A video impression of a visit to the shop of tobacconist Willem Schimmel in the beautiful city of Zutphen.
A video impression of a visit to the shop of tobacconist Willem Schimmel in the beautiful city of Zutphen.
As every year the annual meeting in Heukelum of the Dutch/Belgian pipe-smokers forum marks the beginning of dark and rainy autumn. At least, that is what the weather-forecast said. And when I looked outside the window on Sunday 29 October I believed it. Oh well.. Like always I picked up Mark at the Deventer train station and together we drove to the carpool place where Ed would be waiting or us. Normally Johnny would also be there but he had to finish some work first and came later. So the three of us rode to Heukelum and to my surprise the weather cleared up; blue skies, sunshine. Very un-Dutch-like. When we arrived at ‘T Kuipertje owner/brewer Henk had made a tent at the front of brewery with most sides closed. As the inevitable rain began to fall we were glad about Henk’s foresight.
Inside I almost immediately walked to stone-cutting tamper-maker extraordinaire Martin, who like every year organised the meeting, to get my name-badge and drinking coupons. Yup, for the money (€27,50) you get two drinks, there is a big BBQ with all kinds of tasty fresh meat, sauces, salads and baguettes, the rent of the brewery is included and last but not least you get one bottle of special forum-beer with a label made by myself! Since this year Martin is also active in the field of pipe making. And like with stone also wood seems to have no secrets for his hands. He had brought his latest creation with him and I immediately loved it. A perfect mixture between a classic and organic shape.
Like always there was also a little business to be done. The week before I had mailed Rudi, the tobacconist who always comes to our meetings, if he could bring with him a tin of the new Danpipe Fred the Frog, which I already smoked at the Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. €10 for 50 gr., not bad for this fine blend! Friend and mentor Klaas had offered some vintage tobaccos for sale a couple of weeks before the meeting. I mostly was interested in a couple of older Robert McConnell Pure Latakia tins with in them perhaps some Syrian dark leaf so I bought 3 of them. When I met Klaas he immediately apologised. “Hello Arno, I am sorry, I made a mistake. I thought I had more Pure Latakia but I only had 1 left for you. So you know what, I am going to give you 2 De Graaff Latakia tins.” Wowwww!!! Very generous! Once upon a time De Graaff in The Hague was one of the best tobacconists in The Netherlands and they had their own range of house-blends. They were made by a company in London but exactly which one De Graaff always kept a secret. Nowadays the blends are sadly discontinued. Klaas still has quite some tins under which the pure latakia. And that is not some regular pure latakia, no, it is the Syrian Mountain Blue dark leaf made famous by the legendary Balkan Sobranie 759. Soon I am going to do some home-blending and these tins will come in very handy!
For Frisian pipe-maker Meindert I also had something. Weeks before Heukelum I was looking on ebay when I suddenly saw a beautiful Dunhill. Most of the times it is an auction and in the end the price is way too high for this cheap Dutchman. This one had a Buy It Now price of €100. Hmm.. There must be something wrong with it, I thought. So I took a better look and to my surprise the Dunhill dated from 1943, a patent era wartime pipe, pretty rare! Only thing I could discover was that the rim was very slightly damaged but that was it. So I bought it. When I received the pipe in the mail and unwrapped the package it even looked better than on the pictures, it even still had the inner tube. But still the Dunhill needed some work with the rim and stem. So I handed over the pipe into the skilled hands of Meindert.
I had to laugh when I saw the entrance of forum member Kees (nickname Kiske). For a while he was absent from the forum due to ehm.. differences of opinion with the administrators and moderators of the forum but now he was back. For some time he had been (jokingly) saying that our usual name badges were no good and that we all should wear tiaras instead. Of course you should never say that aloud on the forum because someone made an actual tiara for him. Luckily it was no problem for Kees to actually wear it, it suited him!
Thinking back the weeks before the meeting the Pipe God really was smiling upon me. On a Wednesday afternoon I had a meeting with other pipe-smokers and forum members at tobacconist Willem Schimmel in Zutphen. Erik Stokkebye, blender and son of the very well known Peter Stokkebye, was there to promote his 4th Generation tobacco range. We had a fun evening, it truly was a delight to speak to the very knowledgeable Erik, which culminated in a contest in which you could win a 4th Generation pipe made by Neerup Pipes. Several questions were asked and the one who had everything right in the end would win. I can’t remember all the questions but the last one was where the 4th Generation tobaccos were made. So I blurted out “In the Orlik factory!” Well, not entirely correct… “In the Orlik factory of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group!” Which was the right answer, I had won the pipe! Back home I quickly noticed that it was a rather large pipe, I mean, my thumb fully fitted in the bowl. Too big for my taste. So I decided to put up a lottery on the forum which was won by Frans. In Heukelum I gave him the pipe, I hope he gets many enjoyable smoking hours from it.
Last year I bought some pipes for the father of a friend of mine, Ton. At that time he was visiting The Netherlands because he lived abroad. Since a month he moved back to our wet, cold and flat country so I invited him to the meeting. Since he is living alone some company is always welcome, so he accepted my offer. Afterwards he told me he stared his eyes out. Ton is an old-fashioned smoker, preferably he smokes the same blend in the same pipe over and over. “What a pleasant gathering of people and what a lot of pipes they did bring with them! And so many bent ones!” Ton only smokes straight billiards and thinks everyone smokes those because they smoke the best. Well, ehmm.. Ehrrr… Guess I have to teach an old fox some new tricks. Later I was approached by Jos, “Arno, I have something for you, do you want it now or later?” Ehmm, now? He presented me a wrapped package, so I unwrapped it and saw a bottle of Huppelolie (hopping oil)! Yummie! Huppelolie is a tasty “kruidenbitter” (no translation), sometimes my stomach pains me and a small glass of Huppelolie does wonders. But why the bottle? I asked Jos. Because years ago I gave him some tips about buying tobacco overseas. So kind of him!
