The quest for forum tobaccos – Part 3: Flatlander Flake

The “old” forum tobaccos

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!

Elbert Gubbels

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.

Sample-round 1

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.

Sample-round 2

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.

Flatlander Flake

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 to buy tax seals. We hope to be able to import tins with no unsightly pictures on front 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.

Tax seal

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!

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The art of Janneman

Jan (nickname “Janneman”) is a prominent member of the Dutch/Belgian pipe smokers forum. He is a walking pipe and tobacco encyclopaedia and many people started smoking pipe after seeing one of his movies or reading his Pijpenboek. Because of this one of the forum-tobaccos was named after him as a gesture to honour the good man. Throughout the years Jan made many beautiful, atmospheric and sometimes humoristic pictures and still lifes of himself smoking and of his pipes and tobaccos combined with other pleasures of life. For me these images have a certain nostalgic quality which never fails to ease my mind. Whenever I feel stressed out I look at one of Jan’s pictures and the burdens of the day fall from my shoulders. So pick out one of your favourite pipes, fill it with whatever tobacco you like and set it aflame, pour some whisky or another beverage in a glass and slowly scroll through the images beneath. Enjoy.

Lohmar pipe-show 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast year when all the business with the forum tobaccos had been taken care off German master-blender Hans Wiedemann of HU Tobacco asked if I was coming to the next Lohmar Pfeifenmesse (Lohmar pipe-show). We then finally would be able to shake hands after the loads of mail-contact we had. Hans lives in the South of Germany which is far away from where I live in The Netherlands and according to him the Lohmar pipe-show was the closest to my home. I looked it up and indeed Hans was correct, it was a 230 km. ride for me. He also asked me if I could promote the pipe-show a bit on the Dutch/Belgian pipe-smokers forum, which I of course did. At first there was not much response so I decided to ask if fellow forum-member Robbie-San (real name Rob but there are more Robs in this story) was willing to go to Lohmar with me. We had met before at several meetings and I knew he was a good guy and pleasant company. In the end another forum-member, Smoking-Rob (behold, the other Rob), asked if he could join us. Of course, the more the merrier! Also a couple of other forum-members said they would come.

IMG_0924

Villa Friedlinde

It was going to be the 9th edition of the Lohmar pipe-show organized by pipe-maker Volker Bier and his friend Jürgen Hofer. The location is the same every time: Villa Friedlinde in the heart of Lohmar. This year a large section of the surrounding park also was part of the show. To my delight I read in the announcements on a German forum that Volker closely works together with the local authorities who are proud to host the event. Even the site of Lohmar-town promotes the pipe-show. I mean, these days here in The Netherlands you won’t easily see towns supporting a smoking-event. In fact, we don’t have smoking-events any more..

Yess, the Force was with us!

Yess, the Force was with us!

After a few messages back and forth Robbie-San and I decided that he would drive to Germany. He has a car that runs on diesel and that is cheaper. We’re Dutch remember? But that meant I had to come to Brabant first because Robbie-San lives there. No problem, I work there every last half of the week and have an address where I can spend the night. Saturday 10 May at 08.30 sharp Robbie-San rang the doorbell. I grabbed my belongings including some cheese-sandwiches that I made for the road. I had to laugh when I stepped into the car because on the corner of the dashboard stood a miniature Yoda. So the Force was going to be with us! We drove to somewhere along the edge of the city of Nijmegen where Smoking-Rob was waiting for us. After the handshakes he presented a tin of MacBaren HH Old Dark Fired to Robbie-San as a thank-you for driving. For me he had a tin of vintage (1980’s) Capstan Medium Navy Cut that I traded with him for some Janneman Flake.

