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.
September 21st it was once again time for one of my annual highlights: The Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. For those of you who missed the blogposts I made of the visit the last couple of years; the Inter-Tabac (which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year) is the leading and biggest trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. Last year 625 exhibitors from 54 countries presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This included cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, E-shishas, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shishas, shop equipment and spirits. And yes, one is still allowed to smoke inside. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers. Like the previous years I was able to secure a ticket through Fred. The saying goes, the more the merrier, so (with approval of Fred) I invited good friend Ed. A couple of years ago he should have went with me but unfortunately had to cancel at the last moment because of a migraine attack. Now we agreed to meet each other at the McDonald’s in Apeldoorn near the highway. About the same distance from home for each one of us so very convenient.
Entrance to the Inter Tabac
I got there first and after 10 minutes Ed followed. We grabbed an invigorating cup of coffee and stepped into Ed’s car. Or to be precise, the lease car from his wife. A big luxurious Peugeot (don’t ask me which model, I’m a car noob, I own a 1996 Toyota Starlet and am very content with it) with a German environmental sticker which you need in most German cities. The main reason he did not bring along his own vehicle. Thanks to the modern navigation system in the Peugeot the ride to Dortmund went smooth. Part of highway we had to take was closed down which the intelligent navigation knew and effortlessly guided us through an alternative route. Also the weather was heavenly, blue skies, sun, a beautiful late summer’s day. When we arrived at the Westfalenhallen we could park near the entrance. Which had changed somewhat. Last year there was a big renovation going on and now we could see the result, modern and spacious.
Okapi & Kiboko, new Danpipe blends
Like the years before the first stop was Danpipe. Simply because I know a lot of people there and they always serve coffee. We were greeted by former masterblender Andreas Mund and his charming wife. Former masterblender? It turned out that Andreas’ wife has that job now. “Her tasting palate is way better than mine.” Andreas explained with a grin. “But I still do things like buying in raw tobacco.” I asked how Danpipe was doing and while winking if they had something new which I could smoke. Last year they had a new blend which no one could smoke because they had only a prototype with them. You know, like sucking on a joint and don’t inhaling it. Andreas answered: “We are doing fine, I am busy as hell, only Herr Behrens (one of the directors) is not here because he has to undergo surgery for his hip. He is getting old… But we have two new blends (which were put on the table by his wife), Okapi and Kiboko. Okapi was created by my wife and Kiboko by Michael Apitz.” I took a sniff of both, Okapi is Virginia based, a bit of a rubbed out flake with some rose leaves but still pretty natural. Kiboko is a full frontal aromatic and to be honest I forgot what was in there.. It was nice to see the new division of roles at creating new mixtures at Danpipe. Andreas’ wife for the more natural tobaccos, Micheal Apitz for the aromatics. I asked if I could fill up a pipe with Okapi which was graciously allowed. A fine blend, smooth despite being very young, could be an all day smoke.
Danpipe’s cigar lady at the stand
Andreas and his wife had to attend to some clients (a Davidoff representative who, hopefully for Danpipe, wants to have another year-blend made there) so another, tall, woman came standing with us. Damned.. I recognised her but could not lay my finger upon it. “You don’t recognise me??” she said almost offended. “Last year when you visited our shop in Lauenburg I sold you some cigars!” “Oooooh, of course!” I said with a fast reddening face. “Did you know we don’t bring out our (famous) catalogue anymore?” she said. Well, normally the catalogue would be on all the tables and now it wasn’t I noticed. “We decided to skip it and put the money in a larger and better website to crank up our sales, it is going to be fantastic.” In the mean time Fred had joined us, always very nice to see and speak to him. He is busy growing his own Virginia leaf in The Netherlands near where he lives. I sometimes see pictures on his Facebook page and it is looking well. Last year I smoked some of his first batch and it was amazingly good! He grinned because he had a good adventure with the Dutch tax authorities. He said to them he grew so and so much of his own tobacco. They had nooo idea what to do with that. Tobacco is taxed when it is sealed in pouches or tins, but raw tobacco?? Just go on, they said to the amusement of Fred.
When I took a look at the Danpipe assortment I was approached by a man. “Excuse me, but are you the Dutch Pipe Smoker? My name is Torbjörn, I am from Sweden and I read your blog and sometimes comment on it.” Wow, I got recognised! A very friendly man, he was looking for a good Danpipe Virginia so I gave him some advice, being a bit familiar with the assortment. We chatted for a bit and had our picture taken for the Swedish Pipe Club of which he is a member. I just love this kind of meetings with pipe smokers from another country. Back at the table with Ed and Fred I suddenly felt some hands on my shoulders, it was Michael Apitz. Always a delight to speak to him, you put in a dime so to say and he keeps on talking, wonderful chap. He makes a blend for his own which includes tonka bean essence and explained how to make the latter. “Very easy, you take a lot of tonka beans, put them in a towel and bash them to pieces with a hammer. Those you do in a large mason jar and fill it up with pure alcohol. Then let it rest for about 4 months. After that when you have a blend you put in 5% of it, put it away for a while and ready!”
At one point Fred said, let’s go to Elbert (Gubbels, of Big Ben amongst others). Elbert has a bit of a lounging area at his stand so we sat there. Despite being very busy he took the time to speak to us. Of course we know each other longer because of the whole forum tobacco Flatlander Flake project. Elbert is been having a rough year. The pipe-making part of his company he had to let go bankrupt. He had way too much stock and everyday new pipes were added to it. So with lots of pain in his heart he had to fire several employees and shut down production. Now he is selling his stock and looking for companies in Italy to produce pipes for him. That is to be said, only the less expensive lines. The high end ones are still going to be made at the Dutch factory. I wish him all the best of luck with that!
Fred wanted to go somewhere else so Ed and I strolled through the alleyways. I have been many times at the Inter Tabac but it could be that this was my last one. As far as pipes and pipe tobacco goes I have the feeling it is going downhill. It always amazes me how Danpipe and Gubbels can cough up the costs for their stands each year. Samuel Gawith no longer attends the fair since Bob Gregory left. I read on PipesMagazine the following: “Chris (Gawith) has recently taken over the company with the passing of his father and is now in the process of applying his expertise in engineering (he’s an engineer by trade) to the company with process improvement and oversight.” Well, I know Bob left for a reason, mainly because he was fuming that the company wants to do things wholly different than the last 200 years and he could not stand behind it. So I hope Chris understands that the quality of the Gawith product still has to be spot on because otherwise I think he is going to lose a lot of customers and murders a centuries old company.. Also MacBaren was not present, they held court at a nearby hotel. But I had made an appointment with Per Jensen later that afternoon. Planta was also not present, the reason of it I heard later that day. Walking through the halls I noticed an increase in cigar companies, the cigar is booming as far as I can tell (almost every damn brand has some Cuban cigar-roller at the entrance of their stand). To the delight of Ed because he likes them a lot. It was like wonderland for him sometimes. “Oh! I know that guy! I follow him on the internet!” He exclaimed several times. Drew Estate had a large stand with some good looking girls. I don’t smoke cigars that much but I like a lot of their offerings, especially the Kentucky Fire Cured range. “Look! There is Jonathan Drew, the co-founder and president!” Ed said awestruck. Jonathan, while grinning because he saw the pipe in my mouth, patted my shoulder and said “hello mate!” “I don’t think I would wash that shoulder for some time.” Ed said with a wink.
