Yes, this is the last post, dear reader. As you undoubtedly have noticed I am hardly posting anything any more. Not that I quit pipe-smoking, oh no! The truth is this: After my severe burn-out some years ago I find it extremely difficult to write for this blog. I think because one of the reasons I went overboard was pushing myself to write a blog every month / 2 months. Many evenings spent thinking, researching, writing, photoshopping beside a hectic full-time day-job and busy weekends was too much. Then I got unemployed, depressed, addicted to alcohol (the beer on the left is alcohol-free) and to a lesser degree addicted to medication. Up to the point I wanted to throw myself before a train. As you have noticed it did not came to that. I underwent psychotherapy, found the correct medication, kicked the addictive medication, kicked alcohol, found a new nice job and am a much more positive person these days. I am very grateful for what I have right now and try to live in the “now” as much as possible.
But this all means I had to make some tough decisions. The blog was draining me in the end, while a hobby is supposed to give you energy. Making music has always been my love, but it had been pushed to the background for a lot of years. Last year I re-discovered my passion for it and now I play guitar daily and try to write and record songs. For this I have set up a musical project, VanGore, which includes me on guitar and musicians from all over the world on the other instruments/vocals. Long live the internet.
Picture from Wuustwezel meeting 2022
Because of this I no longer have the time or energy to write for this blog. Besides, I think I have told all I wanted to tell. Of course there are always meetings, new tobaccos and new pipe smoking products. But to be able to write a good blog you have to be on top of that. Scavenge sites, books and forums for information. And I don’t want to do that any more. I took pride in the fact that I always wanted the best information for my readers, and I refuse to write half-hearted, unsatisfactory blogposts. But I’ll always be a pipe smoker in heart and soul.
One of the last things I want to tell you is that Dutch pipe maker Gubbels is doing fine. They made the last annual Dutch Pipesmokers Forum pipe and besides being a beauty (see the first picture), it smokes excellent! I picked it up myself at the new factory. After the bankruptcy of several parts of their company they pulled through and found a new, better and cheaper location. Gone is the big machine that could produce many pipes per day. Gone are the contracts with pipe-selling sites like Al Pascia. They couldn’t make pipes for the prices they wanted any more. What is left is an enormous stock of vintage raw unfinished pipes, a true treasure.
Lounge at the Gubbels factory
Elbert (Gubbels) doesn’t have to worry about money any more, because now he gets his income from making pipe-cleaners for al kinds of markets. In fact, he even can’t keep up with demand, which is a good sign. So he can think of and create new pipes peacefully with the help of some employees. Soon there will be a CNC machine, so they are no longer dependant on old stock. Visitors are very welcome to visit the new factory, walk around and smoke a pipe in the beautiful lounge while enjoying a glass of whisky or wine. Perhaps in the future you can even create your own pipe there!
I want to thank my readers for all these years. I had a blast writing the blogs and afterwards reading your comments and reactions. I did it all for you. I also want to thank all the people in the industry that helped me. Like Brian Levine, Per Jensen, Bob Gregory, Hans Wiedemann, Greg Pease, the Dan Pipe people, Elbert Gubbels, Martin Romijn and many, many others that aren’t in the industry but found the time to share their knowledge with me. And don’t worry, I am not taking the blog offline and I will still respond to comments and questions.
This is a video impression of the Dutch/Belgian Pijprokers Forum meeting in Heukelum, October 2019. Sorry about the shaky contents, I made the clips with my mobile phone. If you have any tips about recording and editing videos (I just started learning Adobe Premiere), please let me know!
As every year the annual meeting in Heukelum of the Dutch/Belgian pipe-smokers forum marks the beginning of dark and rainy autumn. At least, that is what the weather-forecast said. And when I looked outside the window on Sunday 29 October I believed it. Oh well.. Like always I picked up Mark at the Deventer train station and together we drove to the carpool place where Ed would be waiting or us. Normally Johnny would also be there but he had to finish some work first and came later. So the three of us rode to Heukelum and to my surprise the weather cleared up; blue skies, sunshine. Very un-Dutch-like. When we arrived at ‘T Kuipertje owner/brewer Henk had made a tent at the front of brewery with most sides closed. As the inevitable rain began to fall we were glad about Henk’s foresight.
Martin’s new self-made pipe
Inside I almost immediately walked to stone-cutting tamper-maker extraordinaire Martin, who like every year organised the meeting, to get my name-badge and drinking coupons. Yup, for the money (€27,50) you get two drinks, there is a big BBQ with all kinds of tasty fresh meat, sauces, salads and baguettes, the rent of the brewery is included and last but not least you get one bottle of special forum-beer with a label made by myself! Since this year Martin is also active in the field of pipe making. And like with stone also wood seems to have no secrets for his hands. He had brought his latest creation with him and I immediately loved it. A perfect mixture between a classic and organic shape.
Like always there was also a little business to be done. The week before I had mailed Rudi, the tobacconist who always comes to our meetings, if he could bring with him a tin of the new Danpipe Fred the Frog, which I already smoked at the Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. €10 for 50 gr., not bad for this fine blend! Friend and mentor Klaas had offered some vintage tobaccos for sale a couple of weeks before the meeting. I mostly was interested in a couple of older Robert McConnell Pure Latakia tins with in them perhaps some Syrian dark leaf so I bought 3 of them. When I met Klaas he immediately apologised. “Hello Arno, I am sorry, I made a mistake. I thought I had more Pure Latakia but I only had 1 left for you. So you know what, I am going to give you 2 De Graaff Latakia tins.” Wowwww!!! Very generous! Once upon a time De Graaff in The Hague was one of the best tobacconists in The Netherlands and they had their own range of house-blends. They were made by a company in London but exactly which one De Graaff always kept a secret. Nowadays the blends are sadly discontinued. Klaas still has quite some tins under which the pure latakia. And that is not some regular pure latakia, no, it is the Syrian Mountain Blue dark leaf made famous by the legendary Balkan Sobranie 759. Soon I am going to do some home-blending and these tins will come in very handy!
