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..



– 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! 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:

± 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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Hospitable Heukelum 2013

Brewery 't Kuipertje

Brewery ‘t Kuipertje

Like I told in my Zestful Zutphen post the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum currently roughly has two big annual meetings. Well, three with the meeting in Wuustwezel, Belgium. But the “mother” of all our meetings is the one in a town in the Dutch province of Gelderland called Heukelum. Well, this is not entirely true.. First Martin organized the meetings in his nearby home-town of Leerdam on the upper floor of a restaurant housed in an old train-station building. Unfortunately after 2 cosy meetings the owners did not want us there any more plus the group got too big. So Martin had to look out for another location which he luckily found in brewery “‘t Kuipertje“.

Henk Kuiper

Henk Kuiper © K.H. van der Linde

In 1987 brewery ‘t Kuipertje first started when Frits Kuiper, after a reorganisation at his day-job, could work for half days only. The first beer was brewed on February first 1988. Frits, an amateur-brewer, soon decided to completely leave his (half) day-job and go full-time with the brewing. After being an apprentice at several breweries he made his own brewing-installation and started his business under the name “Gelderse Bierbrouwerij ‘t Kuipertje”. In 1990 he moved into the former coach-house of an old stone-factory at the border of Heukelum where the brewery is still located today. At January 1th 2002 Frits left the brewery, his son Henk took over business.

The big nightmare of the Dutch railways: leaves on the tracks..

The big nightmare of the Dutch railways: leaves on the rail-tracks..

So on October 27th at the end of the morning Ed arrived to pick me up. Also in the car was Maurice, the more the merrier! Together we drove to the train station of Deventer to pick up another forum-member, Mark. But after some waiting there was no sign of our big friend. Suddenly I got a text message from Mark, the train which he was supposed to be on was delayed.. Grumble, bloody Dutch railways.. If you are ever in The Netherlands, do not go by train unless you don’t mind delays. In wintertime there is snow, in autumn there are leaves on the rail-tracks, in summer maintenance is going on.. Grrrr.. Anyway, Ed, Maurice and I had enough to talk about and before we knew it Mark arrived, his train finally had come.

Rob from Brabant

Rob from Brabant © K.H. van der Linde

Because of the delay we were a bit late in Heukelum. Normally we are amongst the first ones to arrive so you can greet everyone more easy as they come in. Now we immediately were immersed in a cloud of friendly pipe-smokers who all wanted to say hello. While shaking hands I first began with some “business”. When I visited the big Heinrichs store I bought a tin of Heinrichs Golden Sliced and Dunhill Deluxe Navy Rolls for forum-member Klaas. He was curious about the famous Escudo and Deluxe Navy Rolls come very close in taste to that one. And he also had something for me. The week before the meeting he and his wife went to Prague where he bought some Stanislaw (made by Samuel Gawith) tobaccos. This were the ones I saw at the Inter Tabac fair at the Samuel Gawith stand! Wonderful! Apparently they are only obtainable in the Czech Republic. After we exchanged tins I tapped Rob on his shoulder. I had a bag of rare Penzance for him. Really a treat because Rob loves to smoke latakia blends. Well, you can’t go wrong with Penzance then! When I turned around I saw another Rob (many folks called “Rob” on the forum). He lives in a place near the town I grew up in the province of Brabant and has that typical joviality and accent of most people there. Rob has a passion for Ireland and I happen to have some authentic Irish Murray plugs (Erinmore Plug, Warrior Plug) which were gathering dust in my tobacco-closet. “Aah!! Fantastic! What do you want for them?” he asked. “Absolutely nothing, smoke them with much pleasure” I answered. I always like to see tobaccos I don’t smoke get a good home. Last but not least I walked over to like-minded Robbin. We both love old English blends and prince-shaped pipes. I had an opened tin of the German version of Presbyterian for him which he was curious about. I also presented him a sample bag of a nameless mixture I once made which I knew he liked.

La Trappe bockbeer

La Trappe bockbeer

Then I finally could relax a little bit and order a beer. I asked Henk, who also was the bartender, if he had a dark beer, for which I have a fondness. He offered me his self brewed Bokbier which is a special kind of dark beer that in The Netherlands is brewed only in autumn and often has a bit of a dark sweet caramel taste. After I gulped down the tasty liquid my nerves went down a bit. Nerves because I had to introduce the brand new forum tobaccos!

