belgians we sat down and smoked. The day had been perfect, a fitting goodbye to the Lohmar pipe-show.

I would like to thank Volker Bier for organising all those excellent editions of the Lohmarer Pfeifenmesse, I will remember them fondly and hope to create new memories next year in Hamm. Further thanks go out to the convivial Belgian delegation, always nice and educational to talk to them and of course Mark, who had to endure my music and farts in the car. Sorry man! All pictures (except the © ones) were made by Mark and myself.

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Latakia and… Chocolate???

Rainer (on the right) and Hans (in the middle)

Rainer (on the right) and Hans (in the middle)

Once in a while you smoke a blend that surprises you, that tastes so different in a pleasant way than you expected. Such a mixture is ChocoLat (notice the capital “L”) by HU Tobacco. You would expect that master-blender Hans Wiedemann is behind the tobacco but no, it is a friend of him (and myself): Rainer. It all began when he read the excellent book by Fred Hanna: The Perfect Smoke. In there is a paragraph where Mr. Hanna describes a tobacco blending experiment with an aromatic mixture called McClelland Tastemaster (a (Black) Cavendish – Burley blend) and 50% latakia: Smoky Chocolate Surprise. The first candidate for an excellent crossover is a McClelland aromatic called Tastemaster. It appears to be the typical McClelland high-quality tobacco that is cased and suffused with chocolate. Yes, I said it was chocolate, and, unbelievably, it even tastes like chocolate. It is a nice aromatic all on its own if smoked after allowing it to dry for a few days. It smells nice and burns rather cool as long as, like I said, it has time to dry out. However, when mixed with 50% McClelland Cyprian Latakia, you have the dessert equivalent of Smoky Chocolate Surprise. It smells great, has depth of flavor, and burns cool with a nice chocolate taste. It is actually rather amazing stuff. I highly recommend it to the Latakia lover who has a sweet tooth. And, of course, the room note is pleasant indeed.

Norbert Hedtke

Norbert Hedtke

So Rainer started experimenting, got some Tastemaster from the States, mixed it with pure Latakia and indeed with a good result. But now the arduous task lay before him of re-creating the blend with European tobaccos. First he approached the master-blender of Kohlhase & Kopp, Norbert Hedtke. The blend that came out of that was ok, but it was not quite what Rainer had in mind. Something was off.. Of course! American (unflavoured) Black Cavendish is mostly made from Burley and European Black Cavendish is based on Virginia. Too much of the latter and the blend becomes a bit dry, woodsy. But with some tweaking this was solved. Then the mixture lacked a bit of body. This time the solution came from Hans Wiedemann. He added some special Burley and high quality Virginia which was precisely what the blend needed. The mixture then was rounded off with, not an overly sweet milk chocolate, but a dark chocolate topping.

logo_HU-TobaccoDescription from the producer:
The common passion for good tobacco has Rainer aka Raiko and me let become good friends. There was of course close to the Rainer finally created his own tobacco. The result is really fun – Chapeau Rainer!!! Luxurious, opulent and at the same time with a hint of decadence – ChocoLat has it all! Nearly half a measure of Latakia is sustained by high-grade Virginias, Burley and unflavoured Black Cavendish. A discreet cocoa flavour delivers a satisfying, indulging taste without ever becoming overly sweet. Deep and dark, pleasant and snugger alike a good Stout… ChocoLat – can also serve as an ideal companion to a dark beer.

ChocoLatPackage/tin:
A typical round European style 50 gr. tin is used. On the tin sadly no image but just plain text. Hans really makes wonderful tobaccos and some of his tins have really nice artwork. But also many tins lack that.. The eye also wants something and with a name like ChocoLat I am sure a good looking tin label could have been made.

IMG_4787Contents/Ingredients/cut:
Upon opening the tin you see a simple white paper. When you remove that a blend greets you which varies in colour from light to dark. Bright Virginias, slightly darker Burley and black Latakia and Black Cavendish. Which also sums up the ingredients. The cut is a regular ribbon cut.

noseSmell from the tin:
The smell from the tin is a bit strange, but in a good way. I smell the earthly, leathery camp-fire odour of the latakia but it is subdued by the other tobacco components and the topping. It reminds me of Sillem’s Black, marshmallows roasting above a camp-fire. But then less aromatic, more natural. A real chocolate smell I do not detect.

011Taste:
Upon lighting the pipe you get the dark earthy taste of the smoky latakia but without the bitterness you sometimes experience. After a few puffs the bright and sweet Virginias, together with some citrus, come through. They, in combination with the creamy Black Cavendish also provide a slight grassy taste. The Burley provides the nutty backbone of the blend. I don’t really detect a clear chocolate taste, it is just a bit of marshmallows roasting above a camp-fire. Smoking a pipe with this mixture is not a roller-coaster ride flavour-wise, all the ingredients are in perfect harmony and stay that way. Like with the smell I am taste-wise also reminded of Sillem’s Black; it is more natural than aromatic. Sometimes aromatic blends loose their taste halfway the bowl, but because ChocoLat leans on the natural tobaccos the flavour is consistently maintained throughout the bowl.

IMG_4786Miscellaneous:
German made blends sometimes have the tendency to bite but like most HU Tobacco blends ChocoLat is a good boy. Nicotine-wise it is a mild blend, I can smoke it without any troubles. Burn-wise this is an excellent mixture. I rarely required so few relights and it burns right down to the bottom of the bowl.

thumbs2Room-note:
For Ellen it contains latakia so no… However, even when she says she does not really like it, she made no remarks while I smoked it, no leaving the room, no coughing noises.. And when I entered the living-room the next morning all I could smell was a faint roasted marshmallow odour. So for me the room-note goes into the “pretty decent” department.

moneyPrice:
On the website of HU Tobacco this blend will cost you €11,30 (± $12.50).

