Inter-Tabac 2014 impression

Entrance of the Inter-Tabac fair

Entrance of the Inter-Tabac fair

Last year a dream came true for me, I got to visit the Inter-Tabac fair in Dortmund, Germany. For those of you who missed the blogpost I made of the visit; the Inter-Tabac is the leading and biggest trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. This year there were more than 400 exhibitors from 51 countries who presented themselves on an area of over 30.000 square metres! In 5 exhibition halls (1 more than last year) renowned companies from all over the world presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This includes cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shop equipment and spirits. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers. Last year I was lucky, I got a ticket through an anonymous person. Well, that person was Fred, the Dutch importer of Mr. Brog and Country Pipes and also a member of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers forum. Now he yet again had a ticket for me and on top of that he was visiting the fair the same day as myself. A good thing because Rudi and Paul, with whom I went last year, preferred more privacy now despite the good times we all had. Apparently Rudi noticed that a big crew of consumers did not go well with the exhibitors, after all it is a fair meant for retailers. Luckily, for Fred my presence was no trouble at all.

Waiting with a nice view for the halls to open. See that guy checking out the boobs of the girl?

Do you see that guy sneakily checking out the boobs of the girl?

On the sunny morning of September 19th I once again drove to the Westfalenhallen in Dortmund. Luckily there was no Stau (traffic jam) on the way so I arrived in time. When I walked to the main entrance (no anti-smoking nazis this time) I saw Paul and Rudi standing there. We all went inside and chatted a bit while I was texting Fred if he already had arrived. To my utter delight I saw signs that smoking was allowed inside the halls. This because last year I heard that that maybe was the final time inside smoking was still possible. Of course the exhibitors protested and I guess that helped. I mean, you go to biggest smoking trade fair of the world and you can’t smoke inside?? Suddenly I got a SMS from Fred that he was in hall 8 so I said goodbye to Rudi and Paul and went on my way.

Midwakh pipes

Midwakh pipes

Soon I found Fred at the big yellow Clipper stand, we greeted each other and started walking while chatting. Some exhibitors handed out presents and information so near a stand Fred got a bag pushed into his hands. He checked out the contents and saw something inside which looked like a small pipe. Fred likes new, innovative things that no one has so he headed back to the stand. The pipe appeared to be a so called “Midwakh“, an arab pipe. An enthusiastic salesman showed us how you fill the pipe with tobacco made in Oman and offered us a smoke. It tasted a bit like cigarette tobacco and the salesman explained that the pipe is meant for a quick enjoyable fix if you have little time. Even quicker than a cigarette. But I thought like (did not express it), well, you had your quick fix and then you still have to clean the pipe. So all by all it takes more time than a cigarette.. And besides that, being a full-blood Dutchman, the pipe looked to me like a hasish-pipe..

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Brebbia stand

An interesting stand we passed by was that of Brebbia pipes. I already knew from Fred that they have no Dutch importer and he was asked a couple of times if he wanted that job. But it was too much work. Despite that Fred was hesitating if he should buy some pipes because we saw some really nice ones. What I love about the Italian pipe makers is that they have some kind of passion and fire in their eyes when they talk about their creations. Fred asked if he could buy low quantities and if they shipped to the Netherlands and with busy hand-gestures and thick Italians accents they said that was no problem at all. So who knows..

Fred at the Dan Tobacco stand

Fred at the Dan Tobacco stand

While we walked through the halls the appetite for a chair and some coffee arose with the both of us. “Let’s go to the stand of Dan Tobacco, we can get some coffee there” Fred said. Good idea! When we arrived I saw to my disappointment that master-blender Andreas Mund was not there. Last year he was present and we had a warm conversation. For me Andreas is the living soul of Dan Tobacco besides the old director Heiko Behrens who was present but looked a bit old and fragile.. Anyway, the charming daughter of Heiko presented us 3 new blends: Bulldog Roper’s Roundels, Salty Dogs and Choo Choo Train. The last one was so new and fresh that it could not be smoked yet. From what I could see and smell it is a light Virginia flake with a topping of chocolate and some kind of vanilla-butterscotch. My eye fell on the label of Bulldog Roper’s Roundels and Salty Dogs: Manufactured in the E.C. for Dan Tobacco Germany. Hmm.. The Roundels smelled and looked precisely like Peter Stokkebye’s Luxury Bullseye Flake and there are not many tobacco factories on Europe mainland that can make plugs like Salty Dogs. So my guess is they were made in a big factory in the North of Europe.. Choo Choo Train is fully made at Dan Tobacco. As it should be. While sipping the coffee I also asked the daughter of Heiko how the waterpipe tobacco business (see the blog of last year) went: most excellent.

IMG_2054So our thirst was quenched but now our bellies grumbled. Last year I had lunch at the restaurant of the fair itself and it was expensive and baaaad.. Luckily Fred knew that outside was a stand where they sold grilled mega-burgers. It was easy to find because the fumes from the grill rose sky-high and the queue was long.. But it was 100% definitely worth the wait! A mouth-watering very tasty 20 cm. diameter (!) burger between a bun of the same size with sauce and salad was our reward.

Prime examples of Mastro de Paja

Prime examples of Mastro de Paja

Back inside we passed by the stand of Mastro de Paja and saw the most exquisite pipes of the day. We just had to stand in awe and admire the displayed beauties. “For you just 10 dollars”, joked one of the salesmen who saw us drooling. Well, for that money I would have taken them all home! When we learned the real price we sadly understood that we would take none with us.. But the silverwork and innovative use of egg-shells in some pipes was very, very professional. And also here the fierce Italian enthusiasm for their products was hearth warming. If only I had the money..

Per Jensen showing a tin of HH Latakia Flake

Per Jensen showing a tin of HH Latakia Flake

One of the stands I definitely wanted to visit was that of MacBaren. Last year I had some trouble finding it (a stand within a stand) but now we easily marched to the small counter where the very friendly master-blender Per Jensen was just helping some clients. While waiting we looked at the range of MacBaren tobaccos in small sample jars and it occurred to me that I was missing one, their latest creation: HH Latakia Flake. So I asked Mr. Jensen (when he was available) where it was. Quickly he went to the back, grabbed a tin of it from a cabinet and opened it. Fred and I approvingly sniffed the delicious smelling flakes inside. Earlier this year I smoked a small sample of the HH Latakia Flake and found it to be pretty tasty and smooth. But the German health-labels on the tin puzzled me somewhat. Was it already available in Germany? Fred said that I have blog about pipe-smoking. Mr. Jensen nodded approvingly and replied that if I mentioned that HH Latakia Flake is going to be available in Germany in the spring of 2015 he was going to give me the tin. My blog is non-commercial but this opportunity I would not let slip through. So you see Mr. Jensen? I said it. I also had a question about one of my personal favourites, HH Vintage Syrian. As you perhaps know it is one of the last blends with the original Syrian Latakia and I was wondering how long the stock of MacBaren would last. Mr. Jensen very honestly answered that he guessed that in about 7 or 8 years they would run out of the Syrian dark leaf. So grab your tins while you still can!