Get that hand out of the pocket boy!

Get that hand out of the pocket boy! © K.H. van der Linde

For those of you who read this blog regularly, last year and this year I have been busy organizing 3 specially made tobaccos for the forum-members. This because this year the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum exist 5 years. If you read the last comment on that post you can see my “quest” continued because master-blender Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco took me under his wings. What happened after that is a story in itself which I shall tell in a future blogpost. I introduced the three tobaccos, told what my inspirations were, said what the tobaccos roughly were made of and encouraged everyone to try some. Of course I brought sample tins. After my speech Paul walked towards me and presented a gift to me from the forum members for all my work on the forum tobaccos: a bottle of peated whisky! Yummie! And not just a regular bottle, no, a very special one! A 23 years old Jura ‘Signatory’! So to all the forum-members who contributed to this great gift, a big thank you!!! And because this was the 5th meeting organised by Martin he also got a well deserved bottle of whisky.

The meat gets grilled

The meat gets grilled © K.H. van der Linde

It is always remarkable how fast time goes when you are having a good time. You chat with someone for a bit, walk around, somebody starts talking to you, you go outside for a fresh nose while continue having conversations etc. So many nice folks and so little time.. In the mean time Henk had ignited the 2 BBQ’s and soon the coals were hot enough to begin with dinner. Like always the provided meat was of excellent quality. We could choose  from beef, bacon, cutlets, hamburgers, meat skewers, all kinds of sauces, baguettes and salads. Aahh.. Grilled meat, tasty beer, a good pipe-smoke and great people. What more can a man wish for?

Group-picture of the 2013 Heukelum meeting

Group-picture of the 2013 Heukelum meeting © AJ Verstraten

After dinner we sat down for a couple of more drinks and conversations and too soon it became time to go. We said our goodbyes to the remaining people, picked up a bottle of the specially brewed 2013 forum beer and went to the car. Once home I thanked Ed for the ride, said farewell to Maurice (we already brought Mark home) and went inside the house. I kissed my girlfriend Ellen, put away my bag full of tobaccos and went to bed where I had some nice smoke-filled dreams.

Here are some more pictures because they tell more than a lot of words!

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Stonecutter’s story

Martin Romijn

Martin Romijn

One of the modest people I know is Martin Romijn. I got to know him through the Dutch/Belgian Smokers Forum and while browsing his profile there I noticed he had a website. I clicked on the link and saw what his site was about. The guy makes pipe-accessories out of stone? Wood ok, relatively easy to work with, but stone?? And more, the level of craftsmanship was astonishing! I could not believe my eyes when I looked at the exquisitely made tampers, pipe-stands and ashtrays. But Martin is very modest, “I just cut away the rest of the stone and then I end up with something beautiful”. Anyway, fortunately Martin was willing to do an interview with me.

Rose ornament on gravestone

Rose ornament on gravestone

How long have you been a stonecutter and what do you precisely do in that profession?
I have been a stonecutter for over 18 years. Besides grave-stones I also make products for buildings like door sills, window-sills, kitchen- and tabletops, bathrooms and fireplaces. Back in the days I learned the old handicraft. The old techniques with hammer and chisel, the real carving of ornaments etc. but also the carving of characters. Besides carving I also possess the skills for sculpting.

Masonry logo made by Martin

Masonry logo made by Martin

What jobs did you have before you became a stonecutter and how did you come by this unusual profession?
After school I joined the Dutch Marine Corps for 4 years, then I worked in the security business but I wanted to do something with my hands. So I started working in a motorcycle-store where I did the maintenance of the bikes. Sadly the store went bankrupt and after a while of being unemployed I did a retraining to the profession of stonecutter. It turned out it suited me well and besides the standard education (which I went through pretty fast) I specialised myself with the help of a teacher in the old handicraft.

