Luxury tobacco from Lauenburg

Lauenburg

This year the destination for the summer holiday of Ellen and myself was Germany. Instead of staying in one location we opted to make a week-long trip from the North of Germany, Lübeck, to the Middle-East part; the Ahrtal. In between those two locations we resided in hotels and B&B’s. Of course I planned to visit several tobacco-shops and even a tobacco-factory: DTM in Lauenburg, situated on the northern bank of the river Elbe, east of Hamburg. Lauenburg is just a lovely old town with a picturesque historic centre alongside the Elbe. Small, enchanting streets up the hill lead to what is left of the once mighty Lauenburg castle. Also the view from there is stunning, you cannot only see the beautiful river Elbe and the old town, but also the flat marshland of Lower-Saxony. Lauenburg has one café/restaurant where you can smoke inside: the Alten Schifferhaus, where I left Ellen so I could visit DTM without her beautiful but prying eyes.

2015 Dan Pipe catalogue cover

2015 Dan Pipe catalogue cover

First of all, there are 2 separate business entities: Dan Pipe and Dan Tobacco Manufacturing (DTM). Dan Pipe is a retail and catalogue company. Dan Tobacco is a tobacco production facility. The history of Dan Pipe began in 1972 when, after a holiday in Denmark, teacher and enthusiastic pipe smoker Heiko Behrens decided to sell the creations of then unknown Danish pipe makers. In a small catalogue handmade pipes by Former, Emil Chonowitsch and Poul Hansen were presented together with factory pipes from Tabago, Torben Dansk, Danmore and other Danish producers. Soon also pipe tobacco was added to the catalogue, including Dan Pipe‘s first own-brand Torben DanskThe quality of the pipes and tobaccos from the Dan Pipe catalogue provided good word-of-mouth advertising amongst the German pipe-smokers so gradually the customer base grew.

Holger Frickert

Holger Frickert © Pipes & Tobacco Magazine

By 1976 the business was growing so rapidly that a new location was necessary. Behrens contracted craftsman (and aspiring young dentist) Holger Frickert to construct and design a showroom. Frickert was leading a class in art and design and that class rebuilt the shop in the form of a boat. It was an extraordinary design, with sails atop the room. Sadly I could not find any pictures of it.. Frickert’s passion for handicrafts, smoking and pipes led him to abandon dentistry and join Behrens’ business in 1978. He began repairing pipes as well as designing his own plus he became responsible for the catalogue presentation. The company was renamed for legal reasons in Danske Pibe“.

© Pipes & Tobacco Magazine

© Pipes & Tobacco Magazine

In 1985 Danske Pibe had grew so large that a much more spacious home had to be found. The Grashof”, a large farmhouse with thatched roof from the 18th century offered ideal conditions. There was space in abundance and on top of that the in 1987 lovingly restored old house, which also housed the store, had a special rustic charm. Over the years it became a magnetic pole in the northfor tobacco and pipe enthusiasts from all parts of Germany and the surrounding countries. Since the beginning of the 1980’s one of the specialities of the company were the house-brand tobaccos, which soon covered a wide range of flavours. But quality and delivery problems became a threat so decisive action was necessary. A new supplier who was able to cover the entire range of house-brand tobaccos was not in sight. Because of that the decision was made by Danske Pibe to establish their own tobacco factory. In 1991 a suitable building was found in Lauenburg and that was the beginning of subsidiary Dan Tobacco Manufacturing. Simultaneously the parent company returned to its old name Dan Pipe.

dan tobacco buildingThe DTM building is kind of special. It is an old former grain malting house, built of red brick into the steep slope of the Elbe river banks more than 100 years ago with a construction solid like an ancient castle. Enclosed by anywhere from several feet to several hundred feet of rock, the temperature and humidity in it varies no more than 2,5%. The ideal place for storing and producing pipe tobacco. The inevitable start-up problems were soon overcome and thanks to the creativity and experience of the employees of both companies they succeeded in a remarkably short time to generate a sizeable range of tobacco products. Those tobaccos were of such excellent quality that they gained a high international reputation. Thus exports to, for example, USA, Italy, Russia and Japan followed.

Pfeifen Timm

Pfeifen Timm

In 1994 Dan Pipe acquired 4 stores of the Pfeifen Timm chain in Hamburg’s city centre, a pipe-specialist well-known throughout Germany. Thus, the tobacco assortment now included many Timm house-brands. Even a fresh wind went through the cigar assortment and it was greatly increased. Sadly in November 2001 a fire laid the Grashof in ruins. Luckily in Lauenburg at DTM enough space was available, so it became the new home of Dan Pipe. The years during and after the financial crisis were difficult. The shops in Hamburg suffered losses and had to be closed. Dr. Heiko Behrens realised he needed help and so Maria Sousa became the other director. New sources of income had to be found in which the company succeed. Nowadays besides pipe-tobacco, high class water-pipe tobacco is made in Lauenburg.

Part of the Dan Pipe shop interior

Part of the Dan Pipe shop interior

I visited Dan Pipe / DTM several times now. But the first time (like so many things) was special. In 2012 I was busy with the quest for forum tobaccos. It was arranged that good friend and chauffeur Ed and myself would stay there for two days and visit the DTM factory. When we arrived we immediately noticed the sweet smell coming from the building. Someone was making a batch of aromatic tobacco for sure! Inside the Dan Pipe store shop assistant Ralph Kaschwich looked at us a bit questioning. “You come here for two days? Netherlands? Forum tobaccos? Let me make a phone call..” After a brief conversation things were cleared out and we were asked to wait for Andreas Mund, the master blender. That waiting certainly was not a punishment! The store has a beautiful interior from 1920 which is made from solid mahogany and comes from an old Hamburg pharmacy. It has many drawers and shelves where besides pipes about 140 DTM tobaccos are displayed in sample-jars. There also is a table with a bench where you can quietly sit, have a drink, take a piece of cake and (of course) smoke.

Andreas and me in the DTM warehouse

Andreas and me in the DTM warehouse

Soon Andreas greeted us. An ordinary looking man on first sight, you could take him for a construction worker if you saw him. Later it turned out that he actually had been a construction worker before he became involved in DTM. In 5 years he learned the tricks of the trade from former master blender Jürgen Westphal, who created almost all original DTM tobaccos and was going into retirement. The tour around the factory started at the top floor where the raw tobaccos are stored in lots of crates, boxes, bales and barrels. I do not know how many tons exactly but with a turnover of approximately 60.000 kg. per year you can imagine the scale of the place. DTM has to buy their leaf tobacco on the same terms as the big companies; by the container. So lots of tobacco have to be stored for quite a while before they are completely processed. Not bad, on the contrary,  it can slowly mature and improve its rich aromatic characteristics day by day. The tobaccos come from all over the world. Virginia from Brazil, India, the Philippines and Zambia, oriental tobaccos from Lebanon and Bulgaria, burley from Mozambique and Malawi, latakia from Cyprus, Kentucky from India and perique from the USA.

Andreas and a barrel of perique

Andreas and a barrel of perique

What surprised us was the transparency and openness business-wise in general. “I have so many tons of this and buy it for about that price so and so, etc.” The bottom line is that Andreas is also responsible for the purchase of raw tobaccos. For some of those he must wait nine months after ordering until they are finally delivered (eg. latakia), so he must carefully calculate whether his current stock is sufficient. It was remarkable that the dry, raw unprocessed tobacco indeed had no remarkable smell (long live casings). Well, except latakia and of course perique. Talking about that last one, DTM has a couple of barrels of the stuff, standing in a dark corner. Apparently perique and light are not a good combination. The smell of it is just… Whoaaa….Malevolent..