I also was glad Shaun was there all the way from Belgium and of course all the others of the Fuming Four. For months they have been pestering me that I should go with hem next year to Scotland again. Not only to the beginning of the Highlands this time but all the way to the utmost North point at Kearvaig, where the home-bothy stands of the Kearvaig Pipe Club. An almost spiritual journey. But I still don’t know if I want to go.. I mean, beautiful country, Scotland, but a big chance of bad weather, cold, midgets ehrrr.. midges, mediocre food (although Matron’s curry was excellent!) and the worst of all, no comfort! The bothy has no shower, no soft bed and no toilet which means digging a hole outside if you have to take a dump.. I admit that throughout the years I turned somewhat into a sissy boy, I just like a little bit of luxury mmkay? But who knows, I like organizing such trips so perhaps while doing that I fully decide to go. The other guys of the Fuming Four had a request for me. I am a bit different from them as I don’t have a beard and I don’t have tattoos. Now they wanted me to design the latter. And I also should get it. Ehmm.. I have a virgin skin and I like to keep it that way. But in Shaun’s eyes I already could see his evil plan: Get Arno piss-drunk and then…… *evil laugh*
The rest of the afternoon and evening in Heukelum was very pleasant as usual. So many people, so many conversations, so little time. Around 5 o’clock Henk told us that the BBQ was ready and we could eat. I don’t know what it is but when someone says something like that no one wants to be the first one. But when Arno is hungry Arno is hungry you know? So I began putting tasty meat on my plate and the rest soon followed. A bit earlier then expected the majority of the forum members began to pack and went home. So not long after that Ed, Mark and I also decided to leave. When I got home Ellen was snoring on the couch and woke up when I entered the room. “Did you have a good meeting?” “Yes darling, it was another great day.”
I would like to thank Martin for organizing the meeting! All pictures were made by Klaas, Dirk, Martin and myself.
In 2012 I started my quest for forum tobaccos. That is, special tobaccos for the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers forum (PRF). That often difficult journey (which you can read about here) ended at the end of 2013 and resulted in 3 delicious tobaccos: an aromatic called Genietmoment, a VaPer named Janneman Flake and a Balkan-blend with the name Brullende Leeuw. All made by a German tobacco company in cooperation with the wonderful Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco. After a years rest of the forum tobacco business it started to itch again, I was looking forward to a next phase of the project.
So, from which pipe-tobacco manufacturer would I like a forum tobacco (I already had decided it was going to be only 1 this time).. Sadly not an American company, import-wise that is waaaay to difficult (although I would have LOVED to work together with for example GL Pease, Cornell & Diehl or McClelland). It had to be a European one. On top of my wish-list was the quintessential English tobacco manufacturer Samuel Gawith. But how to get them to participate?
Actually that was pretty easy. Every year on the Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund I encounter the charming Bob Gregory at the stand of Samuel Gawith (merged together (again) with Gawith & Hoggarth in 2015). On the 2015 edition I took the bold step of asking Bob if Gawith was prepared to make a small batch of a special forum tobacco to be made by him and myself. To my surprise Bob immediately said yes, on the condition that the forum members would buy a minimum amount of 200 tins of 50 grams, and gave me his email so I could send him further details. Yessss, step 1 was taken!
Now step 2, getting the tobacco legally in The Netherlands. Gawith did not have a Dutch importer but I knew that someone was very interested in that job: Elbert Gubbels of Gubbels Pipes (Big Ben etc.). After years of being busy with smoking pipes Elbert was looking for a business expansion with pipe-tobacco. Fred and I made sure to let Elbert know that working with a high quality pipe-tobacco manufacturer such as Samuel Gawith was a smart move. He agreed with that and assured us he would talk to Bob about importing Gawith tobaccos to The Netherlands. In short, the next phase of the project could begin!
Back home I immediately mailed Bob, I already had an idea in my head of what I wanted. With the last forum tobaccos the high seller was Janneman Fake, a VaPer and a kind of blend that appealed to a lot of forum members. This time I wanted something similar yet different. First the cut, not a flake but a plug which is more special. Further I am a big fan of oriental tobaccos so I thought, Virginia/perique/oriental.. Hmm.. That could work! Also I was inspired by a blogpost by GL Pease about his wonderful Embarcadero blend. There he admits using a pinch of latakia in his Fillmore offering. A trick to extra season a tobacco, the same as someone would season a good steak to make it an excellent one.
So I wrote to Bob that the ingredients should be Virginias (in the vein of Full Virginia Flake), orientals (sadly Gawith only has an assorted blend of orientals and no specific varieties), a bit of perique, a smidgen of latakia and I told him what, very roughly, the levels of the different tobaccos should be. I was going for a sturdy yet mild, exotic and not overpowering blend with some fine nuances. Now I hear the PRF members saying: “What?? There is latakia in the new forum tobacco?? You said there wasn’t!” True, I lied, I admit and I am sorry. Because some members don’t like latakia I was afraid that they would not buy the tobacco simply because the dark leaf was an ingredient (although used very, very sparsely). So all you latakia haters who now smoke the blend and love it: got ya!
While I was waiting for an answer from Bob I made the list on the forum where everyone could sign up for the tobacco. Remember, we had to order a minimum of 200 tins and I was crossing my fingers to say the least we made it to that amount. I did not need to worry. On 20 September 2015 forum-members could order and on the 25th I already had my 200 tins! In the meantime Bob had been busy with the plug: Dear Arno, this morning we made a trial cake of tobacco. This will be baked tomorrow and then we will test the tobacco for 7 to 10 days. After that time it will be cut and samples sent to you. The 25th I informed him that we managed to cross the 200 tins border. That is very good news Arno. I will now go downstairs to the production area and see what the cake is like. (10 minutes later) Interesting!!! The cake is made and the aroma is intriguing. I have cut a plug and will send to you for your opinion. Please allow it to dry a little as the tobacco is still very young.
