Inter-Tabac 2016 impression

Entrance to the Inter-Tabac

Entrance to the Inter-Tabac

September 17th it was once again time for one of my annual highlights: The Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. For those of you who missed the blogposts I made of the visit the last couple of years; 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 450 exhibitors from over 60 countries who presented themselves in 5 huge exhibition halls. Renowned companies from all over the world presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This includes cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, E-shishas, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shishas, shop equipment and spirits. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers.

Father and son Jan and Jesse

Father and son Jan and Jesse

Like the last years I was able to secure a ticket through Fred, only, some days before the fair he told me he could not make it. His daughter moved out of the parental house a little bit earlier than expected. But I could have his ticket and make someone happy with it. Easy, I thought, what pipe-smoker does not want to go to the Valhalla of smoking? So I asked some friends if they had time but one was on holiday the other did not have a car, someone else had some “things” to do with his students. I obviously did not take into account that Saturday was rather short notice for most. In the end I just asked on the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum who wanted to go with me. I got no more than two reactions so I decided to flip a coin. The winner was Jan, a relaxed, intelligent man with an unique view on life, who was absolutely delighted. He lives not too far away from me and I discovered the detour for me was only 2 km. So I picked him up and together we drove to Dortmund.

img_5363

The stand of DTM

After a pleasant ride we arrived at the Westfalenhallen just when the doors opened. Like every time I started in hall 4. I wanted to speak with Elbert Gubbels from Big Ben because he and I have some business to do for the new Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum tobacco. Unfortunately he was busy so we walked on to the stand of Dan Tobacco Manufacturing (DTM)/Dan Pipe where we were greeted by the lovely daughter of managing director Heiko Behrens. “Did I saw you here last year?” she asked. “Yes you did!” I said with a smile. She asked if we would like some coffee (yes please!) and sat down with us. “So, what is new at Dan Tobacco?” I asked.

img_5360

Burley Maduro

She produced 3 plastic jars with in each a new blend. The first was called “Burley Maduro”, a sturdy, natural mixture of burley and some soft tasting Maduro leaf. Jan would not pack a pipe with it that “early” in the morning but I loaded up one. The taste surprised me, I expected to taste cigar but I did not. It just was a natural very mellow tobacco flavour which reminded me in the distance of the Langue de Chien variety of Semois, very pleasant. But I have to say, it packed a very healthy dose of vitamine N. The second was named “M.A. Blue Canary”. A blend of black cavendish with some gold-brown flake scraps topped with the aromas of apple, vanilla and a bit of cinnamon. The third one was called “Bill Bailey’s Country (Bourbon) Blend”. A mixture of bright US Virginias, a lot of black cavendish and a bit of deep brown dark fired Kentucky topped with Bourbon whiskey and Bourbon vanilla. We thanked Frau Behrens for her time and when we wanted to leave the (beautiful!) stand we were stopped by her old father, managing director Heiko Behrens, who thanked us for visiting. I said it before but the people at DTM are warm and passionate with the typical “no-nonsense working hard and effective” German mentality.

Cornell & Diehl

Cornell & Diehl

After visiting the stand of My Father Cigars who make my favourite “La Antiguedad” cigar Jan and I walked to another hall. There were several little pipe-smoking related stands put together where you could find names like Gabriele Pipes, Jobs Freehand Pipes, Talamona, Michal Novak, Mr. Brog, P. Jeppesen (who had some really beautiful stained blasted pipes) and… Cornell & Diehl. I especially was excited about visiting the stand of the latter, their first time on the Inter Tabac. Silently I hoped that the Dark Lord GL Pease, one of my pipe-smoking idols, would also be there. But alas, no.. Also the stand itself was quite a bit smaller than I expected, just a desk. I know that in Europe their range is available at the Linzbach store in Düsseldorf. But to my surprise the friendly guy behind the desk said they had no German importer. So how Linzbach does it, no idea.. However, they had an importer in the Ukraine! Uhm.. Ok.. We talked about the very worrying FDA regulations and on the lighter side about the (re)introduction of the new Drucquer blends. I asked if he had samples of those but sadly he did not. He did have a sample of one of their best aromatics, Autumn Evening, which I am smoking as I type this. Smooth and tasty!

