Yes, this is the last post, dear reader. As you undoubtedly have noticed I am hardly posting anything any more. Not that I quit pipe-smoking, oh no! The truth is this: After my severe burn-out some years ago I find it extremely difficult to write for this blog. I think because one of the reasons I went overboard was pushing myself to write a blog every month / 2 months. Many evenings spent thinking, researching, writing, photoshopping beside a hectic full-time day-job and busy weekends was too much. Then I got unemployed, depressed, addicted to alcohol (the beer on the left is alcohol-free) and to a lesser degree addicted to medication. Up to the point I wanted to throw myself before a train. As you have noticed it did not came to that. I underwent psychotherapy, found the correct medication, kicked the addictive medication, kicked alcohol, found a new nice job and am a much more positive person these days. I am very grateful for what I have right now and try to live in the “now” as much as possible.
But this all means I had to make some tough decisions. The blog was draining me in the end, while a hobby is supposed to give you energy. Making music has always been my love, but it had been pushed to the background for a lot of years. Last year I re-discovered my passion for it and now I play guitar daily and try to write and record songs. For this I have set up a musical project, VanGore, which includes me on guitar and musicians from all over the world on the other instruments/vocals. Long live the internet.
Picture from Wuustwezel meeting 2022
Because of this I no longer have the time or energy to write for this blog. Besides, I think I have told all I wanted to tell. Of course there are always meetings, new tobaccos and new pipe smoking products. But to be able to write a good blog you have to be on top of that. Scavenge sites, books and forums for information. And I don’t want to do that any more. I took pride in the fact that I always wanted the best information for my readers, and I refuse to write half-hearted, unsatisfactory blogposts. But I’ll always be a pipe smoker in heart and soul.
One of the last things I want to tell you is that Dutch pipe maker Gubbels is doing fine. They made the last annual Dutch Pipesmokers Forum pipe and besides being a beauty (see the first picture), it smokes excellent! I picked it up myself at the new factory. After the bankruptcy of several parts of their company they pulled through and found a new, better and cheaper location. Gone is the big machine that could produce many pipes per day. Gone are the contracts with pipe-selling sites like Al Pascia. They couldn’t make pipes for the prices they wanted any more. What is left is an enormous stock of vintage raw unfinished pipes, a true treasure.
Lounge at the Gubbels factory
Elbert (Gubbels) doesn’t have to worry about money any more, because now he gets his income from making pipe-cleaners for al kinds of markets. In fact, he even can’t keep up with demand, which is a good sign. So he can think of and create new pipes peacefully with the help of some employees. Soon there will be a CNC machine, so they are no longer dependant on old stock. Visitors are very welcome to visit the new factory, walk around and smoke a pipe in the beautiful lounge while enjoying a glass of whisky or wine. Perhaps in the future you can even create your own pipe there!
I want to thank my readers for all these years. I had a blast writing the blogs and afterwards reading your comments and reactions. I did it all for you. I also want to thank all the people in the industry that helped me. Like Brian Levine, Per Jensen, Bob Gregory, Hans Wiedemann, Greg Pease, the Dan Pipe people, Elbert Gubbels, Martin Romijn and many, many others that aren’t in the industry but found the time to share their knowledge with me. And don’t worry, I am not taking the blog offline and I will still respond to comments and questions.
The genius of Roald Dahl As a child, I had several pipe-smoking influences, such as my grandfather, an uncle and the father of a friend. Only recently, I discovered there was another source of inspiration; the great and late writer Roald Dahl. While the generation after me grew up with J.K. Rowling’sHarry Potter saga, me and my young contemporaries were enchanted by timeless stories such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and Matilda. And, if you think my English is pretty readable, you can thank Roald Dahl. At primary school, we learned the language with excerpts of his tales. Later I discovered his adult novels, amongst them one of my all-time favourite books: My Uncle Oswald.