Fred wondering why Dunhill pipes are so expensive..

Fred wondering why Dunhill pipes are so expensive..

We also had to go to the big stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group where pipe-brands like Winslow, Peterson, Dunhill and Butz Choquin are shown. Of course the main attraction is Poul Winslow himself and.. He was not present when we were there, he was walking around the fair. Oooh damn.. So we just looked around and marvelled at the beauty of the Winslow and Dunhill pipes. Two totally different brands but each beautiful in their own right. What was not so beautiful were some pipes by Butz Choquin. They had a couple of bright yellow, almost fluorescent ones. Pipes covered with jeans-fabric and dark blue ones with yellow spots. Let’s just say I expected the French to have more of a good taste.

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Sergeant Matron from the Kearvaig Pipe Club

The Italians surely had a better taste on the fair as we noticed when we shuffled beside the stands of Lorenzo, L’Anatra, Ser Jacopo and Savinelli. I am even surprised that I don’t own an Italian pipe.. Hmm.. When we turned around the corner we saw the combined stand of pipe-maker Ian Walker and tobacco institute Samuel Gawith. The Gawith guys were busy and Ian Walker did not recognize me right away until I put the forum prince under his nose that he made last year. “Aaahh! I already thought it was you! Pipe nr. 13 right?” He has a good memory for sure! I asked how business went and he enthusiastic told me that he already had 80 orders for pipes that morning! Wow! He also was so kind to get the latest offering from his neighbours for me so I could enjoy it: Bothy Flake. Apparently the smoke summoned the physical body of Sergeant Matron of the Kearvaig Pipe Club, one of the originators of Bothy Flake. I did not recognize him because I only knew him as a zombie. I said who I was and I was glad to hear he is a regular reader of my blog. I told him I loved the magazines he makes for the pipe club with crazy pictures of wasted Scotchmen in kilts who show their bare asses. He countered with “Well, I saw the blogpost with you guys wearing those strange coats and you say we are crazy??” Lovely chap! If I ever get to Scotland I will surely try to survive an evening in a bothy with the KPC members and copious amounts of tobacco and whisky.

Look daddy! Two girls, I did it!

Look daddy! Two girls, I did it!

Talking about bare asses, sex still sells at the Inter Tabac Fair. But not with the “old-fashioned” tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars and pipes/pipe tobacco. No, the hordes of attractive scarcely clad young ladies were present at trendy water-pipe (tobacco) and E-cigarette (liquid) stands. And it works! Fred and I walked by a stand where they sold some espresso water-pipe stuff and a good looking girl asked if we wanted to try some. Ehrrrr ok! The girl explained with a sly smile that we really had to suck hard on the pipes to get them going. Owkeeej.. I have some water-pipe experience from my visits to Cairo so I was fuming (and coughing) away in no time. When we were done we passed another stand with a girl who had, let’s say, two major unique selling points. She made some kind of water-pipe cocktail with real fruit for us and I have no idea how she did it because I was trying to look at (and photograph) something else.. I am a bad man, I know. In front of an E-cigarette producer stand were a couple of girls active with handing out goody-bags. I snapped a picture from the scene while talking to Fred. One of the girls heard me and said in Dutch “Oooh, you are Dutch! If you like you can let a photo be made with me and my girlfriend”. Ehrrrr ok! She softly pushed herself against me and another stunning girl with even less clothing joined us. Fred had a big grin on his face when he took the picture.

Vauen Diamond

Vauen Diamond

To cool off we went to the stand of German pipe-producer Vauen. Our eyes immediately went to a black diamond shaped pipe fittingly called “Diamond“. I didn’t and don’t know what to think of the shape. Vauen are surely thinking out of the box with this one. What I did not like were the facts that the pipe was pretty heavy because of the used plastic and the not so tight fit of the mouthpiece. I rather have Vauen design some more shapes for their magnificent Auenland-series. They also had a new tobacco, “English Blend & Vanilla“. I looked at it, smelled it and told a salesman that it reminded me very, very much of Sillem’s Black. He did not know that one..

New Samuel Gawith: Blend it and Bothy Flake

New Samuel Gawith: Blend it and Bothy Flake

It was getting late and I just had one more thing to do at the fair: speak with the Gawith guys. First of all I wanted to compliment them with Bothy Flake. I smoked a large sample before the fair (thanks to Huub!) and I can say it is one of best tobaccos Samuel Gawith brought out in the last couple of years. Second I asked about their new concept: Blend it. Which means that you can buy tins with flakes which also contain a small bag containing some ribbon cut blending tobacco. That way you can mix your own creation. I hope the concept will take off and be successful.

IMG_2115The main reason I sat there was that I perhaps had some business for them. Last year I had some forum tobaccos made in cooperation with Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco and a German tobacco factory. In about a good year from now I am thinking about creating one new forum tobacco together with Samuel Gawith. I asked them if they liked the idea and they did! From their side I can expect full cooperation. But there are other things I must take account of first.. Will the Dutch/Belgian forum once more order a lot of tins? How will the tobacco route go, through The Netherlands or Belgium? We will see. The last thing I wanted from the Gawith guys was some Bothy Flake, but unfortunately they brought not much with them. Sergeant Matron (who was sitting beside me) took a pity on me with my pleads for a sample and he put his own tin of Bothy Flake in my bag. Thanks sarge!

The big Heinrichs truck

The big Heinrichs truck

With just 15 minutes to go before the fair closed Fred and I left the building. We were saying to each other that the water-pipe and especially the E-cigarette business was booming. “Maybe next year all the halls will contain that stuff” Fred said with a wry smile.. He might be right, in some halls there were so many Japanese/Chinese stands with E-cigarettes and liquids that I felt like walking through a shopping street in Tokyo/Shanghai. At least of one thing we can be certain next year, that the big truck of Heinrichs will be standing in front of the Inter-Tabac Fair.

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The Frisian prince

Typical town in Friesland

In the Northwest of the Netherlands the province of Friesland is situated (“Fryslân” in the Frisian language, yes they do have their own language). A lot of Dutch people go there on vacation because of the beautiful nature (lots of lakes and canals) and peace and quiet. Friesland is one of the less-densely populated provinces in the Netherlands. It is also well-known for ice-skating, a lot of champions come from Friesland and if there is a very cold winter the famous Elfstedentocht is organized. And it is in a small village in the heart of “Fryslân” where pipe-maker Meindert lives.