Caribbean Black Pearl

Caribbean Black Pearl

Then we were off to the large stand of Planta and Designer Berlin (DB) pipes. Like every year Planta had a big wooden barrel standing there with in it their year tobacco, this time called Bacchus mixture. I asked Jan to put his nose near the lid when I pulled it off. He went like “whooaaaa!!!” when he smelled the blend, it was very, very sweet. We admired the many displayed pipes of DB and had to laugh when we saw a couple called “Caribbean Black Pearl”. Undoubtedly ideal for smoking Pirate Kake! Arrrrr matey!

Does he like it...? Yesss!!!

Does he like it…? Yesss!!!

Gradually we moved towards what I call “the Italian corner” which has pipe-brands as Savinelli, L’Anatra and Ser Jacopo. Especially some pipes of the latter boasted some stunning silver-work. Around the corner was the shared stand of Northern Briars and Samuel Gawith (Gawith & Hoggarth). I looked forward to meeting Bob Gregory because I also had some business to do with him for the new Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum tobacco (it is made by Samuel Gawith and imported by Gubbels). I mailed Bob twice to ask if he could bring a sample of the final product with him but I heard nothing. Typical Bob, “I am 70 years old and semi-retired ok??”. As soon as he saw me he shouted with wide eyes “Go away you! Go away!” at me. But I cornered the bastard and forced him to hand over 2 tins of Flatlander Flake, which is the name of the forum tobacco. He did think of me *smiles*. His bald lackey and himself anxiously looked at me when I opened up one of the tins and smelled it. Approved! At which they both smiled (very rare for Bob). Then we exchanged some pleasantries and Bob told some funny stories about how him and Brian Levine (the PipesMagazine.com radio-show host) constantly keep insulting each other. By the way, I saw Brian already a couple of times in the hallways. First time he had a big German glass of beer with him and the second time he was on his way to a whisky-tasting..

Butz Choquin

Butz Choquin

The lunch this year was sober. The prices of food and beverages are outrageous at the Inter Tabac (€4,30 for a small bottle of cola!). So I brought brown buns with cheese on them with me and Jan had some sandwiches. Screw you expensive catering! We’re Dutch! After the lunch we walked to the stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group where pipes of brands like Winslow, Peterson, Butz Choquin, Stanwell and Dunhill are displayed. Soon a lady came asking if we wanted a cup of coffee (yes please!) and while we sipped that away we looked at the shown pipes. To be honest there was not much new. Butz Choquin (sorry to say but masters of bad taste) had some new awful plastic looking colourful pipes and I think that was about it. Ok, at least they try to bring something new. But it all was a bit.. Soulless.. Despite the wonderful pipes Mr. Winslow makes.

Kohlhase & Kopp

Kohlhase & Kopp

Talking about soulless, German tobacco manufacturer Kohlhase & Kopp also radiates that. They have wonderful brands in pipes and tobaccos like Rattrays, Ashton, Sillem’s, Solani and Robert McConnell but inside their large stand no one cares about you. The pipes, cigars and tobacco are nicely displayed but there is no interaction with employees. It all looks and feels a bit cold and snobbish.. However, they did have tins of the “new” Dunhill Dark Flake and Ye Olde Signe offerings. But no one around to ask for a sample. On to Vauen, they had a new pipe which looked like typical Austrian or Bavarian smoking pipes. I actually liked the model but that can be because of my love for Austria. Of course all the amazing looking Auenland pipes were prominently displayed. On the way to yet another hall we passed the Falcon stand. The guy there was a bit disappointed when he discovered we were not salesmen. Sorry, I am just a humble blogger! The loose Falcon bowls were pretty nice, but the stems looked kind of plastic-like.

No, no jokes about this girl and her sucking abilities

No, no jokes about this girl and her sucking abilities

We immediately noticed we entered the hall of the shishas because of the typical faintly sweet odour hanging there. Remarkable was 1. that it was the busiest hall (busier than the E-smoke one!) and 2. it contained the youngest visitors by far. Perhaps this was due to the presence of many beautiful ladies praising and demonstrating the shown wares. I admit, I was too much a coward to ask these beauties if I could take a picture of them. Luckily Jan was much braver, took my camera, asked the ladies and snapped some shots. He never smoked a shisha so we went looking for a nice place to smoke one. But it was so busy everywhere that that plan did not work out. Apparently the crazier the better goes for the world of shishas. Walking through the hallways we saw some “interesting” looking ones shaped like dildos (sadly no girl to demonstrate them..), tommy-guns and glittery kalashnikovs (for the smoking jihadist?) and gas masks.