DTM_09In the next hall upstairs were the ready tobaccos waiting in large boxes to be further processed. Also here nothing was too crazy. Much was made open, it was grabbed, sniffed at. Delicious! I wished I had a couple bags of this tobacco I thought several times. I noticed that most employees smoked shag or cigarettes and no pipe. “Yes, we smoke pure Virginias here and no garbage made by Lucky Strike for example with 70% tobacco and 30% wood chips.” Andreas said. Incidentally he smokes a pipe but with the daily work cigarettes are just easier. Plus he uses cigarettes to try out new raw tobaccos. A trick he learned from Jürgen Westphal. If it does not taste in a cigarette, it certainly does not taste in a pipe.

Andreas and me before the flavour extracts

Andreas and me before the flavour extracts

On the lower floor in the building stood the old machinery which until recently was used for the production of tobaccos. Plus there were lots of shelves stacked with all kinds of aromatic extracts. “We are lucky.” Andreas said “The centre for flavour extracts is Hamburg, which is close to Lauenburg. There are many companies which make this stuff so it is very easy for us it acquire.” It was a very strange experience to smell some extracts. Sometimes it smelled so strong, so concentrated, that you could not figure out what exactly was inside a bottle. Also some flavours had several subcategories, for example Butter Vanilla, Crème Vanilla etc.

DTM_16When we walked around the corner to the next room we saw the mighty flake presses made by famous company Robert Legg from London. Stately red-black devices that looked like they were forged from ancient iron. 2 presses could be heated in order to make Virginia cavendish. However, this was not done because apparently it is cheaper to buy ready-made cavendish. The slabs of flake coming out of the machine are 9 kg. Nice to see that some of those slabs were for Hans Wiedemann’s HU Tobacco, who lets several of his offerings make by DTM. On another wall were so called postpresses. They are needed because the tobacco that comes from the big press has a tendency to expand again. The reason for this is that DTM wants to use Arabic gum (adhesive for the flakes) as little as possible.

Metal tobacco cylinder

Metal tobacco cylinder

Then we came in the big factory hall, the place of the large, new machine. An impressive sight, especially the big metal cylinder in which the raw tobacco is moistened and cased. Almost everything coming from the DTM factory is cased with honey. Large buckets of the naturally sweet stuff stood beside the machine on the sticky floor. The hall looked slightly blue of the vapours and smoke from the whole process. I will not describe in detail what happens because Ed made a short film about it.

Measuring the cut tobacco

Measuring the cut tobacco

But, in short: The tobacco is moistened/cased, then it gets compressed, cut, the moisture level gets corrected and eventually it all ends up in large boxes. However, the machine which had to cut the tobacco (made by German machine factory Winicker & Lieber who also make the machines for Mac Baren and Pöschl) did not (yet) function optimal. Therefore a little bit of the batch was cut and measured by hand so the machine could be recalibrated. This continued until the cut was right.

Packing department

Packing department

On to the all female packing department. I expected the work was done by machines but nothing could be further from the truth. Everything was done by hand! The tobacco weighing, putting it in tins/pouches, closing the tins/pouches, putting stickers on it.. I have so much respect for the women who do this work. When we were there they were mainly busy with pouches for Switzerland, a very large market for DTM. I had to laugh when Andreas remarked that those pouches contained a blend with 50% oriental tobaccos.Not good, not good..” He said, and pulled a dirty face. “Up to 30% in a blend, nothing more. But the customer is king.” Also the ladies were packing an aromatic blend of DTM. You could tell right away because the whole room smelled like candies were packed in stead of tobacco. The tour continued in the repair workshop. Pipes are being fixed here by boys who are still quite young. Some pipes shown to me belonged to a man who monthly needed new mouthpieces because he chewed them up.Pipes are to smoke, not to eat”, Andreas sighed with a smile. From the repair workshop we went to the tobacco warehouse of Dan Pipe. The place where everything in the catalogue (and more) is stored. Impressive to see all those tobaccos and pipe smoking paraphernalia.

Michael Apitz

Michael Apitz

Through the tobacco warehouse we came back in the store where Michael Apitz had joined Herr Kaschwich. He is responsible for creating many of the aromatic tobaccos of DTM. And is a walking encyclopaedia of everything that has to do with pipes and tobacco. Plus he is not afraid to share his knowledge and give his opinion, an intense man. I knew little of aromatic tobaccos so it was about time to speak to him. “Herr Apitz, may I ask something…” “No! First I have a question for you! How many tobaccos can one taste and judge on one day?” “Ehrrr, um… Three?” “No! Only one.” And a whole explanation followed. He showed and let us smell a lot of tobaccos together with an explanation of them. Very informative. With one of the first tobaccos which he took from the shelf he asked us what we smelled. As in, you never going to guess it. I smelled it.. And again.. Ehrr, aniseed? He looked at me with big eyes. Correct! *Phewww* Every time we were in the shop and there were no other customers he came up with another topic to talk about. Once again, very informative.

IMG_3357The last time I was there we spoke with each other non-stop for about 1.5 hour until I really had to get back to Ellen, who I left at the Alten Schifferhaus. Just before I went Herr Apitz asked me what I liked to smoke the most. “Well, a good Balkan I guess.” I answered. He then rushed to the tobacco warehouse and came back with a pouch of Bill Bailey’s Balkan Blend. “Here, this is for you, enjoy it!” Which for me characterizes Dan Pipe / DTM. Warm and passionate people with the typical “no-nonsense working hard and effective” German mentality.

Here are some DTM-made tobacco recommendations:
BiBo (Buddies): An ultimate aromatic statement created by Michael Apitz. The absolute pinnacle of sweetness. Forget the sweet American, Danish and Dutch blends, this one tops them all. It tastes and smells like Jaffa cakes, but then into the extreme. I once smoked this one in the evening in my living-room and asked Ellen what she thought. “Well, not bad” was the answer. Until she came downstairs the next morning.. “Whaaaat!? What is this odour? It smells like a friggin’ candy shop in here!” It took a week before we could not smell BiBo any more.. “I rather have you smoking latakia!” Ellen sneered in my direction.
Bill Bailey’s Balkan: A bit strange, Kentucky in a Balkan, but it works out well and results in a cool and satisfying smoke.
Midnight Ride: A rich, full flavoured classic English blend. If you want to know how Perique can work its magic in a latakia-mixture, try this one.
Old Ironsides: A latakia lovers dream. Dark and strong but also cool and creamy this flake makes you come back for more.
Skipper’s Flake: A no-nonsense straight Virginia flake. Pure unadulterated bright leaf heaven. ‘Nuff said.
Smooth latakia: One of the newer offerings, created by the wife of Andreas who also works at DTM. Black cavendish combined with latakia make this (like the name says) a smooth smoke. It reminds me a bit of McClelland’s Frog Morton.
Sweet Vanilla Honeydew: One of the few aromatic tobaccos I really like. Tastes like creamy vanilla and smells like those divine butter biscuits grandma used to bake. A real crowd pleaser.

Thanks go out to Paul and Ed for a lot of the pictures you see.

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Curing is the cure

curingRecently I realized with a shock that I had never written a proper blogpost about an essential tobacco process: curing. Ok, here and there in older blogposts I told stuff but nothing combined. So I put all the bits and pieces together with some additional info. The primary purpose of curing leaf tobacco is to accelerate the ageing and drying processes under controlled conditions to make it ready for consumption. Trust me, you do not want to smoke fresh tobacco.. Curing allows for the slow oxidation and degradation of carotenoids in the tobacco leaf. This produces various compounds that give cured tobacco the “smoothness” of the consumed end-product. The primary methods of curing include: air curing, flue curing, fire curing (or smoke curing) and sun curing (considered by some people to be the same as air curing).