Meindert

Meindert

Meindert is 64 years old, a long time pipe-smoker, retired and a Frisian man in heart and soul. That means he is proud, honest, righteous, loves to be on the water, works hard and takes no bullshit from no-one. Working with his hands is also something that is in his blood. His father was a professional carpenter who could make anything out of wood and was not afraid of showing the tricks of the trade to his son. Also for years Meindert was a maintenance mechanic at a local factory and one of his hobbies was being a radio amateur so for that he build small and big antennas. Unfortunately he got problems with his heart and after having seen the gates of Saint Peter twice he was forced to slow things down. But Meindert is not the man to take it easy and do nothing. So through Fred, a member of the Dutch/Belgian pipe smokers forum and Dutch importer of Mr. Brog and Country Pipes he got into pipe making about 8 months ago. That was something which required little physical effort and was perfectly suited for the still recovering Meindert.

One of the early Meindert pipes

One of the early Meindert pipes

On the forum he posted several of his finished pipes and although some of them lacked a certain finesse I could clearly see that Meindert had talent and skills. After making a couple of prince-shaped pipes (my favourite shape) I decided to ask if he could create one of those for me. But I wanted to test the man. I did this by asking if he could make one of the most challenging shapes in my eyes: the 8-side panelled prince. This because it is a combination of symmetry (all corners must be 45 degrees from each other) and flowing elegance. Gracefully Meindert accepted the challenge and got busy.

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Corrections from my side

One of the best things about him is that he can accept constructive criticism. Some pipe-makers are headstrong, have a sort of impenetrable ego which holds them back from getting better. I know sh*t about wood-working and all the machinery (I was born with 2 left hands) but I do know something about flowing lines, symmetry and cohesion in a design. And Meindert is very handy but could learn a bit more about flowing pipe shapes and the little details that comes with such. So he was ready to accept criticism from my side when he send the first pictures of the prince-making process. I would look at them, make corrections in Photoshop and tell him why I did that. For example he mailed me a photograph of the unfinished bowl and by putting lines, arrows and digitally reducing excess wood I could let him know what to do. Of course he was not able to always precisely do what I asked but with every correction he made the pipe got better. The devil is in the details and boy, I sometimes was a real demon. But Meindert never did bulge under my pressure, kept eager to learn and continued delivering the goods. And how good he was was proven when Fred made a visit. Meindert showed him my prince and told him that getting every panel to look exactly the same was a tough job. Fred looked amazed at the pipe and told that such pipes normally are made in machines in pipe-factories where the angle of cutting can be programmed. Something I did not know. So in fact I asked Meindert to be as precise as a machine. And he came damn close!

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Aqueduct

At the beginning of last week Meindert informed me that he had almost finished the pipe. The only thing left to be done was the bending of the cumberland stem but I thought it was a good idea to do that when I was with him. Of course I was going to pick up the pipe myself. I am a bit ashamed to say this, but I have never been in Friesland before. I grew up in Brabant in the South of the Netherlands so for a long time Friesland was almost like an exotic country to me. However, now I live in the province of Overijssel and that is quite a bit closer to the North of my country. Last Friday I took a day off and drove to the heart of “Fryslân”. An enjoyable ride if I may say so. When I drive to Brabant where the head-office of my work is located the roads are always busy and often I get caught up in a traffic jam. The journey North was deliciously quiet with nice far stretched views of the countryside. Suddenly I saw in the distance something that looked like a train slowly passing over a viaduct. When I came closer I noticed to my amazement that it was not a train, but a large river boat which gradually floated above the highway. What I had seen was an aqueduct, something which exists for a long time but was new to my eyes in this form. So strange to see a big ship above you.

DTM_Mellow_MallardAt exactly 2 o’clock I arrived at a petrol station in the village where Meindert lives and phoned him up. This because he lives at the waterside where no car can come. Soon he came walking out of a small side-street and gestured me to follow him. We arrived at the back of his home and shook hands. So nice to see him after all our e-mails. He guided me into the renovated shed of his house which was divided in 2 parts: his working room and the computer room. We sat down in the working room and lit up a pipe. *Pheww* “You are smoking latakia right?” Meindert asked. “I like aromatics myself, I never understood why people like the smell of burned rubber.” “Well, the taste is vastly different than the smell, believe me” I said. Luckily we don’t all have the same tobacco preferences. But I knew Meindert liked a sweet smoked so I brought a couple of aromatic tins that he could keep. In return he had some tobaccos for me which included the Mellow Mallard made by DTM. A blend I did not know but after smoking a couple of bowls I now really like!

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Remember the 3 golden rules: light, space and warmth

Soon the lovely wife of Meindert boldly defied my latakia fumes and brought a cup of coffee which gave me the opportunity to look around the working space. What really struck me was how tidy and organized it was. All the machines were clean and every hand-tool had a logical place and was neatly attached to a wall or placed in a tray. I complimented him with this because I know that some other pipe makers have pretty chaotic working rooms. “One of the first things I learned when I had a working space were the 3 golden rules: light, space and warmth.” Meindert said. “Light because you have to able to clearly see what you are doing. Space as in not having a big room but having the space to be able to properly do your job. Warmth because you can’t work well with cold muscles.” What I also liked were all the old hand tools that Meindert inherited from his father. Where for example a lot of pipe makers use machinery to make their stems Meindert uses his father’s tools. All handwork.

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Heating up the stem for bending

After the second cup of coffee it was time to see what I have came for, my panelled prince. It was smaller than I thought but nonetheless I was pleasantly surprised. It looked better than on the pictures! The acrylic cumberland stem still was straight so Meindert got to work by lighting a candle. Huh? Is he praying for good luck this way or…? I know that pipe-maker Vandaahl uses some kind of industrial blow dryer to heat up the stem for bending. It turned out that Meindert was warming up the stem the old fashioned way. Very tricky and when I nervously looked at him he had to laugh, relax! At bit above the candle-flame he slowly rolled the stem of the pipe around and around with a steady hand. Suddenly I saw that a part of the stem became flexible and Meindert carefully bended it following my directions. I made a comment before that he had a tendency to bend his prince-stems too close to the shank so while I looked over his shoulder he asked if it was ok. Ehhrrr.. Yes?

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Checking the bend

When the stem had cooled down I was able to properly examine the pipe. Damn! The bend could be a bit more but worse, the stem was crooked, it had a deviation to the left. So Meindert heated it all up again and made the correction. Hmm, better but there was a tiny bump on top. No problemo, some fine sanding paper took care of that. But still the bend could be more. Heating, bending, arghh! A good bend but once again crooked! Really, if I were Meindert I would have kicked myself out of the door. But he stayed ice-cold and once again bended the stem. Perfect! I breathed a sign of relief while Meindert buffed the pipe to a shiny whole.

