Germain Rich Dark Flake vs. Esoterica Stonehaven

Franz

Franz

At the latest Heukelum meeting I talked to fellow PRF-member Franz. Besides a fondness for old English made pipes (except Dunhill) he also very much likes the tobaccos made by the well known J.F. Germain & Son company from the British Channel Islands. Throughout the time I know Franz I was able to smoke quite a few Germain-made samples provided by him. Now he also did not disappoint me because from England he had ordered a vast amount of Germain Rich Dark Flake! I always wanted to try that one because according to a lot of stories it is similar to the famous Esoterica Tobacciana Stonehaven. I asked Franz if I could fill up a decent sized sample bag so I could compare it to Stonehaven at home. With a smile he said: go ahead!

jf_germain_sonBackground information:
Rich Dark Flake: Unfortunately I have very little background information about Rich Dark Flake. It is only available in the UK and is sold solely in bulk and not in tins. According to Mr Germain some of their blends maintained their recipe for 60 years. If that is the case with Rich Dark Flake, nooo idea.. I would love to hear from some elderly English pipe-smokers how long they are buying the blend.
Stonehaven: The origins of Esoterica Stonehaven are easier to trace. The range of Esoterica tobaccos was founded by Steve Richman, the owner of the Piedmont Tobacconist in Oakland, somewhere halfway the 1980’s. He was looking for someone who could produce his blends. J.F. Germain & Son heard about his interest and made contact through the British embassy. They must have been what Steve Richman was looking for because they started doing business together immediately. For the evaluation of the created blends Steve Richman founded a panel in which GL Pease also took place. Stonehaven is the only blend in the Esoterica range which includes Burley.

Package/tin description:
Rich Dark Flake:
“A great medium to strong dark flake made using a combination of Virginia and Burley tobaccos. Very similar to the popular Germains Stonehaven blend.” Rich Dark Flake comes in standard plastic pouches of a variety of gram weights with a lot of health warnings and in the same gold-coloured sealed bag as Stonehaven. It is always hit or miss if it comes all broken up or in thin juicy flakes.
Stonehaven: “A marriage of air-cured leaf and Burley with selected dark Virginia. Hard pressed and aged to produce brown flakes with dark undertones. A traditional English flake favoured by experienced pipe smokers.” Stonehaven comes in a gold-coloured sealed bag of 8 ounce with on it a simple but elegant label. As far as I know it never was available in tins.

Contents/cut:
Rich Dark Flake:
Burley and Virginia. The flake looks dark, long and thin but just not as thin as Stonehaven. On the picture the flake looks a bit broken up but this comes or from the journey to Franz, him dividing it in smaller portions and finally me putting it in a sample bag, or it was a batch which was a bit broken up.
Stonehaven: The same as Rich Dark Flake: Burley and Virginia. Apart from the slightly thinner cut both flakes look the same. According to Mr Germain Stonehaven is made with 22 cuts an inch. To me this is the thinnest flake I know of.

noseSmell from the pouch/bag:
Rich Dark Flake: When I hold the tobacco under my nose I smell milk chocolate, liquorice, treacle, leather, hay, raisins and some “earthiness”.
Stonehaven: Upon opening the mason jar in which I keep the tobacco I am greeted by a whiff of dark chocolate and some kind of liquor (cognac?) which reminds me of certain Belgian bonbons. Close to my sniffing organ the chocolate still dominates with a faint odour of hay and treacle. Obviously Stonehaven has a “darker” smell than Rich Dark Flake.

011Taste:
Rich Dark Flake: Already after the first few puffs you know you are on to something good. It has an “ancient”, traditional typical tobacco flavour to which only British manufacturers hold the secret. The first part of the bowl is utterly delicious and the creamy, rich flavours I encounter remind me of the typical Dutch “kerststol“: yeast, butter, (brown) sugar and almond. I did even taste some hints of dried fruit (plum?) and raisins. In the second part of the bowl the burley rears its head, the flavours deepen and the tobacco becomes more “manly”. A certain leathery earthiness develops and the sweetness sometimes gives way a bit to a pleasant bitterness. The flakes harmoniously burn down to a fine grey ash with no gooey stuff left behind.
Stonehaven: Dark chocolate hits my taste buds upon lighting and with the first couple of puffs. Pretty fast a dark sugary flavour comes in which diminishes the chocolate tones. There is not as much going on as with Rich Dark Flake in my opinion but the overall taste is excellent and harmonious. Here also a rich and creamy smoke but with a darker edge. Halfway the bowl you can really notice the burley (kept in check with a dark treacle sweetness) and the smoke becomes even deeper, fuller, with hints of nuttiness. Stonehaven clearly has a higher amount of burley than Rich Dark Flake. I detected nothing in the smoke itself of the liquor I smelled before on the bare flakes. Stonehaven also burns down to a fine grey ash.

Both tobaccos and the pipe I smoked them in: a Rattray's Old Perth

Both tobaccos and the pipe I smoked them in: a Rattray’s Old Perth

Miscellaneous:
Rich Dark Flake / Stonehaven: I don’t know how they do it but I seldom have tongue-bite with British made tobaccos. Rich Dark Flake and Stonehaven are no exceptions, even though they contain burley which has a tendency to cause pain on my tongue. They both smoke deliciously cool. Because of the thinner flakes the combustibility is good although they benefit from a bit of drying time. Nicotine-wise Stonehaven packs a bit more punch in my opinion and it is advisable to smoke both tobaccos after a good meal.

thumbs2Room-note:
Rich Dark Flake / Stonehaven: Both tobaccos I could actually smoke in the vicinity of my girlfriend Ellen. Not that she liked the odour of the smoke but it was bearable. Especially with Stonehaven I detected a faint cigarette like smell in the morning when I came downstairs but nothing too bad.

moneyPrice:
Rich Dark Flake: At MySmokingShop you pay £11.65 (± $18.24 /± €14.62) for a 50 gr. pouch and it seems the stuff is readily available. But beware, the shop does not ship to the USA..
Stonehaven: At 4noggins you pay $29.95 (± €24,-) for an 8 ounce bag. IF you can get it. Like so many offerings from Germain Stonehaven sells out almost the minute it hits the shop.. Oh, you can often get it on ebay but then an 8 ounce bag will set you back at over $ 100..

IMG_2428Conclusion:
In my opinion Rich Dark Flake and Stonehaven are not the same. Like Mr Germain said, they are similar. But not too similar. In Rich Dark Flake Virginia is the main component and in Stonehaven burley plays the leading role. For me in Rich Dark Flake there is more going on, more flavours, more sophistication. One of the few magnificent traditional British tobaccos. My mouth waters at the thought of some well-aged Rich Dark Flake.. Yummieyummieyummie! Stonehaven is more “Americanized”, an occasional treat and no all-day smoke but nonetheless superb. Very broadly speaking I think of Rich Dark Flake as milk chocolate and of Stonehaven as dark chocolate. The first I can eat all day long but the second is only tasty now and then. But then again, if you are a lover of dark chocolate… I would like to end with a thank you to Franz for making this blogpost possible!