Air-curing the Burley tobaccoAir curing: here the leaves are allowed to dry by exposure to air in well ventilated barns. Fans can also be used in this process to make the air movement stronger to accelerate the loss of moisture. This air curing process normally takes from 4 to 6 weeks. It is completed when the central vein of the leaf is completely free of sap. This type of curing is used primarily for burley. Light air cured burley and dark air cured burley to be precise. The top grades of light air cured burley, which are yellow, are referred to as “White Burley”. These larger, thinner middle leaves are those most desired for the manufacture of fine pipe tobacco and premium quality cigarettes. White burley has a fine texture, excellent burning qualities and the ability to absorb large amounts of casings and flavourings. The top and bottom leaves are used in the manufacture of snuff, plugs, twist and inexpensive brands of pipe smoking tobacco. The taste is nutty, sometimes with a bit of a cocoa note.

dark air cured burleyDark Air cured burley is mostly used for chewing tobacco, plugs, snuff and inexpensive brands of pipe tobacco. The lower grades (or heavier leaves) are used in some tobacco mixtures to give the tobacco blend more “body”. The taste is earthy, spicy and cigar-like and the colour of the leaves ranges from light to dark brown. Most cigar leaf is also air cured but will undergo an extra step: “bulking”. Essentially this means that big bundles are made of the leaves so that they can be laid to rest in order to start the fermentation process. The pepperiness of  burley and many of the Central American-grown Cuban-seed cigar strains comes from the nicotine that naturally is in the leaf.

fire-cured-tobacco-barnFire curing (or smoke curing): here the leaves are essentially BBQed. In the case of dark fired Kentucky burley they are exposed to open fires (smouldering, not blazing, otherwise the tobacco will prematurely burn up) of hardwood and hardwood sawdust that are maintained on the barn-floor and give off smoke. In some cases, the amount of smoke is fairly moderate.  In addition to drying the tobacco the fire curing process imparts an unusual, modest smoky and wood-like taste and aroma to the tobacco. Latakia is also a fire cured tobacco but has a far more pronounced smoke flavour and aroma. This is due to the intensity of the fumes and aromatic quality of the used woods. Syrian latakia is derived from a tobacco leaf known as “shekk-el-bint.” When it is harvest time the plant is cut and the leaves and flowers are laid on the ground to dry in the sun (essentially sun curing). When they have dried they are taken to storehouses, where they are smoked for a period of 13 to 15 weeks. The smoke is primarily made by using nearby hardwoods and pines, probably from the Baer forest, such as Aleppo pine, Turkey oak and Valonia oak. Also lesser amounts of other aromatic species like Lebanon cedar and Greek Juniper were used.

fire_curedCyprian latakia comes from a Smyrna or Izmir-type tobacco plant that is known as “Yellow Cyprus.” The Yellow Cyprus leaves are harvested by de-stalking them and are made on long poles to be hung in a tobacco shed. The leaves are then smoked over open smouldering fires. These fires are made from hardwoods, some pine and aromatic shrubs and woods such as prickly cedar and myrtle. It has been reported that the Mastic shrub is primarily used in the smoke generation for Cyprian latakia. The following formula may approximate the shrubs and woods used for the fire/smoke-curing process: Mastic 90%, Myrtle 4%, Stone pine (this one or this one) 4%, Cypress 1%, Other 1%. The nicotine content does not seem to be severely affected by the process. Dark fired Kentucky burley with its significant nicotine level is not that much different from the dark air cured variety. The moderate nicotine level of latakia does not vary greatly from the oriental base leaf it is made of.

Flue curingFlue curing: here the leaves are cured by exposure to indirect heat. This is created by moving hot air, smoke or steam through a flue or pipe inside a building (often a barn) thus allowing the heat to strongly warm up the building. The higher heat causes a more rapid drying effect and is the traditional method for curing Virginia. The yellow colour you often see Virginia has comes from the heat exposure. Generally the process will take about a week. This way of flue curing was not discovered until 1839. In that year a slave, Stephen Slade (owned by farmer Abisha Slade from Caswell County NC), fell asleep one night while keeping an eye on the wood fires used for curing the barns of tobacco. Whether it was the stormy night, instinct or just what woke him, no one will ever know. But he awoke realizing that the fires in the tobacco curing barn had almost gone out. Rather than throw wet wood into the dying fire, he rushed to the charcoal pit near the forge. He grabbed several charred log parts and threw them on the embers. The application of the sudden, drying heat, derived from the charred logs, produced an amazing effect on the green tobacco. The result was 600 pounds of the brightest yellow tobacco ever seen.

flue cured tobaccoFlue cured tobacco generally has more sugar, less oil and a lower nicotine content. The presence of the sugar counters tongue bite but can cause heat issues while smoking. Naturally sugars tend to have a higher combustion temperature. Because of the ability of this curing method to maintain the sugars in a relatively stable percentage a form of flue curing is used in making candela cigar wrapper. The heat not only fixes the few sugars present but the chlorophyll as well thus allowing the wrappers to stay green.

Sun curingSun curing: this method is used in Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania and Mediterranean countries which produce oriental tobaccos. Leaves are strung out on racks and exposed to the sun for 12 to 30 days to remove most of their moisture before being air cured to complete the process. The sun’s direct heat fixes the leaves at a yellow to orange colour with a high sugar content. Then they are stored in bales and allowed to ferment.

Pressure-fermentation

Pressure-fermentation

Additional or supplementary curing can be done by the use of heat and/or pressure after the initial process. A good example of pressure is the technique of pressure-fermentation which is used in making perique. This process 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.

toasting semoisA good example of supplementary curing by the use of heat is the fascinating Belgian leaf, Semois. First it is air cured (after all Semois is a type of burley) and then it is sort of heat cured. This because the tobacco is toasted in what looks like a metal custom made wood-burning oven. Inside is a large drum which is heated by a fire below and can spin around. The tobacco is put inside and while tumbling it is getting toasted.

Th-th-th-that’s all folks!

The older the better

Ancient Capstan

± 90 year old Capstan Medium Navy Flake

I still can remember the first time I bought tinned pipe-tobacco about 3½ years ago. I checked the tin for the expiration date and could not find it to my surprise. My (twisted) mind went like: Tobacco is a leaf, leaves are like vegetables and they can’t be kept good for a long period (I still remember the withered cauliflower in my fridge started quoting Shakespeare..). So where was the damn date?? At that time I did not know that it is with most tobaccos like it is with most wines, the older the better. My eyes were opened by a story from GL Pease in which he tells that the owner of a store he used to work (Drucquer & Sons) used to age certain blends and sell them later at a higher price. At that time I also became active at some international fora and saw that especially in The States it is quit common to stock up on blends you like. Being a cheap Dutchman, this made me think. Every year the prices of tobacco go up here because of the bloody taxes. So to be able to smoke tobaccos at yesterdays prices and have the benefits from ageing… *big grin*

time_tobaccoBut first of all, very important, it is no guarantee that ageing a tobacco will make it better. A shitty blend will never become ambrosia for your taste buds. It is not a certainty that a tobacco which should age well will actually do so. Having said that, what actually happens when you age a blend? Time makes sure the various components of the mixture will marry, blend together into a more consistent whole. Also lot of tobacco species contain sugars which are needed for fermentation. That process transforms, changes the leaves used. It provides a less sharp, mellower but richer and more complex taste. So the more sugar in a tobacco leaf, the better it will ferment and the richer it will taste after ageing.

fermentationThere are 2 types of fermentation: aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic fermentation happens in the American-style pull-lid tins (which contain more free oxygen) and in mason jars with bulk blends. Anaerobic fermentation is what occurs in the European-type vacuum sealed tins. Because there is more air in the American style tins the ageing dynamics are different. It is not so much that they age faster than the European-style tins than that it is just a matter of.. Difference. Experienced cellarers: please let me know that precise difference! Thanks! And when an old tin is opened of course new changes will begin to take place just like a wine is “breathing”.

