Escudo; the VaPer king

©pipesandcigars

©pipesandcigars

If in the world of pipe tobaccos Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture is the king of Balkan-style blends, then Escudo Navy De Luxe reigns over the VirginiaPerique (VaPer) offerings. A legendary tobacco which is still made today, despite the many times it looked like the blend was going to be discontinued.

Navy PlugEscudo is a so called Navy Cut tobacco. In the old days sailors twisted tobacco into a roll, a Navy Plug, and tied it firmly in ropes or canvas while regularly moistening the leaves with liquids like rum and molasses. This way the tobacco matured during their voyages and (of course) improved which was certainly noticed. The sailors cut pieces from the end for chewing (this happened most of the times because smoking was often forbidden on the wooden ships, imagine, a little spark and *whoosh*) or they cut coins that could be loaded into pipes. The flakes we know today from tobacco manufacturers are evolutions of the pressing that the sailors invented to keep their tobacco usable. These days the term Navy Cut is used inadequately and it is often applied to any tobacco that is pressed and cased with anything you can think of. So tobaccos like Escudo, Three Nuns, twists and ropes are true Navy Cuts and are as close to the real thing as one can get today.

The old Cope factory in Liverpool

The old Cope factory in Liverpool

Escudo was first made by Cope Bros & Co; a Liverpool based company that manufactured tobacco products from 1848 until 1952. There is much to tell about Cope Bros & Co but that will be for another time. Let us focus on Escudo for now. Tobaccoreviews.com says that it was produced there from 1870 to 1936 but I think that is bullshit. First, Cope had a blend called “Navy Cut” but there was no trace of a “Navy De Luxe”. Pipesmagazine forum-member misterlowercase (hello Troy! Also thanks for the pictures below!) has several old Smoke Room booklets (promotional booklets made by Cope) from the 1880’s and he says no mention was made of Escudo Navy De Luxe. He could only find an ad for Cope’s Navy Cut. Second, the Portuguese Escudo coin (after which the blend was named) was introduced on 22 May 1911, after the 1910 Republican revolution. An ad from 1964 says the blend was perfected in 1912, which could very well be the case keeping the Portuguese Escudo coin in mind.

A&C Petersen made Escudo

A&C Petersen made Escudo

Late 1952 Cope Bros & Co was bought by Gallaher. Tobaccoreviews.com says the date was 1936 and I have noooo idea where that comes from.. They manufactured Escudo until 1994 when it was discontinued worldwide. Gallaher claimed that the costs of making it for a smaller and declining market were too high. Behind the scenes Danish company A&C Petersen was negotiating for the trademark, original equipment (!) and recipe in which they succeeded in 1997. At first they re-introduced it to Denmark only with Danish language tins. Later in 1999 A&C Petersen started shipping Escudo to the USA again to the delight of the pipe-smokers there.

Dunhill Deluxe Navy Rolls

Dunhill Deluxe Navy Rolls

Here in good ol’ Europe mainland the blend also did return. But not for long.. I asked fellow Dutch Pipesmokers forum member and VaPer fan Huub (who has a vast knowledge about pipes and tobacco) when he bought his last tin of Escudo in The Netherlands. “At the end of the 90’s I was able to get one tin and then it did not came back” was his answer which fitted perfectly with the information I already had. Also, at the end of 90’s a new blend under the Dunhill name appeared on the market: De Luxe Navy Rolls. Eejj, a new navy cut blend just when Escudo has disappeared from the market, what a coincidence! *ahum…* My suspicion is that there may have been a problem with the worldwide use of the Escudo trademark and somehow we in Europe ended up with the De Luxe Navy Rolls in stead of Escudo. For the discussion if the De Luxe Navy Rolls taste the same as Escudo I am directing you forward to 2 interesting articles on PipesMagazine.com: Dunhill & Escudo Navy De Luxe the Same? and Dunhill & Escudo Navy De Luxe: The Verdict. Plus I read somewhere that somebody did a test with the pH-measures of both blends. The outcome was that they were the same..

ScandinavianTobaccoGroup_co[1]In 2000 A&C Petersen were acquired by Orlik and the blend was taken off the USA market very shortly after that because of a trademark issue. It was not clear if A&C Petersen had the worldwide rights to Escudo. The involved parties went to work and cleared it up so that it returned. Despite Orlik ownership the blend was continued under the A&C Petersen brand. At that time the Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG) had a 50% share in Orlik (in 2008 that became 100 %). In 2004 they both decided to apply for a trademark-transfer to STG and the production of Escudo went from A&C Petersen to the Orlik/STG factory in Assens, Denmark. In 2006 they won the trademark and slowly started re-labelling the tins. So if you have a 2005 Escudo tin with A&C Petersen on it, well, it was made in the Orlik factory. Oh, dating Escudo tins is simple. Look for the code on the left of the barcode. The first 6 digits stand for the Year, Date and Month. So if the first 6 digits are for example 121105, the production date is May 11th 2012. And for those of you who have tins with “Made in Denmark for Peter Stokkebye” on the backside, that company has been owned by STG for many years. Nowadays it is simple and clear: “Made in Denmark by Scandinavian Tobacco Group Assens A/S”.

