The older the better

Ancient Capstan

± 90 year old Capstan Medium Navy Flake

I still can remember the first time I bought tinned pipe-tobacco about 3½ years ago. I checked the tin for the expiration date and could not find it to my surprise. My (twisted) mind went like: Tobacco is a leaf, leaves are like vegetables and they can’t be kept good for a long period (I still remember the withered cauliflower in my fridge started quoting Shakespeare..). So where was the damn date?? At that time I did not know that it is with most tobaccos like it is with most wines, the older the better. My eyes were opened by a story from GL Pease in which he tells that the owner of a store he used to work (Drucquer & Sons) used to age certain blends and sell them later at a higher price. At that time I also became active at some international fora and saw that especially in The States it is quit common to stock up on blends you like. Being a cheap Dutchman, this made me think. Every year the prices of tobacco go up here because of the bloody taxes. So to be able to smoke tobaccos at yesterdays prices and have the benefits from ageing… *big grin*

time_tobaccoBut first of all, very important, it is no guarantee that ageing a tobacco will make it better. A shitty blend will never become ambrosia for your taste buds. It is not a certainty that a tobacco which should age well will actually do so. Having said that, what actually happens when you age a blend? Time makes sure the various components of the mixture will marry, blend together into a more consistent whole. Also lot of tobacco species contain sugars which are needed for fermentation. That process transforms, changes the leaves used. It provides a less sharp, mellower but richer and more complex taste. So the more sugar in a tobacco leaf, the better it will ferment and the richer it will taste after ageing.

fermentationThere are 2 types of fermentation: aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic fermentation happens in the American-style pull-lid tins (which contain more free oxygen) and in mason jars with bulk blends. Anaerobic fermentation is what occurs in the European-type vacuum sealed tins. Because there is more air in the American style tins the ageing dynamics are different. It is not so much that they age faster than the European-style tins than that it is just a matter of.. Difference. Experienced cellarers: please let me know that precise difference! Thanks! And when an old tin is opened of course new changes will begin to take place just like a wine is “breathing”.

Let’s take a look at the different species of tobacco and how they react to ageing:

virginia_tobaccoVirginia: Ages the best of all the tobaccos because of their high sugar content. If you have a blend with a lot of Virginias in it you have a good chance it will become more yummie with time. Within half a year you should notices the first changes and within 1 to 5 years it should really begin to shine. After those first years the speed of change will become slower, more gradual, but the blend will continue to improve. How long? I guess it will take 30 to 40 years before the mixture will go over the top and a certain descent might begin. But even then the smoke can be absolutely sublime.

oriental_tobaccoOriental: A high sugar level (just below Virginias) is also present in oriental tobaccos. Because of this they also age very well with the same ageing-expectancy as Virginias.

latakia_tobaccoLatakia: Mixtures with latakia reach their summit in about 5 years and then begin to decline more rapidly. Latakia does not really age but gets softer, loses its edge with time. So if a blend depends on the smoky, leathery and spicy taste of latakia you should not stash away the tin for too long. But if there is good layering of other tobaccos underneath the dark leaf (hello Virginia and orientals) the blend still can deliver a fantastic smoke. Even though it will transform into something more harmonious, something less pungent. The old Balkan Sobranie Smoking Mixture is a good example of this. It still tastes wonderful despite some pipe-smokers prefer the newer version because of the fresher latakia.

burley_tobaccoBurley: This leaf is low in sugar so there is not much fermentation going on. Just as with latakia it will become more smooth and blend in with the other tobaccos like sweet Virginias who get better with time as I told above. The delicious Estoterica Stonehaven is a prime example of this and will age very, very well.

perique_tobaccoPerique: Because of the pressure-fermentation process with making the peppery leaf it will not change much over the years. But as with burley the combination with Virginia is a golden one. The thought alone of well-aged Escudo makes my mouth water.

cavendish_tobaccoCavendish: In a way the same goes for cavendish as for perique. Because of the double fermentation process it will not really age.

aromatic_tobaccoAromatic tobaccos: Sweetened aromatics do not seem to age well. These tobaccos often have quite a bit of Propylene Glycol in them which serves as a humectant and carrier of aromatic flavours. So over a long time frame, they are pretty stable. The biggest change is that the aromatic components and characteristics can degrade or change over time. So what you find in a tin 5 years from now may not be as pleasing as it is today.