Let’s take a look at the different species of tobacco and how they react to ageing:

virginia_tobaccoVirginia: Ages the best of all the tobaccos because of their high sugar content. If you have a blend with a lot of Virginias in it you have a good chance it will become more yummie with time. Within half a year you should notices the first changes and within 1 to 5 years it should really begin to shine. After those first years the speed of change will become slower, more gradual, but the blend will continue to improve. How long? I guess it will take 30 to 40 years before the mixture will go over the top and a certain descent might begin. But even then the smoke can be absolutely sublime.

oriental_tobaccoOriental: A high sugar level (just below Virginias) is also present in oriental tobaccos. Because of this they also age very well with the same ageing-expectancy as Virginias.

latakia_tobaccoLatakia: Mixtures with latakia reach their summit in about 5 years and then begin to decline more rapidly. Latakia does not really age but gets softer, loses its edge with time. So if a blend depends on the smoky, leathery and spicy taste of latakia you should not stash away the tin for too long. But if there is good layering of other tobaccos underneath the dark leaf (hello Virginia and orientals) the blend still can deliver a fantastic smoke. Even though it will transform into something more harmonious, something less pungent. The old Balkan Sobranie Smoking Mixture is a good example of this. It still tastes wonderful despite some pipe-smokers prefer the newer version because of the fresher latakia.

burley_tobaccoBurley: This leaf is low in sugar so there is not much fermentation going on. Just as with latakia it will become more smooth and blend in with the other tobaccos like sweet Virginias who get better with time as I told above. The delicious Estoterica Stonehaven is a prime example of this and will age very, very well.

perique_tobaccoPerique: Because of the pressure-fermentation process with making the peppery leaf it will not change much over the years. But as with burley the combination with Virginia is a golden one. The thought alone of well-aged Escudo makes my mouth water.

cavendish_tobaccoCavendish: In a way the same goes for cavendish as for perique. Because of the double fermentation process it will not really age.

aromatic_tobaccoAromatic tobaccos: Sweetened aromatics do not seem to age well. These tobaccos often have quite a bit of Propylene Glycol in them which serves as a humectant and carrier of aromatic flavours. So over a long time frame, they are pretty stable. The biggest change is that the aromatic components and characteristics can degrade or change over time. So what you find in a tin 5 years from now may not be as pleasing as it is today.

Here are some tips and facts about ageing and cellaring your precious tobaccos:

Sierra Exif JPEG– Preferably tobacco should be left in the original sealed tin. So check it out before storing to make sure it is not damaged. Look for damage to the tin, bumps, pin holes etc. Just make sure the vacuum seal is good. Then you can store it in a cool, dark place without a lot of fluctuations in temperature. An ideal temperature would be in the range of 15-21°C. So DON’T put tobacco in the refrigerator or freezer! That may cause damage to the cell structure of the tobacco. Also pay attention to the humidity, even though the tobacco is in airtight tins. High levels of humidity can cause corrosion and/or rust to the tin-metals and could compromise the seal. You also do not want to store your tobacco where it is exposed to light for long periods of time. Besides the light itself it often means heat, which can cause all kinds of unwanted chemical processes in tobacco. So do not try to speed up the ageing process by heating up your tins or loose tobacco.

Exif JPEG– I would recommend mason jars for the storage of bulk, loose and opened tins of tobacco. I prefer glass because it is a non-porous material and can be disinfected very easily. Airtight plastic containers are also ok but I still prefer glass. I just don’t feel ok with plastic. It’s a personal thing. If I do use plastic I make damn sure that it is brand new and that the tobacco is the first thing to hit the virginal bottom ever. The good thing is, mason, ball and bail top jars are pretty inexpensive and can be bought almost anywhere. They also come in a variety of sizes. That way you can use a small one to put some tobacco in that you regularly smoke and a large one for tobacco that you really want to age. Preparing the jars for storing/jarring/canning/whatever is one of the most important steps in the process of storing. Make sure that you sterilize the jars before you use them. I wash the mason, ball and bail top jars (including the rubber rings) with boiling water. I never use soap or something like that because I am afraid there will be a residue somewhere and my tobacco starts to smell like Lakeland-style blends. Then I dry the jars and rings with clean paper towels and the tobacco can be put inside. It is advisable to label each jar with the contents and put a date on them before storage. Some people prefer to place the filled jars in boiling water to heat them up and then place the lids on to create a vacuum seal. I have never done that and I have had no problems at all. My older jars have created their own vacuum while in storage. Just one more thing, the rubber rings will start to smell like the tobacco inside. So if you want to refill the jar with an aromatic after having smoked a for example latakia-heavy blend out of it, just make sure you replace the rubber ring. Nothing can get the smell out of it..

©MarkC

©MarkC

– Vacuum sealing is great for many things but is pretty useless for tobacco. Tobacco needs some air to maintain the ageing process. A perfectly vacuum sealed bag or container will probably keep the contents fresh, but it may not really age the way you expect it to. So.. Having said that I realize that vacuum sealing is ideal for aromatics! One tip from a Dutch forum member: do not vacuum loose tobacco in a seal-bag. It will destroy and break up the tobacco strands.. Preferably put the tobacco in an unused tin, put that in the bag and vacuum the hell, ehmm, air out of it.

Wish I was able to buy more of these..

Wish I was able to buy more of these..

– When you find a blend you like it is always a good idea to buy 1 tin to smoke now and 1 (or more) to cellar. That way your collection will keep growing with tobaccos you like and you have the benefits of ageing. A win-win situation.

pipe_cigar– Do not store pipe tobacco and cigars together. Cigars are like little sponges and they will eventually absorb any moisture, aromas, and flavours that are nearby.  Having said that, do not store pipe tobacco in a (cigar) humidor. 1. The cedar in humidors absorbs moisture and it will suck all of the moisture from your tobacco like a vampire. 2. It will absorb the aroma of the tobacco blend. 3. The cedar could also add a cedar aroma and flavour to your tobacco.

Aged full Virginia flake © Hermit

Aged Full Virginia Flake © Hermit

– Sometimes you can find so called “sugar crystals” on aged tobacco. Mr. Pease has done some rudimentary playing with them, though no full-scale analysis, and found them not sweet, not very soluble, and not very likely to be sugar. Probably they are organic acids that have surfaced as a result of pH or other changes in the chemistry of the leaf as it ages. But good new, the presence of these crystals usually indicates something good has happened to the tobacco that hosts them! PipesMagazine.com member cgrd took some neat pictures of the crystals on a flake of Stonehaven from under a microscope which you can see here.

My Marcovitch with a lot of mould on top of it.. Argghh!!!!

My Marcovitch with a lot of mould on top of it.. Argghh!!!!