Cornell & Diehl
After lunch (I told Ed to bring lunch with him because food and drinks are very €xpen$ive at the Inter Tabac but he left it in the car and opted for some fries) we went looking for Cornell & Diehl (Laudisi). Last years they had just a small desk and that was it. This time there was a bigger stand with lots of Peterson pipes and beside the always friendly Ted Swearingen owner Sykes Wilford was also there. I really wanted to shake hands and speak with him but he was busy with a client and you know, business first! Luckily Ted was talkative about the new Peterson pipes and tobacco situation in the USA. Last times I was at Peter Heinrichs in Bergheim there was no new Peterson stock. Which surprised Ted because nothing changed distribution-wise. The USA tobacco situation is a bit on hold. They even began with taking of the warning labels from the tins again. They had some loose tobacco in a container without label. I smelled it and immediately recognised it; Autumn Evening, one of my favourite aromatic blends. When I asked if he had the newest GL Pease offering, Penny Farthing, with him he said no. “But I do have an aged tin of Bayou Night with me that you can have.” “Excuse me? Wow, wonderful, thank you very much!” I blurted out. Thank you very much Ted!
Then we went to the stands of Kohlhase & Kopp and Vauen. At the former you could really notice the rise of the cigar and the “downfall” of pipes and tobaccos. It is getting a bit less each year. Despite that, I have to say the stand was well visited. Vauen is one of the few pipe makers who try to innovate each year. This time they had the Edgar model, a sporty designer pipe with cooling ribs made of ceramic composite. Ed and I wanted a drink so I opted to go the huge stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group. One of the places where you can sit relaxed, have a (free!) drink, smoke and no one bothers you. Of course we went to see the Winslow, White Spot (No, no Dunhill.. White Spot! Idiots…) and Stanwell pipes first. As usual Poul Winslow had a whole range of beautiful pipes, some really big! When we sat down with a drink (brought by a lovely lady with one pair of the brightest blue eyes I had ever seen, no picture unfortunately) I put my pipe-bag on the table, filled with several Winslow pipes, and we had a smoke. I tried the Bayou Night and it was excellent! I am going to enjoy smoking up that tin. Suddenly Poul Winslow himself spotted us, or to say, his pipes on our table. He asked if he could take a picture from us for his Facebook page. Of course, go ahead! And indeed, a short while later my fat head was on his social media: Winslow fan! Between the halls there also was an interesting stand: Cigar Rights of Europe. In short, they advocate the right to smoke a cigar (or a pipe) in Europe which is becoming increasingly difficult because of all kinds of laws and regulations. So I would say, go to their website and become a member!
We took a fast stroll through the water-pipe and e-smoke halls, which amazed Ed. “Like walking in the Middle East or India! Those people and smells!” he exclaimed. Then the time had come to go to the mighty MacBaren, who were located in a private room in the nearby Dorint hotel, only a short walk from the Westfalenhallen. We were greeted by product manager Per Jensen, who was glad to see us. “The sales-representative guys from us have enough work, but I just sit here..” Per recently got married so as a present I gave him a bottle of genuine Dutch jenever saying that as a married man he probably now needed this. We sat down, Per got us some drinks and I asked him why they were in the hotel instead of the Inter Tabac. “Well, as you know the previous years we were in a large stand together with Arnold Andre. This year they decided they did not want to have a stand in the Westfalenhallen and opted for a room in this hotel. We still could have gone but then we would have nothing to say about the location of our stand..” said Per. So this was a better option indeed, can you imagine MacBaren between the water-pipes? He asked me if we visited the Inter Tabac. “Of course” I said “but it is going downhill.. I mean, no MacBaren, no Gawith, no Planta..” Per veered up “Ah! It has a reason Planta is not there.” At which he guided me to a big sign at the entrance (which I did not see) which read: “Planta, we are delighted to bid you welcome to our MacBaren family.” Holy sh*t! MacBaren had bought Planta! For a moment I thought I had a scoop but later I read the news on PipesMagazine.com which I totally missed. Bummerrrr…
Prototype of a new MacBaren flake with Nicotiana rustica
“Besides other things they had trouble implementing all the European regulations. The factory in Berlin will be closed and production will go to Denmark. Which is a good thing! Not to bash Planta but they were pretty old-fashioned. Not a single recipe was written down, all in the heads of the employees!” Per said while shaking his head. “Of course the most well known Planta brands will stay, but some I had to let go. The first being McLintock Syrian Latakia Blend. They did not have Syrian latakia for years!” Which I already thought, not too long ago I smoked a couple a Planta blends which said to have the Syrian dark leaf. To my taste it absolutely wasn’t. And what about Presbyterian? I know Planta had 2 versions, one sweetened 100 gr. for the German market and the original 50 gr. for the rest of the world. “I have to look into that, but Presbyterian always has been about the latakia for me. A great entrance into the world of the dark leaf.” Per said. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. “Talking about latakia, I am working on a project with a whole new kind of latakia, but I can’t say anything about it yet. Next year when you are here” Per said with an evil grin. Damn! Then he fumbled in his backpack and took out a blank tin with something written on it. “This is a another project on which I am working. It is a blend which also contains Nicotiana rustica. I like you to smoke it.” Normally the tobaccos we smoke are from the Nicotiana tabacum variety. Once I had a snuff tobacco which had some rustica. Lets say it kicked like a mule, very potent stuff. So a pipe tobacco with it.. Whoah… It was a flake so I took my smallest Dunhill pipe, filled it halfway and lighted it. The taste was good but after only a few puffs I could notice the potent rustica. I did not finish the bowl. “Excellent!” said Per. “It is then precisely what I wanted. A kick-ass blend for the American market.” I wished him luck while sipping on a sweet beverage to counter the nicotine.
New Amphora blends
Time flew by while talking to Per. Very enjoyable and very informative I can say you! It got to dinner time, our bellies were grumbling so we said we had to go. “I can’t leave you without anything!” Per said. He reached back and produced two pouches of new Amphora mixtures: English blend and Kentucky blend. “They are for the American market and next year they will also be available in Europe.” Ehrr, thanks!! And that was not the only thing he gave us. Tins of snus (for my good friend Rob) were put on the table, the whole (!) HH range and 2 tins of the (excellent) new Three Nuns. “Do you want something from the Planta assortment? Pouches only I am afraid.” “Ehmm.. Danish Black Vanilla please!” I squeaked with a high voice. Unbelievable! Per, thank you so very much!!! Of course I divided the stash between Ed and myself. “Let’s make this a yearly tradition, see you next year!” Per said while guiding us out.
Yes, life was good
“Wow, what an experience, this whole day! Everything! The companies, the people, the water-pipe hall, Per Jensen..” Ed said on the way to the El Greco Greek restaurant in Herne. The traditional dinner stop. I totally agreed with him. Despite the downhill feeling at the Inter Tabac itself the few pipe (tobacco) companies that remained still were going strong. And of course the MacBaren experience in the hotel was mind-boggling. The weather was still warm so we sat outside at El Greco with a tasty German beer and a big plate of grilled meat. At that moment life could not have been any better.
September 22nd it was once again time for one of my annual highlights: The Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. For those of you who missed the blogposts I made of the visit the last couple of years; the Inter-Tabac is the leading and biggest trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. This year 625 exhibitors from 54 countries presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This included cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, E-shishas, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shishas, shop equipment and spirits. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers. Like the previous years I was able to secure a ticket through Fred. The saying goes, the more the merrier, so (with approval of Fred) I invited Jef, who is an enthusiastic Three Nuns tobacco fan (more about that later) and also a member of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum. Sadly just a day before the fair Fred told me he could not make it. So on the early morning of the 22nd Jef drove from the West of The Netherlands, where he lives, to the East, where I live. To be precisely, to the MacDonalds in Deventer. There is a big parking lot just near the highway so I could park my car there and Jef and I could drive together. He was already there when I arrived and asked me the magic words on an early morning: “Do you want some coffee?”
We arrived well on time at the Westfalenhallen, the location of the fair, but when we wanted to go to the main entrance we could not find it. Turned out there was a big renovation going on so we had to walk through some sand and mud to get inside.. I proposed to first go to the stand of DTM/Danpipe because, well.. They have coffee there. And excellent tobaccos of course! We were greeted by master-blender Andreas Mund and his charming wife (both DTM employees) who, by the way, is responsible for many of the new DTM blends. Apparantly she has good taste buds, a good smell and some creativity. Jef knew of a perfume site where a lot of smell-combinations are explaned so he told her about it in spotless German. My German is just ok, I can understand it and make clear what I think and want but that’s it. So I looked at Jef and he smiled and shrugged “You probably did not know I am half German right?” No I didn’t but it was damn handy to have a walking translator beside me.