The Force let us down a bit, Stau! (traffic-jam)

The Force let us down a bit, Stau! (traffic-jam)

On the way to Lohmar it seemed the Force let us down a bit. In The Netherlands it already was raining a bit but the roads in Germany were a gigantic water-ballet so we were forced to drive slowly. On top of that we encountered some “Stau”, which translates as “traffic jam”. Oh well, Robbie-San and me were enjoying the cheese-sandwiches and Smoking-Rob his pipe while we all chatted away. So a bit later than expected we arrived at the site in Lohmar. It was pretty busy with cars but we saw a place where we could park. Behind us stood another Dutch car and it turned out that it belonged to a fellow Dutchman, André. He already had been inside and was just going to put some new acquisitions in his vehicle when he spotted us

My

My “new” Dunhill shell cherrywood shape

“Arno, quickly come with me” he said “I have seen a gorgeous estate Dunhill!” So he literally dragged me through the masses in Villa Friedlinde  to an outside tent in which a vendor had displayed numerous estate pipes. First my eye fell upon a good looking Dunhill shell prince but that was not the one André meant. “No no, here, this cherrywood shape, look at this one! See the blast and how crisp it still looks?” I could not argue with him and felt the Force was with me! Although it was not a patent-era Dunhill the pipe (birth-year 1976) was stunning and the price was ok. My godfather had given me some money for my birthday so I was able to buy it. Sadly I did not have enough cash to also buy the Dunhill prince, other things also had to be purchased.

Robbie-San looking at some pipes in the busy tent

Robbie-San looking at some pipes in the busy tent

Before going back inside we went to the farthest tent where Hans Wiedemann should be. Should, yes, he was just taking a smoke outside the narrowness of the tent. We politely waited until he got back and in the meanwhile admired his tobacco-range on the table. He had three new blends: Red Sparkle, White Dog and an unique blend, Fayyum Kake. The first cake to come from German soil as far as I know. Hans has invested in a tobacco press at his home and this is the first creation to come from it. He had a bar of the blend laying on the table so I decided to slice off a piece and put it in my new Meindert prince. I looked around and decided to walk around the tent. I noticed it was BUSY, people stood shoulder to shoulder but no pushing or things like that. Everybody was really polite. I admired several pipes and snapped pictures of them and their makers. Germany is a big country but it still surprises me how many pipe-makers it has. And also female pipe-makers! Behind one of the tables sat a shy looking short haired woman: Maike from Maike pipes. When I asked if I could pick up and admire a couple of her pipes she even shrank back more behind her table. No need because what she makes is beautiful. To my delight, when I came back later, I saw that she had sold some of her pipes.

Peace man! Thank you brother! (Robbie-San and Hans)

Peace man! Thank you brother! (Robbie-San and Hans)

When Hans came back we were finally able to shake hands. It was a real pleasure to talk to him in person after all our mutual correspondence. Unfortunately it was busy so we we had to keep the conversation short. I also wanted to buy a couple of tobaccos including his excellent Sunset flake. When I pulled my wallet he asked a lower price for the tins, “because it is you”. Well, thanks Hans! “Come back later when it is more quiet, we talk more then” he said. Check! So Robbie-San, Smoking-Rob and myself walked back towards the villa. Just behind the villa was a tent which included a beer-stand from a local brewery. We were all feeling like having a nice cold German beer so we asked the voluptuous woman behind the bar what our choices were. Dark beer and bright beer was the answer. The two Robs took the bright beer and I the dark one ( I love dark beer). De-licious! We had to laugh with the friendly lady because for some reason she thought we were from England and spoke German so well. Robbie-San played his English gentleman role perfectly.

The metal-rod system of Gigliucci

The metal-rod system of Gigliucci

After the beer we went inside the villa and almost immediately bumped into fellow forum-member Robert Jan who was anxious to see the displayed wares. Loads of pipe-makers were lined up beside each other and we shuffled from table to table admiring the handicrafts. We stopped at the table of a man who made the shanks of a lot of his pipes very thin. That is not possible I thought, the shank would be very delicate and prone to breakage. It turned out that the carver, Andrea Gigliucci from Italy, made a system with an metal rod inside the shank to give it strength. I saw a pot-shaped pipe of him which with a little tweaking would make a formidable prince. In English with a thick Italian accent he told me that he had never tried to make a prince-shaped pipe. I hope I can give him the order someday!