For Frisian pipe-maker Meindert I also had something. Weeks before Heukelum I was looking on ebay when I suddenly saw a beautiful Dunhill. Most of the times it is an auction and in the end the price is way too high for this cheap Dutchman. This one had a Buy It Now price of €100. Hmm.. There must be something wrong with it, I thought. So I took a better look and to my surprise the Dunhill dated from 1943, a patent era wartime pipe, pretty rare! Only thing I could discover was that the rim was very slightly damaged but that was it. So I bought it. When I received the pipe in the mail and unwrapped the package it even looked better than on the pictures, it even still had the inner tube. But still the Dunhill needed some work with the rim and stem. So I handed over the pipe into the skilled hands of Meindert.
I had to laugh when I saw the entrance of forum member Kees (nickname Kiske). For a while he was absent from the forum due to ehm.. differences of opinion with the administrators and moderators of the forum but now he was back. For some time he had been (jokingly) saying that our usual name badges were no good and that we all should wear tiaras instead. Of course you should never say that aloud on the forum because someone made an actual tiara for him. Luckily it was no problem for Kees to actually wear it, it suited him!
Erik Stokkebye and me with the pipe I won
Thinking back the weeks before the meeting the Pipe God really was smiling upon me. On a Wednesday afternoon I had a meeting with other pipe-smokers and forum members at tobacconist Willem Schimmel in Zutphen. Erik Stokkebye, blender and son of the very well known Peter Stokkebye, was there to promote his 4th Generation tobacco range. We had a fun evening, it truly was a delight to speak to the very knowledgeable Erik, which culminated in a contest in which you could win a 4th Generation pipe made by Neerup Pipes. Several questions were asked and the one who had everything right in the end would win. I can’t remember all the questions but the last one was where the 4th Generation tobaccos were made. So I blurted out “In the Orlik factory!” Well, not entirely correct… “In the Orlik factory of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group!” Which was the right answer, I had won the pipe! Back home I quickly noticed that it was a rather large pipe, I mean, my thumb fully fitted in the bowl. Too big for my taste. So I decided to put up a lottery on the forum which was won by Frans. In Heukelum I gave him the pipe, I hope he gets many enjoyable smoking hours from it.
Last year I bought some pipes for the father of a friend of mine, Ton. At that time he was visiting The Netherlands because he lived abroad. Since a month he moved back to our wet, cold and flat country so I invited him to the meeting. Since he is living alone some company is always welcome, so he accepted my offer. Afterwards he told me he stared his eyes out. Ton is an old-fashioned smoker, preferably he smokes the same blend in the same pipe over and over. “What a pleasant gathering of people and what a lot of pipes they did bring with them! And so many bent ones!” Ton only smokes straight billiards and thinks everyone smokes those because they smoke the best. Well, ehmm.. Ehrrr… Guess I have to teach an old fox some new tricks. Later I was approached by Jos, “Arno, I have something for you, do you want it now or later?” Ehmm, now? He presented me a wrapped package, so I unwrapped it and saw a bottle of Huppelolie (hopping oil)! Yummie! Huppelolie is a tasty “kruidenbitter” (no translation), sometimes my stomach pains me and a small glass of Huppelolie does wonders. But why the bottle? I asked Jos. Because years ago I gave him some tips about buying tobacco overseas. So kind of him!
I also was glad Shaun was there all the way from Belgium and of course all the others of the Fuming Four. For months they have been pestering me that I should go with hem next year to Scotland again. Not only to the beginning of the Highlands this time but all the way to the utmost North point at Kearvaig, where the home-bothy stands of the Kearvaig Pipe Club. An almost spiritual journey. But I still don’t know if I want to go.. I mean, beautiful country, Scotland, but a big chance of bad weather, cold, midgets ehrrr.. midges, mediocre food (although Matron’s curry was excellent!) and the worst of all, no comfort! The bothy has no shower, no soft bed and no toilet which means digging a hole outside if you have to take a dump.. I admit that throughout the years I turned somewhat into a sissy boy, I just like a little bit of luxury mmkay? But who knows, I like organizing such trips so perhaps while doing that I fully decide to go. The other guys of the Fuming Four had a request for me. I am a bit different from them as I don’t have a beard and I don’t have tattoos. Now they wanted me to design the latter. And I also should get it. Ehmm.. I have a virgin skin and I like to keep it that way. But in Shaun’s eyes I already could see his evil plan: Get Arno piss-drunk and then…… *evil laugh*
The rest of the afternoon and evening in Heukelum was very pleasant as usual. So many people, so many conversations, so little time. Around 5 o’clock Henk told us that the BBQ was ready and we could eat. I don’t know what it is but when someone says something like that no one wants to be the first one. But when Arno is hungry Arno is hungry you know? So I began putting tasty meat on my plate and the rest soon followed. A bit earlier then expected the majority of the forum members began to pack and went home. So not long after that Ed, Mark and I also decided to leave. When I got home Ellen was snoring on the couch and woke up when I entered the room. “Did you have a good meeting?” “Yes darling, it was another great day.”
I would like to thank Martin for organizing the meeting! All pictures were made by Klaas, Dirk, Martin and myself.
Halfway March it was time again for the annual meeting of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) at Wuustwezel (Belgium). Normally for me this always marks the beginning of spring. You know, sunshine, flowers, birds and bees, girls in short skirts etc. But when I awoke the sky was dark-grey with rain coming out of it and it stayed that way throughout the day, even in Belgium. Argh… This year about 60 people attended and like the previous time Matron, a Scotch-man and Florian, a German, both from the (in)famous Kaervaig Pipe Club, were there.