On 22 October 2015 a package arrived at the office for me. Hmm, rather large, I thought, can’t be Gawith, such a box for only a sample? But the sender was indeed Gawith and inside was a massive 250 gr. slab of pressed tobacco! Wow! With the previous forum tobacco I only got small sample bags of which I could barely smoke 4 pipes. At least I could provide decent samples for my testers this time. So I cut the tobacco up in smaller pieces and send them to my testing panel, a select group of forum members and friends. Of course I also smoked the plug and to my relief it already was pretty good. In short the testing panel and I came to the conclusion that the plug was ok, the basis was good. So I mailed Bob that the Virginias in combination with the oriental, perique and smidge of latakia were to be found very interesting taste-wise. However, halfway the bowl it seemed that the “middle” taste-tones were lacking a bit. The plug had good “subtones” and “overtones”, but the middle was a bit “empty”, sort of. Like someone of the testers said: neither fish nor fowl. So I suggested an increase of the level of Oriental to Bob to fix this. The perique level was ok but the latakia could be even less. By the way, I did not tell the testing panel it contained latakia but some detected it.
It took some time before Bob responded, on 23 November he send this: Arno, I have noted your comments and will work at it. For now we are extremely busy, so if you do not mind, Arno Plug will have to go on to the back burner. Be assured that I will take a long look in a couple of weeks. About the name “Arno Plug” were some funny comments on the forum, I don’t understand why.. Finally at the beginning of February 2016 the second sample-slab of tobacco arrived at the office. But when I smoked the first pipes I was not happy. I asked Bob to raise the oriental content but now the blend was really lacking midrange taste, my fault. The Virginias no longer supported the oriental so the whole balance was off. From the other hand the perique and latakia content were perfect. Still I did not send this sample round to the testing panel, it was not better as the first one. I mailed Bob my findings and waited again.
Then it began to rumble about the cut of the forum tobacco. It was going to be a plug but Gawith was slowly beginning to object to this: Regarding the packaging of SG plug, we have one packing for this in the UK and that is a 250g box. Generally speaking, it is very expensive to cut a plug to 50g, it requires constant trimming to size and we end up with excessive waste, the cost of which has to be added back to the end product weight. We can do this in a tin but the price will shock you. Can the product which you require not be taken in the standard 250g box? It would certainly have a more attractive price for you. You could of course also take the product as a bulk product and pack it yourselves. I told Bob that we could not take the standard 250 gr. box or the tobacco as bulk. This because in The Netherlands no sales of bulk tobacco is allowed, only sealed tins and pouches are permitted. On 8 March the final verdict fell: Dear Arno, with regard to the Forum tobacco, we are not prepared, on the basis of time/cost to pack this product as a 50g Plug. We are, however, prepared to go with a 50g flake product.
Damnit! I already “sold” over 200 tins as a plug and now it suddenly was going to be a flake. I explained the situation to the forum members and asked them if they were willing to accept the new cut. Luckily the most heard response was: “A plug is more special but a flake is also ok, easier to handle”. *Pheww*! Only 1 member wanted to cancel his order because of this. The new flake also needed a name so I asked the forum members for suggestions. The best came from Jef (nickname NoneNicer): Flatlander Flake. He was inspired by the book “Flatland, a romance of many dimensions” written by Edwin A. Abott. The book is about dimensions and we just went from 3D (a plug) to 2D (a flake), very appropriate. Plus that when I read the name I immediately got inspiration for the tin artwork. I asked Bob what the dimensions of the label were and started to work. I ended up with a picture of the flat lands around the village where I live. With some Photoshop I made it look like a painting. I added the Samuel Gawith logo, some info, of course the name, send it to Bob et voilà, I was ready.
Bob still had not send a reply but after some pushing from my side he finally did on 4 April: Dear Arno, I have no news as yet. I have to wait until Mr Gubbels enters into an agreement with Gawith Hoggarth. Until this happens I cannot make or ship. This may not happen until after May 20th in which case I may have wasted money on labels we cannot use. Until I know what the market is doing I will not move. I know this is frustrating but the problem is small compared to our having to change label designs and health warnings for all EU markets, also to possibly change the type of tin we use. The problem at which Bob was pointing was the new tobacco regulation guideline TPD2. That required that Flatlander Flake had to be produced before 20 May 2016 otherwise we 1. could throw away the labels that were just made and 2. horrible pictures would be put on the tins. Luckily a couple of weeks later Elbert Gubbels committed himself to Gawith. He was going to import several Samuel Gawith tobacco to The Netherlands including Flatlander Flake. But our troubles were not over yet.
A silence fell until 10 June when Elbert mailed me: Dear Arno, an update regarding tobaccos from England: I have just been in contact with Bob Gregory and an appointment is scheduled in Kendal. After much hassle we finally have the permit to buy tax seals. We hope to be able to import tins with no unsightly pictures on front and back. Regarding the status of your forum tobacco order: this will at least have to get the ugly pictures because the tobacco is not yet manufactured / packaged. All tobaccos produced after May 20 this year are obliged to get the pictures on the cans. It all goes not smooth. Of course there is the fact that we have received permission / a license so late. Bummer, artwork with nasty pictures.. “Oh well, at least a forum tobacco is coming!” I thought.
The next months Elbert got busy with the whole process of importing the Gawith tobaccos. Which was hell for him. This because it was the first time he did anything like that. Only a few companies import tobacco into The Netherlands so there was no one who told Elbert what to do, he had to find out everything by himself. You have meet all kinds of bureaucratic requirements and every time Elbert thought he saw the light at the end of the tunnel our dutiful civil servants conjured up another wall. Very frustrating so I have nothing than the utmost respect for the man because he stubbornly kept going on. In the mean time I discussed the final number of Flatlander Flake with Elbert, he would import 300 tins.
