Inter-Tabac 2013 impression

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

Westfalenhallen

Westfalenhallen

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

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

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

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

A perfectly timed picture of me before the Dunhill wall

A perfectly timed picture of me before the Dunhill wall

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

The Kohhase & Kopp 2014 Limited Edition: Rio

The Kohhase & Kopp 2014 Limited Edition: Rio

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

Rudi doing business at the Designer Berlin stand

Rudi doing business at the Planta/Designer Berlin stand

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

FLTR: Martin, myself, Ian Walker and Paul

FLTR: Martin, myself, Ian Walker and Paul

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

Four Seasons: a new range of tobaccos from Samuel Gawith

Four Seasons: a new range of tobaccos from Samuel Gawith

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

Waterpipes

Waterpipes anyone?

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

IMG_0882

Girl, girls, girls

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

Part of DTM stand

Part of DTM stand

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

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

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

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

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The quest for forum tobaccos – Part 1.

The Dutch/Belgium Pipe Smokers Forum logo

The Dutch/Belgium Pipe Smokers Forum logo

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

Rudi and me talking

Rudi and me talking

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

DTM-Startbild

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed, Andreas and myself

Ed, Andreas and myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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