Holger Gunia pipe

Holger Gunia pipe

We also passed the table of a pipe-maker who seemed to have specialized himself in the making of short stubby pipes: Holger Gunia. I immediately had to think of another fellow forum member, Huub, who has a vast collection of this type of pipe. I myself am not a fan of these shapes but I surely could appreciate the handicraft and especially the rustication of some pipes which almost seemed to sparkle, very strange but very nicely done. Inside the villa there also was a kitchen which served food and beverages for little money. We all were a bit hungry so decided to go for some typical German food, Bockwurst, which tasted delicious. A must-try when you visit Germany.

The bracelet Robbie-San bought

The bracelet Robbie-San bought

Outside in one of tents there was a table on which all kinds of leather goods were for sale. All 100% handmade in Germany and unique. Robbie-San saw a stunning bracelet which he had to have. Very un-Dutchlike he did not haggle when he heard the price. “I know all the handicraft in the bracelet is worth the money” he said. I wanted to buy something for my girlfriend Ellen so I opted for a dark blue bracelet. You know, I believe that a man has to keep his woman content. If I come home with an expensive (in her eyes) pipe her mood will be much better when she is given a nice present.

The German gentlemen

The German gentlemen

Robbie-San and I wanted to drink something hot (all the rain did not exactly make us feel any warmer) so I got a coffee and he a cup of tea. We sat down at a large table where some Germans already had taken place. I looked at the pipes of one the men, nothing special, but then saw a tobacco I did not know yet, Exclusiv Royal. I asked if I may have a look and the tin was given to me. I looked at it and smelled it, yummie! A granulated cut, interesting. Robbie-San was given permission to fill a pipe with the blend so I pulled out a tin of McClelland Pebblecut and asked if the German gentlemen knew it. They had never seen an American tobacco before and happily filled up a sample bag with it. I wonder what they thought of it when they eventually smoked it.

Fltr: Smoking-Rob, myself, Hans and Robbie-San

Fltr: Smoking-Rob, myself, Hans and Robbie-San

After the hot beverages we went back to Hans because Robbie-San had to get some tobacco samples for another forum member. Smoking-Rob was sitting outside the tent and talking to Rainer, the “little finger” (helper) of Hans. Inside Robbie-San could fill up his sample-bags the blends of Hans while I further talked to the master-blender. I asked him if he had any new projects and he told me he was, amongst other things, working on an oriental-heavy mixture. Interesting! I hope I get a sample of it before it comes out. He also complimented me with this blog and was a bit shocked at how much viewers I had so far, about 90.000. Hell, I am also shocked at how many people read my humble writings. Hans then got momentarily busy with a client who ended up with a gigantic bag full of tobacco tins. He told me that he only buys tobacco once a year, at the Lohmar pipe-show and all blends of HU Tobacco. Impressive! To my utter delight I also saw a tin of Brullende Leeuw in his bag. The forum tobaccos were selling well, Hans told me. When Smoking-Rob once again joined us we did make a group picture with Hans. Smile! And after that it was time to go home. We comprehensively thanked Hans for the time he took for us and walked to the car.