Things started to move again when Bob asked for the Flatlander Flake artwork, again, at the beginning of August. A good opportunity to ask for the 3rd sample round but I got no response. Halfway September was the Inter-Tabac Fair in Dortmund so I mailed Bob several times and begged him to bring new Flatlander Flake samples, again no response. As you can read in the corresponding blogpost the bastard (love you Bob!) did bring 2 tins of the final product with him (No more sample rounds, he said..). I noticed the content of the tin I opened was still very fresh but I tasted potential! I have to reluctantly admit I could hug the man at that moment. In October one of the big PRF meetings was held in Heukelum and only just before the date I received 2 sample-tins from Elbert, with the new artwork. To my amazement and delight it did not have the gruesome images, only text warnings. How they did it, no idea, but to be honest I don’t care.
Slowly the date that the forum tobaccos arrived in The Netherlands was getting closer. Tobacconist Willem Schimmel in Zutphen was doing the sales, as an importer Elbert Gubbels could not do that. At the beginning of December Willem rang me up: “I received the tins, but there are only 288 of them..” What!!?? I ordered and “sold” 300 so I was 12 tins short. I phoned Elbert to asked what happened. Apparently he had send the mandatory tax seals to Gawith so they could attach them to the tins. Only, those seals come on rollers of 144 pieces. So 2 rollers of in total 288 tax seals were received and processed by Gawith. The 12 remaining tins they had send to The Netherlands without anything on them. Which was discovered by our hard working customs office.
They phoned Elbert and he went like “Oh sorry, perhaps I can pay the taxes for them now? I mean, it is only 12 tins.” At which the customs office burst out in anger and even threatened to call the police on Elbert.. In the end he was forced to burn those 12 tins in front of 2 customs officers who especially had to come to the Gubbels factory, I kid you not ladies and gentlemen, I have photographic proof of that. Totally insane, like those tins contained hard drugs! Luckily Gawith had some leftover stock of Flatlander Flake. Just before Christmas Willem organized 3 days on which the members of the forum could pick up their forum tobacco tins and the rest would be send by post. I was there on one of those days and the ambience was just great: happy forum members, Willem played the role of gracious host, there was a cosy Christmas market in the centre of Zutphen, finally all was well.
So now you probably all expect a glowing review by me about Flatlander Flake. Well, in The Netherlands we have a saying: “Wij van WC eend adviseren WC eend. (We from Toilet-Duck (a company) advise Toilet-Duck)” We Dutch use the slogan any time people or companies are clearly recommending their own stuff. I won’t do that, the lucky ones who have obtained a Flatlander Flake tin have to make a judgement for themselves. I can only say that I am very happy with the final result, I think it is a unique flake, especially within the Gawith range. It is interesting, smooth and mellow with grassy, sweet candy-cane-like tones yet the perique gives it some peppery kick which is rounded off by a slight smoky after-taste by the pinch of latakia. You can smoke it in all kinds of pipes where the shape of the bowl defines which ingredient comes out more. For example billiards enhance the Virginias and pots/princes the oriental content. However I do advise to smoke slowly, almost sip it. If you have the patience to leave the tin shut I predict you will be in for a treat after some time. Virginias and orientals age very well.
I would like to thank Bob Gregory, Elbert Gubbels and Willem Schimmel, without them Flatlander Flake would not have been possible. Also I thank my girlfriend Ellen for enduring my moods and billows of smoke. And of course I thank all of you forum members who have bought the tins (sometimes vast amounts!) without knowing what the final product was going to be like. Thank you for having faith in me!
On a warm and sunny June Sunday it was once again time for the annual Zutphen meeting of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum. Unfortunately like last year my good friend (and part time driver) Ed could not make it, it was his birthday. Also it turned out once again that the original date was the day after the Fortarock festival and for quite a few visiting forum members a meeting after a day of metal and beer was just too much. So once again I waited on the train (I live in a tiny village but somehow it managed to have an intercity train-station!) praying it would arrive at all, on time and get me safe in Zutphen. With the Dutch railways you never know.. Luckily it did all that and when I walked out of the station building in my place of destination I bumped, like last year, into Freek. “Oh, you here again?” Some things never change. Together we walked through the old streets to the store of Willem Schimmel.
At 11 o’clock sharp we entered the shop, precisely on time. It was not too busy yet so I had enough time to greet Willem and his staff after which I climbed the stair to the smoking lounge on the floor. I fell into a chair and noticed a new face, Hans, who looked pretty tired. It turned out he had just worked a night-shift and then came to the meeting. No wonder! But a nice man to talk to, I hope to see him at a next meeting. After chatting away with some people I decided to look downstairs where I saw some new Tsuge pipes that had just came into the store. I already saw those at the Inter Tabac last year and I was still amazed at how small they were. I mean, it was optimistic to think that smoking some of those pipe would last 15-minutes. However, because I got some explanation by the Tsuge salesman I was able to tell someone of Willem’s staff that with a certain model you had to screw off the bowl and fill the space beneath with tobacco. Why? Because it then functions as a filter.
Further below like every year stood Mr. Josef Nöring with his wife. He always has very nice high end pipes (Wallenstein, L’Anatra etc.) but sadly too pricey for my budget. I just bought some tobacco and… some cigars. Huh? Cigars? Traitor! No.. I have no interest or ambition whatsoever to know a lot about cigars (I just learned the difference between a short filler and long filler so go figure..). But last year I had a mini-meeting at Willem and at the same time there was this dude who knew really a lot about cigars. Being naturally curious I asked if he could pick out 4 (not too expensive) ones for me so I could venture a bit in the world of rolled tobacco sticks. From those 4, after smoking them, one (the most expensive..) stood out: My Father Cigars La Antiguedad. So I bought a couple of those more so I could enjoy them at warm summer evenings. Mr Pease already said this once, but cigars are just designed for hot climates. They definitely are not made to smoke indoors in my house. Once I smoked such a cigar in the small living room and had to apologize to Ellen because the room literally looked blue with smoke.. Whoops..