IMG_0582So, now on to the review. Yeahyeah, I know Escudo already has been reviewed to death but screw that, I am still going to do it hehehe. Unfortunately I never had the chance to smoke or buy (*kat$jing!*) the Cope, Gallaher or A&C Petersen Escudo incarnations so my humble tin comes from the Orlik/STG factory and was produced at August 9th 2011.

0001Package/tin description: A round 50 gr. tin with on the front the classic trademark “Escudo Navy De Luxe” and on the backside the following description:  A combination of full bodied Virginia from North Carolina and Virginia blended with Perique from Louisiana are the cornerstones in Escudo. The blend is pressed and matured before it is spun and cut into coins. This process ensures the unique character of “Escudo”.

escudo_coinContents/cut: Like I said before the blend is a navy cut, coins with a thickness around 1.5mm. They are neatly placed half on top of each other around the tin. And they look stunning! A piece of art for the pipe-tobacco connoisseur. Dark and light tobaccos are spun together to a very pleasant to watch coin which gets darker by age. The moisture level is perfect, immediately ready for smoking.

noseSmell from the tin: Newly opened there comes a fresh, bright smell from the tin. A kind of fruity (my guess would be plum), peppery (hello perique) smell which mingles elegantly with the hay-like scent from the Virginias. There definitely is some kind of light topping. I also noticed a slight odour which reminded me of a typical Dutch menthol liquorice sweet when I just pulled the lid off for the first time. But after a couple of days I did not detect it any more.

011Taste: First of all there is a bit of difference flavour-wise if you rub out the coins or fold and stuff them. Rubbed out you get a more consistent flavour throughout the bowl while with the fold-and-stuff method you get a bit more detail of the tobaccos involved. The times my nose started started to tickle while smoking I used that last method and probably hit a bit of perique. I prefer to rub. With the charring light there is no bitterness, just the full sweetness of the Virginias followed with a bit of zing from the perique. The first part you get bright top notes which are never too sharp (this blend does not bite). In combination with the occasional pepper-perique and the darker Virginias in the background these provide a rich creaminess. Halfway the bowl the tastes become stronger, fuller. Hay, wood and earthy flavours mingle with the sweet ones to a full creamy whole. Creaminess.. That is the main theme here. On the last small pipe-smokers meeting I attended someone smoked some Escudo for the first time. And he indeed said it was creamy. And lamented the fact it was not available in my small country.. The last part of the bowl I always dislike with this blend because before I know it, it is gone.

pipeCombustibility: Very good, also because of the perfect moisture level of the coins. However, with the fold and stuff method Escudo requires some more re-lights. What amazes me is how long this blend lasts. In my Dunhill group 3 billiard (which fits one and a half coin) I am easily puffing for 1.5 hour!

thumbs2Room-note: My girlfriend Ellen never says anything about the smell when I smoke Escudo. Which is a good thing! The blend produces rich fumes but Ellen does not seem to mind that plus the next morning you can barely notice I smoked the last evening.

Vintage Escudo. Should be very, very yummie!

Vintage Escudo. Should be very, very yummie!

Miscellaneous: In the nicotine department this blend is a tiny bit on the heavy side for me. But when I had a good dinner and smoke Escudo later in the evening, no problem at all. Also the blend ages very, very well. I believe it is the most cellared tobacco in the USA. I guess this also comes because there have been a couple of “Escudo-scares” throughout the years in which rumours were spread that the blend was being discontinued. 4noggins owner Rich certainly was very happy with the last scare halfway 2013, he sold dozens of Escudo tins per day!

moneyPrice: At 4noggins you pay $9,99 (± €7,32) for a 50 gr. tin.

Peter Heinrichs Curly Block

Peter Heinrichs Curly Block

Alternatives: If you like Escudo there are some blends that are well suited for a change of pace or for a replacement if you can’t get the real stuff.
Davidoff Flake Medallions (Referred to by some as “Escudo light”)
Dunhill De Luxe Navy Rolls
My Own Blend (Paul Olsen) Big Coin (made in the same factory as Escudo)
Peter Heinrichs Curly Block (Recommended by many German pipe-smokers as THE replacement to the old Escudo. And it looks damn great! I smoked it and in comparison to current day Escudo this one is heavier in the nicotine department, has less sweet but fuller Virginias and more perique.)
Peter Stokkebye Luxury Bullseye Flake (with a core of cavendish)
Wessex Sovereign Curly Cut

©cigarsinternational

©cigarsinternational

Conclusion: I am not amazed at the fact that after all this time Escudo is one of most cellared and best selling tobaccos ever. It is the benchmark for all VaPer blends. I puffed away quite a few of those in the couple of years I smoke pipe, but every time I crack open a tin of Escudo it feels like coming home. The secret is that it is not an overly complex tobacco. All the ingredients are so well balanced that they provide a fullness of flavours for the archetypical VaPer smoking experience. Regardless of the age of the tin and in what kind of bowl you smoke it. All hail the VaPer king: Escudo!