Vintage Dunhill tobacco made in… Germany!?

IMG_2000A while ago I was surfing on the German ebay, looking for some goodies. There I stumbled upon a couple of vintage Dunhill tobacco tins, one Standard Mixture Medium and one London Mixture. Unfortunately the description said that both tins were opened yet full. I figured that I could probably re-hydrate the tobaccos and since the price was right I decided to take the risk and bought both tins. When I received and opened the package I saw to my utter delight that the London Mixture tin was still sealed. Yesss! Without much thinking I happily put both acquisitions in my tobacco-closet.

Freunde Der Tabakpfeife forum

Freunde Der Tabakpfeife forum

Some months ago I was going through my vintage tobacco stash, looking for something I can’t remember, when I saw the old London Mixture tin again. I took a better look at it and suddenly my eye fell upon a sentence at the downside: Hergestellt In Deutschland. What!? Made in Germany!!?? I always believed vintage Dunhill tobaccos were made in the UK, first by Dunhill themselves and later in 1981 by Murray (and from 2005 until now by Orlik in Denmark). As you can imagine my curiosity was awakened. So I started asking around on international pipe fora. On the PipesMagazine.com forum I did not get much further despite friendly reactions. Kind of logical because that is more American-orientated. Then fellow Dutch pipe smoker Huub came to the rescue: “Arno, I am a member of a German forum, Freunde Der Tabakpfeife, I shall try to gather some information there.” And lo and behold, in no time Huub could tell me several people reacted to my question of the origins of the London Mixture tin. I also became a forum-member there and looked into the thread Huub had started for me.

German made Dunhill tobaccos

Advertisement of German made Dunhill tobaccos

There I found a lot of information and several leads. It turned out that my tin was made under license of Dunhill by German tobacco company Von Eicken who also produced other Dunhill offerings at the time. I barely could believe this and as proof an old advertisement for German made Dunhill tobaccos was uploaded on the FDT forum. In a book about old companies from Hamburg I read more about Von Eicken.

The old Von Eicken factory in Hamburg

The old Von Eicken factory in Hamburg

As early as 1770 Johann Wilhelm von Eicken began trading with colonial countries and produced his pipe and snuff tobacco in Mülheim. In 1866 Carl Heinrich von Eicken took over the management of the company. He discontinued trading with the colonial countries and presses ahead with the production of tobacco products. Another tobacco factory in Hamburg was purchased in 1886. The Hamburg factory was not spared in WWII, it was partly destroyed during air raids in 1943. The plant in Mülheim was completely destroyed during air raids by the US Air Force. Shortly before the end of the war the closure of the factory in Hamburg was ordered by the Nazis in 1944. The building was required for the production of X-ray machines.. Old and sick Hans von Eicken handed over the company to his son Wilhelm just a few months before the war ended.

von_eicken1Official permission to resume manufacturing tobacco was granted in 1949. US Virginia tobacco, essential for production, was available in late autumn of the same year because of the Marshall Plan (93,000 tons of tobacco were shipped free of charge to Germany!). In 1963 Von Eicken was granted the exclusive import and distribution rights for Mac Baren tobacco in Germany and distributed this successfully until 2008. In 1983 the decision was made to relocate the factory to Lübeck. Marc von Eicken was the 8th generation to join the company in 1997. Since then he is running Von Eicken together with his father Johann Wilhelm.

hitler-neville-chamberlainThe most interesting thing I read in the book (and saw on the FDT forum) by far was that Von Eicken already made contact with Dunhill in 1926, permission to produce tobaccos in license was granted in 1938. 1938… With a shock I realized that Adolf Hitler reigned over Nazi-Germany in that year. So one of the quintessential British companies gave a tobacco license to a company in Nazi-Germany?? Yes, but it is not as black and white as you read it. In 1938 most Western countries had adopted an optimistic view about what Winston Churchill later called “the gathering storm of war in Europe”. I mean, a policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler was initiated in Great Britain by Lord Halifax and US president Roosevelt had signed the US Neutrality Acts. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, met Hitler in his Munich flat. Later that day he flew home and waved the joint declaration of peaceful intent, which they both signed. He also remarked that “all this will be over in 3 months” and “I believe it is peace for our time”.

Alfred Dunhill jr. sells pipes in the ruins of the bombed store

Alfred Dunhill jr. sells pipes in the ruins of the bombed store

For Dunhill 1938 was a year of consolidation. A royal warrant from the freshly crowned King George VI was received and agencies were appointed for countries around the world. The main agent for Dunhill in London, the firm Abel & Imray, attempted through a local attorney to register the names “Dunhill”, “Rich Dark Virginia”, “Standard Mixture” and “My Mixture” in Germany. Sadly the firm was informed by the German authorities that it could not use its chosen representative because he had been “disbarred from practice” for being Jewish. I guess Von Eicken fitted the bill better. Alas, in the end Hitler’s play for more time (so he could complete his weaponry) was successful. On 3 September 1939 Great Britain and France declared war on Germany and in 1941 the Dunhill store was bombed..

Herr Johann Wilhelm Von Eicken

Herr Johann Wilhelm Von Eicken

Despite the knowledge at the FDT forum and things I read I still had some questions. So I boldly decided to mail Von Eicken themselves in the hope to verify and gain some information. And lo and behold, a couple of days later I got a mail back from the older director, Herr Johan Wilhelm Von Eicken. His answers were very short, sometimes I did not know what he precisely meant but anyway, I was thankful. Below are the questions I had and the answers to the best of my abilities.

Nazi anti-smoking poster

Nazi anti-smoking poster

Why did Dunhill give a license to produce their tobaccos to Von Eicken?
The answer is pretty simple: economical reasons. In 1929 Dresden internist Fritz Lickint presented statistical evidence through a published case-series study which linked lung cancer and tobacco usage. So the Nazis began one of the first public anti-smoking campaigns in modern history. Hence the term “anti-smoking Nazis”.. A motivating factor was Adolf Hitler’s personal distaste for tobacco. Despite the fact that he was a heavy smoker in his early life. He used to smoke 25 to 40 cigarettes daily but gave up the habit, saying that it was “a waste of money”. Another motivation behind the Nazi campaign against smoking were their reproductive policies. The campaign included banning smoking in trams, buses and city trains, promoting health education, limiting cigarette rations in the Wehrmacht, organizing medical lectures for soldiers and raising the tobacco tax. So to get their tobaccos to the German consumer Dunhill first had to import their tobacco into Germany and pay import-duties. And on top of that the increased tobacco-tax made their offerings even more expensive. But with the tobacco made in Germany they avoided the import duties, enter Von Eicken. After the war the Deutsche Mark had little value as opposed to the British Pound thus everything coming from Great Britain was expensive. So once again The Von Eicken factory came in handy for Dunhill.