When I was below an elder gentleman holding a pipe entered the store. Apparently he saw the shop was opened and he needed to buy some tobacco. While in essence it was a closed meeting Willem thought like, well, business is business! I talked to the man, he had never heard of the forum and asked for a contact card. Ehrr.. I did not have one on me so I just wrote the internet address on a small piece of paper. The pipe of the man was interesting, it had a white dot on the mouthpiece. So or a Dunhill or a Vauen. I was allowed to look at the bottom of the pipe, it was a Dunhill Shell from 1972. “Ah, that could be correct!” said the man, “I believe I bought that one in 1973. How did you see that so fast?” Well.. Ehm.. I am a bit of Dunhill nerd so.. I also asked what he liked to smoke to which he answered that he liked latakia. So for the most part the Dunhill tobaccos that contained the dark leaf. Quickly I grabbed my tin of GL Pease Odyssey and let him smell it. He put up big eyes and made approving noises. “If you become a member of the forum and tell what you think of the blend you may keep the tin.” I said. He thankfully nodded and shook my hand.
A new face to a forum-meeting was Frisian pipe-maker Meindert. Because of his health it was a bit shaky if he could make it (a 2 hour drive) but his daughter had come with him and drove the distance. It really was good to see and talk to him and I think he thoroughly enjoyed the whole meeting experience. I almost forgot I owned him a tin of tobacco but Meindert is the type of man that reminds you of that. Earlier he refurbished one of my Dunhills and the tobacco was his payment. I did not even need to ask what he wanted, “A tin of that new Peterson St. Patrick’s Day please!” So I got it for him. On the first floor I sat down for a while and chatted a bit with Mark when Willem came along with a fez which obviously belonged to Jos. Jokingly he put it on my head while Mark snapped a picture. It came out rather nice!
In the late afternoon at the end of the meeting it was time to eat. Willem had arranged a BBQ at Fort Bronsbergen in the Zutphen countryside. Luckily I could ride along with Rob(bie-San) and we took Pascal with us. After a bit of a detour (Rob his Garmin GPS device had other thoughts about the route) we arrived together with Jos. The friendly lady behind the bar guided us outside to the big wooden terrace on which we had a stunning view of the surroundings: a little lake with lots of green around it. Unfortunately when it came to drinks the choice was a bit limited. Rob could not drink a heavy beer because he had to drive and the only pilsner they had was Heineken. Ehrr… No, no sewage water please. “Do you have Coca Cola then?” he asked. Nope, just Pepsi. Rob buried his face in his hands and made crying noises. Luckily for him they had a brand of Weißbier and for me there was one excellent Belgian beer: Affligem Dubbel. On the good side, we were outside so we could smoke! Also, thanks to Rob I tried my first bit of snuff, some mint flavoured one from Pöschl. A not unpleasant experience.
The BBQ was not really a BBQ but (sometimes pre-grilled) meat on a hot plate. It was ok but only just that. I mean, perhaps I am a nitpicker but at least properly defrost the garlic-butter before serving it, provide a small trash can for bones and clean the hot plate now and then instead of baking all the meat in already charred black fat. I appreciate Willem’s arrangement but next year Rob and I will be eating in the old Zutphen city centre again where there is a restaurant which serves the most delicious spare-ribs. After the BBQ Rob hastily drove me to the station because otherwise I would miss my train. When I stepped on the platform it was already waiting so I quickly hopped on. While I saw the sun going down over the green fields, all by all I could look back at another wonderful day.
I would like to thank Willem, his staff and Mark for organizing the meeting. All pictures were made by Meindert, Paul, Mark and myself.
This year the road to the annual Zutphen-meeting was a bit bumpy. Willem Schimmel, the tobacconist where the meeting is always held, was full of ideas and enthusiasm but a lot of Dutch/Belgian pipe smokers forum-members said they could not come. It turned out that the original date was the day after Fortarock and for quite a few of them a meeting after a day of metal and beer was just too much. So Willem set a new date with the help of Mark and about 30 folks responded. Still not as much as last year but enough pipe-smokers to make a cosy, smoke-filled day.
Unfortunately one of the forum-members who could not make it was my dear friend Ed. Which meant that we all had to do without his pleasant company but also meant that I could not drive along with him. So I was forced to take the train, not a long trip, only 22 minutes. From earlier blogposts you could know that I believe the Dutch railways are pretty sh*tty. To my utter amazement I arrived without any delays precisely on time! When I stepped out of the train-wagon onto the platform I almost immediately heard an unfamiliar voice behind me: “You must be Arno!” I turned around and saw a rather big, middle aged man who turned out to be forum-member Freark (real name: Freek). “I hope you know how to walk to Schimmel because I really have no clue..” he said. Of course I knew the way, it was not my first time in Zutphen. So while chatting we strolled through the streets to our mutual destination.
When we arrived at Schimmel we clearly were not the first. As with every meeting I attended so far the first minutes mainly consisted of shaking hands. Luckily in the smoking lounge on the first floor there was a chair free to sit on. I filled up my Dunhill cherrywood shape pipe with some Rattray’s Hall O’ the Wynd, a full flavoured excellent Virginia with just a pinch of perique. Paul sat beside me and I told him about my clumsiness with the Dunhill I was smoking. From the first moment I bought it at the Lohmar show the stem was difficult to screw off. I already applied some graphite from a pencil on the tenon but one fateful day the stem just would not come off. While silently cursing I grabbed a towel and a pipe wrench (a fitting name) and wrapped the towel around the stem to keep it from harm. Then I carefully screwed off the mouthpiece and just as it got loose I slipped and made a deep scratch just beside the towel on the vulnerable ebonite.. Argh! A couple of months earlier forum-member Arjen had fixed the mouthpiece of a GBD prince for me so I mailed him with some pictures of the scratch and the question if he could repair it. Of course he could! After a short while I had it back in pristine condition! Then I saw Klaas entering the already smoky room together with his lovely wife Yvonne. She “sacrificed” herself so Klaas could be with us, the darling, and brought a huge camera with her which she aimed at us again and again.