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Heavenly Heinrichs

“Chateau Henri”, the Heinrichs shop in Bergheim DE

A couple of weeks ago I went with Paul on a day-trip to what perhaps is Europe’s biggest tobacco store: Peter Heinrichs in Bergheim, Germany. It is best described as a castle, “Chateau Henri”, dedicated to the art of smoking. Also called “Haus der 10.000 Pfeifen” (House of 10.000 pipes) it consists of over 1000 square meters of sales area, a tobacco museum and smoking lounge! Hallelujah!!!

Peter Heinrichs himself

Peter Heinrichs himself

At 17 years old Peter Heinrichs, the owner, finished an apprenticeship at his parent’s cigarette-shop. He then founded his own tobacco wholesale with a starting capital of 3000 D-Mark in his home-town Cologne. At the young age of 30 he sold his quickly growing business to a conglomerate for such an amount that he easily could have retired. But he was not the kind of person to do nothing. All he now wanted was a small shop for pipes in the heart of Cologne. Instead of selling soulless mass-targeted cigarettes Peter now had the opportunity to specialize in high-class pipes and cigars to emphasize the pleasure in smoking. This proved to be Heinrichs’ second success. He further established other branches in San Francisco and Taipei. Also, he started (read: he gave tobacco factories orders) producing his own brand of cigars, tobacco and cigarettes containing pipe tobacco that today are sold all over the world.

Coffee, Brandy, Bourbon etc.

Coffee, Brandy, Bourbon etc.

Even before opening his online shop Peter already sent out worldwide orders on a daily basis. Both shops in Cologne and Bergheim (yes, two German shops!) provide a unique selection of finest goods. There are always a several thousand pipes in stock, especially exclusive models and collectibles. Inside the walk-in humidors every important cigar brand in every size and shape is to be found. This includes limited editions that have already sold out at other stores. In addition to that a wide range of products is offered such as tobacco, elegant smoking equipment and selected Rum, Whisky and Cognac. Personal commitment, a relaxed atmosphere and competent service make a difference. Still, Peter Heinrichs takes care of daily business himself at his Cologne store. His wife and daughter run the store in Bergheim. This really sounds like Dunhill but ok: No matter how much money a customer spends or if he carries a famous name, to Peter Heinrichs it is not important: “Everybody is entitled to get the best products and first-class service”. And it is not all about products and brands, but rather about communication and dialogue. Cosy smoking lounges in both stores invite the customers to stay, light a pipe or cigar and enjoy coffee, wine, whiskey, cognac or rum.

IMG_0040So at a rainy Saturday morning I was picked up by Paul and together we drove to Bergheim. Well, actually the city’s Niederaußem district where the store is located. Really a shame because that part of the city is dominated by the immense Niederaussem Power Station which gigantic cooling towers billow out huge plume clouds. Also the access road to the terrain of the store looked a bit shabby. Come on Germany, fix those roads! Around half past ten we arrived at “Chateau Henri” and hurried inside not wanting to get wet from the pouring rain.

Store entrance

Store entrance

Inside we were greeted by a kind of strange creepy hanging puppet of Peter Heinrichs himself. Ok… There was not much of a counter left because all kinds of stuff was placed on it. Besides the puppet we also were greeted by the friendly staff. Luckily they not came up to us asking if we need any assistance, I really do not like that. They just nodded and softly said “Guten Tag (hello)” and let us slowly go through the store. However, after 5 minutes one of the clerks came up to us and asked if we would like a cup of coffee. Jawohl!

Pipes, pipes, pipes

Pipes, pipes, pipes

While sipping my cup of coffee I took the time to properly look around and jeeez, the store really is enormous! Every time you look to a side you see pipes, and more pipes, and more pipes.. Pipe Valhalla! All, or nearly all the European pipe brands are available here. Unfortunately for me most of them are filter-pipes, the German standard. Paul was looking for some Jensen pipes (which are getting more rare) for a friend and found some! And of course got a discount, he’s also Dutch. New pipes are not really my thing so I asked if they had any estate pipes. They had, not in the shop but in the warehouse. The clerk came back with two boxes, one with…. I forgot.. And the other one full of Dunhills! Unfortunately all billiard shapes, my least favourite one.. But there were some oldies between them from the early 60’s.

17032ra-rattray-s-old-perth_1_5

Rattray’s cutty

Just as I thought there were no pipes for me I saw a nice black slender cutty-shape lying on the table. I picked it up, Rattray’s was the brand. But strange, the cabinet with the rest of Rattray’s pipes was on the far end of the room. I looked at the price, hmm… Cheaper than the other ones. I took a firm pipe-cleaner and pushed it through the mouthpiece. Without a hitch it passed through until I saw it in the bottom of the bowl. Good, that means it was straight drilled. I looked around if anyone saw me and I quickly and softly put the bit between my teeth. Ah, a good fit, very important! So I bought the pipe, my first cutty.