Mark on the left
In the morning I drove to Deventer to pick up Mark at the train station. When I had parked there I got a message from him. He had to go for a no. 2 when he would come out the train so it could take a while. Well, when nature calls you have to answer right? Surprisingly quick he came walking to the car. “Damned, there was a line where I wanted to change money and there is a long row before the toilet. But I know a McDonald’s just before we get on the highway, let’s go there.” Not wanting Mark to explode in my car I put the pedal to the medal and in no time we had reached our destination. While Mark was inside unleashing hell I texted Ed, who was waiting on the carpool spot further along the route where we were supposed to meet him. “Mark is doing a no. 2 at the McDonald’s in Deventer, you know he likes to take his time so it could be a while until we get to you.” But Ed, who was waiting in the rain, had no patience. “I am not going to wait in this shitty weather, I am coming to you, stay there.” So when Mark came back to my car with a face of relief I said we had to wait for Ed. Luckily he got here fast so we could begin the journey to Belgium. The only sad part was that Johnny, who normally is also driving along with us, could not make it due to private circumstances.
Frikandel XXL 🙂
After a pleasant ride we arrived in Wuustwezel. Like always the first thing was to stop at the local liquor store. This time I did not need much. Last year I had bought so many beers that I still had a reasonable stock in my cellar. The only thing I wanted to buy was some bottles of Piedbœuf Brune, a table beer of only 1.5%. Not because I like to drink it, but I use it to make hachee. After that we went for something to eat. Throughout the years I discovered that the snack-bars in Wuustwezel have a kind of rotating system about who is open on Saturday afternoon. So this time snack-bar Manneke Friet was the one we could go to. Only thing, the tiny place had no room where you could sit and eat, you could only order food. Which resulted in the snack-bar being crammed with lots of hungry pipe-smokers. I choose the long frikandel XXL with mayonnaise, curry and onions. We took the food to the location of the meeting, the Bellekeshoeve, where we could eat it. When we arrived and I unwrapped the frikandel I immediately got a friendly pat on my shoulder from pipe-maker Meindert who said with a wink: “You will keep your thick head if you eat that stuff!”
Freek on the left
When I had finished the long frikandel I was looking forward to a glass of delicious dark Vlaamsche Leeuw beer. But to my astonishment it was not available. I looked at Jan, the organizer, and he apologetically shrugged. His supplier could not get the mouthwatering brew. So I opted for another beer instead. It were all Belgian beers so in essence I could not pick wrong. I then bumped into Freek. Earlier on the forum he offered a jar of Tinder Box pure latakia for free. Since I was almost out of blending latakia I responded. Since I was the first I got it! The generosity of some people knows no bounds. Throughout the years Klaas gifted me quite a lot. Samples of Balkan Sobranie, Upper Ten tobaccos, De Graaff tobaccos etc. Now he had a tin of John Patton’s Latakia Junction for me, thank you very much!
Me, matron and Jan
And still the Pipe-God was not finished blessing me. Matron called the Fuming Four and Florian together, all members of the Kearvaig Pipe Club. Who also belongs to that exclusive society of fine gentlemen is Bob Gregory, the master-blender from Samuel Gawith/Gawith & Hoggarth. He had given Matron some tins to divide under the KPC members. They were packed per 2 so you could not see what tins you got. I choose… Wisely! When I opened my pack I saw a tin of St. James Flake and Kendal Cream Deluxe Flake. I have never smoked the latter so I am very curious! Afterwards I had some time to chat with Matron, who surprisingly knows a bit of Dutch. Turned out that in time he still looked like a young god he had a girlfriend from the Dutch province of Friesland. When I walked around a bit I was stopped by stone-cutter Martin Romijn. He showed me his new shirt which was pretty hilarious, and beautiful! On it was an image of a pipe-smoking weasel. The story behind it is: the town where the meeting is held is called Wuustwezel. If you roughly translate that to English it is something like “fierce weasel”. Hence the picture on the shirt.
My François Dal tomato shaped pipe
Suddenly Nick called for attention. Like the last years he had been busy with the forum pipe and he wanted to unveil the new pipe-maker. It is… Drumroll… Bruno Nuttens! He is a French pipe-maker (with Belgian roots) and is going to make a cutty shaped pipe with a beautiful silver coloured ring. Since my pipe-cabinet is getting a bit too small I don’t know yet of I will be ordering this one. But it is a beauty for a good price, that’s for sure. One of the reasons that my pipe-cabinet has almost no more room walked around in Wuustwezel: maître pipier and pipe-maker François Dal. Since some time he is a member of the PRF forum and he continues to impress us with his craft. He brought some of his pipes along and I immediately fell in love with one of them: a tomato shaped beauty with flawless cross-cut and flamed briar. I smoked it several times now and I can honestly say it already belongs to the top smoking part of my collection.
No one can smoke a cigar as tasty as Ed
Sometimes I looked around and thought I had gone to the wrong meeting, a cigar smoker one. Many folks around me were smoking the phallus-shaped rolled tobacco leaves. Don’t get me wrong, I like them very much, especially in the summer, but on a pipe-smoker meeting.. Mwah.. At the end of the afternoon the delicious mandatory sausage rolls were served. I am a big fan of the Brabants worstenbrood but these one are also very yummie! Slowly it got dark outside and the Bellekeshoeve quieted down a bit. I sat at a table with d’Artagnan and had just fetched some tobacco from a jar I brought with me. As a mean of experiment he added a bit of the Tinder Box latakia. I did the same and.. Great! How easy it sometimes is to blend a decent tobacco..
Before we knew it it was time to go home. We almost were the last ones left so we did not have to say goodbye to many people. The ride home was pretty silent from my side, I was tired. I had spoken to so many people.. But it had been utter fun! I would like to thank Jan for organizing the whole, the bar-crew for serving us delicious drinks and Ed and Mark for the conversations on the road. By the way, Mark made a brilliant and funny photo-bomb! As usual I was oblivious to it all..
All pictures were made by Dirk, Klaas, Nick, Marielle, Roelof, Thomas and myself.