At the restaurant in Kleve

At the restaurant in Kleve

On the way home we decided that we would have dinner in Kleve, near the Dutch border. Unfortunately before we got there Robbie-San was flashed by a speed-trap camera, I hope for him that the fine is not too high.. When we arrived in Kleve it was raining cats and dogs. We got out of the car, went looking for a place to eat, could not find one, got soaking wet and went back inside the vehicle. We drove to another part of the centre and passed a decent looking restaurant. There we all opted for another typical German (ok, typical Austrian..) dish, a Wiener Schnitzel. When, after a looong wait, the waiter finally brought the plates my Schnitzel was clearly smaller than the others to the amusement of the Robs. What, did I get less because of my fat looking head?? Hmzzzgrumble.. After dinner we drove back through the beautiful region of Nijmegen where I was born and said goodbye to Smoking-Rob. Robbie-San then dropped me at my sleeping address  in Brabant, we shook hands and we thanked each other for the wonderful day. Once home I kissed Ellen, said I got her a beautiful, handmade and expensive present and gave the bracelet before pulling out the Dunhill. She shook her head while smiling at me.

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The quest for forum tobaccos – Part 2.

Hans Wiedemann

Hans Wiedemann

Fasten your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen. At the time I wrote part 1 I never, ever expected that there would be a part 2 of my quest for forum tobaccos. I just experienced too many disappointments and thought that it would all end in nothing. But…. As you can read in the last response at the bottom of the page Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco once again took pity on me and helped me out. Once again it often was not smooth sailing, but we persevered and in the end overcame all obstacles.

PRF 5 jaarSo, to refresh our memories, why the forum tobaccos? Well, this year the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum exists 5 years. Because of that last year the idea arose for some special forum tobaccos to celebrate the jubilee. 3 tobaccos to be precise, a latakia mixture, an aromatic and a Virginia flake. Of course I had to open my big mouth and I became responsible for the creation of those tobaccos and the artwork. Why? Because it is a dream of me to see a blend which is created by myself is made available for others. And that is more difficult than I thought..

wowA lot of things were possible with Hans BUT only if we were buying 50 tins of 100 gr. per sort. So that is 150 tins in total! 15 kilo! I thought that the forum-members would never buy such an amount. Deeply disheartened I explained the story on the forum and asked how many tins the members were willing to buy. This because I had to have to money upfront. No Rudi this time to buy all the tobaccos and later see how he would sell them. To my utter and absolute amazement within only a couple of hours the amount of 50 tins per sort was reached! The next days the quantity kept growing. And that without knowing an exact price or having the actual blends! In the end 73 tins of the aromatic were ordered, 109 tins of the latakia and a whopping 116 tins of the flake. A total of 298! 29,8 kilo of tobacco! Wow!  Unnecessary to say that Hans and I could continue. The role of Hans would be that of advisor and mediator between myself and the tobacco factory he sometimes worked with. I was responsible for pretty much everything else. The creation of the blends, the artwork, collecting the money from the forum members and the distribution of the tins.

800px-DunhillLightFlakeRound 1. My first idea for the flake was that of a light Virginia flake in the vein of Orlik Golden Sliced, Dunhill Flake and Capstan. So I asked for a light natural Virginia flake with only a slight topping of tonka-bean and even less orange. Unfortunately the tobacco factory thought this was to be the aromatic so they applied way to much of the topping. Hans first got the sample and well, he did not like it to say the least.. Also the tobacco factory were not happy with having to add an aroma to a flake. It would not work they said. On top of that the first samples Hans send to me to my home address did not reach me and got lost in the mail..

1Round 2. From this time on Hans decided to send packages to my working address. That way we both know they would arrive. In the package I got were 3 flakes, 3 aromatic samples and 3 latakia samples. Let’s start with the flakes. Because the application of an aroma on a flake was not a good idea I had to choose between several already existing flakes. The first one I smoked was bland and uninteresting. The next couple of flakes were pretty decent but had the same problem: they were available here in The Netherlands.. So I had to step off the idea of a light, pure Virginia flake. I told Hans to search for a flake, as long as it did not have latakia, that was not available here or too well known in these parts.