Original Dunhill London Mixture tin

Original Dunhill London Mixture tin

Did Von Eicken use the same recipes as the original London made ones?
Herr Von Eicken wrote that their Dunhill tobaccos were a close copy to the original. But according to some members the German Dunhill offerings were, uhm, not so good. FDT member Uli says: “As a student I started smoking in 1959. Soon my favourite tobacco became Dunhill Standard Mixture and it was (amongst other Dunhill offerings) made in Germany. One time in Switzerland I bought myself an original Dunhill tin, the difference was striking! After that I never bought a German made Dunhill tobacco.” German friend and walking pipe-smoking encyclopaedia Rainer confirmed this. He told me that an old pipe smoking friend of him said that the German made London Mixture was awful compared to the original.. Great, I thought, I apparently bought a tobacco tin that can rival with the dreaded Clan (by Theodorus Niemeijer)…

To be very clear, this is a fake tin

To be very clear, this is a fake tin

Did Von Eicken kept producing Dunhill tobacco in Nazi Germany until 1943, when their factories were bombed by the allied forces?
According to Herr Von Eicken there was no leaf tobacco available in the war, so, no. Tobacco rationing was imposed in the beginning of the war and almost 70% of the available smoky leaf was diverted to the armed forces for the remainder of WWII. Also I can’t imagine that such a luxury product as Dunhill tobacco was bought by the struggling German population. But one has to admit, it is a tantalizing thought that perhaps some tins were made at the end of 1938 and beginning of 1939. That would really be a kind of sinister holy grail of Dunhill tobacco.

logoWhen did Von Eicken stop producing Dunhill tobacco in license?
Once again I had to lean on Rainer because I did not understand the answer of Herr Von Eicken.. According to Rainer sometime before 1976 when he started to buy pipe tobacco the original Dunhill tobaccos became available in Germany and Von Eicken ceased their production. Perhaps Dunhill noticed that a lot of German pipe-smokers bought their tobaccos abroad.. Who knows.. One thing is sure, when Murray took over Dunhill production Von Eicken no longer made their version.

IMG_2006Back to the tin of German London Mixture I bought. You can see a George VI crest with a reference to the “late King”. So according to John Loring this tin was made between 1954 and 1962. Personally I believe it is closer to 1962 than to 1954 because of the price you see on the tax-seal, DM 7,50. This because Rainer says that halfway the 1970’s such a tin costed around DM 8,00. But still, in the “worst case scenario” my tin is 52 years old, yiehaaa!!!

IMG_2018Of course I had to open the tin. Rainer constantly kept semi-seriously nagging me to “write the blog and afterwards sell the sealed tin for a huge sum” but that is not me. So on one of the last summer days I cracked the still intact vacuum seal. On top of the tobacco was a paper insert placed with the text “This tobacco is packed freshly cut. Many smokers find that tobacco smokes cooler when quite dry. In such cases it is advisable to have the tin open for a while.”

IMG_2023With the paper insert removed the tobacco looked just fine in my eyes. No mould or anything like that, just mostly dark coloured ribbon cut strands with some lighter ones. Despite that the vacuum seal had been intact the contents were a little bit on the dry side but still perfectly smokeable. The smell of the tobacco inside was a bit strange. I noticed that the strength of the latakia had diminished and what was left is best described as a McClelland latakia tobacco with instead of the ketchup odour a bit of a sweet liquorice smell with a rotten edge. The original Dunhill tobaccos were (in)famous for their “rotten” smell so probably Von Eicken tried to mimic this.

IMG_2024I filled a 1962 Root Briar Dunhill prince with the German London Mixture and set fire to the old tobacco. I was aware that people said that the German version was awful compared to the original but all by all I had a decent smoke. Nothing spectacular but just.. Decent.. I had no old original London Mixture tin so comparing it was difficult. Only thing I had was a tin of the Murray version, so in the next days I also smoked that one. In the afternoon the Murray version, in the evening the Von Eicken one. Of course the Murray tobacco was fresher, the latakia more present and pungent. But when I adjusted the taste in my mind I found some similarities. The original description for London Mixture read: “A delightfully harmonious blend of matured Virginia and Oriental tobaccos, soft and mellow, cool and fragrant.” Mr Pease said about the original: “It had a richness, a sophisticated elegance, and a complex nature that kept it from being tiring. It was full enough to satisfy, but never overbearing. It was comfort food for the pipe.” I could find myself in these descriptions. Both blends were very harmonious, one good taste throughout the bowl without a roller-coaster ride of different flavours, comfort food. The Murray version had a certain richness and was soft and mellow. On the other hand The Von Eicken blend bit me sometimes and lacked the complex nature.

All by all it was a fascinating experience smoking the German made London Mixture. Especially with the story behind it. I would like to thank Huub, Rainer, the folks at the FDT forum and Herr Von Eicken for their help and input.

Inter-Tabac 2014 impression

Entrance of the Inter-Tabac fair

Entrance of the Inter-Tabac fair

Last year a dream came true for me, I got to visit the Inter-Tabac fair in Dortmund, Germany. For those of you who missed the blogpost I made of the visit; the Inter-Tabac is the leading and biggest trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. This year there were more than 400 exhibitors from 51 countries who presented themselves on an area of over 30.000 square metres! In 5 exhibition halls (1 more than last year) renowned companies from all over the world presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This includes cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shop equipment and spirits. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers. Last year I was lucky, I got a ticket through an anonymous person. Well, that person was Fred, the Dutch importer of Mr. Brog and Country Pipes and also a member of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers forum. Now he yet again had a ticket for me and on top of that he was visiting the fair the same day as myself. A good thing because Rudi and Paul, with whom I went last year, preferred more privacy now despite the good times we all had. Apparently Rudi noticed that a big crew of consumers did not go well with the exhibitors, after all it is a fair meant for retailers. Luckily, for Fred my presence was no trouble at all.

Waiting with a nice view for the halls to open. See that guy checking out the boobs of the girl?

Do you see that guy sneakily checking out the boobs of the girl?

On the sunny morning of September 19th I once again drove to the Westfalenhallen in Dortmund. Luckily there was no Stau (traffic jam) on the way so I arrived in time. When I walked to the main entrance (no anti-smoking nazis this time) I saw Paul and Rudi standing there. We all went inside and chatted a bit while I was texting Fred if he already had arrived. To my utter delight I saw signs that smoking was allowed inside the halls. This because last year I heard that that maybe was the final time inside smoking was still possible. Of course the exhibitors protested and I guess that helped. I mean, you go to biggest smoking trade fair of the world and you can’t smoke inside?? Suddenly I got a SMS from Fred that he was in hall 8 so I said goodbye to Rudi and Paul and went on my way.