In 2012 I started my quest for forum tobaccos. That is, special tobaccos for the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers forum (PRF). That often difficult journey (which you can read about here) ended at the end of 2013 and resulted in 3 delicious tobaccos: an aromatic called Genietmoment, a VaPer named Janneman Flake and a Balkan-blend with the name Brullende Leeuw. All made by a German tobacco company in cooperation with the wonderful Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco. After a years rest of the forum tobacco business it started to itch again, I was looking forward to a next phase of the project.
So, from which pipe-tobacco manufacturer would I like a forum tobacco (I already had decided it was going to be only 1 this time).. Sadly not an American company, import-wise that is waaaay to difficult (although I would have LOVED to work together with for example GL Pease, Cornell & Diehl or McClelland). It had to be a European one. On top of my wish-list was the quintessential English tobacco manufacturer Samuel Gawith. But how to get them to participate?
It is said that the secret ingredient for Gawith’s Black XX is Bob’s chest hair..
Actually that was pretty easy. Every year on the Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund I encounter the charming Bob Gregory at the stand of Samuel Gawith (merged together (again) with Gawith & Hoggarth in 2015). On the 2015 edition I took the bold step of asking Bob if Gawith was prepared to make a small batch of a special forum tobacco to be made by him and myself. To my surprise Bob immediately said yes, on the condition that the forum members would buy a minimum amount of 200 tins of 50 grams, and gave me his email so I could send him further details. Yessss, step 1 was taken!
Now step 2, getting the tobacco legally in The Netherlands. Gawith did not have a Dutch importer but I knew that someone was very interested in that job: Elbert Gubbels of Gubbels Pipes (Big Ben etc.). After years of being busy with smoking pipes Elbert was looking for a business expansion with pipe-tobacco. Fred and I made sure to let Elbert know that working with a high quality pipe-tobacco manufacturer such as Samuel Gawith was a smart move. He agreed with that and assured us he would talk to Bob about importing Gawith tobaccos to The Netherlands. In short, the next phase of the project could begin!
Back home I immediately mailed Bob, I already had an idea in my head of what I wanted. With the last forum tobaccos the high seller was Janneman Fake, a VaPer and a kind of blend that appealed to a lot of forum members. This time I wanted something similar yet different. First the cut, not a flake but a plug which is more special. Further I am a big fan of oriental tobaccos so I thought, Virginia/perique/oriental.. Hmm.. That could work! Also I was inspired by a blogpost by GL Pease about his wonderful Embarcadero blend. There he admits using a pinch of latakia in his Fillmore offering. A trick to extra season a tobacco, the same as someone would season a good steak to make it an excellent one.
So I wrote to Bob that the ingredients should be Virginias (in the vein of Full Virginia Flake), orientals (sadly Gawith only has an assorted blend of orientals and no specific varieties), a bit of perique, a smidgen of latakia and I told him what, very roughly, the levels of the different tobaccos should be. I was going for a sturdy yet mild, exotic and not overpowering blend with some fine nuances. Now I hear the PRF members saying: “What?? There is latakia in the new forum tobacco?? You said there wasn’t!” True, I lied, I admit and I am sorry. Because some members don’t like latakia I was afraid that they would not buy the tobacco simply because the dark leaf was an ingredient (although used very, very sparsely). So all you latakia haters who now smoke the blend and love it: got ya!
Bob being busy
While I was waiting for an answer from Bob I made the list on the forum where everyone could sign up for the tobacco. Remember, we had to order a minimum of 200 tins and I was crossing my fingers to say the least we made it to that amount. I did not need to worry. On 20 September 2015 forum-members could order and on the 25th I already had my 200 tins! In the meantime Bob had been busy with the plug: Dear Arno, this morning we made a trial cake of tobacco. This will be baked tomorrow and then we will test the tobacco for 7 to 10 days. After that time it will be cut and samples sent to you. The 25th I informed him that we managed to cross the 200 tins border. That is very good news Arno. I will now go downstairs to the production area and see what the cake is like. (10 minutes later) Interesting!!! The cake is made and the aroma is intriguing. I have cut a plug and will send to you for your opinion. Please allow it to dry a little as the tobacco is still very young.
On 22 October 2015 a package arrived at the office for me. Hmm, rather large, I thought, can’t be Gawith, such a box for only a sample? But the sender was indeed Gawith and inside was a massive 250 gr. slab of pressed tobacco! Wow! With the previous forum tobacco I only got small sample bags of which I could barely smoke 4 pipes. At least I could provide decent samples for my testers this time. So I cut the tobacco up in smaller pieces and send them to my testing panel, a select group of forum members and friends. Of course I also smoked the plug and to my relief it already was pretty good. In short the testing panel and I came to the conclusion that the plug was ok, the basis was good. So I mailed Bob that the Virginias in combination with the oriental, perique and smidge of latakia were to be found very interesting taste-wise. However, halfway the bowl it seemed that the “middle” taste-tones were lacking a bit. The plug had good “subtones” and “overtones”, but the middle was a bit “empty”, sort of. Like someone of the testers said: neither fish nor fowl. So I suggested an increase of the level of Oriental to Bob to fix this. The perique level was ok but the latakia could be even less. By the way, I did not tell the testing panel it contained latakia but some detected it.
It took some time before Bob responded, on 23 November he send this: Arno, I have noted your comments and will work at it. For now we are extremely busy, so if you do not mind, Arno Plug will have to go on to the back burner. Be assured that I will take a long look in a couple of weeks. About the name “Arno Plug” were some funny comments on the forum, I don’t understand why.. Finally at the beginning of February 2016 the second sample-slab of tobacco arrived at the office. But when I smoked the first pipes I was not happy. I asked Bob to raise the oriental content but now the blend was really lacking midrange taste, my fault. The Virginias no longer supported the oriental so the whole balance was off. From the other hand the perique and latakia content were perfect. Still I did not send this sample round to the testing panel, it was not better as the first one. I mailed Bob my findings and waited again.