– Mould is the enemy of (aged) tobacco. How do you know it is there? Well, if there is a spider-web like, hairy substance on your tobacco. Bad news… Your nose will offer the second clue. Tobacco with mould stinks in a way that is difficult to describe but once you have smelled it, you’ll never forget it. Imagine the aroma of the sweaty feet of your girlfriend combined with the scent of over-ripe French cheese..

nicot– Nicotine has nowhere to go and it does not seem to break down through ageing. But ageing can change the pH of the smoke which will change how readily the nicotine is absorbed. The more alkaline the smoke, the more nicotine you will get into your bloodstream. My personal experience is that older tobaccos are stronger. Or they just made them stronger in the ol’ days. When men were more manly!

internet– There is a free site where you can fill in all the data about your tobacco collection. This way you can show off to your friends what you precisely have: http://www.tobaccocellar.com/

± 90 year old Capstan "fresh" in the tin!

± 90 year old Capstan “fresh” in the tin!

In my Pleasures of life in Belgium 2014 blog-post I told you about my ± 90-year old knife-cutter tin of Capstan Medium Navy Flake that was opened by Martin. For more pictures see below.  Astoundingly the condition of the tobacco inside the tin was perfect! Which is a testament to the quality of the old “knife lid” or “cutter top” tins. I had a few of those: a tin of Craven Mixture from the 1930’s, a St. Bruno Flake tin from the 1960’s and the Capstan Medium Navy Flake tin from the 1920’s. All of them were a bit corroded from the outside but clean as a whistle from the inside. Spotless!

Ancient Capstan in a mason jar

Ancient Capstan in a mason jar

Back home from the meeting I had the chance to properly gaze at the ancient Capstan. Unfortunately all the flakes were more or less stuck together because of the age so I had big difficulties keeping them whole. I am well acquainted with the current production and compared to that the old flakes were pretty dark and very thin. In fact I have never seen such thinly cut flakes, only Esoterica’s Stonehaven comes close. The smell from the tobacco was instantly recognizable. Typical (current day) Capstan, but somewhat diminished. I could smell more tobacco than topping/casing. And that was also the case with the taste when I lit up my pipe. The current production leans on the topping/casing while with the old version those flavours had degraded somewhat over the years. Instead the aged Virginia tobaccos had taken the reign and transformed the flakes into an exceptionally smooth mouth-watering whole. But in all honesty, I did like the contents of my 1989 Capstan tin better. That one had the best of both worlds: still intact topping/casing flavours and aged tobacco.

So buy those blends you love and start your own old treasure tobacco collection!

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One Thousand and One Smoky Nights

eastern_smoke_dreamsI always had a love for the Middle East; the pyramids and temples near Cairo, the ancient city of Damascus, the holy places in Jerusalem, the heart of the Ottoman empire Constantinople (Istanbul), mysterious Baghdad and the Muslim centre of Mecca. They all fascinate me to no extent. When I walked through the busy streets of the grand Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo I knew I had to visit more places like that. Unfortunately, just as I was making plans to visit Damascus all hell broke loose with the still ongoing Syrian Civil War.

Kai

Kai

Talking about Syria, at the beginning of this year I received an e-mail from a Syrian-American named Kai. He had moved to Rotterdam last year for work (he is an architect) and he just got back to pipe smoking after taking a break for a while. Kai used to smoke Mac Baren HH Vintage Syrian in the USA and asked if he could get that blend in The Netherlands. I had to disappoint him but gave some tips where he would be able to buy it. We kept on mailing and I discovered that he was born in the Syrian port-city of Latakia. A word well known by us pipe-smokers because of the fire-cured dark leaf with the same name. Kai then was raised in Damascus until he moved to the USA just a few years before the civil war broke loose. Smoking the HH Vintage Syrian is his way to relate to his roots. Sadly his visa was not renewed by the Dutch government, which pissed me off pretty much, so now he is moving back to the States. But I promised Kai not to say anything about his situation in this blog. His dad always said, don’t get near two things in life: politics and drugs. A wise man. So Kai, this one is for you, enjoy the read.

columbus_tobaccoAccording to an 18th century belief tobacco did not originate exclusively from the Americas but was also domestic in various parts of Asia and Africa. It was also believed that people in the Middle East used tobacco before my ancestors gazed upon the New World. However, since the 19th century the prevailing opinion has been that the Old World, including the Middle East, was introduced to tobacco by the early European discoverers.

Oriental_man_with_pipeTobacco first arrived in the Ottoman Middle East at the end of the 16th century. Which is about 100 years after its introduction in Europe. At the beginning of the 17th century Portuguese and other European sailors, who travelled around the Indian Ocean within the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, introduced smoking to the Arabian Peninsula. Perhaps even as early as 1590 to Yemen and the Hijaz. 10 years earlier than tobacco’s introduction into Yemen it was brought to Constantinople by English sailors and traders who personally used tobacco.

Turkish woman with pipe

Turkish woman with pipe

At first tobacco mainly was the interest of physicians and appeared in medical manuals by the end of the 16th century. Its leaves were prescribed as a remedy for bites and burns. Soon after that, in the early years of the 17th century, tobacco also began to be smoked recreationally. In the first decades of the 17th century tobacco already was smoked openly in places where people gathered like markets and streets. These early smokers were probably townspeople who could have more readily afforded the expensive import from America and the Caribbean. A lot of those imported tobaccos came through the Syrian port of Latakia. However, by 1700 the Ottoman market was producing most of its own tobacco because, of course, regional merchants had noticed the demand. Local varieties allowed for the consumption of tobacco to become a pleasurable pastime for people from all levels of society (men AND women! Well, at least in the private sphere..) and the one constant was that it was certainly in high demand.

Syria, the Holy Land, Asia Minor, &c. illustrated. : In a seriesLater a number of regions within the empire became centres for tobacco production and distribution. Varieties of Indian, Syrian, Iraqi and Persian tobacco were imported and smoked in the Arabian towns. Local varieties of tobacco, known as tittun or dokhân were also cultivated and widely consumed within Arabia. Tobacco also was grown in Macedonia, Anatolia, northern Syria (particularly in the hills around the port of Latakia I mentioned before) and after some time in Lebanon and Palestine. Persian and Kurdish varieties, known locally as tunbak, were also prized but were mostly used in water pipes (hookah). This is correct because I asked Kai if he already smoked pipe in Syria. He answered that he did not smoke the tobacco-pipe, but made use of the water pipe. Only, he didn’t smoke the typical ultra-aromatic mu‘assel we associate with the hookah but used tunbak, which is a natural tobacco.

guerrier-fumant-le-chiboukIt was not easy for Middle Easterners to smoke tobacco for quite some time. That was made clear by the number of Islamic fatwas expressed by the Ottoman administration towards the lawfulness of smoking. This because tobacco was not known at the time of the Prophet, it is not named in the Qur’an. Which resulted in a debate over its legality to spread throughout the empire. The main question in debates was “if the consumption of tobacco was harmful to the user and his or her surroundings”. Islamic scholars interpreted general guidelines stated in the Qur’an or the hadith to support their arguments for or against its use. Soon after the rise in popularity of tobacco the religious authorities in Mecca grouped it with wine, opium and coffee. Thus issuing a fatwa banning it as an intoxicant.