Vanilla-LatteFor the aromatic I had already mailed several ideas to Hans which were translated into 3 samples: 1. Black cavendish, burley and bright Virginias with an aroma of coconut and vanilla. 2. Black cavendish, burley and several Virginias with an aroma of passion fruit and ahorn. 3.  A lot of Black cavendish, bright Virginias and a bit of burley with an aroma of coffee and vanilla. I smoked all the samples and could not find a clear winner. So I send some samples away and let a couple of folks smoke them. All had the same favourite, the one with coffee and vanilla. But for me it lacked a certain punch, it needed some more aroma.

LatakiaI mailed Hans some ideas for the latakia mixture and he mixed two samples himself of which he thought I would be satisfied with. The third sample was mixed by the tobacco factory after an idea of Hans. Before the samples were send through to me Hans already smoked the factory sample and he was raving about it which made me feel very positive.. ..Until I smoked the actual sample. It tasted bitter and I did not like it one bit. Having learned my lesson with the aromatics I send away some samples hoping for some sound opinions. After all, my taste is not the taste of everyone. When I received the feedback it became clear that the blend indeed was too bitter. To make things worse I also was not impressed with the samples Hans made himself. Solid and well crafted blends, don’t get me wrong, but nothing special. And I wanted something special. So at the end of round 2 Hans and me were not happy men. We still did not have a flake, the aromatic was not good yet and the latakia mixture also was not up to par. In the end we tried to be as positive as possible.

2Round 3.  I received 2 flake samples which were not available in The Netherlands. Hans already had smoked both and very much liked one of them. I also tried this one and indeed, it was absolutely superb! The other one was pretty good but that was it. To be 100% sure I once again let people smoke from the samples and luckily everyone opted for the one Hans and I were enthusiastic about. With the flakes we had a very clear winner, yeah!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the aromatic the tobacco factory had a slight problem. They could not boost the aromas they had used any further, they were at their maximum. Whaaaat?? Luckily they opted for some other but similar tasting aromas. Those were of higher quality but also more expensive. Well, so be it. I had already decided to not cut down on the quality of anything regarding the tobaccos. When I received the sample I could not have been happier. Exactly what I wanted, here we also had a winner, I liked it very much!

Plan BWhat I did not like was the new latakia mixture sample. For me it looked, smelled and tasted not special enough. Luckily I had a plan B. I once smoked one of the house-blends of a German tobacconist and I absolutely loved it. One of the best latakia mixtures I ever smoked. Period. So I asked Hans if he wanted to inform if we could use it as a forum tobacco. And we could! BUT I had a big dilemma now. I already told the forum that the flake was an existing one but that the aromatic and latakia mixture would be unique blends. Now the latakia mixture was available somewhere in Germany.. I needed some advice about what to do and found it by some friends from the forum. They said I should be open about it and let the forum decide if the project should stop or go ahead. So I opened up to the forum members and clearly explained the situation. Thankfully the vast majority (you can never please everyone) was very understanding and said I should go on.

moneyYesss!!! I had 3 winners! Now the financial part. I am very straightforward and told Hans immediately very clear what kind of price I wanted for the tins and why. Well, I offended him bigtime by doing it this way.. It took me a lot of e-mails to smooth things out between us. A lesson well learned. Needless to say we got the tins for a very good price thanks to Hans. I could have made a bit of profit on the tobaccos but I decided to keep them as cheap as possible.

7I got busy creating the artwork, collected the money from the orders of the forum members and relaxed a bit. I send the finished artwork to Hans who would send it through to the tobacco factory. He also arranged some blank sample tins for the Heukelum meeting. I printed the labels at my work and put them around the tins. Absolutely stunning! Just before the meeting I got the sample artwork which was printed by the tobacco factory themselves. Compared to my own prints it was a bit grainy and dark. Still ok but I am a perfectionist, it was not up to my standards. The thing was, I forgot to ask Hans how we should do things with the labels and Hans forgot to inform me that we were better off printing the labels at a professional printing-company. Another lesson well learned. Now I luckily can perfectly live with the printed labels.