Then it began to rumble about the cut of the forum tobacco. It was going to be a plug but Gawith was slowly beginning to object to this: Regarding the packaging of SG plug, we have one packing for this in the UK and that is a 250g box. Generally speaking, it is very expensive to cut a plug to 50g, it requires constant trimming to size and we end up with excessive waste, the cost of which has to be added back to the end product weight. We can do this in a tin but the price will shock you. Can the product which you require not be taken in the standard 250g box? It would certainly have a more attractive price for you. You could of course also take the product as a bulk product and pack it yourselves. I told Bob that we could not take the standard 250 gr. box or the tobacco as bulk. This because in The Netherlands no sales of bulk tobacco is allowed, only sealed tins and pouches are permitted. On 8 March the final verdict fell: Dear Arno, with regard to the Forum tobacco, we are not prepared, on the basis of time/cost to pack this product as a 50g Plug. We are, however, prepared to go with a 50g flake product.
Damnit! I already “sold” over 200 tins as a plug and now it suddenly was going to be a flake. I explained the situation to the forum members and asked them if they were willing to accept the new cut. Luckily the most heard response was: “A plug is more special but a flake is also ok, easier to handle”. *Pheww*! Only 1 member wanted to cancel his order because of this. The new flake also needed a name so I asked the forum members for suggestions. The best came from Jef (nickname NoneNicer): Flatlander Flake. He was inspired by the book “Flatland, a romance of many dimensions” written by Edwin A. Abott. The book is about dimensions and we just went from 3D (a plug) to 2D (a flake), very appropriate. Plus that when I read the name I immediately got inspiration for the tin artwork. I asked Bob what the dimensions of the label were and started to work. I ended up with a picture of the flat lands around the village where I live. With some Photoshop I made it look like a painting. I added the Samuel Gawith logo, some info, of course the name, send it to Bob et voilà, I was ready.
Bob still had not send a reply but after some pushing from my side he finally did on 4 April: Dear Arno, I have no news as yet. I have to wait until Mr Gubbels enters into an agreement with Gawith Hoggarth. Until this happens I cannot make or ship. This may not happen until after May 20th in which case I may have wasted money on labels we cannot use. Until I know what the market is doing I will not move. I know this is frustrating but the problem is small compared to our having to change label designs and health warnings for all EU markets, also to possibly change the type of tin we use. The problem at which Bob was pointing was the new tobacco regulation guideline TPD2. That required that Flatlander Flake had to be produced before 20 May 2016 otherwise we 1. could throw away the labels that were just made and 2. horrible pictures would be put on the tins. Luckily a couple of weeks later Elbert Gubbels committed himself to Gawith. He was going to import several Samuel Gawith tobacco to The Netherlands including Flatlander Flake. But our troubles were not over yet.
An example of TPD2 approved artwork…
A silence fell until 10 June when Elbert mailed me: Dear Arno, an update regarding tobaccos from England: I have just been in contact with Bob Gregory and an appointment is scheduled in Kendal. After much hassle we finally have the permit tobuy tax seals. We hope to be able to import tins with no unsightly pictures onfront and back. Regarding the status of your forum tobacco order: this will at least have to get the ugly pictures because the tobacco is not yet manufactured / packaged. All tobaccos produced after May 20 this year are obliged to get the pictures on the cans. It all goes not smooth. Of course there is the fact that we have received permission / a license so late. Bummer, artwork with nasty pictures.. “Oh well, at least a forum tobacco is coming!” I thought.
Respect for this man!
The next months Elbert got busy with the whole process of importing the Gawith tobaccos. Which was hell for him. This because it was the first time he did anything like that. Only a few companies import tobacco into The Netherlands so there was no one who told Elbert what to do, he had to find out everything by himself. You have meet all kinds of bureaucratic requirements and every time Elbert thought he saw the light at the end of the tunnel our dutiful civil servants conjured up another wall. Very frustrating so I have nothing than the utmost respect for the man because he stubbornly kept going on. In the mean time I discussed the final number of Flatlander Flake with Elbert, he would import 300 tins.
Yeahh!! No gruesome images!
Things started to move again when Bob asked for the Flatlander Flake artwork, again, at the beginning of August. A good opportunity to ask for the 3rd sample round but I got no response. Halfway September was the Inter-Tabac Fair in Dortmund so I mailed Bob several times and begged him to bring new Flatlander Flake samples, again no response. As you can read in the corresponding blogpost the bastard (love you Bob!) did bring 2 tins of the final product with him (No more sample rounds, he said..). I noticed the content of the tin I opened was still very fresh but I tasted potential! I have to reluctantly admit I could hug the man at that moment. In October one of the big PRF meetings was held in Heukelum and only just before the date I received 2 sample-tins from Elbert, with the new artwork. To my amazement and delight it did not have the gruesome images, only text warnings. How they did it, no idea, but to be honest I don’t care.
Slowly the date that the forum tobaccos arrived in The Netherlands was getting closer. Tobacconist Willem Schimmel in Zutphen was doing the sales, as an importer Elbert Gubbels could not do that. At the beginning of December Willem rang me up: “I received the tins, but there are only 288 of them..” What!!?? I ordered and “sold” 300 so I was 12 tins short. I phoned Elbert to asked what happened. Apparently he had send the mandatory tax seals to Gawith so they could attach them to the tins. Only, those seals come on rollers of 144 pieces. So 2 rollers of in total 288 tax seals were received and processed by Gawith. The 12 remaining tins they had send to The Netherlands without anything on them. Which was discovered by our hard working customs office.
Burning Flatlander Flake the wrong way..
They phoned Elbert and he went like “Oh sorry, perhaps I can pay the taxes for them now? I mean, it is only 12 tins.” At which the customs office burst out in anger and even threatened to call the police on Elbert.. In the end he was forced to burn those 12 tins in front of 2 customs officers who especially had to come to the Gubbels factory, I kid you not ladies and gentlemen, I have photographic proof of that. Totally insane, like those tins contained hard drugs! Luckily Gawith had some leftover stock of Flatlander Flake. Just before Christmas Willem organized 3 days on which the members of the forum could pick up their forum tobacco tins and the rest would be send by post. I was there on one of those days and the ambience was just great: happy forum members, Willem played the role of gracious host, there was a cosy Christmas market in the centre of Zutphen, finally all was well.