IMG_0044

Sample-jars of the house-blends

But the main reason I was at Heinrichs was because of their vast assortment of tobaccos. As you can see in the picture there are a couple of big tables with a lot of sample-jars containing all of the Heinrichs house-blends. They have a small booklet containing (almost) all of these ±170(!)  blends which you really need in order to pick out what could be of your liking. And Heinrichs has it all, from the ultra-sweet to latakia-bombs. It is so much fun to open a sample-jar, sniff the tobacco, guess what it is and then look it up in the booklet. And if you really like the smell and description of a mixture you can take something out and smoke it at the spot. Is the sample-jar empty? No problem, just ask the friendly staff if they would like to refill it. And if the house-blends are not enough, at another part of the building you can find almost all of the in Germany available brand-blends.

Curly Block

Curly Block

One of the really special house-blends is the 250 gr. Curly Block, a classic roll cake. Normally you see such a tobacco all sliced up but here you have a massive roll which you have to cut yourself. It is made of high quality Virginia grades and a bit of perique. For at least 6 weeks the mixture rests in the round form in the press. There it ferments gently and reveals multi-layered taste nuances. After the ageing period the roll cake is divided into blocks of 250 grams each. When smoking you can expect wonderful, natural sweet notes. The perique enriches the mixture with spiciness, strength and fruity flavours. Some say this particular blend is similar to the old Escudo. I can’t say that because I never smoked the old Escudo. But what I do know is that this stuff is excellent!

Heinrichs Golden Sliced

500 gr. of Heinrichs Golden Sliced

Another of Heinrichs’ winners is their Golden Sliced. Golden Sliced huh? Orlik also has a Golden Sliced. Yes, true, this one is similar to the Orlik one. Smooth golden Virginias topped with a citrus-like bergamot aroma. A blend I keep on smoking. Talking about Orlik, Heinrichs revived an Orlik classic that is not made any more, the Dark Strong Kentucky. Heinrichs just calls it the Dark Strong. It is a tobacco that you won’t forget once you’ve seen it. A rectangular, almost square flake which is light in the middle with dark edges. If they had called it “Tiger Flake” that would have been an appropriate name. Remarkable is that Kohlhase & Kopp makes this flake for Heinrichs. And I know that Kohlhase & Kopp don’t make their own flakes, they get them from…. Orlik. So in fact Heinrichs Dark Strong is nothing more than the old Orlik version. All house-blends are available in different quantities and unlike The Netherlands, the more you buy from one blend, the cheaper it gets. So it pays to buy large bulk-sacks.

The

The “lounge”

Besides looking at pipes and sniffing at tobaccos Paul and I spent a lot of the day talking. The perfect place for that was the lounge part of the store. Well, lounge.. A couch with a table and a couple of chairs surrounded by pipe-cabinets. But it was sufficient, new coffee was provided and we could chat while enjoying samples of the house-blends. I knew Paul a bit before of course but it turned out that we had more in common than I thought. Always nice, an open conversation.

Chinese restaurant

Chinese restaurant “Paradijs” in Uden

We were still talking to each other when we noticed the staff tidy up the place. Ah, it was four o’clock, the store was closing. We gathered our belongings and walked to the counter where we had put the pipes and tobaccos we wanted to buy. To my surprise the clerk started writing everything down we wanted to buy and used a calculator to add up the prices. A bit old fashioned but ok, it worked. Paul got a discount on two pipes he bought and I got 3 packs of sturdy pipe cleaners for free. We thanked the clerk and remaining staff and drove back to Holland. Around dinnertime we arrived in Uden (my old home-town) where I had parked my car. We decided to grab something to eat at the local Chinese restaurant, Paradijs. After having enjoyed the food and more conversations we thanked each other for the wonderful day and went our own way.

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UPDATE 4-11-2016:
Today I sadly heard that Peter Heinrichs passed away. Also see this link. May he rest in peace.
peter_heinrichs_death

Cut, cut, cut!

Tobacco cutting machine at DTM

Tobacco cutting machine at DTM

The cut of any tobacco is determined by the product that is going to be manufactured: pipe tobacco, cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco or snuff. Here I only will go into pipe tobacco cuts (and a bit of cigarette cuts). The ultimate goal of any tobacco manufacturer (or home blender) is to get a well mixed tobacco with a consistent uniformity in taste and “rate of burn”. That means it may not burn too fast (in which case it would probably burn hot) or too slow (which will require the smoker to relight often).

close-up-of-tobacco-pipe-smokingThe burning qualities of any blend are determined by the following factors:
1. The type of tobacco used. Thin leaved tobacco will burn better than tobacco with heavier leaves.
2. The moisture content of the tobacco. The degree of dryness affects the speed with which it burns.
3. The type of cut or cuts used. The air circulating around the shredded leaf determinates the rate of combustion. The denser the tobacco, such as plugs, the slower it will burn.
4. The amount of casing or flavouring used. The less casing applied to tobacco, the longer it will burn.