Here are some tips and facts about ageing and cellaring your precious tobaccos:

Sierra Exif JPEG– Preferably tobacco should be left in the original sealed tin. So check it out before storing to make sure it is not damaged. Look for damage to the tin, bumps, pin holes etc. Just make sure the vacuum seal is good. Then you can store it in a cool, dark place without a lot of fluctuations in temperature. An ideal temperature would be in the range of 15-21°C. So DON’T put tobacco in the refrigerator or freezer! That may cause damage to the cell structure of the tobacco. Also pay attention to the humidity, even though the tobacco is in airtight tins. High levels of humidity can cause corrosion and/or rust to the tin-metals and could compromise the seal. You also do not want to store your tobacco where it is exposed to light for long periods of time. Besides the light itself it often means heat, which can cause all kinds of unwanted chemical processes in tobacco. So do not try to speed up the ageing process by heating up your tins or loose tobacco.

Exif JPEG– I would recommend mason jars for the storage of bulk, loose and opened tins of tobacco. I prefer glass because it is a non-porous material and can be disinfected very easily. Airtight plastic containers are also ok but I still prefer glass. I just don’t feel ok with plastic. It’s a personal thing. If I do use plastic I make damn sure that it is brand new and that the tobacco is the first thing to hit the virginal bottom ever. The good thing is, mason, ball and bail top jars are pretty inexpensive and can be bought almost anywhere. They also come in a variety of sizes. That way you can use a small one to put some tobacco in that you regularly smoke and a large one for tobacco that you really want to age. Preparing the jars for storing/jarring/canning/whatever is one of the most important steps in the process of storing. Make sure that you sterilize the jars before you use them. I wash the mason, ball and bail top jars (including the rubber rings) with boiling water. I never use soap or something like that because I am afraid there will be a residue somewhere and my tobacco starts to smell like Lakeland-style blends. Then I dry the jars and rings with clean paper towels and the tobacco can be put inside. It is advisable to label each jar with the contents and put a date on them before storage. Some people prefer to place the filled jars in boiling water to heat them up and then place the lids on to create a vacuum seal. I have never done that and I have had no problems at all. My older jars have created their own vacuum while in storage. Just one more thing, the rubber rings will start to smell like the tobacco inside. So if you want to refill the jar with an aromatic after having smoked a for example latakia-heavy blend out of it, just make sure you replace the rubber ring. Nothing can get the smell out of it..

©MarkC

©MarkC

– Vacuum sealing is great for many things but is pretty useless for tobacco. Tobacco needs some air to maintain the ageing process. A perfectly vacuum sealed bag or container will probably keep the contents fresh, but it may not really age the way you expect it to. So.. Having said that I realize that vacuum sealing is ideal for aromatics! One tip from a Dutch forum member: do not vacuum loose tobacco in a seal-bag. It will destroy and break up the tobacco strands.. Preferably put the tobacco in an unused tin, put that in the bag and vacuum the hell, ehmm, air out of it.

Wish I was able to buy more of these..

Wish I was able to buy more of these..

– When you find a blend you like it is always a good idea to buy 1 tin to smoke now and 1 (or more) to cellar. That way your collection will keep growing with tobaccos you like and you have the benefits of ageing. A win-win situation.

pipe_cigar– Do not store pipe tobacco and cigars together. Cigars are like little sponges and they will eventually absorb any moisture, aromas, and flavours that are nearby.  Having said that, do not store pipe tobacco in a (cigar) humidor. 1. The cedar in humidors absorbs moisture and it will suck all of the moisture from your tobacco like a vampire. 2. It will absorb the aroma of the tobacco blend. 3. The cedar could also add a cedar aroma and flavour to your tobacco.

Aged full Virginia flake © Hermit

Aged Full Virginia Flake © Hermit

– Sometimes you can find so called “sugar crystals” on aged tobacco. Mr. Pease has done some rudimentary playing with them, though no full-scale analysis, and found them not sweet, not very soluble, and not very likely to be sugar. Probably they are organic acids that have surfaced as a result of pH or other changes in the chemistry of the leaf as it ages. But good new, the presence of these crystals usually indicates something good has happened to the tobacco that hosts them! PipesMagazine.com member cgrd took some neat pictures of the crystals on a flake of Stonehaven from under a microscope which you can see here.

My Marcovitch with a lot of mould on top of it.. Argghh!!!!

My Marcovitch with a lot of mould on top of it.. Argghh!!!!