So now you probably all expect a glowing review by me about Flatlander Flake. Well, in The Netherlands we have a saying: “Wij van WC eend adviseren WC eend. (We from Toilet-Duck (a company) advise Toilet-Duck)” We Dutch use the slogan any time people or companies are clearly recommending their own stuff. I won’t do that, the lucky ones who have obtained a Flatlander Flake tin have to make a judgement for themselves. I can only say that I am very happy with the final result, I think it is a unique flake, especially within the Gawith range. It is interesting, smooth and mellow with grassy, sweet candy-cane-like tones yet the perique gives it some peppery kick which is rounded off by a slight smoky after-taste by the pinch of latakia. You can smoke it in all kinds of pipes where the shape of the bowl defines which ingredient comes out more. For example billiards enhance the Virginias and pots/princes the oriental content. However I do advise to smoke slowly, almost sip it. If you have the patience to leave the tin shut I predict you will be in for a treat after some time. Virginias and orientals age very well.
I would like to thank Bob Gregory, Elbert Gubbels and Willem Schimmel, without them Flatlander Flake would not have been possible. Also I thank my girlfriend Ellen for enduring my moods and billows of smoke. And of course I thank all of you forum members who have bought the tins (sometimes vast amounts!) without knowing what the final product was going to be like. Thank you for having faith in me!
As some of you know annually the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) has a forum pipe made by a (well-known) carver. Throughout the years people like Elie, Dirk Claessen, Ian Walker and the Big Ben and BriarWorks International companies delivered us exquisite smoking gear. This year organizing it all was a joint venture of Nick (from Massis Pipes) and Shaun. I’ll give you Nick: After Shaun had managed this project for several years to a successful conclusion on his own and a first ‘cooperation version’ with Dre in 2015, we now opted for a similar direction as last year where Shaun will take care of the financial side of the story and I keep myself busy with contacting the pipe maker and later the distribution of the pipes. After a lot of consultation and contacting several pipe makers and factories, we finally came to a decision. It is with some pride that I can announce that the 2017 PRF Pipe is the first to be made by a woman, to be precise Sabina Santos from Portugal.
Sabina is relatively new in the world of pipe-making (she recently celebrated her 3rd birthday as a pipe maker), but has already managed to develop an unique style. Moreover – fun fact for our forum – her roots lie in the Netherlands. She was actually born in Tiel and spent the first three years of her life there. As a result she is very excited that we have chosen her this year, as evidenced by the total package and the price at which she is willing to do this for us. After extensive consultation we opted for a squat Rhodesian, the signature shape of Sabina. She works exclusively with wood from the world’s best briar supplier Mimmo Romeo. The mouthpiece is made of black acrylic, the accent ring is made of “turtle” acrylic. The top of the pipe will alwaysbe finishedsmooth. At the bottom you have the choice between two options: rusticated or Honeycomb. The rusticated version is €142 and the Honeycomb €157 including shipping costs. As always the forum pipe is supplied with a certificate from the maker. But especially for us Sabina has decided to make separate pipe bags and put our logo and the text “by Sabina” on the cork tags. Normally Sabina engraves her pipes by hand or let them engrave by laser at an additional cost. However, especially for us Sabina has decided to have her logo, the serial number and PRF logo laser-engraved in each pipe without extra cost.
My Sabina-made forum pipe
When I saw the first example pictures I just had to order the pipe with the unique honeycomb finish. I always loved the Rhodesian shape and already had my eye for some time on the pipes Sabina made. Despite she only has been carving for 3 years she makes wonderful and creative pipes with a good eye for lines and shapes. At the day of Christmas Eve my doorbell suddenly rang. “A package sir, merry Christmas!” Quickly I ripped it open and to my utter delight it was the forum pipe! I loved the size and shape of it with the delicately done honeycomb finish. Unfortunately I had caught a cold that lasted for several weeks so only at the beginning of the new year I finally could smoke the pipe. And I was not disappointed, it is a good smoker and will earn a place in the pantheon of my smoking pipes. I mailed Sabina and asked if she was willing to do an interview for this blog, and she was.
When how and where did you learn to carve and shape briar wood to make smoking pipes? During my professional job (I have a Communication Degree but I always worked in a Financial area) I always missed an activity in which I could express myself. When my husband, a long time pipe smoker, began to explore the pipe making as an hobby, I began to find it very interesting too. After all we take a block of wood and carve it into a pipe! Amazing! I’ve been following his development and I began to love the idea of carving a pipe. So I wanted to learn and try it. When I was pregnant, I decided to be a stay at home mother. However I missed an occupation that I could conciliate with the role of a mother and one in which I could give wings to my creativity. So I decided to go ahead with the idea of making a pipe. I carved my first pipe, a Poker, on July 2013 and it was the beginning of my journey as pipe maker. I feel that I learn every time I carve a pipe. Pipe making is really a delight! When I started making pipes, as my son was newborn, I only had time to make the drills in the workshop and finish the pipes in my kitchen while the baby was sleeping. For that reason, each one of my pipes is unique because it tells a story, my story as a pipe maker and a mother. Each person who gets one of my pipes, also receives a part of me. Now, I work in my workshop in part-time. It’s very relaxing being at the workshop carving a pipe. A unique piece, made by me with all my love and care.
What kinds of woods do you use for your pipes? I only use Italian briar and sometimes I use Morta (Bog Oak). I also use some exotic woods for accents. I tried several briar suppliers but now I exclusively work with Mimmo Romeo.
What materials do you use for your stems? During some time I used pre-made acrylic stems which were hand finished by me. Then I started making my own stems and now I prefer to use German ebonite and cumberland.