3Not only was the debate over the consumption of tobacco religious, but also political. As early as 1610 an English traveller wrote about seeing “an unfortunate Turk riding about the streets of Constantinople….. Mounted backward on a donkey with a tobacco-pipe driven through the cartilage of his nose. Just for the crime of smoking”. I sometimes feel we are close to such a situation in our modern times.. Two years later, Sultan Ahmed I issued a temporary ban on smoking. In 1631, Murad IV began a campaign against the consumption of tobacco and outlawed its cultivation in the empire, but this failed. In 1633, after a devastating fire in Constantinople, Murad IV outright forbade tobacco consumption and inflicted severe punishment on smokers. During this time of smoking prohibition many people preferred to use crushed tobacco (snuff) to avoid being caught with a pipe. Murad IV also banned coffee and ordered the closure of coffee-houses, where both coffee and tobacco were consumed. What a horrible man..

Turkish_coffee_house_on_the_BosphorusFortunately the bans by Murad IV and others before him did not produce the desired results. Thus proving that coffee and tobacco consumption were already well rooted within the 17th century Middle East. In other words, smoking was not eradicated during these prohibitions. In 1646, during the reign of Ibrahim, the Turkish government issued a decree allowing for the consumption of tobacco. The religious legalization of smoking was granted in a fatwa issued in the early years of the 1720’s by Damascene Islamic scholar Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi. He wrote an essay entitled (I hope I type this correctly) “al Sulh bayna al-ikhwan fi hukm ibahat al-­dukhkhan” which translates as “Peace Among Friends Concerning the Legalization of Smoking”. Al Nabulsi’s position on the consumption of tobacco was that smoking is like food. If it hurts stop it, if it does not, then why not smoke? Brilliant. The question regarding tobacco’s harmfulness remained a controversial issue for centuries to come. As it still is today. Nonetheless, it was not until the 18th century that tobacco consumption became a legitimate social pastime practice as was illustrated in many coffee-house illustrations of that time and later.

6From the late 17th century onwards the tobacco pipe became a highly personalized possession in Arabia. With ornamented varieties coming from pipe-maker guilds in Turkey, England, France, Greece, Egypt, Palestine, and Lebanon. Probably every town of any size had at least one pipe-maker. Even potters in villages could turn out a few pipes from moulds brought from bigger cities. A lot of pipes were also produced in Mecca and Medina as smoking was popular in the heart of Arabia. Even the Sharif of Mecca engaged in tobacco consumption: “He sat upright on his divan, like an European, and smoked tobacco in a pipe like the “old Turks”. The simple earth-made bowl was set in a saucer before him, it’s white jasmine stem was almost a spear’s length.” Clay pipes were a preferable means for consuming tobacco. They were very portable and therefore more convenient to the highly mobile consumer (such as a pilgrim making the hajj). Furthermore clay tobacco pipes were readily available in any market and to customers from all levels of society.

kaolin_chibouk

© Aimée C. Bouzigard

In the early 17th century two ways of smoking existed: “with water” or “dry”. But (of course) smoking tobacco through a dry pipe was superior to the water method. Which was done through the hookahs I mentioned earlier or narghiles, Middle Eastern innovations. The main device associated with tobacco consumption in the Arabian provinces was the oriental pipe, referred to in Turkish as the chibouk (Arabic: shibuk). The English-style kaolin pipes were likely to be more influential to styles in Istanbul, the imperial centre of the empire, where tobacco and the English pipes reached Turkey by the harbour. The 3-part chibouk arrived from North Africa in the Middle East and was readily adopted as the main instrument for smoking tobacco in the early 17th century. The chibouk consists of three elements: the head or bowl (Turkish: lüle), the stem and the mouthpiece. The bowls were made from a variety of materials including wood, stone, meerschaum or even metal. But the common material was clay. The stems were made of various woods or reeds and ranged in length from about 1 meter to 4 (!) meters. The mouthpieces were usually made of amber but could also be made of coral, gold and enamel. Precious stones could be added according to the taste and purse of the purchaser.

chibouk smoking turkish gentlemenClimatic and cultural differences led to the development of two different types of pipes in Europe and the Ottoman Middle East. The hot weather in much of the Middle East created a preference for the inhalation of “cold smoke”  while in the cooler weather of Europe smokers preferred “hot smoke”. Well, a moderate hot smoke of course. The technical solution to this issue of cooling the smoke within a dry pipe resulted in the 3-part style of the chibouk. For instance, the longer stem length allows the smoke to cool before it reaches the smoker. Wet silk was often applied to cover the stem to even increase its cooling capabilities. The longer stems, up to the 4 meters I mentioned before, were preferred in the hotter climes of the southern portions of the empire. Shorter stems, 20 centimetres to 1 meter, were used in the more northern, cooler climates. The varying lengths of stems are portrayed in numerous illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Abb_2b_05636vToday, tobacco is cultivated and cigarettes are manufactured in parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Muslim Asia. But only Turkey ranks among the world’s top 10 tobacco-producing countries. Though many reports claimed that the people of Persia and the Ottoman Empire consumed vast amounts of tobacco, actual consumption seems to have been less than in most parts of Europe. These days the tobacco consumption in Middle Eastern countries is only about one half of that in the West. In many countries most people used to smoke cheap, locally produced tobacco. Now more expensive import brands are popular almost everywhere. Either directly imported or manufactured under licence. Such a shame because it were the locally produced (oriental) tobacco gems that fascinated us pipe-smokers. As-salāmu ʿalaykum!

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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 that 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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HH Vintage Syrian vs. 3 Oaks Syrian

LatakiaTobaccoSyriaIn my blog-posts Latakia Lover and Syrian Latakia I described the dark leaf that comes from Syria and why it is so rare these days. In fact, there are only two companies of which I am 100% certain that they still have it: Danish based Mac Baren and American based McClelland. Important to know is that they both use Syrian latakia that originates from the same stock! Which is the reason for this post. I was curious what was the better, tastier blend that contains the fire-cured shekk-el-bint: Mac Baren HH Vintage Syrian or McClelland 3 Oaks Syrian. I choose these blends because there is no other type of latakia in them. For example, McClelland Wilderness also contains Cyprian latakia.

3Background information:
HH Vintage Syrian: The inspiration for the recipe of HH Vintage Syrian originates back to the start of Mac Baren Tobacco more than 120 years ago. This blend is typical for that time and it is easy to describe as a “back to nature” tobacco. The reason for calling this tobacco HH is quite simple. HH are the initials of the founder of Mac Baren Tobacco: Mr. Harald Halberg. If you look closely you will find the same initials in the small Mac Baren logo at the top-centre of the tin. It is incorporated into the shield held by the lions.
3 Oaks Syrian: The original 3 Oaks Syrian was composed by Ted Gage for the Bufflehead Smoke Shop in the Kansas City area. In 2005 or 2006 there were changes in the laws for mail orders which went outside the state. These ruined the thriving store and it had to close down. In 2009 McClelland started manufacturing the blend according to the original recipe.