Snus

Snus

After walking through the E-smoke hall (nothing special there for me) we tried to have a conversation with Elbert Gubbels again. But he still was too busy which I took as a good sign. So on we went to the huge stand of MacBaren. There Per Jensen, the product manager of MacBaren, recognized me. We shook hands and beside him stood a basket filled with small flashy looking round boxes. Apparently there was some kind of snus inside made by MacBaren in cooperation with another company. Per opened one and inside the box were what seemed little tea-bags filled with tobacco. I had to place one in my mouth between my cheek and gums, which I did. The first minutes it was quite enjoyable until the point the juices started flowing. My cheek began to have a burning feeling and I got the hiccups because of the vast quantities of nicotine getting into my system. I hurried to take the bag out of my mouth and was glad Per quickly arranged a refreshing glass of water. Nope, not for me this..

img_5425The 3 of us sat down inside the stand where Per asked if we wanted a cocktail. A cocktail? Here? Well, uhm, yes please! He mentioned for a waitress to come and I ordered a Highball (never had one but it sure tasted good!) and Jan a No Sex On The Beach. Then I asked Per what was new at MacBaren. There were some new Amphora offerings which grabbed my attention because originally Amphora is a Dutch brand which was made by Douwe Egberts. Two of them (Amphora Special Reserve No. 2 and No. 8) were typical Danish aromatics, and did not pique my interest. The other one did because it was a pure Virginia, hence the name: Amphora Virginia. I really hope this blend will be on sale in The Netherlands. There are not so many pure Virginia blends left here.. Per gifted me a pouch which I will open soon.

img_5426Then we talked about tobacco laws and regulations (the new stricter European rules and the American FDA legislation) and how it affects MacBaren. In Europe they can no longer sell heavily flavoured shag tobacco. But being the inventive Danes that they are they found a way around. For example, the pouch has a certain colour, let us say, apple green. Then on the pouch it says “appeal #12” (no fruit names etc. can be used). Sounds a bit like “apple” right? Then you can buy loose flavourings in the same colour as the pouch, also #12 and it is called “apple”. Apply the flavouring onto the tobacco et voilà! About the States Per was a little more sombre. If the FDA rules go through they will lose a really large part of their turnover. Because MacBaren mostly sells loose tobaccos to tobacconists there who can then mix their own blends. But with the new regulations that is forbidden. But as the always positive Per said: new rules mean new chances.

img_5423Towards the end of the afternoon Brian finally joined us. He looked a bit groggy out of his eyes, the whisky-tasting went very well obviously. We talked about all kinds of things while I felt the Highball kicking in. Brian asked what Jan liked to smoke (Virginia) on which a tin of HH Pure Virginia and Capstan Gold were presented to my flabbergasted fellow Dutchman. Just as I was getting a bit sober the fair closed for the day. Brian invited us to grab a beer at his nearby hotel so we walked with him. On the way we bumped into Bob Gregory who almost screamed “Arno! Do not go with him!” at me. On which Brian discreetly showed his middle finger. At the hotel bar we chatted away while feasting on real German beer and before we knew it Brian had to leave because he had dinner elsewhere.

El Greco

El Greco

Dinner, that sounds nice, Jan and I thought. Last year I ate at an excellent Greek restaurant in a German place called Herne. But I could 1. not remember the town and 2. the name of the restaurant. Luckily on the highway my infallible photographic memory *ahem* finally kicked in when I saw the “Herne” sign. In the town-centre I searched on my navigation device for Greek sounding restaurants. 5 places and half an hour later we still did not find the damn restaurant.. With his last internet-data Jan looked on his mobile phone for “Greek restaurants”. The first name that popped up was “El Greco“, we drove to the address and lo and behold; it was the place of last year! Needless to say I was a happy man and also Jan when he tasted the superb Greek food and saw the friendly curvaceous waitress. Once again it was a good day.

I would like to thank Jan for his company, during the ride and the walks through the halls we had some really interesting conversations. By the way, if you want to enlarge the pictures in the gallery below, right mouse-click and then press “look at image” (the first option).

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T-shirts and sweaters for sale for the distinguished pipe-smoker

T-shirt and sweater organizer Peter "Eliminator"

Peter “Eliminator”

Throughout the years many pipe-smokers have asked me if they could buy one of those fancy Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum t-shirts they had seen on pictures of meetings. Well, now you have the chance! Forum member Peter (forum nickname “Eliminator”, so don’t mess with him!) is organizing a new batch of t-shirts and sweaters. They are (mostly) designed by myself and printed by a renowned company in Rotterdam.