So, FINALLY here are the 3 Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum tobaccos:

P10607532

Genietmoment

GENIETMOMENT
Contents: Black Cavendish, Golden Virginia, Burley
Flavouring: Coffee, Vanilla
Packaging: 100g tin
Tin description: Create an enjoyable moment for yourself with this high quality mixture, consisting of Black Cavendish, Golden Virginia and a bit of Burley topped with an aroma of coffee and vanilla.
GenietmomentBackground information: One of my ideas for the aromatic forum tobacco was to do something with coffee. I come from the Dutch province of Noord-Brabant where taking the time for a nice cup of coffee is common. But a coffee flavour is very difficult to incorporate in a tobacco because it has a tendency to dominate. Despite Hans and myself were successful in creating a delicious mixture by the addition of some vanilla. The main ingredient is Black Cavendish (also typical Dutch) with some Golden Virginia added and a bit of Burley. The inspiration for the artwork I got from coffee and beautiful women. Both enjoyable for most men. I also found it nice to put a woman on the cover because of our female forum-member, Monique (Milleluci).

Janneman Flake

Janneman Flake

JANNEMAN FLAKE
Contents: Brown and Red Virginias, Perique
Flavouring: None
Packaging: 100g tin
Tin description: Pressed brown and red fire-cured Virginias, full and soft of taste, are cut into long flakes and together with a pinch of perique, to round off the whole, they provide a fitting tribute to the “pater noster” of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum: Janneman.
Janneman_FlakeBackground information: On the PRF Rotterdam-meeting last year we talked about forum-member Janneman, that he meant a lot to many starting pipe smokers. Many folks of the forum got there because of the movies or Pijpenboek from Janneman. Would it not be nice to honour him with something? We asked ourselves. At that moment the whole forum tobacco story had just begun so I said “Isn’t it  a nice idea to honour Janneman with a forum tobbacco?” Everyone agreed and I kept the idea throughout the whole journey. So Janneman, thank you for inspiring many of us! The flake itself is very natural, full and interesting of taste and contains Red Virginias, firecured Brown Virginias and a bit of Perique. The artwork stands for another hobby of Janneman: flying of kites.

Brullende Leeuw

Brullende Leeuw

BRULLENDE LEEUW
Contents: Light and Red Virginias, Latakia, Oriental, Black Cavendish, Perique
Flavouring: None
Packaging: 100g tin
Tin description: The exquisite balance of this exotic mixture stands for the unity between the Dutch and Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum members. That together many pipes may be smoked!
PRF_Tabakken_K&K.inddBackground information: Like I already told,when it became clear that the latakia mixture was not according to my standards I decided to fall back on Plan B, using an already existing supreme quality tobacco. I immediately knew which one I wanted, I did not know if I was able to actually get it. And luckily I could get it. The blend is beautifully balanced with light and Red Virginias, Latakia, Oriental tobaccos, some Black Cavendish and a pinch of Perique. For the artwork I was inspired by the unity of the Belgian and Dutch forum members. The lion stands for a nice shared symbolism, thus the name “Brullende Leeuw” (Roaring Lion).

The forum tobaccos are available for everyone at the webshop of HU Tobacco.
For your information, HU Tobacco also ships to the US and other countries. For questions please e-mail Hans Wiedemann, he speaks English (and German of course): hu-tobacco@t-online.de

Kind words of Hans to the forum who sums it all up pretty well

Kind words of Hans to the forum who sums it all up pretty well

Last but not least I want to thank:
– Hans for the wonderful cooperation, without you this all would not have been possible!
– The members of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum for being a great bunch (thanks for the whisky!) and having faith in me.
– The tobacco testing members of the forum who’s opinions and advice about the tobaccos and other things have been very valuable to me.
– The forum tobacco distributors in The Netherlands and Belgium, you made my work a lot easier.
– My dear friend Ed.
– My girlfriend Ellen for her everlasting support <3.

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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