Below I described a lot of tobacco cuts. I am sure I missed some and sorting them out was pretty damn difficult.. Several tobacco cut descriptions are in essence the same. If you think I am wrong somewhere or you know cuts I have not described, please contact me so we all can benefit from that information. Anyway, here they are in alphabetical order:

broad cutBroad Cut: Wide ribbon-cuts which burn at an average pace and pack well are often called broad cut. The thickest cut, about twice as wide as a loose cut. Commonly used with air-cured Virginia which is then used to blend with other cuts.

broken flakeBroken Flake: Flake-form tobacco that has been partially broken up.

cake_plugCake: Cakes (also called “plugs”) are dense, hold their moisture well and therefore are handy to carry with you. But they require a little preparation before smoking. The smoker slices off a bit to the thickness he desires and rubs it between his hands to create a fine or coarse tobacco.  Whatever his preference is. It can also be cut into thicker slices and then cross-cut twice to make a rough cube-cut. Very versatile this one. Also see “Plug”.

cavendish cutCavendish Cut: In older blends, Cavendish was generally referred to as tobaccos which had been treated with flavourings or even sugar water. Sometimes they were steamed and then pressed, cut and rubbed-out. These were the original aromatics. Through the years the term has become broadly used and refers to many flavoured tobacco blends. Most of the times the Cavendish Cut was a long cut, between a fine cut and a ribbon cut, depending on the manufacturer.

4Coarse Cut: Ribbon cut containing some chunkier pieces.

coinsCoin: Thin tobacco circles which look like coins. You get those when you cut a navy plug, twist, rope or roll cake. The terms “Coin”, “Medallion”, “Roll Cut”, “Navy Cut” and “Spun Cut” are all pretty much interchangeable as they are all sliced off round-shaped, pressed (or spun) tobacco.

crimp cutCrimp Cut: This is a slightly smaller cut than the granulated one.

cross cutCross Cut: A broad cut that is cut twice, creating small squares.

krumble kakeCrumble Cake: Cakes that are made from ribbon-cut tobaccos. The smoker can easily break off a chunk, crumble it between the fingers and prepare it for smoking. This form shares the moisture-holding capacity of plugs. With the added convenience of being somewhat easier to make ready. The downside is that this form tends to break into small fragments. Which can clog the airway or burn too quick. So if you load a pipe with a crumble cake, put some bigger chunks in the bottom of the bowl and the small fragments on top.

crushed plugCrushed Plug: This tobacco is cut at right angles to a plug. It may be classified as a coarser and larger granulated tobacco cut.

cube cutCube Cut: Pressed tobacco which has been cut into fine or coarse cube-shaped pieces. The most common type is cube-cut Burley. The thick, chunky pieces burn slowly, so cube-cut tobaccos normally smoke quite cool.

curly cutCurly: Thin tobacco circles you get when you cut a navy plug, twist or roll cake. In my experience a curly cut tobacco is much rougher in appearance as for instance neatly stacked medallions in a tin.

fine cutFine Cut: Usually used for (roll-your-own) cigarette tobacco. This is a variation of a long cut and shag cut. Fine cut tobacco is cut between 30 and 40 times to the inch when it is to be used in pipe tobacco. In cigarette tobacco that is 50 to 90 times to the inch.

flakeFlake: Tobacco is placed under very high pressure with varying degrees of heat. It is then pressed into bricks and sliced into broad, flat flakes. These are typically about 1-2 inches wide and 0.1 inches thick. You fold or lightly rub the flake to put it in your pipe.  There can be many different tobaccos in a flake. These tobaccos benefit from the pressing because it allows their flavours, densities and moisture levels to marry. It will also help them to have a better synergy as they age. The most common flakes are based upon Virginia and Virginia-perique tobaccos. This because of the density of the flake the Virginia will burn more slowly so you get a cooler smoke.

granulatedGranulated Cut: tobacco is cut from stemmed leaf in irregularly shaped, medium sized flakes. Because this cut of tobacco packs quite well with air spaces between particles, it burns slow and cool.

Lanyard: See “Rope”.

Long Cut: See “Shag cut”.

loose cutLoose Cut: A long, thin ribbon cut. Commonly found in many Captain Black and Lane Bulk blends.