IMG_0812Oh wait! I almost forgot, I still had to perform my pipe-cleaner test. That means that when I fold one of my pipe-cleaners it has to pass the smoking channel pretty easy. And it didn’t.. I asked which drilling diameter was used. “The one Peterson uses (Meindert is a huge Peterson fan), 3.0 mm.” Ahh.. That explains.. Fortunately making the drilling wider was no problem. 3.1 mm, 3.2 mm.. “Meindert” I said “please make it 3.5 mm, that should do the trick.” And indeed with 3.5 mm my pipe-cleaner went through the smoking channel effortlessly. I told him that you also get a better draft with 3.5 mm and thus a better smoking experience. Meindert thought that was very interesting and he is going to experiment with it.

The finished prince

The finished prince

The rest of the afternoon went by too fast. Before I knew it it was 6 o’clock and I had to go home. We shook hands again and I hit the road. The next day I smoked the panelled prince for the first time and I was delighted! The bit felt very comfortable between my teeth, not too thick and also not too thin, just perfect. Of course smoking a pipe for the first couple of times is not really fun because a layer of cake still has to form inside the bowl. But nonetheless I was impressed about the smoking qualities. I also kept looking at the pipe form every angle. I am sure almost every pipe-smoker sometimes takes the pipe out of his mouth and admires it. I sure did that with Meindert’s pipe and am still doing it.

Meindert has to take things slowly because of his health. So if you are interested in him making a pipe for you (he makes about 1 pipe per week) please contact me and I will connect you through.

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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

Inter-Tabac 2013 impression

IMG_0064The Inter-Tabac in Dortmund, Germany, is the leading (and biggest) trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. More than 380 exhibitors from 45 countries present themselves on an area of over 30.000 square metres! In 4 exhibition halls renowned companies from all over the world present trends and innovative tobacco products. This includes cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shop fittings, press and spirits. The average reader of this blog must now think like “Yeaahh!! I am going there next year!!” Well.. It is a fair for retailers, not for consumers. Since I belong to that last category, how did I get in?? I got lucky, I was able to secure a ticket through someone I know and who wishes to remain anonymous. Fortunately I was not the only Dutchman there, Paul, Rudi and Martin from the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum also attended the fair. The more the merrier!

Westfalenhallen

Westfalenhallen

In the morning of Friday September 20th I arrived at the Westfalenhallen (where the fair is held) in Dortmund after a relaxed two hour drive. Around the building people were guiding the coming cars smoothly to their parking spaces. Leave it to the Germans to organize such a big event. After a few text messages I knew Paul, Rudi and Martin also had arrived and were waiting for me at the main entrance. I already had a ticket and I chatted with the group while Rudi got their tickets. The group was even bigger than I thought, a small friendly Belgian man also named Paul (nickname Polleken) had joined the ranks. When we entered the halls I noticed that indoor smoking was allowed! It turned out that an exception had been made for the fair. Despite the severe anti-smoking laws I still could light up a pipe, such a blessing!

Poul Winslow (right) talking with Tom Palmer of Peterson while holding the flyer Martin gave him

Poul Winslow (right) talking with Tom Palmer of Peterson while holding the flyer Martin gave him

First we rushed off to the Scandinavian Tobacco Group stand. They represent pipe brands like Dunhill, Winslow, Stanwell, Peterson and Butz Choquin in Europe. Paul always picks out good looking high grade Winslows which he then buys through Rudi. Rudi had a tobacco-shop in Middelburg for quite some time but sold it a couple of years ago. Now he just runs an online store, tobaccoshop.nl. As soon as we entered the stand we recognized the unmistakable figure of Poul Winslow himself. Whoaaahhh!! While I stood there practically drooling Paul and Rudi warmly greeted mr. Winslow, they are year long acquaintances. Soon I got introduced to mr. Winslow and we shook hands. I must admit that I was too shy to talk to the good man.. I wanted to say I am a big fan of his pipes and wanted to thank him for fixing my Winslow Harlekin a year ago. Oh well.. Martin wasn’t shy and he offered a handout of his work to mr. Winslow (Martin makes exquisite hand crafted stone ashtrays, pipe-stands and tampers). “Very nice!” Poul Winslow murmured while looking at the handout. “You know, I got a lot of connections, maybe I can hook you up with someone!” Martin’s smile never left his face for the rest of the day. Further it was a shame to hear that mr. Winslow had a rough year health wise. He is approaching retirement age and sometimes has troubles coping with the stresses and demands of his profession.

A perfectly timed picture of me before the Dunhill wall

A perfectly timed picture of me before the Dunhill wall

In the same room a big part of the wall was taken by The White Spot: Dunhill. As a huge Dunhill fan I felt like a kid in a candy store. Dunhills in all shapes and sizes, with all the know finishes. When looking closer I noticed the stamping of the pipes had changed. Up to 2011 one i.a. saw the well known oval Dunhill stamp. Since 2012 that is replaced by the text “Alfred Dunhill’s The White Spot”. I know there have been discussions on online fora that the Dunhill name was eradicated from the pipes. As far as I could see, that was not the case.

The Kohhase & Kopp 2014 Limited Edition: Rio

The Kohhase & Kopp 2014 Limited Edition: Rio

After Paul picked out the Winslows he wanted we could move further. For the first time I had the time to properly look around. The halls were huge and packed with all kinds of stands. From very big ones with multiple levels to small ones with just a couple of white walls with some tables. The stand of Kohlhase & Kopp certainly belonged to the first category. Roughly one side of the stand was dedicated to pipe-tobaccos and the other to cigars. They even had some old Cuban guy making cigars at the spot. I am not a cigar-guy but it was impressive to see skilled age-old hands swiftly pack the filler-leaves and roll them into the upper leaf. The newer Kohlhase & Kopp tobaccos were all aromatics which smelled ok, but nothing special in my honest opinion. What was special were the exquisite looking tobacco-tins, collectable objects which would look good in the house of every pipe-smoker.

Rudi doing business at the Designer Berlin stand

Rudi doing business at the Planta/Designer Berlin stand

Another large stand was that of Planta, which also included the Designer Berlin pipes. They had a big wooden barrel standing there of which, when opened, the contents smelled very, very aromatic. It turned out it was filled with the Planta year-tobacco which was free for everyone to sample. Which we of course did. I smoked it that evening when I was back home and my first impression was that it was an “ok” mixture. Not good, not bad. On the tables stood little glass jars with other blends and while I was a bit reluctant to sample some Rudi pushed me to do just that. “That is one of the reasons we’re here!” He said grinning.