"Floating" pipe-stand

“Floating” pipe-stand

When and how the thought occurred to use your knowledge of the profession for the creation of ashtrays, tampers and pipe-stands?
After a knee operation (ripped cruciate ligament) I sat home for almost over a year. In that period I started making tampers. On the internet on several fora (then news groups like Alt.Smokers.Pipes (ASP)) I saw several tampers made from wood and synthetic materials. It occurred to me that I could make those out of stone. That is how the ball started rolling. I first showed my creations on a link on ASP, someone was so nice to host the pictures on his site. The feedback was so positive that I decided to go through with it. After that another acquaintance, who I knew through Smokersforums, created a website for me and I have been using that one since 2003. The pipe-stands came into existence later. I got the idea to let the pipe “float” by making a pipe-stand which only held the mouthpiece. The ashtrays were a logical next step.

crystalHow do you acquire your pieces of stone?
The pieces of stone I collected at my job when something beautiful came along. When a nice piece is left over I set it apart. Some stones like beautiful pieces of petrified wood I buy at the wholesaler. The best is that when you are busy carving the stone you stumble upon a stunning fossil or crystal.

IMG_20160705_193139Do you judge stone the same way a pipe-maker judges his briar? For example that you lay certain pieces aside from which you think to make a nice tamper.
I select pieces of stone based on their structure. Pieces with a special pattern or present fossils I lay aside. When I look at certain stones I already see a shape or I get an idea. But most of the times the piece develops from out of the stone self when I am working on it. I let the stone inspire me, in fact I “unwrap” the piece I am working on. It is already hidden in the stone.

RIMG0564Do you have one or several favourite species of stone to work with?
Belgian hardstone and Jura are my favourite stone-species because of the present fossils and crystals. Also they are not so difficult to work with because they are not extremely hard.

Pipe-stand with petrified wood

Pipe-stand with petrified wood

Do you let the stone decide what it is going to be or do you seek out a special piece if you for example want to make an ashtray?
For an ashtray I seek out good looking pieces, preferably with a nice fossil. Like I said before, some pieces have a certain shape or texture which inspire me. But there are so many different species of stones, each with their own characteristics. Some better suited for carving than others. For example, the petrified wood is extremely hard to work with but then I got the idea to use it as a base for my pipe-stands.

Stone-mason tools

Stone-mason tools

Which tools do you use?
Ehrr.. Several chisels, a hammer, diamond sanding-pads, polish-tools and elbow-grease.

SAMSUNGDescribe your method of working from a raw piece of stone to a finished product.
I prefer to work without a plan, I let the stone inspire me. That does not apply for every creation. The rough work like sawing and cutting I do in the masonry. The finishing and polishing I do at home in my shed and takes up most of the time. You begin to polish away the crude scratches. Less deep scratches emerge which you then polish away with a finer polish-tool. etc, etc. The stage where you accomplish the final high gloss demands a lot of patience and perseverance. Sometimes I just have stop in between because my fingers are getting crooked from all the polishing. Usually the time to fill up a pipe… It also happens in this stage of finishing that you notice a flaw in the stone you have not seen before. A crack in the material you often see after a lot of polishing. If I don’t rust it I apply some brute force on the material. And yes, then it sometimes happens that after hours of labour you can toss your creation in the garbage bin..

Multi pipe-stand

Multi pipe-stand

On which creation you are most proud and why?
Oww.. That is difficult.. The tamper with an ammonite fossil Neil Archer Roan has is one of the prettier ones. I also like the dragonwing tampers. As far as pipe-stands go I think the one Paul has (see on the left) turned out pretty well. A special shape, great appearance. The Onyx 7 and 8 also turned out well, they just develop in your hands, nice to see. Well, I have made so many pieces I like in those 10 years, the choice is difficult. It is a nice thought that on various places far from here they found a home and somebody likes them.

_MG_2402Can clients tell exactly what they want or do you always decide shape and material?
Of course I work to satisfy the wishes of the client. But I shall always add my own contribution to the piece, I like to be surprised by the stone. Often clients give me a rough idea where I can work with.

966870_260806967392333_1780273213_oDo you have plans for the future?
The future.. Well.. Making a living out of creating pieces from stone can’t be done. But I hope to spend more time on the making of my creations in the future. A bigger workshop in which I can make some statues would be nice. But for now, being busy in my shed, carving stone while enjoying a pipe, creating new things, I hope to do it for a long time.

Any last words?
It is great that through my tampers I have contact with people from all over the world. That on a show in Las Vegas is being talked about my work in a presentation, that my work has been in a Russian Magazine, that sort of things is really fun to hear. It is great that people seem to appreciate a piece of handiwork. I also like it that I continue an old handicraft in a time where a lot is done by machines. I hope to create things that will stand the test of time, that will still exist when I am long gone.

You can contact Martin through his website or directly by mail:

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