Andreas brought us all some coffee and I asked about new blends. DTM only had one called “The Untouchables”. A collaboration between DTM’s Michael Apitz and Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco. Very interesting! Andreas handed me the jar containing the blend and I first read the label: The Untouchables Special Mixture: The basic mixture consists of mature ready rubbed Virginia and a pinch of smooth Black Cavendish. Aroma of cedarwood and roses are added as a final seasoning, which marry perfectly with the tobacco’s original flavours. Untouchable – incorruptable in terms of quality! Ok, I opened the jar and it smelled inviting, so I grabbed my pipe and wanted to fill it with the blend. “Whooh! No you can’t!” Andreas said. “Huh, why not?” “Well, ehm.. We were a bit late deciding which aromas would be used so we only have this jar and nothing more..” “Ehrr.. Ok, so you have a new blend and no one can sample it?? You had loads of time to prepare for the fair!” With a laugh Andreas said: “Well, here it goes like, damn, the fair is in a week, let’s come up with something!” Ok, I opted for some tasty Fred the Frog instead. We talked some more about the company and we all believed it is a company that has “soul”.
A lot of Three Nuns vintages
Next we went to the big stand of the mighty MacBaren. This was a highlight for Jef because he is a big fan of the Three Nuns blend (and he knows all about its history) which is made by MacBaren now for a couple of years. Recently 2 new Three Nuns blends came out: Three Nuns Green (containing Kentucky, Perique and Virginia) and Three Nuns Yellow (containing Virginia). I did not have tried any of them, in fact, I did not have tried Three Nuns at all in my pipe smoking life. Until some months ago when I received a full envelope from Jef containing samples of different vintages. Some tasted better than others but still, very good! Jef even brought some of those old blends with him to show to product manager Per Jensen, who greeted us warmly. I just had to say “Three Nuns” and almost like a magician he made the 2 new blends appear on the counter. After an extensive sniffing I decided to load my pipe with the “Green” version. It was fresh as a young virgin but it tasted damn mature! Yummie! Per said: “We never looked back when we created the new blend. We never tried any of the old Three Nuns. Reason is that the tobacco manufacturers back then could lay their hands on does not exist now any more.” We talked some more when the subject came upon Burley. I said I seldom smoked Burleys but was willing to try some. So I asked if I could have a sample of the HH Burley Flake. Promptly I was given a full sealed tin. “That is how we do samples at MacBaren!” said Per with a wink. His next gift was a very special one, a big heavy book called “The Pipe, A Functional Work of Art“. It looked absolutely stunning with beautiful pictures. Thank you very much Per!
Love all the curlies ^^
When we were chatting and smoking the fabulous Three Nuns a man walked up to the counter. He had an unsmoked corncob pipe in his hand and said to Per he came for his pipe-smoking lesson. It turned out he came from Switzerland, was a cigar aficionado but wanted to explore the world of pipe-smoking. Ah, a possible new convert! Jef had some experience teaching new pipe-smokers so Per and I gave him the thumbs up to go ahead. And I have to say, Jef did a very, very good job. Per and I stood mesmerized while Jef explained all the basics to the man. Beginning with what the man liked to eat and drink in his regular life. Sweet? Not sweet? Smoky? Based on that Jef thought the man would prefer a more natural tobacco. So he let him smell some to show the difference between blends. On my advice the man also held his nose above a mixture with some latakia (some people immediately love it and want nothing else) but he did not like it very much. In the end Jef advised the man to try Amphora Virginia, because it is natural and uncomplicated yet tasty. He then told how to fill a pipe with the 3-step method (first putting in the tobacco like a child, softly, then as a woman, a bit harder and finally as a man, firmly press it). The Swiss man then lighted his pipe and began puffing contently. Jef explained some more basics on how to smoke and clean the pipe. The man loved it, “I can taste my favourite whisky!” he said with a big smile. Later we would bump into him again and he would repeat that he “really liked it, really liked it!” Mission accomplished.
The stand of Gubbels (Big Ben)
It was already time to lunch and on our way outside we passed the stand of Big Ben. As always Elbert Gubbels was very busy but he took the time to greet us. When I asked how things were going his face contorted: “All those damn EU regulations! Now they want that the Samuel Gawith tins I import no longer have a golden colour. Instead they must have an aluminium look because the gold looks too fancy!” Talking about Gawith, when we were outside having some lunch (which we brought with us because the food prices at the Inter Tabac are utterly insane) I spotted a grey man trying to sneak past us. When he saw I noticed him he tried to get away but to no avail, I gave him a big hug, it was Bob Gregory. “You bastard!” he said, “Every time I look at the bottle of beer you gave me last year I have to laugh! What’s inside huh? Belgian ale? Strong stuff!” Yes Bob, the stuff that makes you grow even more chest hair! Less funny were sadly his stories about, yet again, the EU regulations. I asked him if there was a chance Flatlander Flake would be released worldwide. “No, because the sky is blue.” “Excuse me?” “The sky is blue in the tin art which is not allowed any more. It strikes a too positive note about smoking.” Completely bonkers if you ask me.. “By the way, do you know a place in The Netherlands called Ootmarsum?” Bob asked. “Yes I do, in fact it is not too far away from where I live.” “Good, you should go there to a brewery, forgot which one, and take a good look around.” “Why?” “Because all the old Samuel Gawith machinery and equipment from the Kendal Brown House is there.” “What??? You mean amongst others the legendary old snuff mill from around 1750? The oldest, longest working piece of industrial equipment in Great Britain, perhaps even the world?” “Yup.. After the move to Gawith & Hoggarth we really tried to keep it all in Kendal, in the country. I phoned museum after museum, even the British Museum but no one wanted it.. Such a shame.. In the end a Dutch friend of mine who has a brewery in Ootmarsum bought it all to put in his little museum.” Back home I looked on the internet, the brewery in Ootmarsum must be the Othmar brewery. I think I will visit them soon.
One of Poul Winslow’s favourite pipes
After lunch Jef and I went to the stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group. Inside were pipes of brands like Peterson (! I had expected they had gone elsewhere since Laudisi took over the brand), Stanwell, Dunhill and Winslow. Stanwell had some new pipes made out of beech wood. According to the friendly spokes-lady they would last about 300 smokes. Hmm.. That does not add up to much for that price, I thought.. My corncobs are much cheaper and they already last far more than 300 smokes. Peterson had nothing really special and Dunhill had some weird pipes with a bend stem so you can smoke it around a corner or something like that.. Mr. Poul Winslow himself was present and I took the opportunity to thank him for repairing one of my favourite Winslow pipes. Some time ago I bit through the mouthpiece, I contacted my seller and he said to just send the pipe to Denmark for repair. So I did and only a couple of days before the Inter Tabac I got it back, with a new stem and polished. Mr. Winslow immediately recognized the pipe when I showed him, “Ah, the pipe with the broken mouthpiece right?” Further we had a pleasant conversation, he is such a gentleman.
Me and Lasse Berg
At a side of the stand I spotted a friendly giant: Scandinavian Tobacco Group master-blender Lasse Berg. On a table before him were jars with all kinds of loose tobaccos; Virginias, Burley, Kentucky, Latakia, Perique etc. It turned out he was blending mixtures for whoever who wanted them. That was an opportunity I would not miss! “What do you want?” He asked me. “A good balkan blend please!” With the speed of an experienced blender he put together some orientals, Latakia and Virginia. “Would you like some Perique?” “No thank you.” “A bit of Black Cavendish?” “Yes please.” He deposited it all in a tin and asked me what the name of the blend should be. “Balkan Arno, please”. Later that afternoon I smoked it and I have to say, it was better than expected!