FLTR: Martin, myself, Ian Walker and Paul

FLTR: Martin, myself, Ian Walker and Paul

While Rudi was doing business Paul, Martin and I walked by the stand of Northern Briars. A British family concern led by third-generation pipe maker Ian Walker. As soon as he saw us he pointed with gleaming eyes to the pipes Paul and I were smoking from: Dunhill, British pipes! As it happens to be Ian Walker is going to make the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum  2014 forum pipe. He was delighted to see a small delegation of the forum and enthusiastically began to tell about the pipe. It is a prince shape (he pointed to prince I was smoking from) with pretty thick bowl-walls, we are going to get his best wood with a very nice grain, silver bands (which he makes himself, a skill taught by his grandfather) and cumberland mouthpieces. Ian is really a very, very amicable fellow and I will be delighted to smoke from a pipe made by his experienced hands. The picture you see on the left was made by one of the men from the next stand: Samuel Gawith, another British company.

Four Seasons: a new range of tobaccos from Samuel Gawith

Four Seasons: a new range of tobaccos from Samuel Gawith

Most of the stands of the well known pipe-tobacco manufacturers were large or very large. The stand of Samuel Gawith was shared with Ian Walker and consisted of just three tables. One to sit at and two with the complete tobacco and snuff range. As if saying, f*ck you, we are Samuel Gawith, we are making tobacco for centuries and we don’t need big and many adornments and decorations. I complimented the men with their company and confessed that I am a big fan of their tobaccos and that I have almost their entire pipe-tobacco range at home. I looked at the displayed tins and suddenly saw a couple I did not know. “Yeah that is our new range, it is called “Four Seasons”. One tobacco for each season of the year. All very natural.” The last few Samuel Gawith outings were pretty aromatic so I asked if I could smell the Winter Time Flake. I just say one thing, if this one comes out I will definitely buy it!! On the right you see a picture with all the new Four Seasons tobaccos. They still had to find an European distributor but more or less assumed that Kohlhase & Kopp would going to do that. Besides the Four Seasons I sniffed at the new Limited Edition 2014 mixture. Luckily pretty natural. I really think the company should stick with their more natural outings instead of trying to jump on the aromatic bandwagon. That is done enough in Europe.. I also asked if they expected to produce tobaccos for a long time to come, bearing in mind the very strict British tobacco laws and including witch-hunt. “Oh we pretty much fall under the radar of the British government. They won’t really bother us, a small and old company. They aim at big companies like Imperial Tobacco. So don’t worry, you will be able to enjoy our tobaccos for many, many years to come!”

Waterpipes

Waterpipes anyone?

One of the halls we walked through Paul called the “not-interesting hall”. Here were mainly stands of smoking accessories (lots of lighters), waterpipes, waterpipe tobaccos and electronic cigarettes and pipes. Especially those last items seem to be booming business. Lots of young people like it and… I really don’t know why..  Oh cool, blowing out flavoured water vapour with some nicotine.. Ehrr… Like having missionary-position sex with your longtime girlfriend or wife while she’s on the pill and you are wearing a condom plastered with semen-killing pasta and just before your climax you pull out. Just not exciting..

IMG_0882

Girl, girls, girls

Talking about sex, what a lot of manufacturers still believe is that sex sells. At the entrance we were greeted by beautiful girls who were handing out brochures and samples. At quite a lot of stands luscious ladies were trying to lure you inside. While walking through the halls we saw all kinds of stunning women in all kinds of sexy outfits handing out flyers with big tempting smiles. The price for best costume went to the lady in the tight-fitting catwoman/ninja suit. No idea what it had to do with tobacco but eey, you won’t hear me complaining! Even Penthouse had a stand, complete with a woman in lingerie and a muscled Chippendale macho-man..

Part of DTM stand

Part of DTM stand

Back in the more interesting halls we came across the Dan Tobacco Manufacturing (DTM) stand. Since my forum-tobacco adventure last year I know a few people there. Of course year long company figurehead Heiko Behrens was the first to greet us followed by managing director Maria Sousa. Then I suddenly saw DTM master-blender Andreas Mund who guided us through the factory and with who I worked together for a short time last year. Unfortunately Andreas knows no English and my German is shaky at best. Despite that using hands and feet we had a long nice talk, it felt like seeing an old friend again. Like me Andreas is someone with a passion for tobacco and that is where we really connect. I complimented him with the superb flakes he made together with Hans Wiedemann for HU tobacco and got a heart warming smile. Also he was busy with new aromatics for HU Tobacco with new flavours. I’m very curious about that project! Business-wise I think DTM is going through a rough time. With a sad face Andreas told me that they are taking a shot in selling water-pipe tobacco.. Luckily DTM got some business from Rudi so that is why Martin and I discreetly went searching for…

MacBarenMac Baren. And we could not find the stand.. We looked on the information monitors and got the hall and stand number. Still no sight of the famous Danish tobacco brand. Then through a kind of window I saw the Mac Baren logo. Aah, they had a stand within a stand. Lots of people were sitting and talking inside. We walked to a small counter with little jars of the whole Mac Baren pipe tobacco range. I pointed at the HH Vintage Syrian, in my honest opinion the best blend they have and Martin pointed out his favourite, HH Old Dark Fired. Behind the counter stood a middle-aged men, thankfully nodding while hearing our favourites. I also complimented him with the new Capstan, which Mac Baren now makes. And then a question popped up inside my head; the last couple of weeks I heard from several Dutch tobacconists that they could no longer order Capstan. A bit logical because the Dutch importer changed. From the Pronk company, which imports all Orlik/STG products to Van Landewijck, which imports Mac Baren. But still, the change to Mac Baren already happened at the end of last year. So I asked the friendly man why Dutch tobacconists no longer could get Capstan. With a questioning look he said that it should be available in The Netherlands and found it strange that it wasn’t. But he did not have a straight answer so asked me to come back later. Unfortunately I did not made that in time.. Back home I discovered that the friendly man I spoke to was no one other than Per Jensen, Mac Baren Product Manager and master-blender. Fortunately another forum member, Godfrey, went to the fair on Sunday. So he went to Per Jensen for me and came back with an answer. Unfortunately the fault lies not with Mac Baren, but with their Dutch importer Van Landewijck. They decide which Mac Baren-made tobaccos get imported. So the best thing we can do according to Per Jensen is moan and complain with a lot of people at Van Landewijck. But to be perfectly honest, I talked a bit with Rudi who knows much more about the Dutch tobacco trade then I do, I think that Capstan no longer will be available here.. Too small a market, too high prices.

inter-tabac_025At the end of the day Martin and I tried to score some free cigars. I don’t smoke them, but Martin does. We saw that Rudi and Polleken had sample bags with some kind of Chinese cigars so we went to look for them and came out by a huge stand called “Big Wall of China”. Yup, looks like this is the place. By the way, one of the things I noticed at the fair during the day was the large number of Eastern people. The Chinese economy is growing and apparently so is the their tobacco industry. At a desk with a couple of nice looking long filler cigars on it I talked to a Chinese guy. I kept on chatting away while taking out one of the long fillers and praised its appearance. Unfortunately the guy did not take the bait and I had to put it back.. But we did get two other cigars! Whoohoo!!

Around 5 o’clock my feet were killing me and we all decided to go home. I thanked the group, said goodbye and went looking for my car. The trip home went not as smooth as I hoped, I stood in a traffic-jam for over an hour.. Oh well, back at home I fell into the couch next to Ellen and gave her a big hug. Dream – Visit the Inter Tabac Fair: Check! So anonymous ticket-provider, thanks!!! And also thanks to Rudi, Paul, Martin and Polleken for a wonderful day!

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Arno’s.. Ehrr.. Olaf’s Favourite English

IMG_9993When I first contacted master-blender Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco at the beginning of 2012 I asked him if it was possible to receive some samples of his blends. From fellow Dutch pipe-smokers forum members Smoking Rob and Huub I had heard and read some positive things about Hans’ mixtures, so I was very curious. I mainly ordered samples from latakia blends. All blends were good but there were 2 “touchdowns”. One of them was Balkan Passion and the other one Olaf’s Favourite English. It was made by Hans for pipe artist Olaf Langner, who prefers solid English mixtures for his smoking den. That sounds just like my cup of (lapsang souchong) tea!

IMG_9997Package: Olaf’s is only available in typical German 100 gram “paint” tins. This because of the lid which resembles that of a paint tin. Ideal if you ask me, because it keeps the tobacco fresh for a long time. I opened my tin half a year ago (I have more tins open and I only smoke 2 pipes a day) and the little tobacco left inside is still as moist as the moment I first popped the lid. On the front is a nice drawing of Olaf and the name of the blend, on the backside a description of the contents. Inside on top of the tobacco is a paper insert with an illustration of a compass on it. The sign the mixture inside was blended and tinned by DTM.

IMG_9998Contents/composition: A sweet base of Virginias, 40% Syrian latakia, 10% Cyprian latakia, perique, quite a bit of Smyrna oriental, darkfired leaf and English black cavendish. Whooo Arno.. In your blog-post Syrian latakia you said that there is almost nothing left of that dark leaf! That is true and despite the contents description there is no Syrian latakia in Olaf’s. I smoked the mixture a couple of times and could not detect the Syrian leaf I know from blends like 3 Oaks Syrian and Wilderness. So I mailed Hans about this and asked if he could verify the use of Syrian latakia. A couple of e-mails further I read that DTM reluctantly acknowledged  there was no Syrian dark leaf inside Olaf’s. So from now on 50% Cyprian latakia is used in the blend. Oh, don’t be afraid the taste has changed because of this. I smoked some of a new batch and it was the same as the old one.. The tobacco itself looks dark with some blond strands and is mainly a ribbon cut with some small chunky pieces which make for easy packing.

noseSmell from the tin: A classic latakia mixture smell arises from the opened tin. Sweet, bitter, sour, salty and smoky notes. However, between these I detect something I can’t really define, a bit mushroom like odour. The only blend in which I smelled this before was GL Pease Lagonda.

011Taste: With a lot of latakia mixtures there is a bitter taste at the charring light. Not with Olaf’s. The latakia makes itself known but does not overpower, it provides a kind of full roundness of taste together with the darkfired leaf in which the Virginias can develop. It is not a latakia-bomb. Halfway the bowl the sourness of the Smyrna takes the upper hand a bit which combines nicely with the underlying Virginias and latakia. I know there is perique in the mixture but I think I get more of the spicy pepper side of it than the fruity side. Although… At three quarters of the bowl the smoky and salty latakia is a bit tuned down by the black cavendish. What I then taste I can best describe as a bit salty liquorice with a honey-sweet edge. Maybe that is caused by the combination of the perique and the black cavendish. In the last bit of the bowl the flavours slowly starting to fade out similar to that of the fading sound a great musical piece and in the end a fine grey ash is left.

pipeCombustibility: Once lit the mixture keeps burning pretty easy with few relights. No comments here.

thumbsRoom-note: I don’t see my girlfriend Ellen hurrying out of the chamber or coughing violently while I smoke Olaf’s so I guess the room-note is acceptable for a latakia blend. She has smelled worse.

The evening ended on a cozy note...Miscellaneous: Olaf’s benefits from a longer shelving time so the flavours have more opportunity to meld together. Pretty necessary for a complex blend like this one. When I opened my tin it was tinned one year before and I found it good for consumption. However, I am very curious how the mixture will taste after a couple of years of peace in my tobacco closet. The nicotine level is medium, it really is a late night smoke in that regard. Maybe it fits together well with a glass of fine whisky or red wine. Also because of the complex character of the blend I would not advise to smoke it in the morning. One thing that sometimes bothers me a bit about Olaf’s is that now and then it has the tendency to bite in the first part of the bowl. From the other side it could have something to do with my body chemistry on some days.

moneyPrice: My tin was a bit cheaper but thanks to German tobacco-taxes one 100 gram tin of this wonderful mixture will now cost you €18,35 ($24.21) in Hans’ online shop.

IMG_0001Conclusion: From the first puffs I took from this excellent blend I fell in love with it. For me Olaf’s Favourite English delivers everything I expect from a wonderful English mixture; it is complex but without bragging about it. All the flavours from sweet to smoky to leathery to sour to salty weave throughout the smoke in perfect balance. Personally I think this is one of the best latakia blends on the mainland of Europe and it can easily compete with the finest offerings from blenders like GL Pease.

Interview with master-blender Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco – Part 2.

phhw01bw-480Continued from part 1.

Was it a hard road to where you are now business-wise or was it just smooth sailing?
I am not complaining because I can not imagine a more beautiful hobby, but the last 3 years were sometimes very hard. I was absolutely alone and all kinds of ideas sprang from my head. The biggest problem was simply the lack of time. I still have my “normal” job and anyone who has 3 children from 6 to 12 years (at that time) knows what I mean. The family should not come on the second place because of my “hobbies”, so I do my activities at night. In addition to the tobacco creations the shop had to be set up, the labels had to be created and tobacco descriptions had to be done. It was a very unsettling and stressful time, but at the same time it also was incredibly beautiful and exciting. After I’ve had success with the tobaccos, looking back on it all is of course pretty blissful. Had the entire enterprise not been so successful, the whole thing would have made me very sad. I have really put so much passion and work in it that it is not only about a business, but also about a personal project. However, I always thought that after a while it would become easier and less time consuming. But this was a false belief and therefore my main problem is still the lack of time.
Here I will not discuss individual problems with the manufacturers, financial problems etc. 
Briefly worded, I would again like to emphasize that despite the hard moments it all just was total fun!