Goat’s tobacco Being a youngster I devoured every Roald Dahl book I could lay my hands on in the local library. Like his autobiographical Boy: Tales of Childhood. Recently, being in a nostalgic mood, I re-read it. One of the stories there is called “Goat’s tobacco” and describes how a young Dahl on holiday in Norway with his family secretly puts some dried goat’s droppings in the pipe of his half-sister’s lover who then smokes it and almost chokes (if he would have used a Lakeland tobacco it surely would have had the same effect). But before the lover smokes the droppings he boasts about his tobacco. I quote from the book, of course all copyright things go to the Dahl family:
We could hardly bear the suspense. The sister who was seven couldn’t bear it at all. ‘What sort of tobacco do you put in that thing? (the pipe)’ she asked with superb innocence. ‘Navy Cut,’ the male lover answered. ‘Player’s Navy Cut. It’s the best there is. These Norwegians use all sorts of disgusting scented tobaccos, but I wouldn’t touch them.’ ‘I didn’t know they had different tastes,’ the small sister went on. ‘Of course they do,’ the manly lover said. ‘All tobaccos are different to the discriminating pipe-smoker. Navy Cut is clean and unadulterated. It’s a man’s smoke.’ The man seemed to go out of his way to use long words like discriminating and unadulterated. We hadn’t the foggiest what they meant.
Scoring a pouch of Player’s Navy Cut Flake My head jolted up after I read this while thinking: “Damn, I have a pouch of Player’s Navy Cut Flake in my tobacco closet!” In 2015 a good friend of mine, a true gentleman, went on holiday to England. But before that he asked if he could buy some tobacco there for me. The range of available pipe tobaccos is different in England. They have blends we (European mainland) don’t have. So I browsed through the website of a British tobacconist until suddenly my eye fell on Player’s Navy Cut Flake. Perhaps it had rung a bell in the back of my head (it was before I re-read Boy) but that was the blend I wanted and got. Sadly, when I began my research for this blogpost I discovered Player’s Navy Cut Flake had been discontinued since the end of 2015. So yes, I am very sorry, but this is another write-up about a blend that does not exist any more..
Early beginnings of John Player & Sons First some history about the manufacturer, John Player & Sons. The man himself, John Player was born in Saffron Walden in Essex in 1839. In 1862 he came to Nottingham and some years later began a shop on Beastmarket Hill where he sold agricultural manures and seeds. As an extra income he also sold pre-wrapped tobacco. That went so well that it soon became his main business. So in 1877 he bought the tobacco factory from William Wright in the Broad Marsh, began manufacturing tobaccos and cigarettes and opened 2 more shops. Business quickly expanded and in 1881 he bought land in the Radford area of Nottingham where in 1884 the Castle Tobacco factory arose. Sadly Player died in the same year of liver cancer. In the 1890’s his 2 sons, William Goodacre Player and John Dane Player, took over the business.
The Americans attack In 1901 a powerful attack by American tobacco manufacturers on the British market led to the formation of the Imperial Tobacco Group in which 13 British tobacco manufacturers joined forces. Although they continued business under their own names and competed with each other. Since John Player & Sons was one of the founding companies they served on Imperial’s first board of directors. The first few decades of the 20th century were good for the company as sales began increasing rapidly. Mainly because of the success of the company’s mass produced, machine-made cigarettes.
The Player’s Navy Cut brand Already in 1883 the Player’s Navy Cut brand (cigarettes and pipe tobacco) was launched and proved enduringly popular. It was one of the most smoked brands in WW1 and besides Capstan the favourite pipe tobacco of J.R.R. Tolkien and a favourite of C.S. Lewis. Over the years the brand’s sailor and lifebuoy trademark became synonymous with John Player & Sons. But more about that below. Now I could ramble on about the rest of the history but then this blogpost would really become long and focus on cigarettes, and this is a pipe smoking blog. In short Player’s peak was in the late 1950’s. They were employing 11,000 workers (who all got an allowance of 50 cigarettes a week) and produced 15 brands of pipe tobacco and 11 brands of cigarettes. After that it slowly went downhill due to various reasons, factories got closed etc. although to this day Player’s is still in business.