Can you tell something about the equipment you use for the making of the pipes? I was lucky and from the beginning I already had a workshop with some machines and tools my husband bought. After some time I took control of the workshop an now it is my “cave”. The main machines and tools I use are a metal lathe, a powerful Dremel, a sanding disc, a sanding belt and files. My workshop is my space, my world, where I can find myself. There, I can finally give wings to my creativity! Working in a workshop is something much more masculine, I think. It is not every day I meet a woman working in the middle of machinery, wood and dust. But I just love it!! I mean, I’m a woman, a wife and a mother, that loves make up but I also love to work in my workshop! I love work on lathe and my Demmel is my best friend!
When making pipes, do you have a favourite pipe shape and if so, why that one? I love Rhodesians and all the related family. I carved several Rhodesians and in the future I would like to explore the Bulldog and Eskimo shapes for example. I love the hand-feel of the Rhodesian and it is also a great shape to play around with finishes, for example a smooth top and rusticated bottom.
You are very creative with coming up with new finishes, my compliments! Can you tell more about the inspiration for the Soul collection and how you make them? Many thanks! I love rusticated pipes and some of my favourite pipe makers are Masters in rustications. I always loved the work of Konstantin Shekita, he carves some stunning lattice pipes. The inspiration for my Soul pipes came from his work. I love the concept of the lattice and as in Portugal we have a traditional hand craft, “Renda” (hand made lace), I decided to give it try. So I took the concept of the Portuguese “Renda” and applied it to my pipes. My Soul pipes are quite unique because the lattice is all open, just touching the pipe in the top and near the stem. So in the end you get a visual effect of a pipe inside the lattice, despite they are carved from a unique piece of briar. To carve this pipes I use my Dremel and lots of patience and love.
Can you tell more about the inspiration for the Honeycomb pipes and how you make them? I like to play around with rustications and one time when I was exploring the effect of a rustication with “holes”, an image of a Honeycomb came into my mind and I started to recreate it. Nowadays it is a kind of signature rustication from me.
Can you tell more about the inspiration for the Iced Green pipes and how you make them? They look like they have been in the fridge for some time! The inspiration came from one of my husbands hobbies. He likes to paint war miniatures and has great techniques for that. I liked one of these techniques, the “Dry Brush” and decided to give it a try on my pipes! The first attempt was with blue and I also made one in red but the Iced Green one is the most popular for sure.
Can you tell more about the inspiration for the Broken pipes and how you make them? I really like the idea of something broken but beautiful at same time. I like the philosophy of a “Broken Body, Strong Mind”. Other pipe makers already explored the idea of a broken shank; Ser Jacopo, Werner Mummert and Eder Mathias for example. As it is something I love, I decided to give it my own approach and created the Broken Pipes. When we look it seems the shank is broken but in fact we have a regular pipe ended in plateaux skin with a hand made stem with a plateaux skin ring chosen by me especially to match with the stummel.
What makes a Sabina pipe a Sabina pipe? You have certain “golden rules” that you apply with every pipe you make? What makes a Sabina Pipe is my own style I guess. I still have lots to learn in order to improve my skills. But during this 3 year journey I always tried to follow my own style. I like to play around with textures and finish and I don’t have fear of it. Despite there are lots of more conservative pipe smokers, there are also many space for new creations and that is the beauty of the pipe community. I also love a classic pipe, but always with a twist, something that gives it an unique personality.
Do you smoke pipe yourself? If so, what are your favourite pipes? I started carving pipes a long time before I tried to smoke one. First I fell in love with the shape and then I started wanting to try it because I should know my work and how a pipe should be smoked. But I’m not an experienced pipe smoker, I just smoke occasionally.
What (beside your own pipes) are your favourite pipe-brands/makers? That would provide an extended list… For example, I really love the work of the pipe makers João Reis, Konstantin Shekita, Alex Brishuta, Chris Asteriou, Uwe Maier… But there are many others in my top favourite list… Again, I like the work of pipe makers with an unique style.
What is your favourite tobacco-blend (to smoke or to smell)? I like to smoke aromatics, especially with a Cherry taste. I usually love the smell of all pipe tobaccos, but some of them are a bit strong for me to smoke. For example my husband likes Latakia, Perique, Black Cavendish… All strong stuff for me.
Any last words for readers? If there are some readers who have a dream (pipe making for example) I would like to say to always follow your dreams and always give something you really want a try. Learn from the mistakes and get stronger with each fall.
As I write this Sabina is in Denmark to improve on her already considerable pipe making skills by learning from masters like Tom Eltang, João Reis, Tao, Kai Nielsen and Kurt Balleby. Below are pictures of the process of making the forum pipe in general and of course images of my own forum pipe.
I really hate autumn. There, I said it. Yeah I know, lots of people like it, the falling leaves, the smells, the colours etc. Well, for me autumn is made out of dark, grey, rainy and cold days which suck the joy out of my life.. Blagh… I prefer summer with the warmth and comfort of the sun. Luckily not all is bad in these dark days, there is even some light. Light coming from a small brewery located in the tiny Dutch village of Heukelum. There one of the annual meetings of the Dutch/Belgian pipe-smokers forum is held. People from all layers of society sitting together, chatting away, drinking, eating, in general just having a good time. As it is supposed to be. Like the previous years stone-cutting tamper-maker extraordinaire Martin organised it. The price remained the same as last year so we all got excellent value for money. I mean, you get two drinks, there is a big BBQ with all kinds of tasty fresh meat, sauces, salads and baguettes, the rent of the brewery is included and last but not least you get one bottle of special forum-beer with a label made by myself!
Dre and some of his wares
Like always I picked up Mark at the Deventer train station and together we drove to the carpool place where Johnny and Ed would be waiting or us. When we got there it turned out to be quite busy with cars so I had to park mine beside the road. Suddenly a pissed-off guy approached me that I had to park my car elsewhere. It turned out to be the owner of the ice-cream van who stood there, he was afraid his clients did not have space to manoeuvre with my car there. Bullshit of course but since the guy is a total nut-case (he was in the news because he conned customers) I opted to park elsewhere. To my amazement and joy the weather actually was nice when we arrived at ‘T Kuipertje. A bit of sunshine, hardly any wind and a decent temperature made it feel like a very late summers day. One of the first things I did was fetch my ordered PRF shirts and sweaters. Peter did an excellent job ordering, handling and packing all the fine quality PRF textiles. Thanks mate, now I have some decent clothes to wear this winter and coming summer. Second I approached Dre, who refurbishes estate pipes as a hobby. I mailed him earlier that week with a request.