Next was the stand of Kohlhase & Kopp. What struck us the most were the new “just-like-Dunhill-but-different” blends under the Robert McConnell banner with names like Early Bird (Early Morning Pipe), City of London (London Mixture), Majesty Elizabeth (Elizabethan Mixture) etc. I don’t know what to think of it.. Creative, yes, but also a bit of an insult to the old Dunhill blends. Anyway, Dunhill tobacco already died for me when Murray’s took over. I had the opportunity to smoke several sublime 1970’s versions and they were superior to the later blends I had, Murray’s and Orlik. At Vauen there were few new items. I think a new Auenland and I saw some pipes with weird psychedelic spots on them.
Jef had spotted a brochure that somebody held advertising CBD oil. What the hell does someone want with oil made out of the cannabis plant? Well, sadly Jef’s father has cancer, a very lethal version. The doctors had given him only 6 months but because of the use of CBD oil and Curcuma extract pills he has been going pretty strong for 19 months already! Jef is busy with setting up a business that can import, and perhaps later make, CBD oil in The Netherlands. But he did not expect to find suppliers on the Inter Tabac Fair. So we visited several of them. Pretty interesting, one company even had a vaping device which allowed you to inhale the CBD into your lungs. Handy with patients who have lung cancer for example.
Because the visits to Danpipe, MacBaren and the CBD companies took so long we could not see the entire fair. But I don’t think we missed much. Oh wait, there was one thing, I missed some scantily dressed promotion babes! It all was very, decent, this year. Until we were in one of the Vaping halls and we saw a stunning bodypainted beauty. Yesss!!! Around 5 o’clock we decided to call it quits and find something to eat. Like every year there was only one location we could go to; El Greco in the town of Herne. The friendly owner more or less recognized me from the other years (“Netherlands, right?”) and the meal he made was as good as ever.
I want to thank Jef for keeping me company and for all the interesting conversations we had. All pictures were made by Jef and myself.
Yes, smoking is still allowed at the Inter-Tabac fair!
September 23th it was once again time for one of my annual highlights: The Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. For those of you who missed the blogposts I made of the visit the last couple of years; the Inter-Tabac is the leading and biggest trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. This year 12,500 folks from all over the world visited the Inter Tabac. With halls 2 to 8 from the Westfalenhallen the fair occupied the largest space in its history. 560 exhibitors (also from all over the globe) presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This included cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, E-shishas, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shishas, shop equipment and spirits. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers. Like the previous years I was able to secure a ticket through Fred. The saying goes, the more the merrier, so (with approval of Fred) I invited Pascal, who is an enthusiastic pipe-smoker and also a member of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum.
Early in the morning I picked him up from his AirBnB in the village where I live and together we drove to Germany. After a pleasant ride with a lot of talking we arrived at the Westfalenhallen. A renovation was going on there so instead of the main entrance we had to go to a smaller one. Fred texted that he was in a traffic jam so he was a bit later. “You know what, let’s head to the stand of Dan Tobacco Manufacturing (DTM)/Dan Pipe, they have coffee.” I said to Pascal once we were inside. When we got there the DTM management was in a meeting but I managed to greet Andreas (Mund, master-blender) and the lovely daughter of managing director Heiko Behrens. Like last year she recognized me, more or less. “I know you, right?” She asked. “Yes you know me” I answered.
Fred the Frog
Unfortunately they were too busy to offer us some coffee but Herr Behrens quickly gave us both a tin of Peter Rasmussen Green Label. A smooth, flavourful but a bit unremarkable blend in my opinion. My attention focused more on a big beautifully labelled jar with in it a new mixture: Fred the Frog. Rich matured Virginia, perique and black cavendish with a soft touch of English taste in the background are combined in a cube cut, loose cut and ready rubbed mixture. A really palatable casing with sweet liquorice is added to provide a full-bodied but nicely smooth smoking – natural tobacco taste. I smoked it and I have to say yummie, good stuff! Indeed mostly a natural tobacco taste and those cube cut pieces look really nice. I think some tins are going to find their way into my tobacco-closet. Once again quality stuff from DTM! By the way, just as I was sniggering a bit about the blend name “Fred the Frog” with Fred in mind (he does have some little frog-like features) the man himself found us and we were complete.
Poul Winslow and Pascal
But we still did not have any coffee.. “Let’s go to the Scandinavian Tobacco Group stand, maybe we have better luck getting some dark liquid there.” I said. And indeed, we had barely entered the booth and a friendly young lady asked if we wanted a cup of coffee. Yes please! Pascal is a huge Poul Winslow fan so when he was sipping from his cup I whispered “Look behind you..” Lo and behold, it was the famous Danish pipe-maker himself. Pascal turned around, grabbed his (Winslow) pipe, walked to Poul Winsow and blurted: “HelloMrWinslowIamahugefanofyoursIloveyourpipes!”. Mr Winslow thanked Pascal with a smile and I asked if it was ok to make a picture of the both of them. “Of course, put it on Facebook, social media, whatever” Mr Winslow said. For the rest I noticed at the STG stand that a brand was missing that was there the other years: Butz Choquin. No idea where they had gone to.. So there was more room for Peterson, but not much new there. Except that they now also had (ground) coffee! I kid you not ladies and gentlemen.
As with the other years the large stand of Kohlhase & Kopp was pretty busy. No one of the staff bothers making contact with you but that is ok, makes looking around easier. Not much news here, except for the seasonal tobaccos in their beautiful tins. I wanted to take a better look at one but it was glued to the shelf! In fact everything was glued to the shelf. I guess people in the past have nicked some tins to complete their collection or so.. Some of the Rattrays pipes looked nice, I still love their Old Perth cutty line.
The stand of Vauen was close-by but when we got there I saw something weird. Something I had never seen before at the booth of a tobacco pipe company. Something with long hair, curves, sensual smile and a cleavage. It was a female promotion model! Complete in German dress with an Auenland pipe and some tobacco samples. To be honest I admit with some shame that I can’t remember what she said about the tobacco, my eyes and mind were a bit elsewhere.. Pascal wasn’t stunned, quickly stood beside her and hissed “Take a picture!” to me. What was new at Vauen were some Medwakh pipes. Some years ago I encountered a Medwakh vendor with Fred so I knew what they were. Basically just one-quick-shot-of-nicotine devices. Then they costed a few dollars but these were pretty damn expensive. Vauen also has pipes from which the bowls can turn, the Spin. I grabbed one of those, turned the bowl and to my horror had it loose in my hand. Oooh sh*t! I thought I had wrecked the pipe! Until I discovered that the parts of the pipe were connected by magnets.. *Phewww!!*
*sighs* Beautiful, isn’t it?
In what I always call “The Italian corner” (in fact the Italian row) with stands of several Italian pipe-makers we first stopped at Castello. I don’t have a pipe of that brand (in fact I don’t have any Italian pipes) but I always wanted one. Only thing was most of their shapes are not really to my taste. Until I saw a table with some pipes displayed on it. Between them was a stunning army mount Castello Sea Rock prince. I immediately knew, whatever the cost, I must have that pipe! Every pipe-smoker will recognize this feeling. But the Inter Tabac is for retailers, not customers. I tried to use my considerable charm (*coughs*) to persuade the Castello salesman but to no avail. Fred also could not help me, if I wanted the pipe I had to buy 11 other Castellos. Unfortunately way above my budget..
Bob and me
One of the mandatory stands I had to visit was that of Samuel Gawith/Gawith & Hoggarth. As soon as we came near Bob (Gregory) spotted me and pulled a tired face and made go-away gestures. British humour at its best. Of course we greeted each other warmly. Bob and I know each other from the PRF forum tobacco Flatlander Flake that he and I created. “Do you already have a smoke?” was the first thing he asked while pushing a tobacco tin towards me. At that moment I was pipe-less so I said “Do I look like I am having a smoke??” He grinned while I filled up my pipe. “How did it go with Flatlander Flake, did you sell everything?” Bob asked. I happily answered that all tins were sold.