Opposite me sat Wilfred with a big beard. Normally he is cleanly shaven in summertime and has facial hair in the winter. However he decided at the beginning of spring to just let it grow with a great result for which I envy him a bit. My beard is almost non-existent.. But I had something for him. Before my trip to the Semois-region this year he asked if I could bring a pack of Didot’s Langue de Chien so of course I bought it for him. As an extra “thank you” he gave me an old tin of no longer available De Graaff’s Seamen’s Club, (extra) matured dark Virginia which I often use in my home-mixtures. And there was more generosity! Jos approached me with the tale that he had been at a market in Amsterdam, where he lives, and had to think about me. He saw a stand which sold little signs for in the house like “kitchen” and asked the vendor if he also had a “smoking area” sign. Unfortunately he was out of stock, otherwise Jos would have bought it for me. Last week I received an e-mail from him saying that he was able to buy the sign, he is going to give it to me at the next big meeting in Heukelum. Nice! Then to find out where to hang the sign, I don’t think Ellen will appreciate it when I put it on the front door..
As an extra activity Willem had organized a tasting at the local Grand Café/brewery in Zutphen; Stadsbrouwerij Cambrinus. Just a short walk from the store across the public square. Upon entering the Grand Café we were led below to the basement and greeted by the friendly master-brewer. We all sat down at tables with at each place 6 little glasses upon a placemat with numbers. One of the first things he told us was that the basement we sat in was 800 years old! Wow! And the nice thing is, in that time it was already a brewery so the walls must have been soaked with the fumes of alcohol. No smoking fumes sadly, it was not allowed.. Damn laws.. Anyway, the stories of the master-brewer were so good and vividly told that I totally forgot about my pipes. The tasting of beers went from the lighter beers to the dark and heavy ones, similar to Paul’s whisky tasting I once attended. And with each new beer the master-brewer told a story about its origins, very interesting. Paul himself did not want most of the beers, he still had to drive, so the content of a lot of his glasses disappeared in the bellies of Johnny (the Undertaker) and myself. I am no beer-expert but all beers were decent (I am spoiled by all the great Belgian beers I guess..) with a couple that were really nice. The glasses were small but afterwards I could really notice the alcohol coursing through my veins..
During the tasting a forum-member joined us that I had not seen for a while. The man with the most difficult nickname of all, Gypscoprotheres. Try to say that 10 times in a row. His real name is Stanley and he is an utmost friendly, good bloke. Reason for his long absence was the fact that he and his stunning Brazilian wife had become parents of a son called Arthur. To celebrate that Stanley had ordered a General MacArthur corncob pipe with the date of birth engraved. He took a picture of Arthur together with the pipe and posted it on the forum, but I could not help myself doing a tiny bit of photoshop to include the iconic glasses and cap.
Back at the store our youngest member, Robin, proudly showed off his new Zippo. It had a pin-up lady from the 1940’s on it which is something he obviously loves. When he opened the lid I saw it was an ordinary Zippo insert, not a pipe Zippo insert with a round hole in it. I know that one can freely exchange a regular one for a pipe one so I asked Willem, who just passed by, if he had a new pipe insert. He mentioned Robin to follow him and later I saw to my delight that the pin-up Zippo now had a pipe insert. And that was not the only luck Robin had. Downstairs he came to me with a tin of Capstan he just bought and asked if it was MacBaren made or Orlik made. After a good look I came to the conclusion that it was Orlik made, the lucky bastard!
Just after 6 o’clock Rudi came into the smoking room and said it was enough for today, we had to leave. So we thanked Willem and his friendly ladies for the great day and went outside. A small group was left and we all were hungry. Mark knew a nearby Chinese restaurant with a buffet option which sounded great to my ears. Once inside we all sat down and drinks were ordered but before they arrived I already went to the buffet and started eating while the others looked a bit strange at me. Well, when I am hungry I don’t like to wait and a buffet is a buffet, just go and get it. I am not really a conventional type. After dinner we all said goodbye to each other and together with Wilfred I walked back to the station which made waiting for the next train more enjoyable. On the way home the clouds broke open with loads of rain so I looked wet as a drowning rat when I finally stood dripping before Ellen. Luckily all day it had been dry so I was not complaining!
I hope I am not forgetting someone but I would to thank Willem (and his ladies) and Mark for organising the meeting, Martin and Freek for the samples and the rest of the group for the nice conversations and excellent day! All pictures you see were made by Yvonne, Klaas, Stanley and Janneman.
In a lot of ways tobacco-shops have always been different from other shops. They have got their own atmosphere, an atmosphere one might say of intimacy and quiet. How unlike many any other shops.. Ever been on a Saturday in stores like V&D and H&M? Hurried buyers and sellers, pushing customers wanting to be attended to as soon as possible.. Blah.. I get pretty stressed out in those environments.
In a tobacco-shop hardly anybody ever seems to be in a hurry. Here a person likes to talk about the goods to be bought. About their taste, smell, quality and (very important) price. The intimate relation between the tobacconist and his customer originates from this. A relation one finds almost nowhere else these days. The seller who knows his customer’s taste and preference. For example, tobacconist Willem Schimmel knows that when he has a new sweet aromatic, he does not need to bother me with it. I like the more natural blends. I never understood the buyer who puts his money on the counter, saying: the usual… On which the packet of tobacco, the box of cigars or the cigarettes are pushed towards him so he can leave the store in a hurry. Relaaaax…
The true smoker loves to have a look round first. He enjoys the almost mysterious fragrance which you can smell in every tobacco-shop while he is fascinated by the articles displayed. When I walk into Willem’s store I directly go to the back and quietly look at the collection of pipes, displayed on several moving boards. Then I sit down on one of the chairs and wait for Willem to take tare of the customers in the shop. Usually one of his colleagues provide me with a cup of coffee, a glass of water or even a glass of whisky. When he is done he walks over to me, we shake hands, he asks how I and Ellen are doing and we chat away. That is how it used to be and still is in many tobacco-shops. Even though both the inside and the outside of the stores have undergone considerable changes in the course of time. We all know the modern tobacco-shop, where lots of brands of tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes are neatly packed on shelves or in open boxes and are asking to be bought. In glass show-cases there are pipes, expensive lighters and tobacco-pouches while on the counter the cheaper lighters invite one to light up a cigarette. But what was it like long ago? From prints and descriptions one may form a pretty accurate picture.