The father of a good friend of mine
As I told in my Humble Beginnings part 1 blogpost one of my influences to start pipe-smoking is the father of a long time friend of mine. Well, he is in The Netherlands right now because of his bad health. Ok, bad health is a bit too exaggerated, he has some physical issues which are better addressed here (better hospitals) than in Brazil, where he lives. He brought some pipes with him and when I took a good look at them tears welled up in my eyes.. He is an old fashioned smoker, and by that I mean he likes to smoke the same blend over and over again (he took a liking to my Phoenix Graveyard Mixture (basically all my natural tobacco leftovers mixed together) in just a couple of pipes which are hardly cleaned. One of his pipes has the mouthpiece of some other pipe which is duct-taped more or less to the shank and the underside of another one bubbles up because it is almost burned through. Time for some “new” pipes I thought, so I approached Dre and asked him if he had any straight pipes (preferably billiards) for sale. “Just wait, I will bring some pipes with me”, he mailed back. And indeed, Dre showed me a billiard and some canadians which looked just fine. “I’ll take them all!” I happily said. Dre asked a very friendly price and even threw in another pipe for free! Thanks very much Dre! The father of my friend is a happy man now.
Me, Robbin and Ed
Time for a drink! The previous years the beers of ‘T Kuipertje were good although sometimes a bit on the watery side. However, this year I was surprised by full, round tasting brew! With a smile I walked to Robbin, some weeks before the meeting I bought a straight Dunhill patent era prince from him for a very good price. He once bought the pipe from a man who turned out to be a swindler and that turned him off so much that he never smoked it. I have no such problem with that pipe so Robbin brought it with him. Happily I filled my new acquisition with some tobacco and went outside. I put the pipe in my mouth, brought the flame from the lighter to the bowl and *crack!* bit through the mouthpiece.. While silently cursing I took the pipe out of my mouth and inspected the damage, a piece of the lip had broken off. The mouthpiece was already very thin by decades of buffing and my strong teeth did the rest. Just bad luck, not any one’s fault. Frisian pipe maker Meindert saw me inspecting the damage and carefully took the pipe from my hands. “Just give it to me, I will make a new mouthpiece for it, everything will be ok.” So to be continued..
Then it was time for me to ask for everyone’s attention. For some time I am busy with a new PRF forum tobacco called “Flatlander Flake” made by Samuel Gawith and imported by (Elbert) Gubbels. Just a couple of days before the meeting I received 2 sample tins from Elbert so the forum members could try the blend. I wanted to give a longer speech in which I explained and told about the new forum tobacco journey but sadly my throat (I still was having a nasty cold..) protested heavily. So I decided to give a shorter version and let the tobacco speak for itself. During the rest of the day I (luckily) got nothing but positive response about Flatlander Flake, mission accomplished!
Finger tapping the sh*t out of that ukelele Van Halen style. NOT!
Suddenly when I was talking to some folks I heard a strange monotone noise coming from outside. It turned out to be Sander who was gearing up his hurdy-gurdy. Such a strange instrument but Sander proved to be surprisingly skilful in playing it. The folk melodies coming from it brought me visions of merry drinking and eating people. Hmm, pretty much the group I was looking at! Rob (one of the many Robs on the forum) also brought instruments with him; his self made (from used cigar- and pipe tobacco boxes) ukeleles. They look really great! He also brought a regular ukelele which I could not resist playing. I painfully discovered that having experience in playing guitar and bass does not mean one can play an ukelele..
I was saved by the announcement of brewery-owner Henk that the BBQ’s were ready. Time to eat! Henk gets his meat from a local butcher and you really can taste that, premium quality! Normally I would not notice that so much, but because I am more or less on a diet I took no (fat and sugar-rich) sauces with my meat. Some weeks ago I had a BBQ with my brother-in-law and he had meat from the supermarket. Well, it was not nearly as good as what Henk had to offer. So I sinned and filled up my plate 3 times before I contently sat down with a full belly. Needless to say the gym awaited me the next day..
The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent chatting away with all the present folks. Because of the heat coming from the BBQ’s we could sit outside for a long time. Talking about heat, on a table stood a small bottle with some red sauce in it. It belonged to hurdy-gurdy player Sander and on the label was an ominous name that indicated the contents were very hot. But according to Sander that was not really the case, he used large amounts of it on his meat. Curiosity got the better of me, I put some sauce on the top of my finger and licked it off. At first nothing happened. I proclaimed “Hah, this stuff is not as ho….” when suddenly my mouth started to burn, my eyes began to water and I got hiccups. Holy damned sh*t, this stuff is HOT! The whole table laughed at my attempts to control the effects of the hellish sauce. In the end I fled inside and asked Henk for a glass of milk, the best liquid you can get if you have eaten something hot. Unfortunately he did not have that but the glass of water he offered disappeared in my mouth within the blink of an eye.
Around 8 o’clock it was time to go home. We said goodbye to each other and stepped in the car. The ride home was pretty quiet, obviously everyone still had the fantastic day in their minds. Until Mark asked if Ed could stop the car, he needed to take a shit badly. Not so funny because he suffers from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrom). So we halted at a gas-station where Mark quickly went to the toilet. Which took him quite a while. At one point some men where waiting in front of the toilet. Funny were the faces of disgust they pulled at the sounds and smells so to say. But I felt pity for poor Mark, luckily he was feeling pretty relieved when he joined us again in the car.
I want to thank Henk and Martin for organizing yet another great meeting and all who attended for the interesting conversations, the laughter and camaraderie. All pictures were made by Jan(neman), Klaas, Nick and Roelof.