I also had a question, on earlier meetings Sergeant Matron of the KPC gave me some Gawith & Hoggarth Balkan Flake. I really grew to like it but I can’t get it. English tobacco shops don’t send it abroad and in the USA they don’t have it. So I explained that to Bob and asked if perhaps he could convince the USA-importer to add it to their range of tobaccos. “Arno, when you are here you always present me problems. Which I solve, I am a problem solver. What is your address again, I’ll send you some.” Don’t let him know but I could kiss him right then. After all that he had done regarding the forum tobacco I could not leave him with empty hands. There exists a picture of Bob while he is on holiday while showing off his very hairy chest. So I made a label from it and put it on a large beer bottle which I gave him.
Talking about beer, suddenly we heard loud noise coming from close-by. It was German music coming from the big stand of Pöschl. Men and woman in traditional clothing were singing and tapping large 0.5 litres pints of beer for everyone who wanted. Well, we sure were interested to say the least! In no time Fred had secured some golden liquid for us. Prost! Afterwards we went for something to eat. Food and drinks are terribly expensive at the Inter Tabac so after all these years I know that I have to pack my own lunch: cheese sandwiches.
Bruno, vintage_briars at Instagram
Since August I am also active on Instagram. Photography is something I love to do (not that I am any good..) and I can share things that I and perhaps other people like more easily. Soon I struck up a friendship with a German there called vintage_briars, real name Bruno. As his Instagram name says he loves vintage briars but besides that he has a passion for all things coming from the beginning of the last century. Bruno also went to the Inter Tabac and we decided to meet each other at the DTM stand. I recognized him first, not difficult because he dresses and looks like an gentlemen. And behaves like one I discovered. We had a very pleasant (but too short) talk about the stunning old Dunhill patent era pipes he had brought with him and other things. We made a promise to meet each other another time.
Me and Per Jensen
After that it was on to the stand of mighty MacBaren. We were greeted by well known product manager Per Jensen. My first question was what was new at MacBaren, well, not much. Only some new Amphora blends, undoubtedly fine mixtures but a bit too sweet for my taste. Also I asked Per about their website, which is offline for quite some time now. New EU tobacco legislation he grumbled, you may have a website as an online tobacco seller, but not as a tobacco manufacturer. Which is kind of strange because the websites of other European tobacco manufacturers are still functioning..
HH Vintage Latakia
Earlier this year I posted an update about Syrian Latakia, specifically HH Vintage Syrian, in my corresponding blogpost. As you can read I had a bit of an discussion with Per about the subject. As soon as I mentioned it to him at the Inter Tabac I could sense him tightening up a little bit. Per is and always will be a true gentleman so he will never use harsh words but let’s say a good discussion followed. He ended with “In 2006 I created the blend and in 2018 I will take it to its grave. Not many tobacco makers can say that!” In fact the last batch has just left the factory. The follow up to HH Vintage Syrian is already known: HH Vintage Latakia. And I am glad they follow it up, MacBaren does not have that much latakia blends so.. “We had to use way less Cyprian latakia in this one because as you know it is more assertive as Syrian taste-wise.” Per said, and gifted me a tin. Thanks Per!
Before I went to the Inter Tabac I already had made an appointment with Elbert Gubbels (Big Ben, Hilson, Bentley etc.). I know that he is always very, very busy at the fair but I had to speak with him about some things. But first I had a present for him. Elbert has done an enormous amount of work to get Flatlander Flake to The Netherlands. The troubles and sh*t he went through, pffff… So I also had a beer for him: Doorzetter bier (go-getter beer) which he very graciously accepted.
Speaking with Elbert Gubbels
Then it was time to talk a bit of business. Of course I am already thinking about the next forum tobacco and I also have in my head who has to produce it: J.F. Germain. I have a “connection” with director Robert Germain and some time ago I already asked him if he was willing to produce a small batch of forum tobacco, and he was. Only problem is getting it legally in The Netherlands. This is where Elbert comes in, he already imported Samuel Gawith so why not Germain? I spoke with Elbert about this, importing Germain tobaccos, explaining that they are of superb quality. The Samuel Gawith blends are selling well so there is a good chance Germain mixtures also will sell well. Elbert absolutely was interested. He is busy with a new range of Big Ben tobaccos but they are all sickly sweet (his own words) aromatics. So a line of really superb quality blends, very interesting. Somewhere next year I will talk further with Elbert about this.
Cornell and Diehl
On an island in one of the halls were several pipe-makers and a tobacco manufacturer together. The latter being Cornell and Diehl. They had the same small desk as last year and I had the feeling that not much was going on. Such a great brand with wonderful tobaccos but they can’t crack Europe. I think it is the prices. For example, in Spain they have C&D (and related brands) but the price difference between normals brands (± €9,-) and C&D blends (± €25!) is just way to large. At least I heard that the upcoming FDA regulations have been postponed to 2021! Also I was able to get a sample of the new GL Pease Stonehenge Flake, no Lakeland drama, excellent smoke! Talking about GL Pease, Greg, if you are reading this, come to the Inter Tabac next year, I’ll buy you a beer!
Peder Jeppesen and Pascal
On the other side of the Island were several pipe-makers such as Michal Novak, Mr. Brog and Peder Jeppesen of Neerup Pipes. Pascal is also a huge fan of Neerup Pipes, actually he had just bought a new one. But, when he puts a filter in the pipe (which I already don’t get, why filter a good smoke, you don’t see me filtering a good steak for example) the mouthpiece is just a little too short. Peder looked at it but he could not help it. “Some filter-brands are slightly larger than other..”
Pascal and his first shisha
We saw most of the pipe related stands, Fred had to go elsewhere so Pascal and I went to the e-smoking and shisha halls. But before that we bumped into a boot with all kinds of snus tobacco. “Have you ever tried it?” I asked Pascal. “Ehrr, no.. And I am not sure if I ever want to try it..” “Ah come on, you only live once, here is some that should be not too bad, lots of menthol.” “I’ll put it in my pocket and try it later ok?” “No, later never comes, you and I do it now.” So we put some between our gums and cheek. It was not bad! The first couple of minutes.. Then our gums and cheeks burned so hard we spew out the snus.. Pascal also had never smoked a shisha before. It was damn busy in the hall (lots of young people!) but at a stand we found a spot where we could try some. A friendly Spaniard helped us, we told him that we were pipe-smokers at which he smiled. “Not too long ago I tried my first pipe with some Dunhill blend, can’t remember which one but it tasted a bit smoky, loved it!” The flavour of the shisha I smoked I also loved, despite it being the weirdest taste I ever had: peanut butter! Pascal had a menthol flavour and he liked it pretty much.
At the end of the afternoon my feet were killing me, I think we walked kilometres through all the halls, time to go. Not home (yet), but to the Greek restaurant in Herne, El Greco, where we go every year. Sadly the friendly curvaceous waitress was not there, but the food was good as ever! A lot and compared to The Netherlands pretty cheap. To top it off we got 2 coffee from the house, Ich liebe Deutschland! The way home went smooth and I dropped Pascal off at his sleeping address. It was another great day and I want to thank Fred and Pascal for their company.
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!
September 17th it was once again time for one of my annual highlights: The Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. For those of you who missed the blogposts I made of the visit the last couple of years; 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 450 exhibitors from over 60 countries who presented themselves in 5 huge exhibition halls. Renowned companies from all over the world presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This includes cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, E-shishas, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shishas, shop equipment and spirits. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers.
Father and son Jan and Jesse
Like the last years I was able to secure a ticket through Fred, only, some days before the fair he told me he could not make it. His daughter moved out of the parental house a little bit earlier than expected. But I could have his ticket and make someone happy with it. Easy, I thought, what pipe-smoker does not want to go to the Valhalla of smoking? So I asked some friends if they had time but one was on holiday the other did not have a car, someone else had some “things” to do with his students. I obviously did not take into account that Saturday was rather short notice for most. In the end I just asked on the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum who wanted to go with me. I got no more than two reactions so I decided to flip a coin. The winner was Jan, a relaxed, intelligent man with an unique view on life, who was absolutely delighted. He lives not too far away from me and I discovered the detour for me was only 2 km. So I picked him up and together we drove to Dortmund.