IMG_0393Contents/cut:
HH Vintage Syrian:
Syrian latakia, oriental, Virginia, Kentucky. Coarse cut, so that means it can contain some chunky pieces. Surprisingly enough this blend contains (or should contain) more Syrian latakia than 3 Oaks Syrian but the looks do not show it. 3 Oaks is darker in appearance.
3 Oaks Syrian: Syrian latakia, oriental, Virginia. Ribbon cut which I also found to be a bit chunky.

mac baren tobacco logoPackage/tin description:
HH Vintage Syrian:
A flat stylish 100 gr. tin with a black lid containing a stylized illustration of a lion’s head. “The base of the blend, a little under half of the volume, is a smooth and yet powerful Latakia from Syria. This tobacco gives the blend the overall smoky taste, a powerful taste and yet without any tongue bite. To add a spicy note to the blend, Turkish Oriental has been added. A mix of different Virginia tobaccos from 3 continents adds a sweet natural taste. To complete the taste with depth and body, we added a little Dark Fired Kentucky from the US. The HH-Vintage Syrian Latakia is a loose cut tobacco, which guarantees a smooth and steady burn. It does not get hot which means you will find extremely little bite on your tongue. When you empty your pipe after smoking, you will find only fine grey ashes, the sign of a slow and dry smoke.”
3 Oaks Syrian: A typical 50 gr. American “pop” tin with a yellow label. On it is an illustration of a weapon shield with the name of the blend and oak-leaves around it. “Rare Syrian Latakia, with its renowned mellow smokiness, is balanced with naturally sweet Orientals and aged Virginia leaf to create a satisfying blend reminiscent of classic Syrian Latakia blends of old. Formulated by Tad Gage to reflect the character of original Three Oaks Pipe Tobacco, it tantalizes with intriguing differences.”

noseSmell from the tin:
HH Vintage Syrian: When I opened the tin it did not smell like an average Cyprian latakia blend. Yes you can smell the smoky dark leaf but nothing overpowering. It reminds me of the current time of the year, autumn, with its fallen leaves. Imagine smelling a campfire in an October-time forest from 100 meters away that mainly consists of dry and half-dry autumn leaves. I also detect a certain sweetness that (I think) comes from the Virginias.
3 Oaks Syrian: Even more muted than the smell of HH Vintage Syrian is the tin-odour of 3 Oaks Syrian. It just whispers “subtle”. Fortunately there is almost no hint of the typical McClelland “ketchup” smell. Maybe when you have freshly opened the tin, but after some time that odour vanishes. Overall there is a certain kind of mustiness with none of the contents overpowering each other.

011Taste:
HH Vintage Syrian: What surprised me when I first lit this blend was the overall sweetness. Hmm, I think the Virginias are cased.. However, this sweetness combines nicely with the herbal flavours of the orientals. But undeniably the star of this mixture is the Syrian latakia which unlike its Cyprian cousin has a warm, broad, smooth and subtle taste of smoky incense, sandalwood and red wine. It just says, ey, don’t worry, I am here, I will not overpower the rest of the contents, just sit back and enjoy. If you smoke very slow you can sometimes taste hints of apricot and apple-cider which I found fascinating. Halfway the bowl the sweetness goes away and the nutty Kentucky comes a bit more to the front. This stays until the end of the bowl when there is only fine grey ash left.
3 Oaks Syrian: The first time I tried this blend I only smoked pipe for half a year. I found it to be too mild and flavourless. I reluctantly finished the tin and gave away some. Some months ago I decided to pop open another tin. I let it air for several days and loaded some in my beloved Dunhill patent era Shell Briar prince. After all my taste buds had improved in the 2,5 years after I first tried the blend. With the charring light I got a symphony of flavours. 3 Oaks does not contain as much Syrian latakia as Vintage Syrian so the orientals get to shine more. Which they do halfway the bowl. I think the Virginias used are mainly the red variant because of the breadlike, yeast taste I experience throughout the smoke. At the end of the bowl the flavours get a bit more dark, like in dark chocolate. Here also a fine grey ash is left. What struck me about this blend is the subtleness and complexity. I now smoke for a bit over 3 years but I still feel my taste buds are not up to par with what this mixture has to offer. It reminded me a bit of the John Cotton’s No. 1 Mild I smoked before. There is magic happening but you have to carefully, with your full attention, search for it.

pipeCombustibility:
HH Vintage Syrian: No problems here, even if you are not paying full attention during the smoke you do not have to re-lit often.
3 Oaks Syrian: This one is more difficult to keep lit is my experience. Like if saying, if I do not have your attention I might as well go out..

thumbsRoom-note:
HH Vintage Syrian & 3 Oaks Syrian: My girlfriend Ellen seems to handle Syrian latakia better then the Cyprian dark leaf. She still does not like it but at least she does not force me to sit at the other end of the room in my smoking chair. When I smoke one of the blends in the late evening I notice a nice, faint incense smell the next morning. My benchmark that the used latakia was of high-quality.

JawMiscellaneous:
HH Vintage Syrian: In my first months as a pipe smoker I tried a couple of generally available Mac Baren blends and they bit me HARD. Later I learned that I was not the only one who experienced the phenomenon. So when I first lit up this blend I was fearful of the dreaded “Mac Bite”. And.. It did not happen to my relief! Ok, if you provoke it by puffing way to hard it will bite you, but that goes for a lot of blends. In the nicotine department I would rate this one light-medium to medium.
3 Oaks Syrian: This blend benefits from a bit of airing time when you have opened it. The flavours will improve then. If you like a nicotine shot while smoking, don’t go for this blend. It is just way too mild. A disadvantage of 3 Oaks was that it did not shine in many of my pipes. Only in a couple I had the impression that I got a lot out of the blend. HH Vintage Syrian on the contrary tasted good in all pipes I smoked it in.

moneyPrice:
HH Vintage Syrian: At 4noggins you pay $13,43 (± €9,88) for a 100 gr. tin. In Germany such a tin will set you back at €19,75 (± $26,84).
3 Oaks Syrian: At 4noggins you pay $10,49 (± €7,72) for a 50 gr. tin.

preview_A_Can_HH_Vintage_syrian_smallConclusion:
And my winner is…… *drumroll* HH Vintage Syrian! I admit I am not a Mac Baren fan. Often I called the brand Mac Blahren, masters of mediocrity, never a satisfying smoke only a burned tongue. Well… I had to swallow those words bigtime for their magnificent HH Vintage Syrian blend. Mac Baren did an amazingly good job with the creation of this almost divine mixture. A classic. That also goes for McClelland’s 3 Oaks Syrian despite it being second. Maybe in a couple of years when my taste buds have (hopefully) developed even more it can push off HH Vintage Syrian of the Syrian latakia throne. Only too bad the supply of Syrian latakia is not infinite. Until when can we enjoy these blends? No one precisely knows but I hope long enough for me to squirrel away a vast amount of tins in my tobacco closet.

Attractive Aromas

Me sniffing at raw tobacco leaf at the DTM factory

Me sniffing at raw tobacco leaf at the DTM factory

Tobacco leaf is the main source of flavour and aroma in any tobacco product (Duh!) But aside from latakia and perique (which are stinky enough from themselves) and orientals, raw leaf itself has little smell or taste. And by raw leaf I mean Virginias and burleys, they are almost always cased. For example, I’ve smelled pure and dry Virginias in the tobacco warehouse from the German DTM factory. It made me think of fish-food in stead of the hay-like aroma I am used to. Also tobacco crops vary from year to year, they are not consistent. So flavouring supplements are necessary to create both taste and aroma and help maintain a consistency in them. In the early days tobaccos had a subtle flavouring, but at the end of the 1960’s the high aromatics came into fashion. You know, the kind of blends that dissolve the glazing on your teeth and your girlfriend/wife love.  Anyway, additives to tobacco products can be classified in two categories: casings and top dressings (toppings).

No tongue bite please!

No tongue bite please!

Casings: Sometimes you read on labels of tins that a blend for example contains unflavoured Virginia and/or burley. Well, the truth is that very few tobaccos have no flavouring at all. Although a casing can be as simple as sugared water or honey. I know that DTM uses honey for the casing of many of their raw tobacco leaves, the factory floor is pretty sticky because of it. Casings are used at the early stages of tobacco processing to ease the negative qualities of a certain kind of leaf. Ehmm.. Some burleys can be somewhat sour and produce a more alkaline smoke, which can lead to the dreaded tongue bite. The use of a sweetener, a casing containing some sugar, can solve both problems. Some Virginias can be harsh, but also here, with the right casing that can be fixed. In general (of course their are exceptions) casings are not used to flavour the tobacco as much as to make it ready for other processing. Like you make a mild marinade for a piece of chicken to slightly give it a flavour, make it more tender and prepare it for cooking.