Not Orlik but… Like I said the curtain fell for the Player’s Navy Cut Flake brand in 2015. I always thought that in the final years it was made by Orlik (read: the Scandinavian Tobacco Group) in license for the Imperial Tobacco Group like Tobaccoreviews.com says. But by someone on Instagram I was pointed in another direction: the mighty MacBaren. To verify this I contacted MacBaren mastermind Per Jensen. He had to say this: “Since 2006 we produced the Player’s Navy Cut Flake for Imperial Tobacco Group, but only for sale in the UK. When we bought the pipe tobacco portfolio from Imperial we did not buy the the Player’s Navy Flake, so production stopped in 2015. The reason, plain and simple, was that Imperial wanted to keep the Player’s name for their cigarettes.”
Package / tin: My Player’s Navy Cut Flake came in a (with a health-warning desecrated) pouch with inside a foil covered tray. Most of the pouch is navy blue with the logo of the sailor and lifebuoy in the top middle. The sailor image was first used in 1883 and the lifebuoy was added 5 year later. The sailor was known as “Hero”. Why? Just take a good look at the name on his hat band. Then you also can see the HMS Brittania on the left and HMS Dreadnought on the right. The image of Hero changed for a while (apparently the poor lad had no beard for a short period!) until he was standardised in 1927.
Contents / Cut / Ingredients: Inside the foil covered tray are 2 rows of neatly stacked attractive looking brown cold pressed flakes with golden highlights. It is a Navy Cut, the slices you get when you cut a navy plug. Originally these had a round shape. Later tobacco manufacturers used the term more broadly and a Navy Cut could also be a rectangular flake or slice. The ingredients are Virginia and Burley with a slight topping of rum.
Smell from the tray: When I removed the foil and stuck my nose near I was kind of surprised. It smelled a bit like Esoterica Stonehaven! Hay, treacle, dark chocolate and liquor with a certain fruity sourness in the background. Although the liquor smell fades away a bit after the tray is opened for longer.
Taste: The flakes are easy to handle, not too moist, not too dry. I rubbed out the flakes a little bit, bigger chunks on the bottom of the bowl and the smaller ones on top. Lighting it was effortless and when the first smoke hits your my buds I immediately relaxed, it was smooth and creamy. Above all, it has a great basic taste. Many blends of old had a distinct flavour that set them apart from others. With Player’s Navy Cut Flake you get an almost perfect mix between the grassy, tangy, earthy, toasted, stewed fruits lighter and darker Virginias, the nutty Burley which fills up the holes in the tasting spectrum and the rum which doesn’t do much other than providing a slight dark sugar treacle taste. All by all the different elements are expertly harmonised. The taste throughout the bowl is not a rollercoaster. You get that distinct comforting creamy and smooth Player’s Navy Cut Flake flavour which only deepens and intensifies in the later part of the smoke.
Miscellaneous: Nicotine-wise this blend is surprisingly mild to my relief. I expected more because of the Burley and the fact it had been around a long time, in the old days they made blends more “manly” with more vitamin N oomph. When pushed Player’s Navy Cut Flake has a tendency to bite a bit. But that is ok, it commands puffing slowly which is a good thing. And by doing that you get the most out of this tobacco taste-wise.
Room-note: When I smoke this one I get almost no comments from the old battle-axe. Only downside is the cigarette-like odour that still lingers the next morning.
Conclusion: All by all I was pleasantly surprised by this essential British tobacco. I can fully understand why it was like “bread” for years for the English pipe smoker. Although I would think of it more like that delicious cookie your grandmother used to give you when you were visiting her. And every time you eat it now it reminds you fondly of the old lady. Player’s Navy Cut Flake has something comforting. It is an easy smoke. It is not a roller-coaster of tastes nor bland. It just delivers good ol’ tobacco tastiness when you sit in your chair relaxing after a day of hard work. I smoked it in different pipes and each time was satisfying. I really regret Player’s Navy Cut Flake got discontinued. If today it was available I would surely buy it. Maybe it is the added Burley or the bit of rum flavour, but I burned through the pouch in no time. @MacBaren, perhaps you can convince Imperial to sell you the rights to Player’s Navy Cut Flake, release it worldwide, thus bringing back a little classic gem.
Heal your soul, smoke Spark Plug! Life is not easy now in these pandemic Corona virus times. We are limited in our freedom; not seeing friends or family, no open restaurants or cafes, social distancing, no open smoking lounges etc. We have to stay indoors as much as possible, get our groceries as fast as possible (keeping in mind 1.5 meters distance), all hoping we won’t get infected or infect someone else. It also is a huge assault to our mental health; constantly being at home, being at each other’s lips at home, no toilet paper at the supermarket, unsure what the future will bring (for me personally, I am jobless, so if you need an expert Graphical (Digital) Designer / Desktop Publisher / Blog and text writer/ Content Marketeer, let me know!), it all leads to much frustration. Luckily I have a hobby which benefits my mental state: pipe-smoking. Just focusing on the ritual of it while reading a good book heals my soul, lets me forget my worries. And right now I feel extra blessed, because I am smoking the newest offering of the “Dark Lord” GL Pease named Spark Plug.
The Dark Lord himself
Don’t be sceptic, rejoice! Of course it is exciting when GL Pease comes with a new tobacco. But there is always extra reason to rejoice when it is a latakia blend because Greg is the “Dark Lord”, grand master of the delicious smoky dark leaf. And yet I could detect little enthusiasm on the online forums. Even a bit of scepticism.. Come on people! It is the Dark Lord bringing you divine ambrosia for your mortal taste buds! “Luckily” most pipe-smokers agreed with me, when I tried to order Spark Plug at first all shops were sold-out.. Fortunately in the end I managed to secure some tins.
Backstory: Here I quote GL Pease himself from his website: This has been something of a dream project for me, and I’m happy to say that it’s on its way. Spark Plug is the latest blend to find a home in my Heirloom Series. I’ve been smoking prototypes for nearly a year, and am absolutely loving the final product. As always, working with Jeremy at C&D has been a pure and effortless joy, and Calvin has my often impenetrable design briefs and transformed my concept into the wonderful label seen above. My deepest gratitude and appreciation goes out to these guys for their continued willingness to work with whacky ideas and make them a reality. In a conversation with me Greg had to add: Dream project? That might be somewhat overstated; certainly I’ve wanted to do a latakia plug for a very long time, and it had to be just right, so it took some time, and haunted my dreams more than a few times. There were technical challenges to overcome, but we worked hard to get everything sorted, and I absolutely love the result.
Package / tin: Even when you lived under a stone and had no idea about the new Spark Plug tobacco, the tin art with a big Union Jack leaves nothing to the imagination. It almost screams: this is an English blend! On the flag is an image of the name-giver: a spark plug made to look a bit like the caduceus, the staff of Hermes, emissary and messenger of the gods. On the back of the tin it says: Deep and dark. Powerful yet refined. The smoky, leathery backdrop of Latakia is layered with an almost incense-like spice of rich orientals, with fine Virginias added for depth and a subtle sweetness. Like the classic roadsters that inspired its creation, Spark Plug has an alluring charm that invites you to rev it up and take it out for long drives in the country. Sliced thick or thin, it will never leave you stranded.
Contents / Cut / Ingredients: When I open the tin and pry away the carton lids I see a beautiful pressed hunk of dark, brown, red-brown, and lighter tobaccos. The name of the blend is Spark PLUG but in reality it is a hybrid of a crumble cake and a plug. I handled it as the latter, I used my antique Samuel McLardy tobacco cutter to cut off thin slices which I would gently rub out. The ingredients are Cyprian latakia, orientals from Greece and Turkey (I asked Greg which ones precisely, no answer..) and bright and red Virginias.
Smell from the tin: Ooohhh yeah! Ooohhh yeah! Damn this stuff smells good! Best odour from a tobacco tin ever! Well, maybe a tie with that aged Capstan.. Leather, campfire smoke, cedar, spice, sweet, sour. But kind of concentrated, the odour immediately triggers something inside you, awakens your senses. Like you would get a whiff of fresh bread or fresh coffee. It just hits you in a very pleasant way.
Taste: When the first light is done and the curled up tobacco is gently tapped down a bit I get a smoky salt-licorice taste, no bitterness. Then two things strike me a bit. First I detect a floral element, not full blast Lakeland soap sh*t but something subtle, almost refreshing. Second I discern an oiliness in the aroma, it reminds me of working on my old trusty Toyota Starlet. When I told Greg this he was pleased: I like that you discern an oiliness in the aroma, that it reminds you of working on your Starlet. When I was developing this, there were aspects of it that reminded me of the old British cars I have owned, worked on, restored and loved. The smell of grease, oil, petrol, the leather and horsehair stuffing of the seats, all mingling together while driving along winding roads on misty days. It’s not that the smells are the same, but there’s a sort of sensory link, a trigger to something reminiscent of an old Triumph or MG in my garage. I’ve chatted with other gearheads who have mentioned a similar reaction. That’s where the name came from. I don’t think “Smelly Under-bonnet Plug” would have had quite the same charm. Further down the bowl the blend builds in fullness, richness while retaining the balance of all the top notch ingredients (especially the orientals). I detect cedar, leather, earth, smoke, spice, floral, sweet, sour.. All in exotic harmony and without tiring my taste buds. With some blends you really have to “work” to get the most out of it. With Spark Plug you sit back, relax, and go like “Oh I now taste this, oh now that.” And before you know it, way too soon, all that is left in the bowl is grey ash. One tip, smoke it slow to get the most out of it.
Miscellaneous: Spark Plug is smoooooth all the way, no bite at all. Moisture level out of the tin was good. But the last bit of the tin (with any Pease blend) is always the best because it is a tad dryer (so why don’t I just let a little bit of tobacco dry out before smoking??). Nicotine level is mild to medium. I tried Spark Plug in several different shaped and sized pipes. All good smokes. But I got the best results in medium size princes.
Room-note: At first I thought I was doing fine with Spark Plug, no complaints or “I-hate-what-you-are-smoking” coughs from the old battle-axe. But when I dared to ask Ellen how it smelled all hell broke loose. “I almost went upstairs several times when you smoked it, I can’t stand it!” Now this sounds negative, but 1. Ellen did not leave the room, she only threatened. 2. She CAN stand it, she stayed. Besides that, when I come into the living room the next morning after smoking Spark Plug the odour is acceptable, it does not linger for long.
Price: At Cup O’ Joes I paid for a 2 oz. tin $11.48 (± €10,48).
Conclusion: The mark of a good tobacco for me is when I smoke it down to the last crumble in the tin. And I did just that with Spark Plug. Reluctantly I gave away a sample of it, but the rest was mine! Mine! My preciousss! Every day I looked forward to the evening because then I could smoke Spark Plug again (I only smoke 1 pipe per day, preferably in the evening). This was one of the best freshest blends I ever smoked. I am really curious how it will taste with some age on it in about 4 or 5 years. For me Spark Plug ticks a lot of boxes and in my opinion it is another masterpiece from GL Pease.
Oh, I almost forgot, I have a new website! 😀 No more “wordpress” in the internet address. I have my own domain now, I wish daddy could have seen this.. *tears up* And I ditched the banner with that bald ugly bloke smoking a pipe with skulls coming out of it 😉 Special thanks go out to bearded WordPress wizard and coding-nerd Johnny!
This is a video impression of the Dutch/Belgian Pijprokers Forum meeting in Heukelum, October 2019. Sorry about the shaky contents, I made the clips with my mobile phone. If you have any tips about recording and editing videos (I just started learning Adobe Premiere), please let me know!
Adieu, vaarwel, goodbye café De Waagschaal… For years your smoking room was the last refuge for the smoker in the region I live in. Myself and other pipe smokers had so many great and cosy meetings there over the years. Also I just liked to sit there alone with a good cigar/pipe, read a book, have a cup of coffee and look at the people outside walking over De Brink (the central square in Deventer). Now a (grumpy) owner closed it down due to recent regulations, although those are not enforced until April 2020. I was hoping for one last warm winter of smoking but unfortunately there is a small club of anti-smoking people here (Clean Air Nederland) who sued the Dutch state about their smoking room policy, and won… Unbelievable… I fetched my own drinks in the café below and carried them to the old smoking room, personnel did not even had to come there, and I bothered no one. Civilisation, don’t make me laugh… Luckily I still have the pictures, thanks to all who took them.