Originally tobacco was sold by the grocer-chemist, after all, tobacco is a stimulant. But around the year 1630 there was a change-over and the selling took place in the intimate sphere of the tobacco-inn. Thus the dear old inn became the place where tobacco and smoker became true “lovers”. On and behind the counter of such an inn there were rolls of twisted tobacco. These were being cut into pieces by a small cutting-machine. The pieces were then stacked behind the counter. The scales that were present point to the fact that the retail trade did not take place by length, but by weight. As it still is today.
The combination of shop and inn continued throughout the 17th century. But it appears that as early as the third quarter of the 17th century, these two gradually parted company. As the preparation of tobacco was perfected, the inside of the shop varied. The increased use of taking snuff had a big influence. During the whole of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century the interior was affected by methods of storing snuff and pipe tobacco, necessary for the sale. Besides that, there was always the sale of pipes and other smoker’s requisites. Since the middle of the first half of the 19th century the fact that cigars were being sold was getting strikingly noticeable in the interior of the shop. Today cigarettes and cigars are the most important items in many tobacco-shops. A lot still have a board with some pipes on it and some pipe-tobacco but the profound knowledge of those items is often sorely lacking..
In the 2nd half of the 18th century tea, coffee, cocoa and tobacco were sold in the same business. This combination also originated in the public drinking and smoking places. Between 1670 and 1690 many coffee-houses were founded in the Netherlands. Just as it once was a long time ago in Turkey, coffee and tobacco became inseparable. These coffee-houses developed into a kind of “drinking and chatting houses”, different from the older tobacco-inn where liquor was generally sold. In the coffee-houses no liquor was sold at first. At about the same time the fashion came of drinking tea. Which gave rise to the forming of tea-clubs. Thus tea was also sold in the coffee-houses. But not only the finished product was to be enjoyed there: the “raw material” was on sale here too. The combined sale of tobacco, tea and coffee continues up to the present day in a few tobacco-shops. A nice example is “De Compagnie” which is situated in the lovely city of Breda.
Ok, let’s use the DeLorean DMC-12 car from the Back to the Future movies to go back to the year 1780 and visit a tobacco-shop in a town bearing the name of “the Amerongen Tobacco-planter” (“De Amerongensche Tabakker”). The shopkeeper also sells tea and coffee but let’s focus on the tobacco. In front, near the door, we see a statuette representing an Amerongen tobacco-planter. It holds a bunch of tobacco in one hand and a something that looks like a carrot of snuff-tobacco in the other one. Remember, in these days a considerable amount of snuff is still being sold. In the “Amerongen Tobacco-planter”, the snuff is kept in jars of the nicest Delft blue, which draw our attention immediately when we enter the shop. Snuff is sold in small quantities from those jars. At the back of the shop is a small hand-snuff-mill and on the counter is a large rasp. In this way the shopkeeper can deliver the snuff as fresh as possible.
The pipe-tobacco is kept in casks of which there are a dozen in the shop. These casks are numbered from 1 to 12 and contain the various finer qualities. The cheaper and more ordinary kinds of tobacco are stored in some larger barrels. This way of storage guarantees the right condition of the tobacco. The shopkeeper is able to prepare the mixture his customers choose, each according to their taste. In the best shops the name of every customer is entered in the “mixture-book”. This way the composition of every client’s special mixture always is at hand. The old Dunhill store was famous for this and the My Own Blend concept was based upon it. Also every shopkeeper got his own “spécialité de la maison” (speciality of the house, house-blends). Thus the “Amerongen tobacco-planter” is famous for his “delicate, genuine Oronoco tobacco” (“delicate opregte Oronoco toeback”) which the shopkeeper prepares according to a very old recipe. Today tobacco-shops in for example Germany and the USA still have their own house-blends.
The twisted tobacco is cut on the cutting-frame and is put in the cartridge-block, in which the bags are shaped and filled. Beside the cartridge-block are the sheets of paper, ready to be made into bags. In the middle they bear the trade-mark of the tobacco-dealer. Finally the filled bag is weighed on the brass scales which have the shape of an upside down helmet.
Behind the beautiful brass-clamped walnut desk the money is changed. When the customer (who also bought a dozen churchwardens) has left the shop, the shopkeeper enters the amount of money received in his cash-book by means of a goose-quill. After that he fills his own pipe. He lights it by means of the glowing embers in the brazier on the counter. Then there is perfect peace and quiet in that shop in 1780. Only occasionally do we hear the sound of a horse. The blue snuff-jars with brass lids reflect the rays of sunshine entering through the paned windows. In this peaceful atmosphere the shopkeeper waits for his next customer.
With the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum we currently roughly have two big annual meetings. One of those always is held in the city of Zutphen at the beginning of June. Zutphen is very old, it received city-rights between 1191 and 1196, which makes it one of the oldest cities in the country. With my love for history I very much like to look at all the old buildings and wander around there. And smoke a pipe of course.
The place to stay for the Zutphen-meeting is always the store of tobacconist Willem Schimmel. Willem is a very friendly, although a bit chaotic, host who knows the fine trade of being a salesman. He has just has that gut-feeling, is able to tune in on his customers and make them feel very welcome. A rare talent these days. In 1972 at the early age of 21 Willem started his business in the building in the Sprongstraat where he is still located today. Since 1919 a tobacconist is housed there. Originally the business was founded by the Jewish family Gies. Later Bennie Smolders took over and like I said, Willem himself began in 1972.