Navy PlugNavy Plug: This name was given because sailors would fill a long canvas tube with tobacco (or tightly wrap rope around tobacco) and sometimes add flavourings like rum, fruits and spices. Then the tube was twisted tight, mimicking the pressing process. This technique created a dense roll of tobacco about an inch thick which could be cut into smaller pieces or coins. In essence the navy plug is the same as a roll-cake.

navy cutNavy Cut: The slices you get when you cut a navy plug. Originally these had a round shape. Later tobacco manufacturers used the term more broadly and a Navy Cut could also be a rectangular flake or slice (for example Capstan). Good examples of round Navy Cut tobaccos are Escudo and Peter Stokkebye Luxury Bullseye Flake.

medaillionMedallion: See “Coin” and “Navy Cut”.

mixtureMixture: A term often seen on pipe tobacco packages. It simply is a mix of different tobacco types, cuts and flavours.

Plug: See “Cake”.

ready rubbedReady-rubbed: Flake tobacco that has been mechanically rubbed out so it can be readily smoked or combined with other cuts. Sometimes you see a regular ribbon cut with pieces of ready-rubbed Virginia flake. This way the Virginia can’t burn too fast and hot and the smoke is kept cool.

ribbon cutRibbon Cut: More narrow than a broad cut, this has a steady burn and it packs well. It is a good cut for tobaccos that don’t burn easily. Often you see latakia as a ribbon cut because of its poor burning qualities.

roll cakeRoll Cake: Similar to a Navy Plug, round in appearance.

roll cutRoll Cut: A sliced version of roll cake. See “Medallion” and “Coin”.

rope tobaccoRope: The tobacco is spun by machine into long ropes which can be as much as 60 feet long which are then cut in larger pieces for sale. There are a few of these ropes which are cut into coins before they are finally packed.

rough cutRough Cut: Tobaccos which are cut into larger flat pieces, a heavier version of the granulated cut. This cut burns slowly and can be used to keep hotter tobaccos from burning too fast.

shag cutShag Cut: Tobacco which is finely cut/shredded into long threads. It is thinner and longer than a ribbon cut. It may range from a 19th of an inch to a 16th in width and in length from a half inch to an inch.  Virginia tobaccos lend themselves to this cut because of their large leaf size. A shag cut can easily pack too tightly and burns very well. Just like a fine cut this cut is common for roll-your-own cigarette tobaccos as well.

slicesSlices: In essence the same as flakes. The only noticeable difference is the thickness; slices are thicker than flakes. One of the most well-knows tobaccos of this type is (of course) Troost Slices.

Spun Cut: See “Curly” “Coin” and “Medallion”.

square cutSquare Cut: Flakes which are cut in squares, the picture is not so good but the only one I could find. A good example of a square cut is Mick McQuaid Square Cut.

twistTwist: Similar to rope. Leaves are layered and then twisted tightly to mature the tobacco. That is why many ropes and twists tend to be rather strong in flavour and nicotine content. It can be sliced into coins for pipe smoking or cut in thicker chunks for chewing.

If I have forgotten any tobacco cuts or if you have any comments, please let me know!

Crazy From The Heat

Thermometer*Pffff* Hotdamn, last few weeks the weather here has been HOT and last week we even had a heatwave. During daytime 27°C – 34°C and in the nights around 15°C with a relative atmospheric humidity between 75% and 85%. Normally after work I go downstairs (I work from home 3 days a week), relax a bit, cook, eat and then I crawl behind my laptop with a nice pipe to do research and work on the blog. Nowadays I sit sweating behind my iMac in my underpants with the fan whirling at full-blast trying to do my job. Afterwards I cook as easy as possible (one-pan dishes, bread, cold meat/fish-salades), watch a little bit of TV (the living room is the coldest inside area of the house) and sit outside with a pipe. Exhausted.. Some people have all the energy with this heat but because of my ehmm.. pretty full posture I am just glad I can do the things I have to do. Nothing more..

Sheep-in-the-Mist-6757-585x390We Dutch often refer to the Netherlands as our “chilly frog-land” (koud kikkerlandje). This Dutch expression reflects the way we see our own country most of the time: cold and damp. Ok, Holland is certainly not tropical but neither is it frozen. Meteorologically speaking, the country is located in a temperate weather region with moderate temperatures. Our capital, Amsterdam, is on roughly the same line of longitude as let’s say Calgary in Canada, Warsaw in Poland and the city of Irkutsk in Eastern Siberia. But unlike them, we enjoy the warm benefits of the Gulf Stream (the global air current which draws tropical air from the Caribbean area up to the north-west of Europe). This means Amsterdam has warmer average temperatures than its sister-cities I just named. Whohoo!! Unfortunately this airflow is occasionally (but often rudely..) interrupted by colder continental air from eastern central Europe.

europa_niederlande_im_unterricht_karikaturWith the North Sea on our western and northern coasts, marine conditions play a major role. So weather at the coast is often quite different than the weather in inland areas. Coastal areas are generally more temperate: wetter and cooler in the summer and wet but warmer in the winter. The inland areas, especially to the south, often experience the highest national temperatures in the summer and the coldest in winter. Despite the higher average inland temperatures, there are more hours of sun per year at the coast. German tourists have known this for years and traditionally head for our beaches during summers to dig pits in the sand..