Midwakh pipes

Midwakh pipes

Soon I found Fred at the big yellow Clipper stand, we greeted each other and started walking while chatting. Some exhibitors handed out presents and information so near a stand Fred got a bag pushed into his hands. He checked out the contents and saw something inside which looked like a small pipe. Fred likes new, innovative things that no one has so he headed back to the stand. The pipe appeared to be a so called “Midwakh“, an arab pipe. An enthusiastic salesman showed us how you fill the pipe with tobacco made in Oman and offered us a smoke. It tasted a bit like cigarette tobacco and the salesman explained that the pipe is meant for a quick enjoyable fix if you have little time. Even quicker than a cigarette. But I thought like (did not express it), well, you had your quick fix and then you still have to clean the pipe. So all by all it takes more time than a cigarette.. And besides that, being a full-blood Dutchman, the pipe looked to me like a hasish-pipe..

IMG_2041

Brebbia stand

An interesting stand we passed by was that of Brebbia pipes. I already knew from Fred that they have no Dutch importer and he was asked a couple of times if he wanted that job. But it was too much work. Despite that Fred was hesitating if he should buy some pipes because we saw some really nice ones. What I love about the Italian pipe makers is that they have some kind of passion and fire in their eyes when they talk about their creations. Fred asked if he could buy low quantities and if they shipped to the Netherlands and with busy hand-gestures and thick Italians accents they said that was no problem at all. So who knows..

Fred at the Dan Tobacco stand

Fred at the Dan Tobacco stand

While we walked through the halls the appetite for a chair and some coffee arose with the both of us. “Let’s go to the stand of Dan Tobacco, we can get some coffee there” Fred said. Good idea! When we arrived I saw to my disappointment that master-blender Andreas Mund was not there. Last year he was present and we had a warm conversation. For me Andreas is the living soul of Dan Tobacco besides the old director Heiko Behrens who was present but looked a bit old and fragile.. Anyway, the charming daughter of Heiko presented us 3 new blends: Bulldog Roper’s Roundels, Salty Dogs and Choo Choo Train. The last one was so new and fresh that it could not be smoked yet. From what I could see and smell it is a light Virginia flake with a topping of chocolate and some kind of vanilla-butterscotch. My eye fell on the label of Bulldog Roper’s Roundels and Salty Dogs: Manufactured in the E.C. for Dan Tobacco Germany. Hmm.. The Roundels smelled and looked precisely like Peter Stokkebye’s Luxury Bullseye Flake and there are not many tobacco factories on Europe mainland that can make plugs like Salty Dogs. So my guess is they were made in a big factory in the North of Europe.. Choo Choo Train is fully made at Dan Tobacco. As it should be. While sipping the coffee I also asked the daughter of Heiko how the waterpipe tobacco business (see the blog of last year) went: most excellent.

IMG_2054So our thirst was quenched but now our bellies grumbled. Last year I had lunch at the restaurant of the fair itself and it was expensive and baaaad.. Luckily Fred knew that outside was a stand where they sold grilled mega-burgers. It was easy to find because the fumes from the grill rose sky-high and the queue was long.. But it was 100% definitely worth the wait! A mouth-watering very tasty 20 cm. diameter (!) burger between a bun of the same size with sauce and salad was our reward.

Prime examples of Mastro de Paja

Prime examples of Mastro de Paja

Back inside we passed by the stand of Mastro de Paja and saw the most exquisite pipes of the day. We just had to stand in awe and admire the displayed beauties. “For you just 10 dollars”, joked one of the salesmen who saw us drooling. Well, for that money I would have taken them all home! When we learned the real price we sadly understood that we would take none with us.. But the silverwork and innovative use of egg-shells in some pipes was very, very professional. And also here the fierce Italian enthusiasm for their products was hearth warming. If only I had the money..

Per Jensen showing a tin of HH Latakia Flake

Per Jensen showing a tin of HH Latakia Flake

One of the stands I definitely wanted to visit was that of MacBaren. Last year I had some trouble finding it (a stand within a stand) but now we easily marched to the small counter where the very friendly master-blender Per Jensen was just helping some clients. While waiting we looked at the range of MacBaren tobaccos in small sample jars and it occurred to me that I was missing one, their latest creation: HH Latakia Flake. So I asked Mr. Jensen (when he was available) where it was. Quickly he went to the back, grabbed a tin of it from a cabinet and opened it. Fred and I approvingly sniffed the delicious smelling flakes inside. Earlier this year I smoked a small sample of the HH Latakia Flake and found it to be pretty tasty and smooth. But the German health-labels on the tin puzzled me somewhat. Was it already available in Germany? Fred said that I have blog about pipe-smoking. Mr. Jensen nodded approvingly and replied that if I mentioned that HH Latakia Flake is going to be available in Germany in the spring of 2015 he was going to give me the tin. My blog is non-commercial but this opportunity I would not let slip through. So you see Mr. Jensen? I said it. I also had a question about one of my personal favourites, HH Vintage Syrian. As you perhaps know it is one of the last blends with the original Syrian Latakia and I was wondering how long the stock of MacBaren would last. Mr. Jensen very honestly answered that he guessed that in about 7 or 8 years they would run out of the Syrian dark leaf. So grab your tins while you still can!

Fred wondering why Dunhill pipes are so expensive..

Fred wondering why Dunhill pipes are so expensive..

We also had to go to the big stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group where pipe-brands like Winslow, Peterson, Dunhill and Butz Choquin are shown. Of course the main attraction is Poul Winslow himself and.. He was not present when we were there, he was walking around the fair. Oooh damn.. So we just looked around and marvelled at the beauty of the Winslow and Dunhill pipes. Two totally different brands but each beautiful in their own right. What was not so beautiful were some pipes by Butz Choquin. They had a couple of bright yellow, almost fluorescent ones. Pipes covered with jeans-fabric and dark blue ones with yellow spots. Let’s just say I expected the French to have more of a good taste.