– Mould is the enemy of (aged) tobacco. How do you know it is there? Well, if there is a spider-web like, hairy substance on your tobacco. Bad news… Your nose will offer the second clue. Tobacco with mould stinks in a way that is difficult to describe but once you have smelled it, you’ll never forget it. Imagine the aroma of the sweaty feet of your girlfriend combined with the scent of over-ripe French cheese..

nicot– Nicotine has nowhere to go and it does not seem to break down through ageing. But ageing can change the pH of the smoke which will change how readily the nicotine is absorbed. The more alkaline the smoke, the more nicotine you will get into your bloodstream. My personal experience is that older tobaccos are stronger. Or they just made them stronger in the ol’ days. When men were more manly!

internet– There is a free site where you can fill in all the data about your tobacco collection. This way you can show off to your friends what you precisely have: http://www.tobaccocellar.com/

± 90 year old Capstan "fresh" in the tin!

± 90 year old Capstan “fresh” in the tin!

In my Pleasures of life in Belgium 2014 blog-post I told you about my ± 90-year old knife-cutter tin of Capstan Medium Navy Flake that was opened by Martin. For more pictures see below.  Astoundingly the condition of the tobacco inside the tin was perfect! Which is a testament to the quality of the old “knife lid” or “cutter top” tins. I had a few of those: a tin of Craven Mixture from the 1930’s, a St. Bruno Flake tin from the 1960’s and the Capstan Medium Navy Flake tin from the 1920’s. All of them were a bit corroded from the outside but clean as a whistle from the inside. Spotless!

Ancient Capstan in a mason jar

Ancient Capstan in a mason jar

Back home from the meeting I had the chance to properly gaze at the ancient Capstan. Unfortunately all the flakes were more or less stuck together because of the age so I had big difficulties keeping them whole. I am well acquainted with the current production and compared to that the old flakes were pretty dark and very thin. In fact I have never seen such thinly cut flakes, only Esoterica’s Stonehaven comes close. The smell from the tobacco was instantly recognizable. Typical (current day) Capstan, but somewhat diminished. I could smell more tobacco than topping/casing. And that was also the case with the taste when I lit up my pipe. The current production leans on the topping/casing while with the old version those flavours had degraded somewhat over the years. Instead the aged Virginia tobaccos had taken the reign and transformed the flakes into an exceptionally smooth mouth-watering whole. But in all honesty, I did like the contents of my 1989 Capstan tin better. That one had the best of both worlds: still intact topping/casing flavours and aged tobacco.

So buy those blends you love and start your own old treasure tobacco collection!

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Attractive Aromas

Me sniffing at raw tobacco leaf at the DTM factory

Me sniffing at raw tobacco leaf at the DTM factory

Tobacco leaf is the main source of flavour and aroma in any tobacco product (Duh!) But aside from latakia and perique (which are stinky enough from themselves) and orientals, raw leaf itself has little smell or taste. And by raw leaf I mean Virginias and burleys, they are almost always cased. For example, I’ve smelled pure and dry Virginias in the tobacco warehouse from the German DTM factory. It made me think of fish-food in stead of the hay-like aroma I am used to. Also tobacco crops vary from year to year, they are not consistent. So flavouring supplements are necessary to create both taste and aroma and help maintain a consistency in them. In the early days tobaccos had a subtle flavouring, but at the end of the 1960’s the high aromatics came into fashion. You know, the kind of blends that dissolve the glazing on your teeth and your girlfriend/wife love.  Anyway, additives to tobacco products can be classified in two categories: casings and top dressings (toppings).

No tongue bite please!

No tongue bite please!

Casings: Sometimes you read on labels of tins that a blend for example contains unflavoured Virginia and/or burley. Well, the truth is that very few tobaccos have no flavouring at all. Although a casing can be as simple as sugared water or honey. I know that DTM uses honey for the casing of many of their raw tobacco leaves, the factory floor is pretty sticky because of it. Casings are used at the early stages of tobacco processing to ease the negative qualities of a certain kind of leaf. Ehmm.. Some burleys can be somewhat sour and produce a more alkaline smoke, which can lead to the dreaded tongue bite. The use of a sweetener, a casing containing some sugar, can solve both problems. Some Virginias can be harsh, but also here, with the right casing that can be fixed. In general (of course their are exceptions) casings are not used to flavour the tobacco as much as to make it ready for other processing. Like you make a mild marinade for a piece of chicken to slightly give it a flavour, make it more tender and prepare it for cooking.

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Casing machine at DTM

The flavour of a casing should be compatible to the base tobacco that is used. For example, white burley has a certain kind of nuttiness and would match well with chocolate. Which is a commonly used casing for burley. The tobacco which has to cased is put into a machine that somewhat resembles a large clothes dryer with little sprayers on the inside. The casing is then heated and injected into the chamber. Through the use of tumbling, steaming and vacuum pressure the casing works its way into the leaf. Casings are often steamed into the leaf. The steam helps to open the pores and insert the added flavour into the tobacco. Because of this process, casings are usually water-based. After the casing of the tobacco it is dried. Often by putting the leaf on a conveyor which passes through a heated chamber. This reduces the overall moisture content of the tobacco to a level that is more manageable. This level generally is between 12% (pretty dry) and 22% (very moist). The ideal moisture for smoking depends on you, the smoker. But usually it is between 13% and 16%.

Rope tobacco

Rope tobacco

The following step will be determined by what the blend is supposed to be. If the intention of the final product is to be an unflavoured blend, for example a Virginia/perique or latakia blend, then the base tobacco is ready to use right after coming out of the heating chamber. The tobacco will be put in a container or something like that in which the finished blend, combined with the other components, is mixed and then is packaged. If the the final product is to be a plug, flake or rope the process starts with raw leaf that will be cased like I told above. After coming out of the casing machine the leaf immediately goes into the press. This because higher moisture is needed to get a good pressing. Or it goes through the drying procedure and is re-hydrated to the right level.

Thanks to top dressings the (in)famous Captain Black White is what it is..

Thanks to top dressings the (in)famous Captain Black White is what it is..

Top dressings (toppings): These are flavourings that most of the time are applied at the end of manufacturing process. That signature flavour, that particular tin aroma, that heavenly room note; all the responsibility of the top dressing. They are usually alcohol-based. When the water based casing is applied, the drying process will bring the tobacco back down to the correct humidity. But at the end of the process the blender wants to avoid having to use heat to re-dry the leaf a second time. So he uses an alcohol-based flavouring and allows the tobacco to rest for a couple of days. The alcohol will evaporate which leaves the concentrated flavour behind with little additional moisture.

Propylene glycol

Propylene glycol

Most casings and top dressings contain a “fixing agent” to assure that the flavourings will stick to the leaf and remain stable until used. In addition to fixing agents hygroscopic agents are used. Hygroscopic agents are chemicals used to control the moisture content of tobacco. They prevent the tobacco from becoming too dry in a dry climate or from picking up moisture in a humid area. The most widely used agents are sorbitol, propylene glycol and glycerine.

Andreas Mund and me before shelves full of concentrated flavours

Andreas Mund and me before shelves full of concentrated flavours

Concentrated flavourings are preferred by most tobacco blenders. This because the extract/concentrate can be manufactured much more uniformly and is less subject to changes while being stored than natural flavourings. When I visited the DTM factory I saw shelves and shelves full with all kinds of concentrated flavourings. According to master-blender Andreas Mund the city of Hamburg (pretty nearby the factory) is the centre of the world for concentrated flavourings. Lucky DTM! It was a strange experience when I opened up some of the flasks and bottles and sniffed the contents. You read something on the label like “chocolate” and when you smell it you absolutely don’t recognize it because it is THAT concentrated. So it won’t be a surprise that some blends use as little as 8 tablespoons of fluid per 100 pounds of tobacco.

Chocolate

Chocolate

Here are some of the most common flavourings:
Chocolate is manufactured as a natural product from the coco bean. It may be fortified with some cocoa which is synthetically produced.
Fruit flavours are obtainable in both natural and synthetic form. Natural fruit flavours are extracted from processed fruit.
Licorice comes from the licorice root and can be fortified with synthetic chemicals.
Menthol can also be made synthetically or it can be used in its natural state which is distilled from peppermint oil.
Rum used in tobacco is most of the time the Jamaican type. Jaaah man! It can also be synthesized.
Vanilla can be used in its natural form but for the most it is manufactured synthetically.
Wine flavours are as varied as the types of wine available: burgundy, sherry, madeira, etc.

Gawith & Hoggarth: Kendal's Banana Gold. One of the few blends anywhere with banana-aroma

Gawith & Hoggarth: Kendal’s Banana Gold. One of the few blends anywhere with banana-aroma

It is very difficult to create a good aromatic blend. You have to take in consideration the natural aroma of the leaf plus whatever the casing adds. Virginias often have a hay-like aroma and if that is not taken into account you could end up with something entirely different than you were hoping for. Also certain flavourings take advantage of other ones. A bit of vanilla boosts the taste of chocolate. Or flavourings have a tendency to overpower others, like coconut. And then there are flavourings that just don’t match with tobacco in general. For example, Paul has always looked for a blend with a nice banana-flavour and has not found one yet. Banana and tobacco.. Should work one would think. Well, I spoke with aromatic master-blender Michael Apitz from DTM and asked him why they did not have any blends with banana-flavour. He took me to the warehouse and showed some old tins with… Banana flavoured blends. “You know, there is a reason we don’t sell them any more and why they are collecting dust in the warehouse” he said. “They just don’t taste good and because of that people won’t buy them.” So it may take a whole lot of trying out before the aroma of a blend is acceptable.

And if you want to know why most aromatics don’t taste like they smell, have a look here: Who’s afraid of chemistry? (by Paul)

keep calmThese days every blender anywhere on the globe can make a high aromatic. But back in the days in the United Kingdom they had the “Tobacco Purity Law”. This law prohibited blenders from the use of large amounts of artificial flavourings and hygroscopic agents in the manufacture of tobacco products. In the early years of the Dunhill store Alfred Dunhill himself used to experiment at home with the creation of new blends. Regularly he got visits from police-officers who thought they smelled illegal things going on.. There was a list of additives that were approved and which had to be dissolved in alcohol or water. BUT they could only be applied at small percentages. For example, it was estimated that less than 0,5% of the weight of any given brand, manufactured in the United Kingdom, consisted of flavourings. This stood in contrast with some brands manufactured in the United States. There sauces constituted as much as 25% of the gross weight of the tobacco product. And in the case of Dutch tobaccos, this number was as high as 35%. So the blenders in the United Kingdom had to use the best quality tobaccos available, primarily the Virginia-type ones, orientals and condiment leaves like latakia and perique. And of course they had to have to skills to create outstanding mixtures. This with the help of all kinds of processing techniques such as stoving, toasting, panning, steaming and pressing. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the Tobacco Purity Law was abolished by the Thatcher government so that American tobaccos could be sold in the United Kingdom.

Recommended aromatic blends are:
– Cornell & Diehl: Autumn Evening
– DTM: BiBo, Blue Note, Mediterraneo, Memories of Tuscany, Sweet Vanilla Honeydew
– HU Tobacco: Geniet Moment
– Lane Ltd.: 1-Q, Captain Black White
– Mac Baren: 7 Seas Regular Blend*
Neptune*
– Peterson: Sunset Breeze*
– Planta: Danish Black Vanilla*
– Stanwell: Melange*
– Sillem’s: Black
– Winslow: No. 1*, Harlekin*
– WO Larsen: Fine & Elegant*

* Available in The Netherlands

Whisky and Tobacco (by Paul) – Part 2.

This is part 2 of the “Whisky and Tobacco (by Paul)” post. Click here for part 1.

Jim_Beam___White– Virginia / Perique blends:
Tobacco blends with Perique have that typical sour aroma and taste. There are not many “sour” whiskies/whiskeys. But you could try an American Sour Mash whiskey, like some well known brands produce, like Pappy Van Winkle, Jim Bean, Woodfort Reserve, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey and some Jack Daniels expressions. Note that the Sour Mash process is used in almost all Bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys. If you are looking for that typical aroma, check the indication “sour mash” on the label. The process doesn’t make a whiskey with a sour aroma-note as per definition, they can turn out very sweet and with vanilla/caramel aromas.

As for Scotch single malts I can’t easily come up with whiskies which have a sourly aroma or taste. It’s a taste most whiskymakers do not want in their whisky. The only one I ever encountered that would fit in here is an independent bottling of Edradour 10 yo from The Un-Chill-Filtered Collection, distilled 12-08-1998 and bottled 20-11-2008, 46% alcohol and from cask No. 286.
Besides looking for a sour taste in the whisky (and because Perique brings out more complexity out of the Virginia tobaccos) you could try such a tobacco-blend with a more complex whisky, like mentioned next, under Virginia/Oriental blends.

royal_lochnagar_12_yo– Virginia / Oriental blends:
Typically a single malt like Royal Lochnagar 12 yo brings out a leathery note, which I think would combine easily with an Oriental tobacco blend. It also brings out a little peaty flavour and aroma. Other light to medium peated whiskies would do nice in my opinion, like Springbank 10 yo, Scapa 16 yo and Isle of Jura Superstition.

I think a Virginia/Oriental tobacco blend can be perfectly combined with more complex whiskies, such as Highland Park 18 yo, Loch Lomond Old Rhosdhu 10 yo, Glen Garioch 12 yo or a Glen Spey 12 yo.

15yo-551– Virginia / Burley blends:
Burley can give a tobacco some hint of chocolate. And in some whiskies you can find that aroma too. Bladnoch 15 yo would do fine (chocolate, orange and even a tobacco aroma can be found) or the Glencadam 15 yo. These whiskies are not too strong in taste and aroma, which combines nicely with the Virginia-based tobacco.

spsob.12yo– Burley / Kentucky blends:
Here too the chocolate can be found, but I think a Burley/Kentucky tobacco is often somewhat stronger in aroma and taste than a Burley/Virginia. Therefore I would recommend a whisky that is a bit more “present” in the nose and on the tongue, like Glenrothes from about 14 yo or older or a Speyside 12 yo. The latter shows even more chocolate with a few drops of water (and don’t exaggerate on the water!).

Lagavulin-16-Jahre-07-Liter– Latakia blends:
Well, this is the territory of the man who get hair on their chests while smoking these kind of tobacco-blends. And mind you, there are whiskies which grow hair on your chest too: the peaty ones.  A few examples of medium to strong peated whiskies are Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Kilchoman (all from the Isle of Islay) and Longrow (the peaty one from Springbank) or Ledaig (the peaty one from Tobermory). But also some brands, less known to produce peaty whiskies, have managed to bring some nice peaty expressions. Like the Isle of Arran Devil’s Punch Bowl, Croftengea 5 yo or Inchmoan 4 yo (both from the Loch Lomond distillery) and Ardmore Fully Peated Quarter Cask finish. The famous Talisker from the Isle of Skye matches evenly well with a Latakia tobacco. And distilleries from the Isle of Islay that have a non-peaty house-style sometimes produce a peaty whisky. Like the Port Charlotte expression from Bruichladdich and the Moine-series from Bunnahabhain. The last one only bottled by independent bottler The Ultimate from Amersfoort, The Netherlands.

302– Cigar leaf blends:
With tobacco blends which include Cigar leaf I think a lot of peaty whiskies can be combined perfectly. Also whiskies with some leather-aromas would do fine (like the mentioned Royal Lochnagar 12 yo). But one specific single malt comes to mind to accompany a cigar leaf pipe tobacco and of course a cigar as well: the Dalmore Cigar Malt. If you like these kind of tobaccos or you are a cigar aficionado as well as a pipesmoker and you are looking for a balanced whisky to go with the smoke, this is the best I can recommend. It balances perfectly with the smoke and even let’s behind an oily film in your mouth. Which makes the smoke, either pipe of cigar, very pleasant.

Whisky casks

Whisky casks

So, in general:
Keep in mind that maturing on ex-American whiskey casks creates whiskies with vanilla and caramel. They vary from dry to pretty sweet. Maturing on ex-sherry casks mostly give more complex whiskies. With aromas varying from fruits, chocolate and flowers to nutty aromas and even aromas of other distillates like brandy and armagnac.

1316408608_1316417382844Pipe-smoking and whisky-drinking:
In closure I would like to make a kind of statement. People often ask me if smoking is allowed while drinking whisky. My opinion on is this: When you are drinking socially or just to relax and take some time for yourself to enjoy the good things in life, please smoke, drink and eat what you like and how you like it.
However, when you are seriously “nosing and tasting” your whisky, it’s better not to smoke. The same goes for exploring a tobacco trying to define the aroma’s which are in it: better not drink or eat while searching for the fine nuances in your mixture. The one interferes your perception and findings of the other. Whether you are exploring whisky while smoking or exploring your tobacco while drinking a fairly strong drink like the ” water of life”. For instance, the Scotch single malt whisky Highland Park 18yo is a very complex whisky with 24 detectable aroma’s. If you are really exploring this whisky, a smoke will have effect on your nose. Thus making it very hard searching for such fragile distinctions in whisky aroma’s.
Having said this, I can assure you that I like to smoke my pipe or a good long-filler cigar while enjoying my whisky. Even my complex Highland Park 18yo, when I’m just relaxing and enjoying my passions: pipe-smoking and Scotch single malt whisky.