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Casing machine at DTM

The flavour of a casing should be compatible to the base tobacco that is used. For example, white burley has a certain kind of nuttiness and would match well with chocolate. Which is a commonly used casing for burley. The tobacco which has to cased is put into a machine that somewhat resembles a large clothes dryer with little sprayers on the inside. The casing is then heated and injected into the chamber. Through the use of tumbling, steaming and vacuum pressure the casing works its way into the leaf. Casings are often steamed into the leaf. The steam helps to open the pores and insert the added flavour into the tobacco. Because of this process, casings are usually water-based. After the casing of the tobacco it is dried. Often by putting the leaf on a conveyor which passes through a heated chamber. This reduces the overall moisture content of the tobacco to a level that is more manageable. This level generally is between 12% (pretty dry) and 22% (very moist). The ideal moisture for smoking depends on you, the smoker. But usually it is between 13% and 16%.

Rope tobacco

Rope tobacco

The following step will be determined by what the blend is supposed to be. If the intention of the final product is to be an unflavoured blend, for example a Virginia/perique or latakia blend, then the base tobacco is ready to use right after coming out of the heating chamber. The tobacco will be put in a container or something like that in which the finished blend, combined with the other components, is mixed and then is packaged. If the the final product is to be a plug, flake or rope the process starts with raw leaf that will be cased like I told above. After coming out of the casing machine the leaf immediately goes into the press. This because higher moisture is needed to get a good pressing. Or it goes through the drying procedure and is re-hydrated to the right level.

Thanks to top dressings the (in)famous Captain Black White is what it is..

Thanks to top dressings the (in)famous Captain Black White is what it is..

Top dressings (toppings): These are flavourings that most of the time are applied at the end of manufacturing process. That signature flavour, that particular tin aroma, that heavenly room note; all the responsibility of the top dressing. They are usually alcohol-based. When the water based casing is applied, the drying process will bring the tobacco back down to the correct humidity. But at the end of the process the blender wants to avoid having to use heat to re-dry the leaf a second time. So he uses an alcohol-based flavouring and allows the tobacco to rest for a couple of days. The alcohol will evaporate which leaves the concentrated flavour behind with little additional moisture.

Propylene glycol

Propylene glycol

Most casings and top dressings contain a “fixing agent” to assure that the flavourings will stick to the leaf and remain stable until used. In addition to fixing agents hygroscopic agents are used. Hygroscopic agents are chemicals used to control the moisture content of tobacco. They prevent the tobacco from becoming too dry in a dry climate or from picking up moisture in a humid area. The most widely used agents are sorbitol, propylene glycol and glycerine.

Andreas Mund and me before shelves full of concentrated flavours

Andreas Mund and me before shelves full of concentrated flavours

Concentrated flavourings are preferred by most tobacco blenders. This because the extract/concentrate can be manufactured much more uniformly and is less subject to changes while being stored than natural flavourings. When I visited the DTM factory I saw shelves and shelves full with all kinds of concentrated flavourings. According to master-blender Andreas Mund the city of Hamburg (pretty nearby the factory) is the centre of the world for concentrated flavourings. Lucky DTM! It was a strange experience when I opened up some of the flasks and bottles and sniffed the contents. You read something on the label like “chocolate” and when you smell it you absolutely don’t recognize it because it is THAT concentrated. So it won’t be a surprise that some blends use as little as 8 tablespoons of fluid per 100 pounds of tobacco.

Chocolate

Chocolate

Here are some of the most common flavourings:
Chocolate is manufactured as a natural product from the coco bean. It may be fortified with some cocoa which is synthetically produced.
Fruit flavours are obtainable in both natural and synthetic form. Natural fruit flavours are extracted from processed fruit.
Licorice comes from the licorice root and can be fortified with synthetic chemicals.
Menthol can also be made synthetically or it can be used in its natural state which is distilled from peppermint oil.
Rum used in tobacco is most of the time the Jamaican type. Jaaah man! It can also be synthesized.
Vanilla can be used in its natural form but for the most it is manufactured synthetically.
Wine flavours are as varied as the types of wine available: burgundy, sherry, madeira, etc.

Gawith & Hoggarth: Kendal's Banana Gold. One of the few blends anywhere with banana-aroma

Gawith & Hoggarth: Kendal’s Banana Gold. One of the few blends anywhere with banana-aroma

It is very difficult to create a good aromatic blend. You have to take in consideration the natural aroma of the leaf plus whatever the casing adds. Virginias often have a hay-like aroma and if that is not taken into account you could end up with something entirely different than you were hoping for. Also certain flavourings take advantage of other ones. A bit of vanilla boosts the taste of chocolate. Or flavourings have a tendency to overpower others, like coconut. And then there are flavourings that just don’t match with tobacco in general. For example, Paul has always looked for a blend with a nice banana-flavour and has not found one yet. Banana and tobacco.. Should work one would think. Well, I spoke with aromatic master-blender Michael Apitz from DTM and asked him why they did not have any blends with banana-flavour. He took me to the warehouse and showed some old tins with… Banana flavoured blends. “You know, there is a reason we don’t sell them any more and why they are collecting dust in the warehouse” he said. “They just don’t taste good and because of that people won’t buy them.” So it may take a whole lot of trying out before the aroma of a blend is acceptable.

And if you want to know why most aromatics don’t taste like they smell, have a look here: Who’s afraid of chemistry? (by Paul)

keep calmThese days every blender anywhere on the globe can make a high aromatic. But back in the days in the United Kingdom they had the “Tobacco Purity Law”. This law prohibited blenders from the use of large amounts of artificial flavourings and hygroscopic agents in the manufacture of tobacco products. In the early years of the Dunhill store Alfred Dunhill himself used to experiment at home with the creation of new blends. Regularly he got visits from police-officers who thought they smelled illegal things going on.. There was a list of additives that were approved and which had to be dissolved in alcohol or water. BUT they could only be applied at small percentages. For example, it was estimated that less than 0,5% of the weight of any given brand, manufactured in the United Kingdom, consisted of flavourings. This stood in contrast with some brands manufactured in the United States. There sauces constituted as much as 25% of the gross weight of the tobacco product. And in the case of Dutch tobaccos, this number was as high as 35%. So the blenders in the United Kingdom had to use the best quality tobaccos available, primarily the Virginia-type ones, orientals and condiment leaves like latakia and perique. And of course they had to have to skills to create outstanding mixtures. This with the help of all kinds of processing techniques such as stoving, toasting, panning, steaming and pressing. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the Tobacco Purity Law was abolished by the Thatcher government so that American tobaccos could be sold in the United Kingdom.

Recommended aromatic blends are:
– Cornell & Diehl: Autumn Evening
– DTM: BiBo, Blue Note, Mediterraneo, Memories of Tuscany, Sweet Vanilla Honeydew
– HU Tobacco: Geniet Moment
– Lane Ltd.: 1-Q, Captain Black White
– Mac Baren: 7 Seas Regular Blend*
Neptune*
– Peterson: Sunset Breeze*
– Planta: Danish Black Vanilla*
– Stanwell: Melange*
– Sillem’s: Black
– Winslow: No. 1*, Harlekin*
– WO Larsen: Fine & Elegant*

* Available in The Netherlands