The stand of DTM
After a pleasant ride we arrived at the Westfalenhallen just when the doors opened. Like every time I started in hall 4. I wanted to speak with Elbert Gubbels from Big Ben because he and I have some business to do for the new Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum tobacco. Unfortunately he was busy so we walked on to the stand of Dan Tobacco Manufacturing (DTM)/Dan Pipe where we were greeted by the lovely daughter of managing director Heiko Behrens. “Did I saw you here last year?” she asked. “Yes you did!” I said with a smile. She asked if we would like some coffee (yes please!) and sat down with us. “So, what is new at Dan Tobacco?” I asked.
She produced 3 plastic jars with in each a new blend. The first was called “Burley Maduro”, a sturdy, natural mixture of burley and some soft tasting Maduro leaf. Jan would not pack a pipe with it that “early” in the morning but I loaded up one. The taste surprised me, I expected to taste cigar but I did not. It just was a natural very mellow tobacco flavour which reminded me in the distance of the Langue de Chien variety of Semois, very pleasant. But I have to say, it packed a very healthy dose of vitamine N. The second was named “M.A. Blue Canary”. A blend of black cavendish with some gold-brown flake scraps topped with the aromas of apple, vanilla and a bit of cinnamon. The third one was called “Bill Bailey’s Country (Bourbon) Blend”. A mixture of bright US Virginias, a lot of black cavendish and a bit of deep brown dark fired Kentucky topped with Bourbon whiskey and Bourbon vanilla. We thanked Frau Behrens for her time and when we wanted to leave the (beautiful!) stand we were stopped by her old father, managing director Heiko Behrens, who thanked us for visiting. I said it before but the people at DTM are warm and passionate with the typical “no-nonsense working hard and effective” German mentality.
Cornell & Diehl
After visiting the stand of My Father Cigars who make my favourite “La Antiguedad” cigar Jan and I walked to another hall. There were several little pipe-smoking related stands put together where you could find names like Gabriele Pipes, Jobs Freehand Pipes, Talamona, Michal Novak, Mr. Brog, P. Jeppesen (who had some really beautiful stained blasted pipes) and… Cornell & Diehl. I especially was excited about visiting the stand of the latter, their first time on the Inter Tabac. Silently I hoped that the Dark Lord GL Pease, one of my pipe-smoking idols, would also be there. But alas, no.. Also the stand itself was quite a bit smaller than I expected, just a desk. At first I believed that in Europe their range was available at the Linzbach store in Düsseldorf. But to my surprise the friendly guy behind the desk said they had no German importer and C&D was not sold there. I later learned he was right when I visited Linzbach. However, they had an importer in the Ukraine! Uhm.. Ok.. We talked about the very worrying FDA regulations and on the lighter side about the (re)introduction of the new Drucquer blends. I asked if he had samples of those but sadly he did not. He did have a sample of one of their best aromatics, Autumn Evening, which I am smoking as I type this. Smooth and tasty!
Caribbean Black Pearl
Then we were off to the large stand of Planta and Designer Berlin (DB) pipes. Like every year Planta had a big wooden barrel standing there with in it their year tobacco, this time called Bacchus mixture. I asked Jan to put his nose near the lid when I pulled it off. He went like “whooaaaa!!!” when he smelled the blend, it was very, very sweet. We admired the many displayed pipes of DB and had to laugh when we saw a couple called “Caribbean Black Pearl”. Undoubtedly ideal for smoking Pirate Kake! Arrrrr matey!
Does he like it…? Yesss!!!
Gradually we moved towards what I call “the Italian corner” which has pipe-brands as Savinelli, L’Anatra and Ser Jacopo. Especially some pipes of the latter boasted some stunning silver-work. Around the corner was the shared stand of Northern Briars and Samuel Gawith (Gawith & Hoggarth). I looked forward to meeting Bob Gregory because I also had some business to do with him for the new Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum tobacco (it is made by Samuel Gawith and imported by Gubbels). I mailed Bob twice to ask if he could bring a sample of the final product with him but I heard nothing. Typical Bob, “I am 70 years old and semi-retired ok??”. As soon as he saw me he shouted with wide eyes “Go away you! Go away!” at me. But I cornered the bastard and forced him to hand over 2 tins of Flatlander Flake, which is the name of the forum tobacco. He did think of me *smiles*. His bald lackey and himself anxiously looked at me when I opened up one of the tins and smelled it. Approved! At which they both smiled (very rare for Bob). Then we exchanged some pleasantries and Bob told some funny stories about how him and Brian Levine (the PipesMagazine.com radio-show host) constantly keep insulting each other. By the way, I saw Brian already a couple of times in the hallways. First time he had a big German glass of beer with him and the second time he was on his way to a whisky-tasting..
The lunch this year was sober. The prices of food and beverages are outrageous at the Inter Tabac (€4,30 for a small bottle of cola!). So I brought brown buns with cheese on them with me and Jan had some sandwiches. Screw you expensive catering! We’re Dutch! After the lunch we walked to the stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group where pipes of brands like Winslow, Peterson, Butz Choquin, Stanwell and Dunhill are displayed. Soon a lady came asking if we wanted a cup of coffee (yes please!) and while we sipped that away we looked at the shown pipes. To be honest there was not much new. Butz Choquin (sorry to say but masters of bad taste) had some new awful plastic looking colourful pipes and I think that was about it. Ok, at least they try to bring something new. But it all was a bit.. Soulless.. Despite the wonderful pipes Mr. Winslow makes.
Kohlhase & Kopp
Talking about soulless, German tobacco manufacturer Kohlhase & Kopp also radiates that. They have wonderful brands in pipes and tobaccos like Rattrays, Ashton, Sillem’s, Solani and Robert McConnell but inside their large stand no one cares about you. The pipes, cigars and tobacco are nicely displayed but there is no interaction with employees. It all looks and feels a bit cold and snobbish.. However, they did have tins of the “new” Dunhill Dark Flake and Ye Olde Signe offerings. But no one around to ask for a sample. On to Vauen, they had a new pipe which looked like typical Austrian or Bavarian smoking pipes. I actually liked the model but that can be because of my love for Austria. Of course all the amazing looking Auenland pipes were prominently displayed. On the way to yet another hall we passed the Falcon stand. The guy there was a bit disappointed when he discovered we were not salesmen. Sorry, I am just a humble blogger! The loose Falcon bowls were pretty nice, but the stems looked kind of plastic-like.
No, no jokes about this girl and her sucking abilities
We immediately noticed we entered the hall of the shishas because of the typical faintly sweet odour hanging there. Remarkable was 1. that it was the busiest hall (busier than the E-smoke one!) and 2. it contained the youngest visitors by far. Perhaps this was due to the presence of many beautiful ladies praising and demonstrating the shown wares. I admit, I was too much a coward to ask these beauties if I could take a picture of them. Luckily Jan was much braver, took my camera, asked the ladies and snapped some shots. He never smoked a shisha so we went looking for a nice place to smoke one. But it was so busy everywhere that that plan did not work out. Apparently the crazier the better goes for the world of shishas. Walking through the hallways we saw some “interesting” looking ones shaped like dildos (sadly no girl to demonstrate them..), tommy-guns and glittery kalashnikovs (for the smoking jihadist?) and gas masks.
After walking through the E-smoke hall (nothing special there for me) we tried to have a conversation with Elbert Gubbels again. But he still was too busy which I took as a good sign. So on we went to the huge stand of MacBaren. There Per Jensen, the product manager of MacBaren, recognized me. We shook hands and beside him stood a basket filled with small flashy looking round boxes. Apparently there was some kind of snus inside made by MacBaren in cooperation with another company. Per opened one and inside the box were what seemed little tea-bags filled with tobacco. I had to place one in my mouth between my cheek and gums, which I did. The first minutes it was quite enjoyable until the point the juices started flowing. My cheek began to have a burning feeling and I got the hiccups because of the vast quantities of nicotine getting into my system. I hurried to take the bag out of my mouth and was glad Per quickly arranged a refreshing glass of water. Nope, not for me this..