There are 3 designs for the shirts and sweaters:
Biker, Tripod and Smoking Goat

Biker black t-shirt

Biker black t-shirt

Biker black sweater

Biker black sweater

Tripod black tshirt

Tripod black t-shirt

Tripod black sweater

Tripod black sweater

Smoking Goat grey t-shirt

Smoking Goat grey t-shirt

Smoking Goat grey sweater

Smoking Goat grey sweater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sizes are S, M, L, XL, XXL, 3XL, 4XL and 5XL. Up until XXL the brand of the t-shirts and sweaters is Fruit of The Loom. For the larger sizes the brand is Gildan. Here is a size-chart for Fruit of the Loom and here is one for Gildan.

The prices for the t-shirts (excl. shipping costs):
– Tripod shirt: €17,50
– Biker shirt : €22,50 (more expensive because of a multi-coloured print on the back)
– Smoking Goat shirt : €17,50

The prices for the sweaters (excl. shipping costs):
– Tripod sweater: €27,50
– Biker sweater: €32,50 (more expensive because of a multi-coloured print on the back)
– Smoking Goat sweater: €27,50

The shipping costs (incl. packaging materials):
NL – envelop post until 2 kg €4,50 (max. 2 t-shirts, no sweaters) / package €8,00
BE/UK – envelop post until 2 kg €12,00 (max. 2 t-shirts, no sweaters) / package €14,00
USA – envelop post until 2 kg €12,00 (max. 2 t-shirts, no sweaters) / package €25,00

You can place your order before 30 September by e-mailing Peter: inked4@live.nl. He will then keep you updated about the order and the payment (Paypal) process.

Very important to know is that there is a minimal order amount of 10 pieces per shirt/sweater. No, you don’t have to order 10 pieces, but in total (the amount ordered by Dutch/Belgian forum members and you) it has to be 10 or more. So it could happen that when you order something the total is less than 10 and the order can’t go through. If this is the case you will be notified by Peter.

Needless to say this all is a labour of love. Peter and myself are not making any money with it, we just try to break even.

The legend of Renaissance (Reserve)

The Dark Lord

The Dark Lord

Once upon a time in a far away country lived a mysterious man named GL Pease. But he was not just any mortal man. No, for he possessed the divine gift to be able to work with a magical dark leaf called “latakia“, which came from the mystical ancient land of Bilad al-Sham. Pease made marvellous blends with this exceptional leaf that could be smoked in a clever device called a “pipe”. All over the earth people went ecstatic when they tried his creations. He was so good in this that his followers honoured him with the nickname “The Dark Lord”.

Pease_RenaissanceAt the pinnacle of his genius, during a haunting full moon, inside his secret room of wonders, he crafted his magnum opus. Anno Domini 2001 he unleashed a blend upon the world that it had never seen before, unique and magnificent, mesmerizing all who smoked it. Of course it contained the magical leaf from Bilad al-Sham but also a very reminiscent yet bolder cousin of it, coming from the mysterious island of Alashiya. The mixture was completed by red, golden and matured leaf from the Old Dominion and smaller deliciously exotic leaves from the unknown East. The Dark Lord named the blend “Renaissance” because it was the beginning of a period of new growth and activity.

Westminster, one of the best blends ever containing

Westminster, one of the best blends ever containing Alashiya leaf

Unfortunately this period did not last long. In the 11th month of Anno Domini 2004 an infernal hellish fire consumed the hoard of dark Bilad al-Sham latakia leaf. Pease was struck down by grief and with a heavy heart had to discontinue his magnum opus, Renaissance. In the years that followed many people offered (according to them) genuine Bilad al-Sham latakia to the Dark Lord. Sadly it was not the same as the magical leaf he first used. Luckily his divine talent was not diminished so with help of the more pungent, assertive Alashiya leaf he succeeded in creating many awesome blends. But the Dark Lord would always lament the loss of his magical Bilad al-Sham latakia leaf.