Enjoy your smoke and your drink,

Paul

Candy Cavendish

Black cavendish tobacco

Black cavendish tobacco

If perique is the pepper of the tobacco world, if latakia is the salt, then cavendish is the sugar. Often it is used in aromatics and it is a good tobacco for beginning pipe smokers.

Almost all types of pipe tobacco in general belong to one of two groups: those used as the “base” of a mixture (like burley and Virginia) and those used for adding flavour, taste and aroma to a blend (such as latakia, perique and orientals. But cavendish can be used both as a base and as a flavouring agent.

Cavendish is a description of a type of pipe tobacco and a manner in which tobacco is cut.  It is not a type of tobacco plant. It rather is a process by which tobaccos are prepared. So there is no tobacco grown anywhere in the world that is known as a cavendish tobacco.

Sir Thomas Cavendish

Sir Thomas Cavendish

Now some history. In 1585 a visit to the English colony of Virginia was made by Admiral Sir Richard Grenville and Sir Thomas Cavendish at the request of Queen Elizabeth. The native people of the area presented tobacco to the colonists and Sir Thomas wished to bring it back to England for promotion and selling. On the return voyage he infused his personal supply with dark rum. Thus preventing it from drying out and to sweeten the smoke. He then rolled the leaves (common practice of the sailors back then) and bound them tightly together with sail canvas and twine. After a few weeks the tobacco was cut in little slices and smoked. Remarkably the flavour had improved, the tobacco was sweeter, more mellow and it demonstrated an aromatic fragrance. That all pleased Sir Thomas and others who tried it.

Steaming cavendish tobacco © Right Click Media, LLC

Steaming cavendish tobacco © Right Click Media, LLC

So cavendish tobacco simply is a product of “double” fermentation. This process uses (already one-time fermented) air-cured or flue-cured tobaccos like Virginia, burley, Maryland or any combination of these three types. These can be infused with substances that are high in sugar like: rum, maple, sugar, chocolate, licorice, honey, fruit, vanilla, bourbon and a few more. After the infusion the tobacco is compressed, steamed, heated, fermented and aged for a period of time. This results in a compressed “cake” of tobacco that is sliced and/or rubbed-out. For example, untreated, bright leaf (Virginia) tends to burn very hot and fast with a light, sharp flavour. The cavendish process makes this a more pleasant product. The tobacco is aged longer, burns slower, has a better taste and important, the ladies love the smell.

In the ol’ days the creation of cavendish tobacco varied from country to country and from manufacturer to manufacturer. Nowadays the whole process is more standardized and it doesn’t matter that much from which country cavendish comes. There are even manufacturers who don’t make their own cavendish any more because of the long process and just buy it ready-made. The countries which originally produced the most widely known cavendish tobaccos were: The United States, The United Kingdom, Denmark and last but not least The Netherlands. And they all had different production methods:

Cavendish manufactured in the United States
In order to get the tobacco to accept the required amount of casings it may be dipped (especially the burleys) into a casing sauce or heavily sprayed with flavouring sauces. The tobacco was then allowed to rest for a period of time. This way the tobacco and casings were wedded after which it may be subjected to pressure. It could take weeks or months until the blend had properly accepted the casing materials. The colour of the processed cavendish ranged from a light brown to black, depending on the leaf and casings used.

Cavendish Manufactured in the United Kingdom
The English manufactured their cavendish only with a heavier grade of Virginia. The tobacco was placed in molds and subjected to heavy pressure for three to four days. The pressure on the tobacco caused the natural oils to rise. Because of the heavy natural sugar content of the Virginia leaf the tobacco developed a sweet taste.

Sail: typical Dutch cavendish

Sail Regular: typical Dutch cavendish

Cavendish Manufactured in Denmark and The Netherlands
We Dutch and the Danes employed a slow manufacturing method. First steaming the tobacco to open the pores and then casing it very heavily. It was then placed in molds and subjected to pressure until a cake was formed which could be cut into bars an then into smaller pieces.

Black Cavendish
Then we also have the so called “black cavendish”. The two important steps employed in all manufacturing of black cavendish are:
1. The dipping of the tobacco into various casing, flavouring sauces (usually licorice) and
2. The steaming of the tobacco which turns it black.
For the rest the process is the same as with regular cavendish.

Black cavendish tobaccos can be manufactured from either Burley or Virginia leaf. Usually, the heavier and darker leaf grades are used. Since this tobacco is heavily impregnated with flavourings, the taste is naturally influenced by those.

The British also made black cavendish. The only difference is the restricted use of additives which made the taste more natural. So the usual method of processing this tobacco is to “sweat” and steam it. Which causes it to turn black. The tobacco is then placed in a mold and subjected to pressure for one to several days until a cake is formed. During this phase, additional steam may be applied.

As I said above cavendish also is a manner in which tobacco is cut. The term “cavendish cut” simply means a type of cut that is between a long or ribbon cut and a heavy fine cut.

Blending Pipe tobaccoMany smokers prefer to smoke straight cavendish. But it is often blended with other tobaccos such as burleys and Virginias. If you are making your own blend, start by mixing equal amounts of unflavoured cavendish and burley. This will give you some idea of the use of cavendish as a base. If you wish you can keep adding it until it makes up as much as 90% of the mixture. What you can also do is to take plain white burley. Then add for example about 25%  cavendish flavoured with honey (or another flavour) to the blend. This way you will get a mild smoke with very lit­tle aroma. When you use cavendish together with latakia and orientals (an English or Balkan mixture) about 15% is the max.

There are many, many, many blends that use cavendish. This are the most recommended ones:
– Amphora: Full Aroma*
– Borkum Riff: Cherry Cavendish*
– Cornell & Diehl: Autumn Evening
– DTM: BiBo, Blue Note, Memories of Tuscany
– Just For Him: Shortcut to Mushrooms
– HU Tobacco: Geniet Moment
– Lane Ltd.: Captain Black White, 1-Q
– Mac Baren: 7 Seas Regular Blend*, 7 Seas Royal Blend*
Neptune*
– Planta: Danish Black Vanilla Flake, Pergamon
– Poul Winslow: Harlekin*, No. 1*
– Sail: Regular*
– Samuel Gawith: Black Cherry, Celtic Talisman
– Sillem’s: Black
– Stanwell: Melange*
– Troost: Aromatic Cavendish*, Black Cavendish*, Special Cavendish*
– WO Larsen: Black Diamond, Mellow Mixture*, Sweet Aromatic*

* Available in The Netherlands

EDIT: I see there is some confusion between English pressed Virginia flakes, cavendish and black cavendish.
– English cavendish is made without the steaming under high pressure in 3 to 4 days.
– English black cavendish is made with steaming the tobacco under high pressure in 1 to 2 days.
– An English pressed Virginia flake, like Samuel Gawith’s Full Virginia Flake, gets about 4.5 hours of steam pressure, then slowly cools in the press overnight. In the morning they take it out. It is still warm then but it has slow-cooled for 12 hours. Golden Glow gets about 2.5 hours of steam pressing before cooling overnight.
So the process of pressed English Virgina flakes is in essence the same as with cavendish. Only the time is much, much shorter.

Sunny Semois

Semois tobacco field

Semois tobacco field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viewpoint at Rochehaut

Viewpoint at Rochehaut

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

Vincent Manil

Vincent Manil

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

50 gr. of pure Semois tobacco

50 gr. of pure Semois tobacco

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

Vincent Manil working

Vincent Manil working

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

Bouchon de Semois

Bouchon de Semois

Every bouchon is 100% hand-made

Every bouchon is 100% hand-made

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

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

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

The shop of J.P. Couvert then and now

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

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

There are also a few other sites that sell Semois tobacco:
JPP Cigares (sells both Manil and Martin Semois and ship abroad)
Au Plaisir de Vivre (they also sell the Bouchons de Semois)
La Tete d’Or
Le Roi du Cigare (see Les Tabac à pipe)
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 Réserve du Patron” from Vincent Manil, “Lux No. 3″ from Joseph Martin or “Cordemoy” from Jean-Paul Covert are more indicated for beginners, and all of them are highly-acclaimed tobaccos. The “Cordemoy” is a delicious, fruity – and the end of the bowl, with flavors of brioche, is a pure delight. You cannot go wrong with that one. Of course this is all without additives.

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

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

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

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

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

EDIT 06-12-2013: Confidential sources exclusive to 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.