IMG_2086

Sergeant Matron from the Kearvaig Pipe Club

The Italians surely had a better taste on the fair as we noticed when we shuffled beside the stands of Lorenzo, L’Anatra, Ser Jacopo and Savinelli. I am even surprised that I don’t own an Italian pipe.. Hmm.. When we turned around the corner we saw the combined stand of pipe-maker Ian Walker and tobacco institute Samuel Gawith. The Gawith guys were busy and Ian Walker did not recognize me right away until I put the forum prince under his nose that he made last year. “Aaahh! I already thought it was you! Pipe nr. 13 right?” He has a good memory for sure! I asked how business went and he enthusiastic told me that he already had 80 orders for pipes that morning! Wow! He also was so kind to get the latest offering from his neighbours for me so I could enjoy it: Bothy Flake. Apparently the smoke summoned the physical body of Sergeant Matron of the Kearvaig Pipe Club, one of the originators of Bothy Flake. I did not recognize him because I only knew him as a zombie. I said who I was and I was glad to hear he is a regular reader of my blog. I told him I loved the magazines he makes for the pipe club with crazy pictures of wasted Scotchmen in kilts who show their bare asses. He countered with “Well, I saw the blogpost with you guys wearing those strange coats and you say we are crazy??” Lovely chap! If I ever get to Scotland I will surely try to survive an evening in a bothy with the KPC members and copious amounts of tobacco and whisky.

Look daddy! Two girls, I did it!

Look daddy! Two girls, I did it!

Talking about bare asses, sex still sells at the Inter Tabac Fair. But not with the “old-fashioned” tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars and pipes/pipe tobacco. No, the hordes of attractive scarcely clad young ladies were present at trendy water-pipe (tobacco) and E-cigarette (liquid) stands. And it works! Fred and I walked by a stand where they sold some espresso water-pipe stuff and a good looking girl asked if we wanted to try some. Ehrrrr ok! The girl explained with a sly smile that we really had to suck hard on the pipes to get them going. Owkeeej.. I have some water-pipe experience from my visits to Cairo so I was fuming (and coughing) away in no time. When we were done we passed another stand with a girl who had, let’s say, two major unique selling points. She made some kind of water-pipe cocktail with real fruit for us and I have no idea how she did it because I was trying to look at (and photograph) something else.. I am a bad man, I know. In front of an E-cigarette producer stand were a couple of girls active with handing out goody-bags. I snapped a picture from the scene while talking to Fred. One of the girls heard me and said in Dutch “Oooh, you are Dutch! If you like you can let a photo be made with me and my girlfriend”. Ehrrrr ok! She softly pushed herself against me and another stunning girl with even less clothing joined us. Fred had a big grin on his face when he took the picture.

Vauen Diamond

Vauen Diamond

To cool off we went to the stand of German pipe-producer Vauen. Our eyes immediately went to a black diamond shaped pipe fittingly called “Diamond“. I didn’t and don’t know what to think of the shape. Vauen are surely thinking out of the box with this one. What I did not like were the facts that the pipe was pretty heavy because of the used plastic and the not so tight fit of the mouthpiece. I rather have Vauen design some more shapes for their magnificent Auenland-series. They also had a new tobacco, “English Blend & Vanilla“. I looked at it, smelled it and told a salesman that it reminded me very, very much of Sillem’s Black. He did not know that one..

New Samuel Gawith: Blend it and Bothy Flake

New Samuel Gawith: Blend it and Bothy Flake

It was getting late and I just had one more thing to do at the fair: speak with the Gawith guys. First of all I wanted to compliment them with Bothy Flake. I smoked a large sample before the fair (thanks to Huub!) and I can say it is one of best tobaccos Samuel Gawith brought out in the last couple of years. Second I asked about their new concept: Blend it. Which means that you can buy tins with flakes which also contain a small bag containing some ribbon cut blending tobacco. That way you can mix your own creation. I hope the concept will take off and be successful.

IMG_2115The main reason I sat there was that I perhaps had some business for them. Last year I had some forum tobaccos made in cooperation with Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco and a German tobacco factory. In about a good year from now I am thinking about creating one new forum tobacco together with Samuel Gawith. I asked them if they liked the idea and they did! From their side I can expect full cooperation. But there are other things I must take account of first.. Will the Dutch/Belgian forum once more order a lot of tins? How will the tobacco route go, through The Netherlands or Belgium? We will see. The last thing I wanted from the Gawith guys was some Bothy Flake, but unfortunately they brought not much with them. Sergeant Matron (who was sitting beside me) took a pity on me with my pleads for a sample and he put his own tin of Bothy Flake in my bag. Thanks sarge!

The big Heinrichs truck

The big Heinrichs truck

With just 15 minutes to go before the fair closed Fred and I left the building. We were saying to each other that the water-pipe and especially the E-cigarette business was booming. “Maybe next year all the halls will contain that stuff” Fred said with a wry smile.. He might be right, in some halls there were so many Japanese/Chinese stands with E-cigarettes and liquids that I felt like walking through a shopping street in Tokyo/Shanghai. At least of one thing we can be certain next year, that the big truck of Heinrichs will be standing in front of the Inter-Tabac Fair.

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Nourishingly Normandy

Our holiday-house in Notre-Dame-De-Courson

Our holiday-house in Notre-Dame-De-Courson

Traditionally for Ellen and me June is the month to go on vacation. One has a good chance that the weather is fine, it is not high-season so the prices are reasonable and the really big tourist crowds have not yet arrived. Because of financial reasons we decided to go away for just one week. But where to? We soon choose a location not too far from home: the region of Normandy in France. Well, still a 700 km. drive.. I went searching for a suitable holiday-house (read: good and cheap) and after a few evenings of Google-Fu I found one! An old 17th century home, formerly a cider-press barn, build in the typical style of Normandy and situated in the small village of Notre-Dame-De-Courson. Luckily the owner was an Englishman (a lot of British expats live in Normandy) which saved me the troubles of writing in French (my French is sooo bad..) so the process of booking went smooth.

Pont de Normandie

Pont de Normandie

What not did go smooth was the last part of the journey to the holiday-house. Damn TomTom! I did not study the map of Normandy too well, trusted the navigation device and as a result we got sent over the Pont de Normandie! Beautiful, really, but also expensive (€5,50 to cross 1 bridge!) and a big detour. Once in the villages near our destination I relaxed. I did not expect Normandy to be so hilly, rustic and beautiful! Instant holiday feeling. Of course while driving through the picturesque towns I kept an eye out for tobacco-stores and to my delight I spotted several shops with “Tabac” (tobacco) written above the door.

"Tabac" in Livarot, close to our holiday-house

“Tabac” in Livarot, close to our holiday-house

The “Tabac” is a national institution, a shrine to French culture encapsulated by French cinema, part of the café society and a social necessity. Besides tobacco-products a “Tabac” (they describe themselves as a nationwide 28.000-strong “convenience store” chain) also can sell national lottery tickets, strong black coffee (called “café noir” and yes it is STRONG), cold beer, newspapers, magazines and fiscal stamps. In smaller villages they can act as a post office, headquarters of village sports and cultural associations and even as informal banker when no ATMs are to be found. So it is not strange that anyone planning to set up as a tobacconist first needs clearance from the customs authorities and then must undergo an initial training to enter the craft and after that continuous ongoing refresher courses at regular intervals.

A "Tabac" in Lisieux

“Tabac” in Lisieux. Despite the sign, no pipes..

Smoking is as deeply rooted in French society and culture as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, escargot (snails), high fashion, wine, (smelly) cheeses and champagne. Not even efforts by the government’s health authorities to ban public smoking and educate people about the dangers of tobacco consumption have put a dent in the insatiable craving of France for the smoky leaf. Particularly the famous Gauloises and Gitanes brands. So with that in mind I expected a lot in the pipe-tobacco department. Boy, was I disappointed.. I visited several “Tabac” shops in the towns we went to and everyone of them had more or less exactly the same pipe-tobacco assortment: Saint Claude, Le Supérieur, Amsterdamer and some MacBaren offerings. And all of them vacuum sealed pouches, not a single tin to be found. Perhaps “Tabac” stores in the big cities sell more but the single row of “tabac pour le pipe” in the smaller shops was a bit of a disillusion. And then you have the price.. Wowww.. Dutch prizes, and that means expensive. Since 2000 tobacco prizes have tripled!

IMG_1658Despite that I decided to buy some Le Supérieur (€8,10 for 40 gr.) at a “Tabac” in the picturesque sea-side town of Honfleur which even had some pipes! The only shop I visited in my vacation that had those but alas, nothing special.. That evening at the balcony of the holiday-house in the last rays of the setting sun I broke the seal of the Le Supérieur pouch and what I smelled and saw was no disappointment at all. My first thought was “Semois“, but with a twist. That being a light topping of I believe to be chocolate. Because of this when smoking the taste is sweeter than that of its Belgian cousin. It is a mellow smoke for sure, no tongue bite and although the level of “cigar-ness” rises throughout the bowl the tobacco never becomes overpowering. So I was a bit surprised that the tobacco packed a good punch of the ol’ lady nicotine. Although I could have known this because Semois also has a lot of vitamin N. I loved the rustic side of this blend, it is a no-nonsense tobacco, a true all-day smoke.

The e-smoke shop-window in Honfleur

The e-smoke shop-window in Honfleur

Also in Honfleur I stumbled upon a modern and sterile looking store with strange, colourful things in the shop-window. When I came closer I saw to my utter horror nothing but e-smoke products, there even was an e-pipe! With a hand in front of my mouth, preventing me from painting the store-front with vomit, a quick look inside revealed it was the only stuff they sold. Aarghhh! It seems the e-cigarette market has exploded over the past two years in France. For a fraction of the cost of a pack of cigarettes or a pouch of pipe-tobacco smokers can choose an e-liquid flavour, preferred level of nicotine and even personalize the damn thing itself. A survey carried out by Ipsos in December 2013 revealed one in five French people (that is around 10 million!) had tried an e-cigarette. At the same time sales of traditional cigarettes dropped by just over 7%..

A no-smoking sign and an ashtray.. Hmm..

A no-smoking sign and an ashtray.. Hmm..

Despite the success of e-smoking the French keep on consuming tobacco. The number of French smokers is actually increasing! Since 2005 the percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 75 who smoke has gone from 28% to 30%. The biggest “problem” with French anti-smoking laws is the lack of enforcement. People still smoke in places where it is clearly banned. For example, in Ireland the smoking ban was followed by more than 25.000 inspections in the first year. In France there were only 600 inspections. Way to go! Also about one-fourth of cigarettes consumed in France are believed to have originated from foreign countries. The French (like the Dutch) know their ways better and better to the borders of Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany where tobacco is much cheaper.

Anyway, enough with the smoking, now something about the other good things of life. I named this blogpost “Nourishingly Normandy” because the region feeds you with everything that you need: food, drinks and culture. Here are ten tips about those three things.

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel

1. Visit Mont Saint-Michel, one of the big tourist traps of France but of such awesome beauty that going there is mandatory. Try to arrive as early in the day as possible to avoid the large crowds. If you go by car do not park it at the big parking-lot of the Mont, it is €xpen$ive.. In stead put it in a smaller parking lot a couple of hundred meters before the one of the Mont. Also take your lunch with you. Most restaurants inside the Mont are not cheap to say the least.. Besides, you will never forget eating your baguette sitting on the outside walls of the Mont while watching the sea and avoiding the not-so-shy seagulls.

The local boulangerie in Notre-Dame-De-Courson

The local boulangerie in Notre-Dame-De-Courson

2. Talking about baguettes, every French village of a certain size is required by law to have a “boulangerie” (bakery) or some other place where you can buy bread. So every morning I awoke at 7 a.m., hit the shower and drove to the local boulangerie to buy still warm baguettes and croissants. When I got back Ellen had set up the table and we could have a tasty breakfast.

Me paying respect to the fallen at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Me paying respect to the fallen at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

3. Visit the beaches from D-Day and the American Cemetary and Memorial (featured in the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan) at Colleville-sur-Mer. It is a more than impressive and touching sight to see all the graves of the brave men who gave us our freedom. “Think not only upon their passing, remember the glory of their spirit”.

Bayeux cathedral

Bayeux cathedral

4. France is all about beautiful and well preserved ancient churches and cathedrals. Ellen and I visited the cathedrals of Lisieux and Bayeux. Just soak up the sacrosanct atmosphere while you silently shuffle besides centuries-old altars, paintings, statues, stained glass windows and graves. And while you are in Bayeux pay a visit to the almost 1000-year old Bayeux-tapestry, very much recommended! If you want to see a stupendously big building, go to the Basilica of St. Thérèse in Lisieux.

The Livarot cheese I bought, very yummie!

The Livarot cheese I bought, very yummie!

5. Normandy is THE region for soft cheeses like Camembert, Livarot, Pont-l’Évêque and Boursin. All supermarkets will have an assortment of local cheeses but the most fun is to buy those directly from the farm. Alongside roads there are usually signs (“ferme laitière”). I bought a Livarot cheese from the Thébault farm, my first experience with a soft French cheese besides the well-knows President Camembert and Boursin. Livarot cheese is pungent, spicy, earthy, full of flavour and it makes your refrigerator stink for weeks. Ellen would not touch the stuff, I loved it.

The Vieux Bassin, Honfleur

The Vieux Bassin, Honfleur

6. Visit the picturesque, most charming sea-side town of Normandy: Honfleur. Long a favourite with painters but now more popular with the Parisian jet set. Even though it can be overrun with tourists like myself in the summer months, it is hard not to love its graceful beauty. The heart of Honfleur is the Vieux Bassin (Old Harbour), from where explorers once set sail for the New World. This part of the port is surrounded by a lot of brightly coloured buildings that evoke maritime Normandy of centuries past. Beware, if you want to have a good meal, do not eat in one of the restaurants around the old harbour (expensive and lacking in quality). In stead go to a restaurant in the town centre. I personally recommend Le Corsaire, which brings me to my next tip.

Escargot (snails)

Escargot (snails)

7. Have lunch and dinner in a local restaurant. The French like a warm, savoury “déjeuner” (lunch) so when in Honfleur Ellen and I visited Le Corsaire. Most restaurants have a couple of menus, that means you pay a fixed price and choose between several appetizers, main courses and desserts. We choose the cheapest (€15,50) and got real value for money. Try the “Moules à la crème ou mariniére” (Mussel marinated with cream), di-vine yummieness! On the last evening of our stay we went to Le Tournebroche in Notre-Dame-De-Courson to have dinner. They serve excellent local cuisine with a modern twist. I asked for a side-dish, the infamous Escargot (snails), because I never had those. They look unappetizing but taste surprisingly delicious thanks to the garlic-sauce in which they bathe.

Château de Saint-Germain-de-Livet

Château de Saint-Germain-de-Livet

8. Visit Chateau de Saint-Germain-De-Livet. A very picturesque castle build for a part in typical Normandic-style between 1561 and 1578. There are guided tours in French (with printed sheets in several languages) and you also have access to the surrounding garden.

Market hall in Saint-Pierre-Sur-Dives

Market hall in Saint-Pierre-Sur-Dives

9. Go to a local market in one of the surrounding towns. We went to the market in Saint-Pierre-Sur-Dives. It has an ancient market hall dating from the 11th century which was bombed during WWII but has been completely rebuilt using the traditional methods. The market itself is loaded with local food and drink products such as vegetables, fruits, cheeses, ciders and calvados. You can also find flowers, livestock, clothes, bags and accessories etc.

The owner of ferme Belleau packing some bottles of his cider for us

The owner of ferme Belleau packing some bottles of his cider for us

10. Buy local cider at the cider-press barn itself. Look for signs with “cidre” on them alongside roads. We went to one situated next to a crumbling house just outside Notre-Dame-De-Courson, ferme Belleau. The owner was having lunch but welcomed us nonetheless. I asked “Je voudrais acheter cidre?” (Can I buy cider?) and we were led to a large barn. Inside there was a pungent but inviting smell of apples and alcohol and a lot of equipment. The owner asked us which varieties we wanted and I choose several. Price per bottle: only €2,50. Vive la France!

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Semois expedition 2014

The group of the first Semois expedition in 2011

The group of the first Semois expedition in 2011

At the Wuustwezel meeting this year I talked to Jan about him organizing another Semois expedition. The last one had been in 2011 and was my introduction to the unique Belgian leaf, the breathtaking landscape of the Ardennes and the excellent beers of our Southern neighbours. I had such a blast then that I wanted to repeat that experience. So somewhere in the first part of this year a date was picked: 24 May. We would meet again before the castle in Boullion and then make a trip past the remaining Semois producers.

Our holiday-house in Corbion

Our holiday-house in Corbion

Back in 2011 Shaun drove together with me and I stayed the evening and night at his place so of course I asked if he wanted to join me again. Unfortunately (for me) he was in the process of moving into a bigger apartment with his charming girlfriend so he could not make it. I wished him all the best and started to think about other options. Perhaps a bed & breakfast? Or a simple hotel room? Hmm.. I knew that from The Netherlands two other forum members would join the group: Rob and Teunis. Perhaps it would be fun (and cheaper) if we together could rent a holiday-house somewhere in the Semois region and stay for the weekend. So I sent a message to the both of them and luckily they loved the idea. After a short search I stumbled upon a few suitable holiday-homes for a decent price. In the end I choose one in Corbion (after the approval of Rob and Teunis) where Vincent Manil and J.P. Couvert reside.

Friday 23 May: At 3 p.m. the holiday-house would be available and it was a 4 hour drive from my home (without traffic-jams). So to be on the safe side I decided I would drive away from home at about 10 a.m.  I woke up pretty early that morning and packed my belongings under which 2 corncobs for the Semois tobacco of course. It was nice driving weather so I programmed the TomTom and began the journey. The first part went smooth until I came in the vicinity of Maastricht. For some stupid reason you have to pass some traffic lights instead of speeding over the highway to the Belgian border. The result was a big traffic-jam which took me about half an hour before I could press the gas pedal properly again. TomTom is not the smartest device so once in Belgium in stead of sending me over the ring-way near Liège I was directed right through the city. Beautiful to see, don’t get me wrong,  but driving there was pretty sh*tty because of all the busy traffic. Once I hit the highway again a real sense of vacation washed over me. This because the landscape became more sloping. In The Netherlands almost everything is flat so when a Dutchman sees hills and slopes, *bam*, instant holiday-feeling. The rest of the journey was smooth sailing under a sunny sky until I arrived exactly on time in Corbion at the vacation-house. There I paid the remaining sum at the owner, got the key and was left alone. I unpacked my belongings, sat outside, lit up a pipe, started reading in Tolkien’s Silmarillion and waited for the other guys to arrive.

Baguette, some Ardennes sausage inside and fries on top

Baguette, some Ardennes sausage inside and fries on top

After almost an hour I heard a car and yes, it was Rob (Teunis would come by motorcycle). We shook hands and chatted away until Teunis arrived some time later. The holiday-house had 2 sleeping rooms, one with a 2-person bed and one with 2 bunk-beds. Because Rob was the oldest of us he could sleep in the 2-person bed and Teunis and I would sleep in the bunk-beds. While Teunis unpacked his stuff Rob and I decided to do some shopping. Fortunately there was a supermarket in the village at which we bought  Belgian beer and already some things for breakfast, fresh bread we would get the next morning. We then picked up Teunis and drove to Boullion to have dinner. After walking a bit through the town-centre we managed to find some kind of luxury snackbar. With the food I guess I made a good choice (no idea what I was ordering, the menu was in French..). This because I ended up with an open cut  baguette which had some Ardennes sausage inside and fries on top! Yummie! Back at the holiday-house in the evening it was becoming too soon too chilly outside so after a couple of beers we moved inside where Teunis more or less managed to get a fire going. We did not know if we were allowed to smoke inside but on the kitchen table stood a small ashtray. For us a sign that the pipe-God granted us permission to puff on our pipes indoors. Besides, the smell of the hearth would mask all odours. Needless to say it was a great evening with lots of great beers and great discussions. Pretty intoxicated we hit our beds late at night.

The group at the café terrace in Boullion

The group at the café terrace in Boullion

Saturday 24 May: Semois D-day had finally come! Without a major hangover we all awoke surprisingly fresh. After a shower Rob and I went once again to the supermarket which had fresh bread and croissants. Back at the holiday-house Teunis had set the table inside (it was too cold outside) so Rob could begin with the baking of some ham and eggs. Nothing better than a sturdy breakfast if you have a long day ahead. At the end of the morning we drove to the castle of Boullion where at a nearby café the other members of the expedition waited for us: Jan, Geoff, Tommy, Joyce, Hans and Herwig and his wife. We warmly greeted them and because the weather cleared up a bit of sun drove away the outside chill. Beers and snacks were ordered and after some cosy conversations we decided to go on our way. First stop was our holiday-house where some group members wanted to grab a quick bite. I made use of the opportunity to step into my own car. This because I like driving on curvy roads in the hills. It is a male thing I guess. Next stop: Vincent Manil.

The attractive daughter of Manil in the store

The attractive daughter of Manil in the store

When we entered the store with the group we were soon nervously greeted by Vincent’s daughter. I had seen her in 2011 but it was obvious to the eye she underwent some pleasant to look at changes. She tried to speak some Dutch but because her Dutch is as good as my French she soon fell back on her native language. At least we were all able to buy some tobaccos and bouchons de la Semois. The daughter then asked if we were willing to go downstairs to Vincent’s workrooms and the museum. Some group members had already seen that in 2011 and decided to wait outside.

Vincent gluing on the labels

Vincent glueing on the labels

Below we met Vincent himself who was working furiously to get a big order ready for The States. For you Americans who do not know this yet, since the beginning of this year Vincent’s Semois is available at The Pipe Guys and in a short time also at SmokingPipes.com & PipesAndCigars.com. Despite Vincent being busy he generously took the time for us and encouraged us to fill up a pipe with the tobacco laying around. Vincent is a man with passion for his profession and in rapid French (Arrgh! My French is so bad!) he explained the process of making his Semois. For those of you who want to know more about this, please read my Sunny Semois blog-post. Because of the increased demand Vincent tried to speed up the process but to no avail. Three days is the minimum he needs for a big batch. He also bought some “new” machines (building year 1920!) to help him with the packing of the tobacco. But he still has to manually glue the labels on each and every package..

Jan and Vincent looking at ancient Belgian

Jan and Vincent looking at an ancient Belgian tobacco-tax book

In the museum we were left alone for a while so we could watch a video about the Semois-making process. After that Vincent came back and like the teacher he once was sat before us to tell us about his craft and answer questions. Suddenly he went to the other room to fetch something. He returned with some old Belgian government tobacco-tax books dating back to 1900, impressive! After a good look at the also impressive museum (Vincent has collected some rare stuff throughout the years) we said goodbye. Unfortunately the shop of J.P. Couvert was closed. It is only open on Monday and Wednesday because the dear man does most of his business online. So we went on our way to Bohan to Joseph Martin.

The store of Joseph Martin

The store of Joseph Martin

After a magnificent ride over curvy roads with stunning far-sights and lush forests we arrived at the place where the store of Joseph Martin is located. And I must say, the location of the beautiful stone building is jaw-dropping. Just over the Semois river with amazing views on the green hills. I just wanted to sit down, fill up my pipe and do nothing for the rest. But that was not what we came for. We entered the shop where Mr. Martin was a bit surprised to see such a large group. I especially came for his “Langue de Chien” (tongue of the dog) variety. The name comes from the size of the leaf used, it is as large as, yes, the tongue of a dog. These leaves are a bit younger and thus smaller than the regular ones. This makes that the blend tastes softer, sweeter and has less nicotine. I asked if I was allowed to take pictures inside of the man himself and his blends but unfortunately he wanted none of it. Where Manil has a very open and outspoken personality Martin is a bit shy. Lucky for me Joyce, the charming girlfriend of Tommy, just clicked away with her camera without asking. However, Mr. Martin was kind enough to give us all a real Semois cigar which tasted exactly like the pipe-tobacco.

The store of C. Didot

The store of C. Didot

The time had come to visit the last Semois producer of the day: C. Didot in the town of Rochehaut. The ride there, what can I say, I love the Semois region, so beautiful. When we arrived at the store I was a bit disappointed after having seen the nice buildings of Manil and Martin. It just looked like a standard souvenir shop which it basically is. One of the shop-windows displayed some smokers-wares and inside behind the cashiers-desk there were some shelves with tobacco. Here I also bought the Langue de Chien variety, the difference being that this one was produced by Didot. Mr. Didot I did not see, Ms. Didot did the selling. But according to Jan I did not miss much. Mr. Didot seems to be somewhat of a smile-less sourpuss..

Imagine smoking tobacco that grows here

Imagine smoking tobacco that grows here

Rochehaut is famous for its high viewing point on the town of Frahan below. So we walked there and despite the fact that I also saw it in 2011 the view is absolutely magical. You see a valley where the Semois river makes a loop with on its borders lush green fields where in past times the famous tobacco was grown. Now only an old drying shed remains.

Having dinner at La Cabane

The group at La Cabane

Besides the howling of the wind we could also hear our bellies growling, dinner time. We went to the same place as in 2011: La Cabane. Basically an oversized snackbar but that term would not do this business justice. You can also get food like steaks and meatballs. Which was precisely what I took, boulettes de la maison, meatballs of the house. The fries are also a thing which makes the place pretty unique. This because they are still fried in lard and not in some vegetable oil. Not so good for the body but oh so yummie!

Teunis trying to get the hearth started

Teunis trying to get the hearth started

After dinner we all said goodbye to each other and went our separate ways. Rob, Teunis and I went back to the holiday-house where more beer was waiting for us. And Semois tobacco! I was able to smoke some of the Joseph Martin Langue de Chien from Teunis and.. I personally liked it better than the more robust Manil Semois to be honest. Sweeter and softer indeed. A pleasure to smoke. The evening was once again great with lots of interesting conversations. And lots of alcohol of course. I like the personalities of both men. Rob is very witty and has a perfect feeling for timing his often funny and well-thought one-line remarks. Teunis is a well-balanced spiritual man with a lot of experience in life who loves to sit in a chair and play the role of shrink. Before we knew it, it was time to sleep.

Martin's Langue de Chien, Didot's Langue-de Chien, Manil's La Brumeuse and bouchons de Semois

Martin’s Langue de Chien, Didot’s Langue de Chien, Manil’s La Brumeuse and bouchons de Semois

Sunday 25 May: I was the first one to wake up and thus the first to hit the shower. The outside weather was (finally) very pleasant. A blue sky, sunshine and no cold winds. We had some leftover bread and camembert which I thankfully ate. When we all were downstairs we drank some much needed coffee after which Rob decided to head home. Lucky for me Teunis wanted to relax a while longer and said he would clean the dishes and bring back the key to the owner so I also could leave. Back on the road it saddened me to see the hills and sloping landscape slowly become flat again. A good reason (besides the tobaccos, beers and food) to go back sometime!

Thanks go out to Joyce, Tommy and Herwig for the permission to use their pictures!

 

 

 

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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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