3868311238_aa09956b00There are few extreme weather conditions in Holland. Ok, once every 3 year we have a heatwave, like now.. But within these limits the overall weather can only be described as changeable. “Niets zo veranderlijk als het weer” (Nothing is as changeable as the weather) is a much used expression. This means that it occasionally gets rather cool in summer and rather warm in winter. The winters can vary from mild to very cold indeed but temperatures below -10°C  are rare. Of course the harsh winds can make it feel a lot icier.. The sheer flatness of mountain-less Holland (our highest “mountain”, the Vaalserberg is 322,7 metres..) means that weather and temperatures can change quickly without warning as weather rushes unhindered across the country. Our successful use of the famous windmills exploited this phenomenon. Cold fronts from inland eastern Europe can abruptly drive sun-lovers (and Germans) from the beach in the middle of summer while sudden cold waves can occur in the middle of an otherwise mild winter. But we don’t mind that last thing because it often means we can enjoy our national sport once again: ice-skating.

Thunderstorm above Olst where I live

Thunderstorm above my home-town

Like now in the summer, Holland has more than its fair share of hot, clammy days. Cycles that begin with a day or two of sun, gradually overwhelmed by increasing humidity as atmospheric pressure increases. The cycle ends in a predictable, often spectacular thunderstorm (just had one), which clears the air until the next cycle comes along a day or two later. So at the beginning of such a cycle you best keep the house dark and doors and windows closed to keep the heat outside. Just when the inevitable thunderstorm has passed you can throw everything open to let the cooler air cool off the heated house.

GL Pease Robusto ©GL Pease

GL Pease Robusto ©GL Pease

It seems that with the change of the seasons my taste for certain tobaccos also changes. In wintertime I smoke all kinds of full latakia mixtures and in autumn and spring sometimes a Virginia or a VaPer gets added in the rotation. But with these hot days I hardly smoke blends with the dark leaf. It is just too.. Demanding, too heavy, too dark for my palate.. Two exceptions, after a thunderstorm you can smell the wet earth in the air and when I then sit outside I like a good spicy balkan blend. Also mr. Pease made a blend called Robusto which was inspired by the famous Balkan Sobranie Virginia no. 10: Virginias, orientals, a bit of latakia and a bit of cigar-leaf. Especially that last ingredient goes well with the heat. Cigar-leaf was made in and for hot weather.

50 gr. of pure Semois tobacco

Pure Semois tobacco

But in general summertime for me is the time for all kinds of Virginia tobaccos, VaPers, aromatics and Semois. The Virginia tobaccos I smoke must preferably be light, so I regularly go for Orlik Golden Sliced, the similar Jurewicz Neumarkt Special 2002 and Capstan. The king of VaPers, Escudo, is too heavy for me in summer. But it’s cousin Peter Stokkebye Luxury Bullseye Flake with the cavendish core just fits the bill for me. The few aromatics I now smoke are DTM Sweet Vanilla Honeydew and Planta Black Vanilla. The Belgium Semois leaf seems almost made to smoke in warm weather. Maybe because of the light cigar-like taste. When I put some in one of my corncobs it is pure bliss. Not too demanding for the palate but interesting enough to keep the attention.

Anyway, I am going to enjoy a glass of cold Belgium beer and a pipe filled with Robusto. Latakia fumes have the handy characteristic that they keeps those damn mosquitoes away. It is not often that Ellen sits close to me when I smoke a mixture with the dark leaf. But she hates the blood sucking insects more than the smell coming from my pipe hehehe..

Peppery Perique

Harvesting perique tobacco

Harvesting perique tobacco

Perique is the pepper of the tobacco world. It spices up and enhances all kinds of mixtures when used moderately. But use it too much and it destroys a blend.

Around 1776, French-speaking settlers from Canada (the Acadians) moved into the area of Saint James Parish, Louisiana. They saw that the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes were cultivating a variety of tobacco with a distinctive, spicy, fruity flavour. These native Americans had a special way of preparing it. They would pack leaves tightly into a hollow log and put a heavy rock on it. Pretty similar to how it is done today, but later more about that.

A farmer named Pierre Chenet was the first to begin raising the local tobacco commercially in 1824.  Chenet’s nickname was “Perique,” hence the name. He is also credited with refining the fermenting process (which gives perique its unique flavour) through the technique of pressure-fermentation.

Pressure-fermentation

Pressure-fermentation

This process of producing perique remains a traditional craft. Not much has changed since the early 20th century.

First air cured tobacco is hand stripped. The leaf which is used  is considered to be pretty similar to burley. The only moisture added is just prior to the stripping to make the leaves pliable. How many moisture is used is up to the craftsmen. You just have to feel it. Then the tobacco is rolled into “torquettes” of approximately 1 pound (450 g) and packed into hickory whisky barrels. These are  topped off with a wooden lid and pressed by using oak blocks and massive screw jacks. Thus forcing nearly all the air out of the still moist leaves. The barrels are unpacked at least three times during the active fermentation phase (around five months). The torquettes are then repacked in the barrels in reverse order (former top bundles on bottom and bottom bundles on top) to permit a little air back into the tobacco. They are then closely monitored with periodic increases of pressure.