Since the sixties his father had a cigar store in Doetinchem. When Willem came back from military service he initially did not really know what he wanted. But with a lot of support from his parents and the three Smolders brothers he then started the business in Zutphen as a 21-year-old rookie. Willem had it not easy in those early years. Of course he was still young and a stranger in Zutphen, so he really had to prove himself. It was always all about hard work and making long hours. His parents had put their savings in the business and he got 25 guilders pocket money and 15 guilders petrol money, he had to do it with that. His father was a true entrepreneur. At that time Willem had some candy standing on the counter, but if he took one for himself it was expected of him that he would put sixty cents in the cash register. His father would say that he had to sell a few packs of cigarettes for that money.
Willem now runs the business with help of two faithful colleagues. After all these years he is still not tired of his profession. He even can call himself now “Maître Pipier”, a prestigious French title in pipe smoking. “What you do, you have to do with passion and I have that for this kind of business.” Willem says. “You have to, because otherwise you can’t properly advise your clients. You have to love the product and possess the desired knowledge.”
That degree of specialization, combined with the authentic look of the store probably made that Willem managed to survive. In the early eighties there was a renovation which was followed by a restoration in 2000. There it was tried to do justice to the old building (which dates back to 1724!) in the Sprongstraat and give it an authentic look as much as possible. Willem: “People are coming in here who do not even smoke, but simply want to see how it looks. We have quite a special historic building with an interior design to match that.” Upon entering you see a large wooden counter and high shelves with cigars, cigarettes and pipe-tobacco tins and pouches in all shapes and sizes. Furthermore, in the back of the store is a real climate-room for the storage of cigars. On the first floor is a smoking lounge where customers can sit and smoke and where activities are organised such as workshops and lectures.
So last Sunday it was once again time for the annual Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum meeting at Willem’s store. Actually it just was a Dutch occasion since no folks from our neighbour country to the South came over. A pity but understandable since it is quite a long drive from the Belgium border to Zutphen. At half past eight in the morning my good friend Ed rang the doorbell to pick me up. We had to be early at the store because I had all the name-badges. Usually we have a bunch of regulars who visit a lot of the meetings (like myself) and know each other but there also always are some newbies. Then it is very handy to see the forum-names and real names on those badges.
When Ed and I arrived Willem was not even there, his colleagues were preparing the store for the meeting. Besides the folks from the forum, some people from German pipe-brand Vauen, Dutch tobacco-importer Pronk and a German gentleman with pipes and tobacco also were going to be present. Nonetheless we immediately got some hot coffee and cake. Shortly after nine o’clock Willem walked in, shook hands with us and asked how we were doing. We sat down and I lit up my first pipe, some Sweet Vanilla Honeydew to begin the day with. When I took the first puffs Mark (Deadl0ck) entered the store. Together with Willem he had organised the day. While chatting away it suddenly seemed that the grim-reaper had appeared! It turned out to be Jos in his pipe-smoking coat. At the back of it he had glued a large metal sign of his favourite tobacco brand: Troost. For me he brought a mouse-mat with the Hell’s Pipe Smokers design that I made for some forum shirts a while ago and a couple of home-made peanut-butter pots from the Hartog bakery. Yummie!
After a while more and more forum-folks trickled in and the store got filled up with people. Hands were shaken, pipes were drawn and soon the smoking-lounge saw blue of all the smoke. I approached meeting-newbie Carro (Calinero) because he had a book for me. He is a big bald headed man with tattoos and skull jewellery. Carro lives nearby the store which had that book so I asked him if he could buy it for me a week for the meeting. No problem of course. I decided to give him some extra money for his troubles but he stubbornly refused. Such a nice guy! And from Martin I got the tobacco that was the reason to buy the book. But more about this sometime in another post..
Somewhat after eleven it was time for us to go the harbour where we were going aboard on two “Fluisterboten” (Whispering-boats), arranged by Willem. These boats are navigated through the canals of Zutphen by volunteers while they point out landmarks and buildings and tell all kinds of stories and facts about the city. We were really in luck with the weather, not too hot, not too cold so it was an enjoyable and educational trip. Once in a while we heard the other boat because Jos then blew loud on his brass ship-horn. So if you ever visit Zutphen with a couple of people, go on a “Fluisterboot” and soak up the history, culture and nature of the city.
When we came back at Willem’s store all kinds of sandwiches and drinks were waiting for us. Who was also waiting was forum-member Huub, he arrived just to late for the boats. I wanted to meet him for a long time because he is such a walking encyclopaedia of pipes and tobaccos. He was amazed at how many younger people were present at the meeting. “In my time you were seen as old when you put a pipe in your mouth” he said. “Well, we don’t care!” said someone else smiling.
The rest of the afternoon I spent talking to lots of people. And smoking of course. As always you never get to speak all the folks presents but that really does not matter much. There will be other meetings. Who I did talk to was Rob, he showed me an exquisite gold-banded Dunhill billiard and wanted to know from which year it came. And since I am somewhat of a Dunhill-snob I could tell him that. Also present was a guy who brought some (home-blended) whiskies for us to try. A lot of pipe-smokers love whisky. I heard that the man was interested in trying a latakia-blend because he was curious if it resembled the taste of peaty whiskies. He had almost no smoking experience but brought a pipe with him so I fetched my tin of Penzance and filled up his bowl with it. He lit the pipe and I honestly expected the guy to start coughing and seeing green. To my surprise he actually liked the tobacco, he found it very smooth and recognized the peaty flavour. He kept his pipe pretty well lit and began enjoying it even more when the Virginias and orientals kicked in.
About half past six it was time to go. We shook hands with Willem and his colleagues and thanked them for the wonderful day. Outside the store one part of the forum-folks said goodbye and the other part made their way to restaurant Oriental. I had been there one time before with Mark and Wilfred (Wowbagger). The restaurant has the best spare-ribs in Zutphen and surrounding area. You know, a nice marinade and properly grilled so the bones fall of the meat. Yum-mie! Several other forum members had heard of that visit so we ended up with 15 people there. Luckily Mark had made reservations.. After the meal we all said goodbye and together with Ed I went home full and satisfied.
So thanks to Willem Schimmel & crew and all the folks of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum. I can’t wait until next year!!!
Here are some more pictures of Willem’s store and the meeting: