Tag: semois tobacco

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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Sunny Semois

Semois tobacco field

Semois tobacco field

My neighbour-country to the south, Belgium, has it all: haut de cuisine, excellent beers, stunning nature, beautiful women and wonderful tobacco. Especially in the Semois tobacco you can almost taste the rich Belgian heritage of living the Burgundian lifestyle.

First some history about Belgium tobacco in general. There are/were 3 major regions where tobacco was cultivated:
Wervik in the province of West Flanders
Appelterre (Ninove) in the province of East Flanders
Semois in the province of Namen

672_001Wervik: The city archives show that already in 1650 in Wervik tobacco was grown. The southern part of Wervik (Wervicq-Sud) was permanently transferred to France by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). Soon the border town became known as a paradise for the so called “toubackblauwers” and developed an intensive and particularly lucrative smuggling business to France. Thanks to the sandy loam soil, the many generations of experience on cultivation technique and the successive tobacco institutions having their seat in Wervik, it became the main growing region in Belgium in the 20th century. For more info visit the National Tobacco Museum in Wervik.

071_001Appelterre: Already around the Napoleonic age this small village was well known for its tobacco cultivation. Not so strange because in 1811 192.000 tobacco plants were counted. Characteristic of the Appelterre tobacco cultivation is the fact that it rarely was a full occupation. For most farmers it usually was a lucrative additional income.

808_002Semois: Since the 16th century tobacco is grown in the valley of the river Semois (hence the name). But only for limited personal use. It was not until 1847 that Semois tobacco really took off because of a young teacher from the town of Alle-sur-Semois: Joseph Pierret. His idea was to introduce more intense tobacco cultivation along the sunny valley. Gradually the landscape from Bohan (French border) to Poupehan changed its appearance and besides the gentle wooded hills lots of tobacco fields were visible. In 1895 about 85 ha. was cultivated. Fifteen years later nine million plants were grown on 400 ha. A success!

Unfortunately WO II, the import of American cigarettes and tobacco, mildew and finally the ever growing taxes on the production almost caused the end of Belgium tobacco cultivation. Wervik just had some 40 ha. left of tobacco fields in 2009. In Appelterre there only is one manufacturer left: Torrekens Tobacco. The few farmers in the Semois region can only survive hobby-wise because of tourism. And that is just how I got to know Semois tobacco.

The Dutch/Belgium pipe-smoker group in the museum of Vincent Manil

The Dutch/Belgium pipe-smoker group in the museum of Vincent Manil

In the spring of 2011 a delegation of the Dutch (and Belgium) pipe smokers forum (including me) made its way to the small town of Corbion (where some tobacco manufacturers are located) in the Semois region. For quite some time Jan (from the Wuustwezel meeting) enthusiastically was talking about Semois tobacco on the forum. So people got curious about this Belgium weed and Jan decided to organize a meeting. As a child he spend many holidays in the Semois region so he knew his way around there.

Viewpoint at Rochehaut

Viewpoint at Rochehaut

I had never been in the south of Belgium and I was flabbergasted about the beautiful nature. An instant holiday-feeling. Shaun (forum nickname Nekker) was riding along with me and he said that if Flanders (were he lives) had such nature he never had to go on a vacation. On small curvy roads along the wooded hills we slowly rode through the Semois region.

Vincent Manil

Vincent Manil

In Corbion we stopped at the house/museum/factory of the most well known Semois producer: Vincent Manil. Not that there are so many Semois producers today. In 1995 there were only 9 and now there are 4 left: Of course Vincent Manil, Jean-Paul Couvert, Joseph Martin and C. Didot. Vincent Manil is a very friendly man who bought the small factory from his cousin, Albert Conniasselle, in 1988. Albert (then age 78) and his wife had been making Semois tobacco for decades on centuries old machinery that still work to this day. Vincent became an apprentice of Albert and the old man learned him all the ropes. Today Vincent still manufactures Semois tobacco and runs a small but very nice museum which we visited.

50 gr. of pure Semois tobacco

50 gr. of pure Semois tobacco

Semois tobacco originates from an old burley seed. Because of the unique soil and a peculiar microclimate it became what it is today. Making it is pretty simple. You plant it, let it grow, harvest it, dry it (air-cure), humidify it again, cut it, toast it (heat-cure), get the moisture level right (rather too dry than too wet) and wrap it. The end result is a nut-brown, dry and broad cut tobacco. Manil and other manufacturers in the region offer it in packages of 100, 250 and 500 gr. They look like a gold coloured paper brick with a simple and antique looking label except for the C. Didot offerings which are wrapped in a sturdy brown paper.

Vincent Manil working

Vincent Manil working

When you open such a “brick” you notice a kind of fresh, organic and grassy smell. Some types of Semois also have something of a light anise, aniseed aroma and others (like the Langue de Chien variety made by Joseph Martin and Didot) are bit less robust and sweeter. The tobacco is pretty dry (it is supposed to be) so when you put in your pipe, press hard. Talking about a pipe, I favour a corncob when smoking Semois. In my honest opinion the light corn-taste of the cob goes well together with the taste of the Belgium tobacco. Also be sure to dedicate a pipe to the Semois because it has a strong tendency to leave a ghost behind. Upon lighting your pipe the tobacco smokes very mild on the tongue. After just a few sips the full aroma of the Semois comes forth. It has some kind of cigar-like taste, all very natural. As far as nicotine goes it is in the medium to full range so you have to be careful.

Bouchon de Semois

Bouchon de Semois

Every bouchon is 100% hand-made

Every bouchon is 100% hand-made

Regular Semois tobacco is not the only product Vincent Manil makes. His speciality is the so called “Bouchon de Semois”. A short and stumpy kind of cigar that you can put into your pipe and smoke.

Here are some pictures about how to smoke such a bouchon:

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ensemble-tabacSome of the most well-known Semois tobaccos are:
– C. Didot: Langue de Chien
– Jean-Paul Couvert: Vallée du Mont d’Or – Semois Superieur, Tabac Maison Leclercq Semois
– Joseph Martin: Langue de Chien
Vincent Manil: Val Ardennais – Semois Grosse Coupe (be sure to get the Grosse Coupe, it has the broadest cut)

The shop of J.P. Couvert then and now

The shop of J.P. Couvert then and now (with me in front of it)

Semois can be bought all around Belgium in tobacco stores like Jerry’s Cigar Bar in the beautiful city of Brugge. Also be sure to check out local markets, often a vendor that sells tobacco is present. With some luck he has the real Semois..When you are living outside of Belgium you can order through the internet. Vincent Manil, J.P. Couvert and Joseph Martin have a website with ordering info. But be aware, they only speak English a little bit..

There are also a few other sites that sell Semois tobacco:
JPP Cigares (sells both Manil and Martin Semois and ship abroad)
Au Plaisir de Vivre (they also sell the Bouchons de Semois)
La Tete d’Or
Le Roi du Cigare (see Les Tabac à pipe)
Philbo

Semois tobacco field illustration

Semois tobacco field illustration

Here are some links to Semois related videos (beware, it is all spoken in French):
Il reste 3 producteurs de tabac dans la région de la Semois
Le tabac de la Semois
Tabac de la Semois 1° partie
Tabac de la Semois 2° partie
Vincent Manil, producteur de tabac semois

A link to a interview (in French, use Google translate) in which Vincent Manil admits that due to combustibility his Semois offerings contain 85% real Semois and 15% other tobaccos.
Audience chez le pape du Semois

And here is a link to an excellent article (written in English!) about Semois:
Tobacco That’s So Brooklyn but Made in Belgium

So if you ever are in Belgium, be sure to visit the beautiful Semois region, buy some Semois tobacco, put it in your pipe and smoke it while enjoying an excellent Belgian beer and some haut de cuisine. I’m sure I did!

Also see my blogpost “Semois expedition 2014“.

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EDIT 14-04-2013: PipesMagazine.com forummembers Salabreuil and Rhodog pointed out to me that no real Semois is used in the production of Semois from Didolux, Flandria and Windels. On Didolux (Didot) I have to disagree with him, that is the real deal for sure. So I removed Flandria and Windels from my list. Further Salabreuil had some informative, interesting and useful tips:

The article in NYT is a great article, and it is great writing. Being French and pipe smoker (something very rare in my country now), it is great to read about Semois from a famous American blender. However, I don’t agree with only one of your sentence, and all the Semois smokers I know would neither, and they would even been offended by it : “It does not pretend at finesse or sophistication”.
You may have been misled by the typical smell of “terroir”, this mixture of leaves, undergrowth, mushrooms, earth after rain. Maybe you do not have a complete and thorough experience of Semois or, more likely, this sentence was written too fast. Despite its rustic appearance, the tobacco Semois is one of the more complex and less monolithic tobacco that exists: it is like a great wine. Its evolution is constant during smoking. Tastes of fruits, woods, licorice, toast, brioche, caramel can appear.
I will not pretend to be a great expert of Semois, but when I discovered it, it was not so long ago, it was a revelation. And I had the chance of being advised by pipe smokers far more experienced than me. As many here seem to be interested by the Semois, I would like to draw your attention to a few points.

1) The article focuses on Manil Vincent and La Brumeuse. Vincent Manil is one of the three producers of Semois. The two others deserve to be named : they are Jean-Paul Couvert and Joseph Martin. They are no better or worse: they are all different, and connoisseurs appreciate the characteristics and huge qualities of each.

2) Beware : the Semois is not an AOC. Any tobacco may take the name of Semois – and a lot do. It was never protected by law. So be careful: if these tobaccos are not signed by one of these three producers, this is not Semois.

3) I would also not advise to discover the Semois with “La Brumeuse”: this is one of the strongest. “La Réserve du Patron” from Vincent Manil, “Lux No. 3″ from Joseph Martin or “Cordemoy” from Jean-Paul Covert are more indicated for beginners, and all of them are highly-acclaimed tobaccos. The “Cordemoy” is a delicious, fruity – and the end of the bowl, with flavors of brioche, is a pure delight. You cannot go wrong with that one. Of course this is all without additives.

4) It is important not to keep Semois with humidifier : being 100% natural, molds can arrive quickly. You should know that the Semois must be smoked dry. As it is smoked dry, it burns much faster than usual mixtures. It also heats much, but the risk of burning a pipe is minimal because the embers down quickly.

5) The Semois is the perfect tobacco to break in a pipe, whatever the tobacco you will choose for your pipe after this. Semois prepares remarkably new pipes and authorizes any tobacco after.

6) Semois should be smoked veeeery slowly – but isn’t it true for every tobacco ?

7) You can also try some mix with Semois – specially the Brumeuse which is quite strong. A friend advised me to try adding a few pinches of Latakia : great result…

All of this, I did not invent : these are tips that are given by other and more experienced pipe smokers, and believe me, I do not regret to follow them. I hope this will be the same for you.

EDIT 06-12-2013: Confidential sources exclusive to PipesMagazine.com tell that the fabled Semois tobacco, made by Vincent Manil in Belgium, will be imported into the United States and be available for purchase in January 2014.

It is told that Mr. Manil is finalizing the Customs and Border Patrol approved English labels for export to the U.S. and that by the end of January the product will be shipping out to customers from the domestic importer.

Here are the details so far:
1. The release of Semois in the U.S. is confirmed to be taking place in the month of January.
2. The initial release will include solely La Brumeuse (thick cut) pipe tobacco, but plans are to introduce new products over the coming months.
3. The product will be available through only one online retailer… (this is due to the next detail…)
4. Since Semois is a hand-roasted artisanal tobacco, the supply is very limited. Vincent can only produce a certain amount each month for the U.S. (This is not much different than the situation with J.F. Germain & Sons.)
5. It will be available in 100g and 250g packages.

PipesMagazine.com does not currently have the identity of the importer / retailer, and will update the readers as soon as the information is confirmed.

The Pipe Guys having dinner with Vincent and his family (December 26, 2013) in Manhattan, (New York, NY, U.S.) © PipesMagazine.com

The Pipe Guys having dinner with Vincent and his family (December 26, 2013) in New York © PipesMagazine.com

EDIT 28-12-2013: According to PipesMagazine.com Vincent Manil’s Semois tobacco will be available in the U.S. exclusively from ThePipeGuys.com on, or about January 15, 2014.

EDIT 07-06-2014: Kevin Godbee from PipesMagazine.com just received exclusive news that Semois Tobacco will be available from SmokingPipes.com & PipesAndCigars.com next week, sometime between June 9th – 13th.

You may recall that this extremely unique tobacco had not been available in the USA at all until last year when ThePipeGuys.com obtained exclusive rights to its retail distribution.

The owners of ThePipeGuys.com, Jon Guirguis and Philip Assad, have formed a new company for wholesale distribution. The new company is named Brunswick Distribution Group.

(Incidentally, the name is inspired by the town of New Brunswick, where Jon attended Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, which also incidentally, is the area where I grew up, specifically, North Brunswick, NJ.)

Brunswick Distribution will be focusing on boutique products and exclusive items with the mission of being a curator of unique items in the pipe world.

Look for further announcements directly from SmokingPipes.com and PipesAndCigars.com in the coming days.

EDIT 21-09-2014: I just saw that Vincent Manil’s Semois tobacco is also available at 4noggins.

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