After at least a year of this treatment, the perique is ready for consumption. But the longer the barrels are sealed and pressure is applied, the more complex the flavour notes become. The finished tobacco is dark brown (nearly black) and very moist with a fruity, slightly vinegary aroma that carries a hint of alcohol. The fruity aroma and hint of alcohol are the result of hundreds of volatile compounds created by anaerobic fermentation of the tobacco. Many of these are responsible for the flavours of fruits and are often found in wine. Talking about alcohol, there even is a perique liqueur!

Original St. James perique

Original St. James perique

There are 2 different types of perique. St. James perique is made by using the method above. The other one is called Acadian perique. It is made by processing Green River burley in the same manner as the St. James version. The two types are almost always blended together for use in various mixtures. But to be able to use the name “perique” it has to contain some St. James. Of course some people tried to grow perique outside Louisiana, then use a similar processing method and mix it with the real stuff.. Awful.. Fortunately, no legitimate companies are using this kind of tobacco. No, real perique only grows within the St. James Parish area. Some scientists believe that it sits on top of a mineral deposit that gives the tobacco its robust and distinct flavour.

Percy Martin († February 4, 2012 at the age of 93)

Percy Martin († February 4, 2012 at the age of 93)

At one point in the recent past, the future of Perique did not look well. Farmer Percy Martin had been producing the tobacco for years. But when the numbers of pipe smokers declined, the usage of perique declined. Struggling to find a new market, Percy began mailing samples to potential buyers. That is how Santa Fe Natural Tobacco caught wind of his rare brand of tobacco. So the lion’s share of Percy’s output went to that company for the usage of American Spirit cigarettes and rolling tobacco in 2000. But at least he did survive and after his death in 2012 his son Ray took over the business.

Fortunately the production of perique seems to be secured now. Pierre Chenet’s granddaughter, Coralie Decareau, married Celestin Poche in February, 1829. And the Poche family has been involved in the cultivation and processing of perique through current times until Mark Ryan bought the firm in 2005. Ryan has doubled production since that time ans soon the production capacity will even quadruple to 400 barrels annually. Ryan is able to ensure supply because he has increased prices to the farmers and eliminated their labour of stripping the leaves. As a result, St. James Parish farmers are once again interested in growing tobacco.

Blending perique

Blending perique

Perique is a very versatile tobacco. When you use it with deep, heavy tobaccos like matured Virginias and/or dark burleys it adds a mellow sweetness that tends to reduce the sharpness of those. When used in a more mellow blend it can add a bit of tang and spice. And if you have got a blend that lacks richness and depth a bit of perique can resolve that problem. It also can help slow down the burn rate of a blend. That is why it is so often used in Virginia blends which tend to burn fast and hot. What you then get is a so called VaPer.

Masterblender Andreas Mund of DTM with a barrel of perique

Masterblender Andreas Mund of DTM with a barrel of perique

Being a condimental tobacco, perique is usually used sparsely in a mixture. Also because it has a fairly decent amount of nicotine. Beware, over time perique will mellow out in a blend.
– 1% to 2%: enhances flavour without making its presence known
– 2% to 4%: the presence can be detected. Its absence would be noted because the flavour of the blend would be subdued. Like listening to music with ear-plugs.
– 4% to 8%: perique really begins to make itself known. Like a voice that you softly hear.
– 8% to 12%: yes, there definitely is perique in this blend! You can notice it very well.
– 12% to 20%: a good working maximum. Unless your name is Aleister Crowley. He smoked straight perique soaked with rum. The Beast…

Recommended blends with perique are:
– Ashton: Artisan’s Blend*
– Cornell & Diehl: Kajun Cake, Bayou Morning, Old Joe Krantz
– DTM: St. Bernard Flake, Midnight Ride
– Dunhill: Deluxe Navy Rolls, Nightcap*
Escudo Navy Deluxe
– Esoterica: Dorchester, Dunbar
– GL Pease: Fillmore, Haddo’s Delight, Telegraph Hill, Chelsea Morning, Triple Play
– Hearth & Home: Anniversary Kake
– HU Tobacco: Janneman Flake, Louisiana Broken, Edward G, Director’s Cut
– J. F. Germain & Son: Royal Jersey Perique
– MacBaren: HH Acadian Perique
– McClelland: Bulk No.2015 Virginia Flake, Personal Reserve: St. James Woods, PCCA Tudor Castle, PCCA Beacon
Orlik Golden Sliced*
– Peter Stokkebye: Luxury Bullseye Flake, Luxury Navy Flake
– Samuel Gawith: St. James Flake
– Solani: 633 Virginia Flake with Perique*
– Wessex: Brigade Sovereign Curly Cut

* Available in The Netherlands