P1090674Conclusion:
This blend will appeal to pipe-smokers on different levels. If you are a lover of Latakia-blends this mixture will be a nice and perhaps refreshing change of pace. Don’t let the “chocolat” label put you off, this is not an aromatic, there are loads of high quality natural tobaccos to be enjoyed. And if your wife loathes the smell of your favourite Latakia-blends, try ChocoLat, perhaps she will like it. Because every woman loves chocolate, right? Also when you want to try out a mixture with latakia I believe this is a good blend to start with. You get the characteristics of the dark leaf but in a smoothed, tasty way that won’t put you off.

Marvellous Motzek

Herbert Motzek

Herbert Motzek

Like I said in my last blogpost “Luxury tobacco from Lauenburg” this year the destination for the summer holiday of Ellen and myself was Germany. Of course I planned to visit several tobacco-shops and the number 1 on my list was the store of Herbert Motzek in Kiel, one of the major maritime centres of Germany. With a lot of you the name “Motzek” will ring a bell.. Motzek.. Motzek.. Ah! From the Strang-Curly (rope-curly)! I first heard of the existence of that tobacco from Dutch pipe smokers forum member and walking pipe and tobacco encyclopaedia Huub, who has been smoking it, to his utter delight, for years. But that excellent tobacco is not the only thing Motzek has to offer..

Tobacco tins stacked up to the ceiling

Tobacco tins stacked up to the ceiling

The store is located at a busy street with lots of traffic and in front of it beside the door the Dannebrog, the Danish flag, proudly flutters. The signal that the business of Motzek, which he operates with his from origin Danish wife Lizzie (hence the flag) since 1975, is open. Inside the store the sound of buzzing traffic becomes even less than a background noise and a relaxed atmosphere prevails. Smooth jazz music is playing through the shop and behind the counter the tobacco tins are stacked up to the ceiling. As soon as I saw Herr Motzek I immediately began to ramble about the Strang-Curly and ask him questions. “Easy, easy! Time enough, do you want some coffee?” Ah! The sign of an old-world tobacconist. We were placed in some soft chairs and the hot dark liquid was served. Motzek sat opposite us and took a good look at me. “An old habit, when a new customer comes in, I always ask myself, what pipe would probably look good with him. But please, fill your pipe and smoke something!”

IMG_3276For me the shop has one big plus, cigarettes are nowhere to be seen! Motzek fulfils the wishes of smokers who smoke for their enjoyment. In 1978 he received a license for (pipe) tobacco production (recognizable by German tax number 12502) and is the only tobacconist in Germany who produces his own tobacco. Well, that is not entirely true, Herr Motzek does not produce tobacco himself. In a factory in a small town just a couple of kilometres outside of Kiel the entire range of Motzek tobaccos is made by his wife Lizzie. “She has acquired loads of knowledge at seminars and trainings, that is why I leave the mixing to her. However, for the final end control I take over again because I want to exactly know what I am selling.” In addition to the finest cigars from around the world in one of the largest walk-in humidors of Schleswig-Holstein, the shop holds a wide range of pipes. Currently about 1000 pieces. But there is something special. Not only can you buy pipes from well known manufacturers like Winslow (a personal friend of Motzek), Peterson, and Vauen but you can also purchase a real “Motzek”. Herbert Motzek is the only pipe maker in Kiel and one of only a few in Schleswig-Holstein.

3Together with the opening of his business Motzek learned the craft of pipemaking from Viggo Nielsen in Danish town of Faaborg. “I did not only wanted to sell pipes, I also wanted to know how they are made.” says the trained stained-glass painter (his original profession). The thought behind it was originally that Motzek could offer his customers a low-cost repair service without long waits. From that the pipe making has grown. “At some point I was ready, so I dared to offer my pipes for sale”. 6 to 10 hours, from start to finish and nearly 80 individual steps it takes to produce a pipe in his small workshop. Motzek manufactures about 40 to 50 pipes per year, mostly on order. “First the pipe should smoke technically perfect, second comes the design that can extra delight a customer.” says the 69 year old. Even if the design is of secondary importance, the fact is that the pipes must smoke well and look good. So each piece of briar Motzek takes into his own hands in order to “read it”. To look closely at the wood and its grain before going to work. And sometimes it brings out so much that it is difficult for him to sell the pipe. “I have a pipe that I am working on for almost 13 years. That is perhaps my masterpiece. It has a perfect birds eye but I dare not properly complete it, because there is a small chance it might break..” Motzek gets a lot of recognition and positive reactions from his customers. For him the joy of a customer when he smokes a Motzek-made pipe or tobacco means almost more than the money he gets for his work.

4When asked if he had famous people in his store he nods. “Oh yes, Sigfried Lenz, Vanessa Mae, Herbert Wehner, Vicky Leandros, Blacky Fuchsberger… Motzek thinks and sighs wistfully. “I had so many customers in this store. Especially creative people took on pipe smoking. The looking into the smoke, slowly sipping the pipe, the thought and consideration process. That has inspired artists.” says Motzek philosophically. In Berlin’s trendy pubs young hipsters transport pipes in their jute bags back and forth. But whether this trend also goes for the rest of the country? Kiel certainly has not been reached yet. Motzek is increasingly relying on his regular customers. “Every time pipe smoking is a new trend, but it is also politically incorrect. Why do many public persons smoke in secret? The times when Helmut Kohl (former Chancellor of Germany) was still to be seen with his pipe on the election poster are long gone. Once the pipe was a symbol of reliability and dependability. Today society is health conscious and keeps on doing fitness into old age. The pipe does not fit with that.” With his 69 years Herbert Motzek thinks harder and harder about quitting. Only one problem, “I can let go so badly.”

Me and Motzek

Me and Motzek

The fact that a visit to the store for customers is not “just” shopping almost goes without saying. Things are not “just” bought. There is conversation, there is smoking going on and there are discussions on equal terms. But many customers Motzek does not know personally, a sign of the times. Even on the Internet he sells his wares to customers throughout Germany, The Netherlands, England, the Mediterranean region and several other countries around the world even as far away as Dubai. Asked about the health hazards of smoking Herbert Motzek responds with a sly smile with a quote from Swiss-German physician Paracelsus (1493 – 1541): “Dosis facit venenum. All things are poison. Only the dose makes that a thing is not a poison.”

At the shop I bought two of Motzek’s house-tobaccos. Of course the well known Strang-Curly but also an English blend: Herbst 84. I already knew the Strang-Curly, I received samples from forum-member Smoking Rob from both the cut and uncut version for which I am still grateful! Here is a review of the two blends.

motzek_packagingPackage/tin description (translated from German):
Strang-Curly:
A strang (rope), a speciality, rare to find nowadays: fine virginias filled with dark burley are spun together with a spicy but mild perique. This speciality is for connoisseurs, we deliver it cut or uncut. The strang is packed in a large sealed zip-lock bag of 100 gram.
Herbst 84: The classic amongst the English mixtures. Fine oriental tobaccos, bright light and red virginias are rounded off with spicy latakia. The slow cool burn guarantees a high smoking pleasure.
The mixture is packed in 50 gram pouches and sealed zip lock bags of 100 and 200 gram.

IMG_3667Contents/cut:
Strang-Curly:
Virginias, burley and perique. It is a rope tobacco which is a delight to look at. In general the core of the rope is a bit darker with lighter leaves around it with traces of tobacco-stems in between.
Herbst 84: Bright light and red virginias, oriental tobaccos and latakia. Remarkably Motzek still has some Syrian latakia, although not much, only 20 kg is left from his once large stock. “I can’t get it any more these days..” he sighs. When I asked if Syrian latakia was used in Herbst 84 he was unsure. “My wife better knows the exact ingredients of the blends. But if it is in, it only will be a couple of strands..” It is a ribbon cut with a beautiful presentation of light and dark tobacco strands.

noseSmell from the pouch/bag:
Strang-Curly: An earthy but sweet and inviting smell comes from the strang. Hay and figs with a slightly dark nutty undertone are pleasing my spoiled nostrils.
Herbst 84: When I opened the pouch I immediately thought that the name of the blend was well chosen. It brings forth a pleasant, earthy and slightly salty peaty smell that is strongly reminiscent of autumn leaves, forest floor and freshly harvested fields. In my head it smelled like a mix of Samuel Gawith’s Squadron Leader and Pipes & Cigar’s Magnum Opus. Needles to say, my anticipation grew.

011Taste:
Strang-Curly: A few puffs after lighting the pipe-bowl the mildly sweet virginias come forth upon a broad earthy, yeasty and slightly nutty layer. The flavour is complex but almost unbelievable very well balanced. It grabs your attention and basically stays the same throughout the bowl. I would almost say it has a signature taste, once you smoked it you can recognize it blindfolded a next time. Towards the middle of the bowl the flavours broaden and become a thoroughly enjoyable symphony of natural tobaccos. In short I would say, think of toasted bread with some walnuts on it and a small splash of honey. I can’t really detect the perique but I guess it adds some zest to the strang. At the end of the bowl an ashy taste begins to appear. A messenger that the fun is almost over. Oh, I very much recommend the uncut Strang-Curly as opposed to the cut version. The taste is just, fuller, better, more intense.
Herbst 84: What can I say, like the strang this one is also unbelievable very well balanced. The smoky latakia stays in the background throughout the bowl together with the orientals and both support the dominant and sweet virginias in perfect harmony. Mid-bowl the floral orientals pop out now and then which provide interesting counter-flavours to the virginias. Towards the end of the bowl the well orchestrated blend gradually fades out into grey ash. Like with the smell I also had to think of Samuel Gawith’s Squadron Leader and Pipes & Cigar’s Magnum Opus when smoking it.

IMG_3664Miscellaneous:
Strang-Curly: The strang is wetter than Ellen when she sees me coming out of the shower.. I am used to tobaccos that are pretty moist (hello Samuel Gawith flakes) but this one requires some serious drying time. At least 2 to 3 hours. Or less if you nick the hair-dryer of your friend/girlfriend. I tend to rub out the cut coins, it makes packing the bowl easier. Nicotinewise the strang is medium, it won’t kick you off your feet but will satisfy your cravings.
Herbst 84: The blend packs and burns perfectly. Although it dries out pretty fast in the pouch. Motzek refuses to use hygroscopic agents like sorbitol, propylene glycol and glycerine to keep the tobacco wet. Only water is used to moisten the tobacco.

thumbs2Room-note:
Strang-Curly: Ellen has no trouble when I smoke this one inside. Although I kind of dislike the cigarette-like odour in the room the next morning.
Herbst 84: Because it is not a latakia-bomb Ellen has no objections when I smoke Herbst 84 inside. The next morning only a slight incense odour was left.

moneyPrice:
Strang-Curly: Tobaccos made by Motzek are relatively cheap compared to other German offerings. 100 gram will only cost you €15,50 (± $17.28)
Herbst 84: A 50 gram pouch will set you back at €6,25 (± $6.97). 100 gram costs €12,- (± $13.38) and 200 gram €23,- (± $25.64).

IMG_3658Conclusion:
Strang-Curly: I congratulate Lizzie Motzek, this is the best rope tobacco I smoked so far. Period. It has a signature taste that does not get boring. And bear in mind that the strang I smoked was pretty fresh. Imagine what a few years of ageing will do. Ooooh yeah…
Herbst 84: For me this is one of the best latakia-blends made on Europe mainland. It utterly surprised me in a most pleasant way. I never expected such an excellent tobacco could come out of a pouch. I will be stocking up on this one. Because it has a more than good price-quality ratio and who knows when Motzek finally decides to quit…

EDIT 01-12-2015: Sadly (for us pipe-smokers) Motzek decided to quit.. This is written (in German) on his website: After a working career of 51 years, 46 years within the industry and 40 years with my own business, I’m almost 70 now and I want to retire. I’m looking for an able successor for my unique shop (Cigar lounge, pipe repair shop, and tobacco manufacturing license) in Kiel. Interested parties please inquire per phone +49 431 554162.

EDIT 18-04-2016: Motzek’s retirement is definitive now. His website states that he will say “goodbye” Thursday 28 April 2016. However, the store is not closing down because Herbert has found a successor who will begin on 1 May. I heard that he is currently learning the ropes of making THE rope, the Strang-Curly. So I have high hopes that the legend of the Strang-Curly will continue.

EDIT 08-05-2016: The successor for Herbert Motzek is pipe-maker Thomas Darasz! He also took over the Motzek name and the tobacco tax-number needed for producing the house-blends (under which the Strang-Curly). So it looks like the future of the store is secured.

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Luxury tobacco from Lauenburg

Lauenburg

This year the destination for the summer holiday of Ellen and myself was Germany. Instead of staying in one location we opted to make a week-long trip from the North of Germany, Lübeck, to the Middle-East part; the Ahrtal. In between those two locations we resided in hotels and B&B’s. Of course I planned to visit several tobacco-shops and even a tobacco-factory: DTM in Lauenburg, situated on the northern bank of the river Elbe, east of Hamburg. Lauenburg is just a lovely old town with a picturesque historic centre alongside the Elbe. Small, enchanting streets up the hill lead to what is left of the once mighty Lauenburg castle. Also the view from there is stunning, you cannot only see the beautiful river Elbe and the old town, but also the flat marshland of Lower-Saxony. Lauenburg has one café/restaurant where you can smoke inside: the Alten Schifferhaus, where I left Ellen so I could visit DTM without her beautiful but prying eyes.

2015 Dan Pipe catalogue cover

2015 Dan Pipe catalogue cover

First of all, there are 2 separate business entities: Dan Pipe and Dan Tobacco Manufacturing (DTM). Dan Pipe is a retail and catalogue company. Dan Tobacco is a tobacco production facility. The history of Dan Pipe began in 1972 when, after a holiday in Denmark, teacher and enthusiastic pipe smoker Heiko Behrens decided to sell the creations of then unknown Danish pipe makers. In a small catalogue handmade pipes by Former, Emil Chonowitsch and Poul Hansen were presented together with factory pipes from Tabago, Torben Dansk, Danmore and other Danish producers. Soon also pipe tobacco was added to the catalogue, including Dan Pipe‘s first own-brand Torben DanskThe quality of the pipes and tobaccos from the Dan Pipe catalogue provided good word-of-mouth advertising amongst the German pipe-smokers so gradually the customer base grew.

Holger Frickert

Holger Frickert © Pipes & Tobacco Magazine

By 1976 the business was growing so rapidly that a new location was necessary. Behrens contracted craftsman (and aspiring young dentist) Holger Frickert to construct and design a showroom. Frickert was leading a class in art and design and that class rebuilt the shop in the form of a boat. It was an extraordinary design, with sails atop the room. Sadly I could not find any pictures of it.. Frickert’s passion for handicrafts, smoking and pipes led him to abandon dentistry and join Behrens’ business in 1978. He began repairing pipes as well as designing his own plus he became responsible for the catalogue presentation. The company was renamed for legal reasons in Danske Pibe“.

© Pipes & Tobacco Magazine

© Pipes & Tobacco Magazine

In 1985 Danske Pibe had grew so large that a much more spacious home had to be found. The Grashof”, a large farmhouse with thatched roof from the 18th century offered ideal conditions. There was space in abundance and on top of that the in 1987 lovingly restored old house, which also housed the store, had a special rustic charm. Over the years it became a magnetic pole in the northfor tobacco and pipe enthusiasts from all parts of Germany and the surrounding countries. Since the beginning of the 1980’s one of the specialities of the company were the house-brand tobaccos, which soon covered a wide range of flavours. But quality and delivery problems became a threat so decisive action was necessary. A new supplier who was able to cover the entire range of house-brand tobaccos was not in sight. Because of that the decision was made by Danske Pibe to establish their own tobacco factory. In 1991 a suitable building was found in Lauenburg and that was the beginning of subsidiary Dan Tobacco Manufacturing. Simultaneously the parent company returned to its old name Dan Pipe.

dan tobacco buildingThe DTM building is kind of special. It is an old former grain malting house, built of red brick into the steep slope of the Elbe river banks more than 100 years ago with a construction solid like an ancient castle. Enclosed by anywhere from several feet to several hundred feet of rock, the temperature and humidity in it varies no more than 2,5%. The ideal place for storing and producing pipe tobacco. The inevitable start-up problems were soon overcome and thanks to the creativity and experience of the employees of both companies they succeeded in a remarkably short time to generate a sizeable range of tobacco products. Those tobaccos were of such excellent quality that they gained a high international reputation. Thus exports to, for example, USA, Italy, Russia and Japan followed.

Pfeifen Timm

Pfeifen Timm

In 1994 Dan Pipe acquired 4 stores of the Pfeifen Timm chain in Hamburg’s city centre, a pipe-specialist well-known throughout Germany. Thus, the tobacco assortment now included many Timm house-brands. Even a fresh wind went through the cigar assortment and it was greatly increased. Sadly in November 2001 a fire laid the Grashof in ruins. Luckily in Lauenburg at DTM enough space was available, so it became the new home of Dan Pipe. The years during and after the financial crisis were difficult. The shops in Hamburg suffered losses and had to be closed. Dr. Heiko Behrens realised he needed help and so Maria Sousa became the other director. New sources of income had to be found in which the company succeed. Nowadays besides pipe-tobacco, high class water-pipe tobacco is made in Lauenburg.

Part of the Dan Pipe shop interior

Part of the Dan Pipe shop interior

I visited Dan Pipe / DTM several times now. But the first time (like so many things) was special. In 2012 I was busy with the quest for forum tobaccos. It was arranged that good friend and chauffeur Ed and myself would stay there for two days and visit the DTM factory. When we arrived we immediately noticed the sweet smell coming from the building. Someone was making a batch of aromatic tobacco for sure! Inside the Dan Pipe store shop assistant Ralph Kaschwich looked at us a bit questioning. “You come here for two days? Netherlands? Forum tobaccos? Let me make a phone call..” After a brief conversation things were cleared out and we were asked to wait for Andreas Mund, the master blender. That waiting certainly was not a punishment! The store has a beautiful interior from 1920 which is made from solid mahogany and comes from an old Hamburg pharmacy. It has many drawers and shelves where besides pipes about 140 DTM tobaccos are displayed in sample-jars. There also is a table with a bench where you can quietly sit, have a drink, take a piece of cake and (of course) smoke.

Andreas and me in the DTM warehouse

Andreas and me in the DTM warehouse

Soon Andreas greeted us. An ordinary looking man on first sight, you could take him for a construction worker if you saw him. Later it turned out that he actually had been a construction worker before he became involved in DTM. In 5 years he learned the tricks of the trade from former master blender Jürgen Westphal, who created almost all original DTM tobaccos and was going into retirement. The tour around the factory started at the top floor where the raw tobaccos are stored in lots of crates, boxes, bales and barrels. I do not know how many tons exactly but with a turnover of approximately 60.000 kg. per year you can imagine the scale of the place. DTM has to buy their leaf tobacco on the same terms as the big companies; by the container. So lots of tobacco have to be stored for quite a while before they are completely processed. Not bad, on the contrary,  it can slowly mature and improve its rich aromatic characteristics day by day. The tobaccos come from all over the world. Virginia from Brazil, India, the Philippines and Zambia, oriental tobaccos from Lebanon and Bulgaria, burley from Mozambique and Malawi, latakia from Cyprus, Kentucky from India and perique from the USA.

Andreas and a barrel of perique

Andreas and a barrel of perique

What surprised us was the transparency and openness business-wise in general. “I have so many tons of this and buy it for about that price so and so, etc.” The bottom line is that Andreas is also responsible for the purchase of raw tobaccos. For some of those he must wait nine months after ordering until they are finally delivered (eg. latakia), so he must carefully calculate whether his current stock is sufficient. It was remarkable that the dry, raw unprocessed tobacco indeed had no remarkable smell (long live casings). Well, except latakia and of course perique. Talking about that last one, DTM has a couple of barrels of the stuff, standing in a dark corner. Apparently perique and light are not a good combination. The smell of it is just… Whoaaa….Malevolent..

DTM_09In the next hall upstairs were the ready tobaccos waiting in large boxes to be further processed. Also here nothing was too crazy. Much was made open, it was grabbed, sniffed at. Delicious! I wished I had a couple bags of this tobacco I thought several times. I noticed that most employees smoked shag or cigarettes and no pipe. “Yes, we smoke pure Virginias here and no garbage made by Lucky Strike for example with 70% tobacco and 30% wood chips.” Andreas said. Incidentally he smokes a pipe but with the daily work cigarettes are just easier. Plus he uses cigarettes to try out new raw tobaccos. A trick he learned from Jürgen Westphal. If it does not taste in a cigarette, it certainly does not taste in a pipe.

Andreas and me before the flavour extracts

Andreas and me before the flavour extracts

On the lower floor in the building stood the old machinery which until recently was used for the production of tobaccos. Plus there were lots of shelves stacked with all kinds of aromatic extracts. “We are lucky.” Andreas said “The centre for flavour extracts is Hamburg, which is close to Lauenburg. There are many companies which make this stuff so it is very easy for us it acquire.” It was a very strange experience to smell some extracts. Sometimes it smelled so strong, so concentrated, that you could not figure out what exactly was inside a bottle. Also some flavours had several subcategories, for example Butter Vanilla, Crème Vanilla etc.

DTM_16When we walked around the corner to the next room we saw the mighty flake presses made by famous company Robert Legg from London. Stately red-black devices that looked like they were forged from ancient iron. 2 presses could be heated in order to make Virginia cavendish. However, this was not done because apparently it is cheaper to buy ready-made cavendish. The slabs of flake coming out of the machine are 9 kg. Nice to see that some of those slabs were for Hans Wiedemann’s HU Tobacco, who lets several of his offerings make by DTM. On another wall were so called postpresses. They are needed because the tobacco that comes from the big press has a tendency to expand again. The reason for this is that DTM wants to use Arabic gum (adhesive for the flakes) as little as possible.

Metal tobacco cylinder

Metal tobacco cylinder

Then we came in the big factory hall, the place of the large, new machine. An impressive sight, especially the big metal cylinder in which the raw tobacco is moistened and cased. Almost everything coming from the DTM factory is cased with honey. Large buckets of the naturally sweet stuff stood beside the machine on the sticky floor. The hall looked slightly blue of the vapours and smoke from the whole process. I will not describe in detail what happens because Ed made a short film about it.

Measuring the cut tobacco

Measuring the cut tobacco

But, in short: The tobacco is moistened/cased, then it gets compressed, cut, the moisture level gets corrected and eventually it all ends up in large boxes. However, the machine which had to cut the tobacco (made by German machine factory Winicker & Lieber who also make the machines for Mac Baren and Pöschl) did not (yet) function optimal. Therefore a little bit of the batch was cut and measured by hand so the machine could be recalibrated. This continued until the cut was right.

Packing department

Packing department

On to the all female packing department. I expected the work was done by machines but nothing could be further from the truth. Everything was done by hand! The tobacco weighing, putting it in tins/pouches, closing the tins/pouches, putting stickers on it.. I have so much respect for the women who do this work. When we were there they were mainly busy with pouches for Switzerland, a very large market for DTM. I had to laugh when Andreas remarked that those pouches contained a blend with 50% oriental tobaccos.Not good, not good..” He said, and pulled a dirty face. “Up to 30% in a blend, nothing more. But the customer is king.” Also the ladies were packing an aromatic blend of DTM. You could tell right away because the whole room smelled like candies were packed in stead of tobacco. The tour continued in the repair workshop. Pipes are being fixed here by boys who are still quite young. Some pipes shown to me belonged to a man who monthly needed new mouthpieces because he chewed them up.Pipes are to smoke, not to eat”, Andreas sighed with a smile. From the repair workshop we went to the tobacco warehouse of Dan Pipe. The place where everything in the catalogue (and more) is stored. Impressive to see all those tobaccos and pipe smoking paraphernalia.

Michael Apitz

Michael Apitz

Through the tobacco warehouse we came back in the store where Michael Apitz had joined Herr Kaschwich. He is responsible for creating many of the aromatic tobaccos of DTM. And is a walking encyclopaedia of everything that has to do with pipes and tobacco. Plus he is not afraid to share his knowledge and give his opinion, an intense man. I knew little of aromatic tobaccos so it was about time to speak to him. “Herr Apitz, may I ask something…” “No! First I have a question for you! How many tobaccos can one taste and judge on one day?” “Ehrrr, um… Three?” “No! Only one.” And a whole explanation followed. He showed and let us smell a lot of tobaccos together with an explanation of them. Very informative. With one of the first tobaccos which he took from the shelf he asked us what we smelled. As in, you never going to guess it. I smelled it.. And again.. Ehrr, aniseed? He looked at me with big eyes. Correct! *Phewww* Every time we were in the shop and there were no other customers he came up with another topic to talk about. Once again, very informative.

IMG_3357The last time I was there we spoke with each other non-stop for about 1.5 hour until I really had to get back to Ellen, who I left at the Alten Schifferhaus. Just before I went Herr Apitz asked me what I liked to smoke the most. “Well, a good Balkan I guess.” I answered. He then rushed to the tobacco warehouse and came back with a pouch of Bill Bailey’s Balkan Blend. “Here, this is for you, enjoy it!” Which for me characterizes Dan Pipe / DTM. Warm and passionate people with the typical “no-nonsense working hard and effective” German mentality.

Here are some DTM-made tobacco recommendations:
BiBo (Buddies): An ultimate aromatic statement created by Michael Apitz. The absolute pinnacle of sweetness. Forget the sweet American, Danish and Dutch blends, this one tops them all. It tastes and smells like Jaffa cakes, but then into the extreme. I once smoked this one in the evening in my living-room and asked Ellen what she thought. “Well, not bad” was the answer. Until she came downstairs the next morning.. “Whaaaat!? What is this odour? It smells like a friggin’ candy shop in here!” It took a week before we could not smell BiBo any more.. “I rather have you smoking latakia!” Ellen sneered in my direction.
Bill Bailey’s Balkan: A bit strange, Kentucky in a Balkan, but it works out well and results in a cool and satisfying smoke.
Midnight Ride: A rich, full flavoured classic English blend. If you want to know how Perique can work its magic in a latakia-mixture, try this one.
Old Ironsides: A latakia lovers dream. Dark and strong but also cool and creamy this flake makes you come back for more.
Skipper’s Flake: A no-nonsense straight Virginia flake. Pure unadulterated bright leaf heaven. ‘Nuff said.
Smooth latakia: One of the newer offerings, created by the wife of Andreas who also works at DTM. Black cavendish combined with latakia make this (like the name says) a smooth smoke. It reminds me a bit of McClelland’s Frog Morton.
Sweet Vanilla Honeydew: One of the few aromatic tobaccos I really like. Tastes like creamy vanilla and smells like those divine butter biscuits grandma used to bake. A real crowd pleaser.

Thanks go out to Paul and Ed for a lot of the pictures you see.

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Curing is the cure

curingRecently I realized with a shock that I had never written a proper blogpost about an essential tobacco process: curing. Ok, here and there in older blogposts I told stuff but nothing combined. So I put all the bits and pieces together with some additional info. The primary purpose of curing leaf tobacco is to accelerate the ageing and drying processes under controlled conditions to make it ready for consumption. Trust me, you do not want to smoke fresh tobacco.. Curing allows for the slow oxidation and degradation of carotenoids in the tobacco leaf. This produces various compounds that give cured tobacco the “smoothness” of the consumed end-product. The primary methods of curing include: air curing, flue curing, fire curing (or smoke curing) and sun curing (considered by some people to be the same as air curing).

Air-curing the Burley tobaccoAir curing: here the leaves are allowed to dry by exposure to air in well ventilated barns. Fans can also be used in this process to make the air movement stronger to accelerate the loss of moisture. This air curing process normally takes from 4 to 6 weeks. It is completed when the central vein of the leaf is completely free of sap. This type of curing is used primarily for burley. Light air cured burley and dark air cured burley to be precise. The top grades of light air cured burley, which are yellow, are referred to as “White Burley”. These larger, thinner middle leaves are those most desired for the manufacture of fine pipe tobacco and premium quality cigarettes. White burley has a fine texture, excellent burning qualities and the ability to absorb large amounts of casings and flavourings. The top and bottom leaves are used in the manufacture of snuff, plugs, twist and inexpensive brands of pipe smoking tobacco. The taste is nutty, sometimes with a bit of a cocoa note.

dark air cured burleyDark Air cured burley is mostly used for chewing tobacco, plugs, snuff and inexpensive brands of pipe tobacco. The lower grades (or heavier leaves) are used in some tobacco mixtures to give the tobacco blend more “body”. The taste is earthy, spicy and cigar-like and the colour of the leaves ranges from light to dark brown. Most cigar leaf is also air cured but will undergo an extra step: “bulking”. Essentially this means that big bundles are made of the leaves so that they can be laid to rest in order to start the fermentation process. The pepperiness of  burley and many of the Central American-grown Cuban-seed cigar strains comes from the nicotine that naturally is in the leaf.

fire-cured-tobacco-barnFire curing (or smoke curing): here the leaves are essentially BBQed. In the case of dark fired Kentucky burley they are exposed to open fires (smouldering, not blazing, otherwise the tobacco will prematurely burn up) of hardwood and hardwood sawdust that are maintained on the barn-floor and give off smoke. In some cases, the amount of smoke is fairly moderate.  In addition to drying the tobacco the fire curing process imparts an unusual, modest smoky and wood-like taste and aroma to the tobacco. Latakia is also a fire cured tobacco but has a far more pronounced smoke flavour and aroma. This is due to the intensity of the fumes and aromatic quality of the used woods. Syrian latakia is derived from a tobacco leaf known as “shekk-el-bint.” When it is harvest time the plant is cut and the leaves and flowers are laid on the ground to dry in the sun (essentially sun curing). When they have dried they are taken to storehouses, where they are smoked for a period of 13 to 15 weeks. The smoke is primarily made by using nearby hardwoods and pines, probably from the Baer forest, such as Aleppo pine, Turkey oak and Valonia oak. Also lesser amounts of other aromatic species like Lebanon cedar and Greek Juniper were used.

fire_curedCyprian latakia comes from a Smyrna or Izmir-type tobacco plant that is known as “Yellow Cyprus.” The Yellow Cyprus leaves are harvested by de-stalking them and are made on long poles to be hung in a tobacco shed. The leaves are then smoked over open smouldering fires. These fires are made from hardwoods, some pine and aromatic shrubs and woods such as prickly cedar and myrtle. It has been reported that the Mastic shrub is primarily used in the smoke generation for Cyprian latakia. The following formula may approximate the shrubs and woods used for the fire/smoke-curing process: Mastic 90%, Myrtle 4%, Stone pine (this one or this one) 4%, Cypress 1%, Other 1%. The nicotine content does not seem to be severely affected by the process. Dark fired Kentucky burley with its significant nicotine level is not that much different from the dark air cured variety. The moderate nicotine level of latakia does not vary greatly from the oriental base leaf it is made of.

Flue curingFlue curing: here the leaves are cured by exposure to indirect heat. This is created by moving hot air, smoke or steam through a flue or pipe inside a building (often a barn) thus allowing the heat to strongly warm up the building. The higher heat causes a more rapid drying effect and is the traditional method for curing Virginia. The yellow colour you often see Virginia has comes from the heat exposure. Generally the process will take about a week. This way of flue curing was not discovered until 1839. In that year a slave, Stephen Slade (owned by farmer Abisha Slade from Caswell County NC), fell asleep one night while keeping an eye on the wood fires used for curing the barns of tobacco. Whether it was the stormy night, instinct or just what woke him, no one will ever know. But he awoke realizing that the fires in the tobacco curing barn had almost gone out. Rather than throw wet wood into the dying fire, he rushed to the charcoal pit near the forge. He grabbed several charred log parts and threw them on the embers. The application of the sudden, drying heat, derived from the charred logs, produced an amazing effect on the green tobacco. The result was 600 pounds of the brightest yellow tobacco ever seen.

flue cured tobaccoFlue cured tobacco generally has more sugar, less oil and a lower nicotine content. The presence of the sugar counters tongue bite but can cause heat issues while smoking. Naturally sugars tend to have a higher combustion temperature. Because of the ability of this curing method to maintain the sugars in a relatively stable percentage a form of flue curing is used in making candela cigar wrapper. The heat not only fixes the few sugars present but the chlorophyll as well thus allowing the wrappers to stay green.

Sun curingSun curing: this method is used in Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania and Mediterranean countries which produce oriental tobaccos. Leaves are strung out on racks and exposed to the sun for 12 to 30 days to remove most of their moisture before being air cured to complete the process. The sun’s direct heat fixes the leaves at a yellow to orange colour with a high sugar content. Then they are stored in bales and allowed to ferment.

Pressure-fermentation

Pressure-fermentation

Additional or supplementary curing can be done by the use of heat and/or pressure after the initial process. A good example of pressure is the technique of pressure-fermentation which is used in making perique. This process remains a traditional craft,  not much has changed since the early 20th century. First air cured tobacco is hand stripped. The leaf which is used  is considered to be pretty similar to burley. The only moisture added is just prior to the stripping to make the leaves pliable. How many moisture is used is up to the craftsmen. You just have to feel it. Then the tobacco is rolled into “torquettes” of approximately 1 pound (450 g) and packed into hickory whisky barrels. These are  topped off with a wooden lid and pressed by using oak blocks and massive screw jacks. Thus forcing nearly all the air out of the still moist leaves. The barrels are unpacked at least three times during the active fermentation phase (around five months). The torquettes are then repacked in the barrels in reverse order (former top bundles on bottom and bottom bundles on top) to permit a little air back into the tobacco. They are then closely monitored with periodic increases of pressure. After at least a year of this treatment, the perique is ready for consumption.

toasting semoisA good example of supplementary curing by the use of heat is the fascinating Belgian leaf, Semois. First it is air cured (after all Semois is a type of burley) and then it is sort of heat cured. This because the tobacco is toasted in what looks like a metal custom made wood-burning oven. Inside is a large drum which is heated by a fire below and can spin around. The tobacco is put inside and while tumbling it is getting toasted.

Th-th-th-that’s all folks!

Germain Rich Dark Flake vs. Esoterica Stonehaven

Franz

Franz

At the latest Heukelum meeting I talked to fellow PRF-member Franz. Besides a fondness for old English made pipes (except Dunhill) he also very much likes the tobaccos made by the well known J.F. Germain & Son company from the British Channel Islands. Throughout the time I know Franz I was able to smoke quite a few Germain-made samples provided by him. Now he also did not disappoint me because from England he had ordered a vast amount of Germain Rich Dark Flake! I always wanted to try that one because according to a lot of stories it is similar to the famous Esoterica Tobacciana Stonehaven. I asked Franz if I could fill up a decent sized sample bag so I could compare it to Stonehaven at home. With a smile he said: go ahead!

jf_germain_sonBackground information:
Rich Dark Flake: Unfortunately I have very little background information about Rich Dark Flake. It is only available in the UK and is sold solely in bulk and not in tins. According to Mr Germain some of their blends maintained their recipe for 60 years. If that is the case with Rich Dark Flake, nooo idea.. I would love to hear from some elderly English pipe-smokers how long they are buying the blend.
Stonehaven: The origins of Esoterica Stonehaven are easier to trace. The range of Esoterica tobaccos was founded by Steve Richman, the owner of the Piedmont Tobacconist in Oakland, somewhere halfway the 1980’s. He was looking for someone who could produce his blends. J.F. Germain & Son heard about his interest and made contact through the British embassy. They must have been what Steve Richman was looking for because they started doing business together immediately. For the evaluation of the created blends Steve Richman founded a panel in which GL Pease also took place. Stonehaven is the only blend in the Esoterica range which includes Burley.

Package/tin description:
Rich Dark Flake:
“A great medium to strong dark flake made using a combination of Virginia and Burley tobaccos. Very similar to the popular Germains Stonehaven blend.” Rich Dark Flake comes in standard plastic pouches of a variety of gram weights with a lot of health warnings and in the same gold-coloured sealed bag as Stonehaven. It is always hit or miss if it comes all broken up or in thin juicy flakes.
Stonehaven: “A marriage of air-cured leaf and Burley with selected dark Virginia. Hard pressed and aged to produce brown flakes with dark undertones. A traditional English flake favoured by experienced pipe smokers.” Stonehaven comes in a gold-coloured sealed bag of 8 ounce with on it a simple but elegant label. As far as I know it never was available in tins.

Contents/cut:
Rich Dark Flake:
Burley and Virginia. The flake looks dark, long and thin but just not as thin as Stonehaven. On the picture the flake looks a bit broken up but this comes or from the journey to Franz, him dividing it in smaller portions and finally me putting it in a sample bag, or it was a batch which was a bit broken up.
Stonehaven: The same as Rich Dark Flake: Burley and Virginia. Apart from the slightly thinner cut both flakes look the same. According to Mr Germain Stonehaven is made with 22 cuts an inch. To me this is the thinnest flake I know of.

noseSmell from the pouch/bag:
Rich Dark Flake: When I hold the tobacco under my nose I smell milk chocolate, liquorice, treacle, leather, hay, raisins and some “earthiness”.
Stonehaven: Upon opening the mason jar in which I keep the tobacco I am greeted by a whiff of dark chocolate and some kind of liquor (cognac?) which reminds me of certain Belgian bonbons. Close to my sniffing organ the chocolate still dominates with a faint odour of hay and treacle. Obviously Stonehaven has a “darker” smell than Rich Dark Flake.

011Taste:
Rich Dark Flake: Already after the first few puffs you know you are on to something good. It has an “ancient”, traditional typical tobacco flavour to which only British manufacturers hold the secret. The first part of the bowl is utterly delicious and the creamy, rich flavours I encounter remind me of the typical Dutch “kerststol“: yeast, butter, (brown) sugar and almond. I did even taste some hints of dried fruit (plum?) and raisins. In the second part of the bowl the burley rears its head, the flavours deepen and the tobacco becomes more “manly”. A certain leathery earthiness develops and the sweetness sometimes gives way a bit to a pleasant bitterness. The flakes harmoniously burn down to a fine grey ash with no gooey stuff left behind.
Stonehaven: Dark chocolate hits my taste buds upon lighting and with the first couple of puffs. Pretty fast a dark sugary flavour comes in which diminishes the chocolate tones. There is not as much going on as with Rich Dark Flake in my opinion but the overall taste is excellent and harmonious. Here also a rich and creamy smoke but with a darker edge. Halfway the bowl you can really notice the burley (kept in check with a dark treacle sweetness) and the smoke becomes even deeper, fuller, with hints of nuttiness. Stonehaven clearly has a higher amount of burley than Rich Dark Flake. I detected nothing in the smoke itself of the liquor I smelled before on the bare flakes. Stonehaven also burns down to a fine grey ash.

Both tobaccos and the pipe I smoked them in: a Rattray's Old Perth

Both tobaccos and the pipe I smoked them in: a Rattray’s Old Perth

Miscellaneous:
Rich Dark Flake / Stonehaven: I don’t know how they do it but I seldom have tongue-bite with British made tobaccos. Rich Dark Flake and Stonehaven are no exceptions, even though they contain burley which has a tendency to cause pain on my tongue. They both smoke deliciously cool. Because of the thinner flakes the combustibility is good although they benefit from a bit of drying time. Nicotine-wise Stonehaven packs a bit more punch in my opinion and it is advisable to smoke both tobaccos after a good meal.

thumbs2Room-note:
Rich Dark Flake / Stonehaven: Both tobaccos I could actually smoke in the vicinity of my girlfriend Ellen. Not that she liked the odour of the smoke but it was bearable. Especially with Stonehaven I detected a faint cigarette like smell in the morning when I came downstairs but nothing too bad.

moneyPrice:
Rich Dark Flake: At MySmokingShop you pay £11.65 (± $18.24 /± €14.62) for a 50 gr. pouch and it seems the stuff is readily available. But beware, the shop does not ship to the USA..
Stonehaven: At 4noggins you pay $29.95 (± €24,-) for an 8 ounce bag. IF you can get it. Like so many offerings from Germain Stonehaven sells out almost the minute it hits the shop.. Oh, you can often get it on ebay but then an 8 ounce bag will set you back at over $ 100..

IMG_2428Conclusion:
In my opinion Rich Dark Flake and Stonehaven are not the same. Like Mr Germain said, they are similar. But not too similar. In Rich Dark Flake Virginia is the main component and in Stonehaven burley plays the leading role. For me in Rich Dark Flake there is more going on, more flavours, more sophistication. One of the few magnificent traditional British tobaccos. My mouth waters at the thought of some well-aged Rich Dark Flake.. Yummieyummieyummie! Stonehaven is more “Americanized”, an occasional treat and no all-day smoke but nonetheless superb. Very broadly speaking I think of Rich Dark Flake as milk chocolate and of Stonehaven as dark chocolate. The first I can eat all day long but the second is only tasty now and then. But then again, if you are a lover of dark chocolate… I would like to end with a thank you to Franz for making this blogpost possible!