4How do you begin creating a new blend? (What is your working method?) Is it for example so that you have an idea, or are you maybe inspired by a certain kind of leaf a tobacco manufacturer has?
I do not know if there is a general procedure for the blending of tobaccos. For me, the mixtures are created in my imagination. In the beginning the idea is what type of tobacco I would like to create. And I am often inspired by the mixtures I smoke or have smoked in the past. To begin with this is enough, in the meantime I have to make up my mind whether such a tobacco is useful for my shop.
Then I think about how a tobacco should taste, what is the cut I will use by the production of the end product and of course how or with what tobaccos I can reach the goal I set. This often goes on for weeks and then I have very clear picture of what I want to do and what components I can achieve this. It is important, of course, to have exact knowledge of the available mixing tobaccos. Otherwise this method does not work and one has to carefully reach the end goal with sample mixtures.

Making HU Tobacco flakes at DTM

Making HU Tobacco flakes at DTM

Please describe the whole process from having an idea for a tobacco to the final end-product, tinned and ready.
The practical work begins with the sample mixtures. Most are 2-3 ideas of each 20 gr., the smallest amount, that I mix myself. This is the right amount to first detect whether you are on the right path or are totally wrong. Most of the times the direction in which you are heading is correct, sometimes you score a direct hit, but often it is also completely wrong.
I pack the samples into tobacco tins and let them rest for at least 1 week.
After that we smoke the samples while writing down corresponding records or observations. I also always directly scribble down with which new varieties of tobacco, or changes in the mixing ratio, I think I can improve the result. Of course changes are not immediately made, before that happens I have smoked 2-3 pipes of the respective sample and also express my thoughts on paper.
Then I make new samples of the changed recipes. Normally I then make 50 gr. samples and let other people trial-smoke those. Often some small changes have to be made and in the most ideal case I already have a finished mixture.
Now I go to the manufacturer and let create a 100 gr. sample of my recipe. Again it often comes here to minor differences in the taste. I correct those with another recipe change and if necessary, a 100 gr. sample is once again created by the manufacturer.
If everything fits I have done my share of the work, the price of the mixture can be calculated and can then be produced.
At the same time as the making of the mixture the labels are being created. Now this is of course no longer as expensive as in the beginning, because the different brands are already available and it just has a new name and a corresponding description of the tobaccos used. In the United Passion flakes a new image will be added to the existing lay-out. The finished labels are then printed and sent to the manufacturer so I’m getting tins that are already labelled.
In broad terms this is how the HU Tobacco tobaccos come into existence.

tabak004In short, how did your tobacco-lines came into existence?
The Blender’s Pride
Foundation by Musico
United Passion
Original Warehouse Blend
United Passion Flakes
United Passion Special Blends
I started with the lines of United Passion, The Blender’s Pride and Original Warehouse Blend. The names of the various product lines emphasize the flavour orientation of the blends. The Warehouse Blend series includes mixtures of a very high level but without flavouring, so rather purist approach. I find the term Warehouse Blend symbolizes the direction quite well. No fancy tins, no flavours, just blends without frills.
Unlike the Blender’s Pride series.. Here it is more or less about subtly flavoured mixtures. A less purist approach, but not completely over the top. The tobaccos are of the same quality as the Warehouse blends, so we are talking about very high quality aromatics. This is what I want to say about the Blender’s Pride. Also, the flourishing tobacco plant on the label stands for honest but flowery tobacco.
With United Passion the idea was to tobacco mixtures for my closest friends. Here the flavour spectrum ranges from pure natural to floral and soapy, but in any case always individual, according to the taste of my friends. I found the term “United Passion” with the addition Homage To My Friends very fitting.
That was the initial situation. In the meantime the United Passion Flake series was added. As with the “Homage To My Friends tobaccos” the flakes are being produced by DTM. Hence the name United Passion Flakes.
About Foundation by Musico I do not need to say much. It is a collaboration with Massimo Musico and, in the interests of both parties bear the name of the pipes produced by Massimo. The series is clearly latakia-orientated and of very high quality. So each series has a distinct direction and I personally find that very beautiful.

UP_My_Special_One_oWhat are your favourite HU Tobacco blends? On which ones are you most proud?
Hmm.. This is a very difficult question. Of course, I like all my tobaccos, the one more, the other less. But all tobaccos wear my handwriting and thus are created by my imagination. A great pleasure at that time was the creation of Old Fredder’s Broken Flake. It is simply a well-balanced mixture, with all the facets that can provide a good Va / per blend. It is actually a rather old-fashioned mixture without any gimmickry or sensationalism. Old Fredder’s is simply what it is, a great tobacco, no more but also no less. And that is what I like about the mixture and what makes it so endearing to me. This tobacco often stands in the shadow of other mixtures, but has conquered a very loyal following in the meantime. It is similar with “My Special One“. A mixture of bygone days. When I open the can, it emanates a scent that you can smell in “old” tobacco shops. I’m not talking about posh, modern shops, but of shops where the cigar boxes are stacked chaotically, there is a lot of smoking inside and where the walls give away the tobacco smell of past years. My Special One is a thoroughly honest, straightforward blend. You know what you get involved with. This tobacco is not a revolution, it is like a homage to bygone days.
But I’m not a dreamer, and I am not very creative when I just wanted to convey the flavour of the old days. The Foundation tobaccos are going exactly the opposite way. Here we have a very modern direction. With the Khoisaan I present a practical tobacco that only consists of condimental tobaccos. Besides the Tuarekh these English blends only have a very small proportion of orientals. Anything but classical. I can not go into every single blend, but I think you realize that I am very proud of all mixtures. Each blend has its peculiar characteristics and came into existence very consciously. Besides, I’m just a very emotional person and I connect tastes with experiences. Arno, I can not completely answer the question, but I think you know what I mean.

© GL Pease

© GL Pease

What are your favourite non-HU Tobacco blends?
Oh, there are some blends that I find absolutely fantastic and I always like to smoke. I really like the Lakeland tobaccos and in particular the (Samuel Gawith) Full Virginia plug and Best Brown Flake. I think of Squadron Leader as a very good “English” but within the genre I would rather go for Cornell & Diehl Byzantium or GL Pease Lagonda. If it is time to be subtle, Erinmore Balkan Mixture can also make me very happy. From Russ Ouellette I like Louisiana Red and Frenchy’s Sunza Bitches very, very much. I could go on much more about the varieties I mentioned that I really like, but of non-HU Tobacco tobaccos this is what I like to smoke.

This interview continues in part 3.

You can buy Hans’ excellent tobaccos here.

The quest for forum tobaccos – Part 1.

The Dutch/Belgium Pipe Smokers Forum logo

The Dutch/Belgium Pipe Smokers Forum logo

This year the Dutch/Belgium Pipe Smokers Forum exists 5 years. Because of that last year the idea arose for some special forum tobaccos to celebrate the jubilee. Of course I had to open my big mouth and I became responsible for the creation of those tobaccos and the artwork. Why? Because it is a dream of me to see a blend which is created by myself is made available for others.

Rudi and me talking

Rudi and me talking

So how do you accomplish this? In comes Rudi. Rudi is the retired owner of a big pipes and tobacco shop in Middelburg. Now for fun he runs a website on which you can order what he once sold in his shop: tobaccoshop.nl. Because of his past Rudi has a vast knowledge about the world of tobacco and he still has the connections. He also has a passion for pipe smoking. That way he was willing to take the financial risk for the forum tobaccos. Of course Rudi would get a little percentage of every sold tin. My work would be for free, a labour of love. I don’t care so much for money.

DTM-Startbild

Poseidon, which was going to be the latakia mixture of the forum tobaccos

My artwork for Poseidon, the latakia mixture of the forum tobaccos

After a meeting with some other forum members we came to a few conclusions:
– 30 kilo of tobacco had to be made by a foreign pipe-tobacco manufacturer. Here in The Netherlands there are none left.. Belgium also has none so the obvious choice was Germany. DTM to be precise. Well known for their aromatic tobaccos like Sweet Vanilla Honeydew and their American History Mixtures. Why them? Because they were flexible enough to produce such a small batch of tobacco and invest some time in the creation of the recipes together with me.
– That 30 kilo of tobacco was to be divided into 3 blends: an aromatic, a Virginia based one and a latakia mixture.
– Together with DTM I would create the recipes and first samples. Then I would smoke those and report my findings so the recipes could be altered. After the second round a panel of smokers from our forum would test the tobaccos and report their findings to me so the final versions could be made. The ready tins would get labelled with my artwork (that I already had partly finished) and tax-seals would be placed before shipping to Rudi who would sell them to the forum members.

The mid 19th century redbrick industrial building where DTM is located

The mid 19th century redbrick industrial building where DTM is located

At the end of June last year my good friend Ed (forum nickname St Patrick) and myself drove off to the German town of Lauenburg. We would stay there for 2 days and visit the DTM factory which is located just outside the town near the river Elbe. Soon after arrival we were greeted by master-blender Andreas Mund. Managing Director Dr. Heiko Behrens was not there so he took it upon himself to give us a guided tour. Every corner of every room was shown to us, no secrecy. We were allowed to touch everything, ask everything and smell everything and we did just that. An amazing experience!

Ed, Andreas and myself

Ed, Andreas and myself

After the tour Andreas excused himself. He was busy and would discuss the forum tobaccos the next day when Dr. Heiko Behrens was also there. So Ed and I walked around the wonderful DTM shop (with an old interior from 1920) where you can sample and buy all of their tobaccos and more. The main salesman in the shop is Michael Apitz which some of you may know, he created the famous Sweet Vanilla Honeydew mixture. Besides a very, very nice man Michael is also a walking pipes and tobacco encyclopaedia. I learned a lot from him regarding the creation of aromatics.

The next day we met the very friendly Dr. Heiko Behrens (“please call me Heiko, everyone does”). Together with Andreas we spoke about the forum tobaccos. “Why don’t you take some of our excellent tobaccos and re-label them?” said Heiko. I explained him my dream of a self made mixture which he understood. In the end I was given permission to make 3 mixtures together with Andreas! I told him what I wanted and he immediately went to his lab to prepare some samples. Just before Ed and I went home we got samples of two of the forum tobaccos (the latakia mixture and the aromatic). The third one was a flake and it takes a while to make that.

In the next two months I smoked the two samples and wrote down what I liked and did not like about them. At the beginning of September I phoned Andreas, told him my findings and also mailed them. Then it became very quiet.. I e-mailed Andreas a couple of times, phoned but no reaction. I had no idea what to do. Be more persistent in contacting him? Get angry? Just wait? I was dependent on the guy so I really did not want to piss him off. It was not until the beginning of December that I got an e-mail from the other Director, Maria Sousa. She said that they no longer wished to cooperate in the making of the forum tobaccos in the format that I wanted. I could use existing tobaccos of them and maybe perhaps change them a little bit.. I still don’t know what made them change their minds.. So I contacted Rudi and asked him what to do. Pull the plug with DTM he said. We go look further.

003After some discussions we decided to ask if another German pipe-tobacco manufacturer was interested: Kohlhase & Kopp. Famous  for making the European version of Ashton tobaccos, Peterson, Rattray’s, Solani and McConnell. In the mean time I asked master-blender Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco if he was willing to help. Hans has a vast knowledge about the creation of new tobaccos and has good connections with Kohlhase & Kopp. But a talented man like him has to be paid (which made the forum tobaccos more expensive) and I could sense he was not really enthusiastic to participate in the whole process. However, if I had any questions whatsoever I could always knock on his door. Things were also not going smooth with Kohlhase & Kopp. They only worked with existing tobacco importers. So Rudi asked if Dutch importer Pronk was willing to import the forum tobaccos, put a Dutch tax seal on them and send them through to him. And they were willing. Downside of this all were the extra costs. Kohlhase & Kopp manufactures excellent but pricey tobaccos. Pronk also wanted their share for putting on the Dutch tax seals. In the end it all bounced off on the fairly small amount of tobacco we wanted, only 30 kilo. Such manufacturers are used to quantities like hundreds or thousands kilos. Besides I think the extra work with  me (the creation of the recipes) also scared them off.

plogoAt the Heukelum meeting Rudi and I spoke to each other once again. Rudi has good connections with yet another German pipe-tobacco manufacturer: Planta. Well known for their Black Vanilla and Presbyterian Mixture. Rudi phoned them and said I could send a mail. Which I did at the beginning of March this year. Now we are halfway April and I still have not heard anything from them.. To be honest I think it is the same as with Kohlhase & Kopp: the low tobacco quantity and the extra work for the creation of the recipes scared them off.

Now Rudi has mailed Samuel Gawith twice to no avail. Also through a friend I am waiting to hear if J.F. Germain has any interest. But to be perfectly honest I have lost my faith.. The quantities are too small and no tobacco manufacturer wants to have extra work with the creation of the recipes in these times of economical crisis. Maybe I was naive to think that those companies would easily cooperate. It is all about money, money and money. I understand that, companies have to make a living, but still… Where has the passion for tobacco gone? Must it all be strictly business? I guess so.. Dreaming is no longer allowed.

c270e204c8700d0f5a06cb3aa52dThe only thing I can do now is to go to Hajenius in Amsterdam who have recently built a My Own Blend bar. There I can design a mixture, or several mixtures and let those be written down so other forum members can buy them. Better than nothing I guess..

Surprisingly enough the quest for forum tobaccos continues in part 2.