The 3 of us sat down inside the stand where Per asked if we wanted a cocktail. A cocktail? Here? Well, uhm, yes please! He mentioned for a waitress to come and I ordered a Highball (never had one but it sure tasted good!) and Jan a No Sex On The Beach. Then I asked Per what was new at MacBaren. There were some new Amphora offerings which grabbed my attention because originally Amphora is a Dutch brand which was made by Douwe Egberts. Two of them (Amphora Special Reserve No. 2 and No. 8) were typical Danish aromatics, and did not pique my interest. The other one did because it was a pure Virginia, hence the name: Amphora Virginia. I really hope this blend will be on sale in The Netherlands. There are not so many pure Virginia blends left here.. Per gifted me a pouch which I will open soon.
Then we talked about tobacco laws and regulations (the new stricter European rules and the American FDA legislation) and how it affects MacBaren. In Europe they can no longer sell heavily flavoured shag tobacco. But being the inventive Danes that they are they found a way around. For example, the pouch has a certain colour, let us say, apple green. Then on the pouch it says “appeal #12” (no fruit names etc. can be used). Sounds a bit like “apple” right? Then you can buy loose flavourings in the same colour as the pouch, also #12 and it is called “apple”. Apply the flavouring onto the tobacco et voilà! About the States Per was a little more sombre. If the FDA rules go through they will lose a really large part of their turnover. Because MacBaren mostly sells loose tobaccos to tobacconists there who can then mix their own blends. But with the new regulations that is forbidden. But as the always positive Per said: new rules mean new chances.
Towards the end of the afternoon Brian finally joined us. He looked a bit groggy out of his eyes, the whisky-tasting went very well obviously. We talked about all kinds of things while I felt the Highball kicking in. Brian asked what Jan liked to smoke (Virginia) on which a tin of HH Pure Virginia and Capstan Gold were presented to my flabbergasted fellow Dutchman. Just as I was getting a bit sober the fair closed for the day. Brian invited us to grab a beer at his nearby hotel so we walked with him. On the way we bumped into Bob Gregory who almost screamed “Arno! Do not go with him!” at me. On which Brian discreetly showed his middle finger. At the hotel bar we chatted away while feasting on real German beer and before we knew it Brian had to leave because he had dinner elsewhere.
Dinner, that sounds nice, Jan and I thought. Last year I ate at an excellent Greek restaurant in a German place called Herne. But I could 1. not remember the town and 2. the name of the restaurant. Luckily on the highway my infallible photographic memory *ahem* finally kicked in when I saw the “Herne” sign. In the town-centre I searched on my navigation device for Greek sounding restaurants. 5 places and half an hour later we still did not find the damn restaurant.. With his last internet-data Jan looked on his mobile phone for “Greek restaurants”. The first name that popped up was “El Greco“, we drove to the address and lo and behold; it was the place of last year! Needless to say I was a happy man and also Jan when he tasted the superb Greek food and saw the friendly curvaceous waitress. Once again it was a good day.
I would like to thank Jan for his company, during the ride and the walks through the halls we had some really interesting conversations. By the way, if you want to enlarge the pictures in the gallery below, right mouse-click and then press “look at image” (the first option).
In my Hospitable Heukelum 2014 blogpost I revealed that the 2015 PRF forum year-pipe was going to be made by Dutch pipe-brand Big Ben. Like I told before, normally Shaun arranges the whole project but sadly he had been very ill this year.. Despite his sickness he managed to reach out for help and Dre answered his call. Dre (Andre) has very good connections with the Gubbels family from the Big Ben and Hilson pipe factory and regularly visits the place. So he asked if they could mean anything for the PRF pipe project. Unfortunately Big Ben only fire up their machines for a minimum of 500 pipes and the forum can never reach that number. BUT they had an alternative solution.
2015 PRF forum year-pipes
Throughout the years Gubbels kept pipe-bowls from their Barbados range behind with an exceptional grain and we could have those! Plus they added a metal ring on top of the bowl which made the pipe look even better. Then there was another problem, one can’t buy directly from the Gubbels factory. Luckily Primera Wouters in Weert were prepared to distribute the pipes. When Shaun and Dre told this and showed the pipe they got a very well deserved applause. Just over 60 pipes were available and when forum-members could order them they all were gone in no time! To be perfectly honest, I did not apply for one. I simply did not like the shape, but came to regret it later.
My first proper pipe: a Hilson Event
When I wanted to begin with pipe-smoking I knew nothing except that a Big Ben was a good pipe to start with. However, I preferred a model that was made by Hilson, a Hilson Event. The store owner explained to me that Hilson was made in the same factory as Big Ben. “Ok, I’ll take it!”, I said and bought my first pipe. Later I bought a Big Ben which roughly had the same model as the Hilson Event because I simply liked that shape back then. Both pipes I do not have any more, I gave them away when my tastes began to develop and change.
Johannes Henricus Gubbels & Anna Maria Gubbels
The histories from Big Ben and Hilson have a lot of similarities and from a point in time even intertwine. It all started for the Gubbels family in 1873 with the shop of Johannes Henricus Gubbels in the Dutch city of Roermond. There he sold things like newspapers, walking sticks, umbrellas, toys and last but not least, smoking accessories. One of the suppliers of those was a German man called Jean Knödgen who had started to make clay pipes in 1846 in the Belgian city of Bree. For a long time Johannes ran his business together with his wife, Dijmphna Hubertina. After her death in 1896 he got married again to Anna Maria in 1899. She bore him two children and when Johannes died in 1911 she continued the business. In 1924 her 2 children, Antonia and Elbert Gubbels, established the “A & H Gubbels” company which specialized in the wholesale trading of smoking accessories.
Meanwhile in Belgium the Bree pipe factory had a new owner. Jean Hillen, the son-in-law of Knödgen, had bought the company at the end of the 19th century. He had also made contact with French pipe-makers in the area of Saint-Claude who supplied him with briar wood and Jean would finish them off. Thus, alongside the traditional clay pipes, he was able to offer more modern pipes. Around 1924 Hillen was perfectly capable of creating briar pipes on his own.
Elbert Gubbels sr.
Up to WWII Elbert Gubbels extended his business, mainly getting his supplies from France and England. Unfortunately The Netherlands were invaded by German troops in 1940 so the family fled north where they tried to make a living by buying and selling what little there was available. In 1945 at the end of the war they returned home to continue the business. A difficult task as material was lacking and importing stuff was almost impossible. In that period Elbert Gubbels, now the sole owner of the business, decided to follow in Jean Hillen’s foot steps. He became totally independent and produced everything himself. The factory began with 2 machines and 3 French artisans in a small workshop. In Bree a factory already existed and the sons of Hillen also worked there. Jos was in charge of sales and Albert production. The brand name of the pipes that were sold abroad was simple: Hilson, to be precize, Hillen and Sons.
Gubbels had no brand name yet, he just had the name “EGRO” which stood for “Elbert Gubbels Roermond”. The number of machines, personnel, working space and quality of product were increased which resulted in a higher output. That made it necessary to expand the market experience and the wholesale network were no longer sufficient. A brand name was needed in order to increase sales, especially abroad. At that time another Dutch company, “De Rijk & Zonen” from Amsterdam, was doing badly. It was not a large company and to be honest, not so interesting. But it did sell British-made pipes with a sought-after, glamorous brand name well-known in many countries: Big Ben. So in 1956 Gubbels bought the whole De Rijk company. As a result exports soared in Europe, the USA, Canada and many other countries.
Big Ben Pipo
Meanwhile the business Hilson was flourishing, producing a wide range of well-crafted and creative pipes. These were selling well in Europe and elsewhere thanks to their excellent reputation and good value for money. On the other hand the production of Gubbels was more traditional in style: natural or black briar models, straight or bent, just classic pipe design. Well, one exception.. In that period the Pipo pipe appeared, a very small “nose-burner” designed by Alfons Gubbels, the son of Elbert, who had by that time joined the business together with his brother Jos. Alfons was in charge of production and Jos sales. The unorthodox Pipo pipe was highly successful, selling world-wide, including the USA. At the end of 1972 the company moved into a bigger factory. Also the much coveted title “Royal”, in the name of Queen Juliana, was granted. Thus the company name became “Elbert Gubbels en Zonen – Koninklijke Fabriek van Tabakspijpen” (“Elbert Gubbels and Sons – Royal Dutch Pipe Factory”).
At the end of the 1970’s there were only two pipe factories left in the Benelux countries, those of Gubbels and Hillen. Two different but also complementary enterprises. Gubbels sold well in America with their Big Ben pipes while Hilson was a popular pipe-brand on the German market. However, both companies produced high-quality workmanship. So in 1980 Gubbels bought Hillen, who sadly was experiencing serious financial difficulties. It was decided that all machines, material and experts were to be moved to the Gubbels factory.
Alfons sr. and Elbert jr.
At first the two brands had some difficulty in co-existing. For example, some Big Ben pipes of that period could be confused with Hilsons and vice-versa. All by all that period of adjustment was positive, characterized by a high output. However, something was changing in the world of pipes and the market crisis meant that quite a few things had to be re-considered. It was not enough to increase quality in order to compensate for the drop in quantity. Greater investments had to match high-performance products. In 1989 Alfons (Fons) junior (technical production and design) and Elbert junior (sales) took over from their father Alfons senior and uncle Jos and the family tradition was carried on.
Since then the company has striven for excellence in every aspect of their production and above all in their mission: offering an increasingly discerning clientèle unique pipes. So since 2008 Rainer Barbi, the late famous German pipe maker, has been contributing to production and had the task of remodelling the Hilson brand until his unfortunate death. Also another great pipe maker, Former, has recently decided to offer Gubbels his creative sensitivity, art and some of his time. Besides manufacturing Big Ben, Hilson and other more minor brands Gubbels has also worked in partnership with other companies to create or refine unique models, such as Porsche Design (from 2005 to 2013) and currently Bentley. Unfortunately the financial crisis hit Gubbels in 2012 and the banks no longer wanted to finance the company. Who smokes these days?? So bankruptcy was a logical consequence, an unpleasant period. But the Gubbels family pulled through with capital of their own and had a new start. There was a change of direction with 20 in stead of 28 employees and despite the difficult market the export is growing. The Gubbels company is on the rise once again.
Back to the forum-pipe, I really wanted to see the process in the factory so with thanks to Dre and Fred I could phone Elbert jr. for an appointment. He already knew my name, I could pay a visit, see the process, take pictures, ask questions, no problem at all. I knew a bit what to expect because I had been before at the new factory with a group of the PRF-forum just before the financial crisis hit Gubbels back in 2011. So on a morning I drove to Herten (municipality of Roermond) dressed to impress because eeyz, you can’t arrive in jeans and a sweater at the only pipe-factory left in The Netherlands right? Because of the crisis the Gubbels offices had moved in the big building used by several companies so I happily announced myself at the wrong desk. Luckily the friendly secretary of the neighbouring enterprise pointed me in the correct direction. After a good ring at the doorbell of Gubbels one of the employees let me in, guided me to the visitor room and went to get Elbert jr. Before he walked in I was able to quickly snap some pictures of the displayed pipes.
Just like on the phone Elbert jr. is a very nice man to talk to, clearly someone with a passion for his company and the products made there. We chatted away for a while until he got a call from his brother that he was ready for me. Elbert jr. guided me to the big assembly hall where all pipes are made and Fons jr. was waiting for my arrival. For the outside world Elbert jr. is the face of Gubbels but inside the factory Fons jr. reigns supreme. At this moment he is the only one there who knows and is able to perform all the necessary steps in the creation of a pipe. The other employees just know a few steps of the process. Which worries him sometimes, I mean, what if he becomes ill? But they are working on that.
Fons jr. and a colleague had prepared (as far as they could) the steps in the finishing of the forum-pipe so I could take pictures of it. Remember, all the bowls and mouthpieces were already roughly made. Below you can see all 10 steps of the process: 1. Mounting the mouthpiece. 2. Sanding the pipe from coarse to fine with different sizes of sanding discs. 3. Staining the pipe (3 layers of stain are applied in total) where the first layer of stain is set aflame to fixate it. 4. Removing excess stain. 5. Sanding off more of the stain to make the grain better visible. 6. Milling out space for the metal top-ring. 7. Spraying a lacquer finish on the pipe. 8. Buffing the pipe to make it extra shiny. 9. Putting on the metal top-ring. 10. Tadaaa!! The finished product.
Fons jr. adjusting the Lamberthod machine
After explaining all the steps of the process Fons jr. guided me further around the factory. In the back there was a smaller hall with a big basket stacked full with briar and equipment to shape the bowls including a big modernized version of the Lamberthod machine. Of course the precise operation of everything was demonstrated. Seeing the immense Lamberthod device in action was very impressive, especially because Fons jr. had left the hood open so I could make some pictures. Afterwards he had to laugh when he looked at me, because my classy black suit was totally covered in the sawdust that came out of the machine.. “You will still find it in your clothes when you go to sleep tonight” he said with a big grin.
I also was led through the immense warehouse where you can find lots of pipes, pipes and ehrr.. Pipes! Uncountable boxes, drawers and crates stacked on to each other filled with unfinished pipe bowls, stems in all shapes and colours, (metal) rings etc. An impressive sight! There was only a small pallet with ebonite mouthpieces, Gubbels does not really use them because acryl is more durable.. Last but not least we went to a part of the warehouse where a couple of friendly ladies were packing orders.
When the tour was finished Fons jr. and I sat together so he could explain the forum-pipe process to me once more and I could write down the steps. We talked a bit more and then it was time for me to leave and for him to go back to the assembly hall. I must say, my respect for Gubbels and especially for Fons jr. had really grown. If you just look at the new Bentley pipes and know how much difficult handwork is needed for the creation of those..
Anyway, I wish all people who have ordered the 2015 PRF forum year-pipe lots of smoking pleasure with it! It is an extraordinary pipe with stunning grain for a very, very good price and I really regret I did not order one now.. Thanks go out to Dre, Shaun, Fred, Elbert jr., Fons jr., Fons sr. and the employees at Gubbels for making the forumpipe and this blogpost possible!
The Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum visits Gubbels in 2011 (in Dutch):
Gubbels brandstory video:
Very old video of how pipes were made at Gubbels:
UPDATE 11-07-2019: Sadly E. Gubbels in Herten, the Royal Factory of tobaccopipes (i.e. Big Ben), is bankrupt. The artisanal production branch of the family company is no more after 149 years. The trading house, Gubbels Trade and BV Gubbels Pipecleaners, on the other hand, continue to exist.
With the production of fully handmade briar wooden tobacco pipes finally stopped, Elbert and Alfons Gubbels say goodbye to a piece of company DNA and cultural heritage. But also from six involved employees.
“I had hoped to be able to maintain production,” says Elbert Gubbels in an explanation. “But the anti-smoking lobby and the government’s policy of discouragement are terrible. Fewer smokers, fewer stores. While pipe smoking is a certain lifestyle that requires good communication.”
Gubbels wants to keep a part of its history visible, but is removing the expensive machine for the Big Ben pipes from the company. “We have a solid stock and cannot keep on stacking. We will first sell it and then have the new pipes made in Italy. Where the briar also comes from. Then we give it a final touch in Herten. This is how we maintain our global market. On a small scale, with around ten, eleven employees, we hope to be able to continue for a very long time.