© GL Pease

Renaissance Reserve © GL Pease

Fortunately the ancient pipe-smoking Gods had something else in mind. Fast forward to Anno Domini 2015, this is an excerpt from Pease’s hidden diary: Both exciting and frustrating. During Cornell & Diehl’s (the Dark Lord’s grand supplier of leaf) move from the Old North State to South Carolus, several pounds of Bilad al-Sham Latakia leaf turned up. I was send a letter, and asked, “Do you want to do something with this?” A silly question. The right question was what I would want to do with it. That was easy to answer, too. I’ve always said that if I could ever again got my hands on the right Bilad al-Sham leaf, the mixture I’d most want to bring back would be Renaissance. It was always special to me, and has remained one of my faves. Knowing this would be a limited edition, I worked diligently over several months in my secret room of wonders to faithfully recreate the blend using the finest leaf available, taking no short-cuts, not stopping until I had achieved that ultimate goal. True to the original, Renaissance Reserve is a mixture of magical leaf from Bilad al-Sham and Alashiya, matured red and golden leaf from the Old Dominion and smaller deliciously exotic leaves from the unknown East. It is blended in just the right measure, aged in bulk, then given an additional six months in the tins before release, resulting in a rich, complex and sophisticated smoking experience. Unfortunately, we were only able to produce 500 tins of this exquisite mixture to be released and once it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s fantastic now, and will continue to develop in the specially designed tins for many years to come, for those who have the patience. I only wish we’d had ten times the amount of Bilad al-Sham leaf we had…

I was so happy I could dance!

I was so happy I could dance!

And here a legend becomes reality, because on 12 July the 500 available tins of Renaissance Reserve became available for us humble pipe-smokers. But where to buy them.. I choose for my regular online tobacconist, 4noggins. This because I know that Rich, the owner, most of the times updates his website around 13:00 CET. So around that time I was refreshing the GL Pease page on his site like a lunatic. 13:00, nothing. 14:00, nothing. 15:00, nothing. Damned! I took a look at the Dutch/Belgian pipe-smokers forum and read there that a member had actually phoned with Rich. He was a little late but the site-update was nearby. Finally at 15:45 I was able to order 2 tins (the maximum) and I was ecstatic! At last I was able to smoke one of the greatest blends ever (according to many) containing the fabled Syrian latakia. My expectations were high..

IMG_5108Description from the producer – Package/tin:
I’ve often said that if I ever again got my hands on the right vintage Syrian latakia the tobacco I’d most want to bring back would be Renaissance. Last year my wish was granted when several pounds of that superb leaf were discovered. True to the original formula, Renaissance Reserve is a blend of Cyprian and Syrian latakias, several matured virginias, and balkan orientals blended in just the right measure and aged for many months to provide a rich, complex and sophisticated smoking experience. Only 500 tins of this exquisite blend were produced. The tin is a typical American one with a pull-off lid. The artwork on it is nice but not really remarkable. On an underground of what looks like parchment the name of the blend dominates the tin. Under it a long clay pipe is depicted with in it “G.L. Pease Tobacco Company”. The blend-description is on the backside.

IMG_5110Contents/Ingredients/cut:
Upon opening the tin I was greeted by the familiar GL Pease carton inlay. When I lifted that I saw a mixture that was pretty light in colour for a latakia blend. The ingredients are Cyprian and Syrian latakia, several matured Virginias and Balkan Orientals. The cut is one which which is typical for lots of GL Pease blends, a sort of rough ribbon cut with some chunky pieces.

noseSmell from the tin:
I expected to smell leathery latakia when I stuck my nose in the tin. Instead I was greeted by a very pleasant mellow, exotic smoky odour. Once I smelled an empty wine barrel and I had to think about that. That combined with the grassy sweetness of the Virginias and tangy spiciness of the orientals typifies the odour of Renaissance Reserve for me.

011Taste:
The keyword with this blend is balance. I can’t stress that enough, no ingredient overshadows another one. I have never smoked a mixture which had such a great harmony. Especially the cooperation between the Syrian and Cyprian latakia is masterfully done. When I smoke a blend like McClelland’s 3 Oaks Syrian the Syrian dark leaf is a bit too mellow for me. MacBaren tried to solve this with their tasty HH Vintage Syrian by adding some smoky dark-fired Kentucky. Mr Pease used Cyprian latakia to support its Syrian cousin. And the exciting thing is that you can really notice it. I taste the wine-like, woody, smoky but mellow Syrian leaf. But because of the addition of the more assertive, pungent, leathery Cyprian leaf the two latakias as a whole become more than the sum of their parts. Of course the other ingredients also play a large role. The matured Virginias provide the backbone of the blend with their earthy, dark sweet taste. They are supported by the Red Virginias which taste tangy and yeasty. Golden Virginas provide a grassy, hay-like and citrus flavour. The orientals fall in line with the Virginias and give the mixture a spicy, nutty and pleasantly refreshing sour note. I would place this blend in the “light English” department. It is no latakia-bomb and the orientals work harmonious with the rest of the ingredients. The mixture is complex, but in a good way. Some blends drown in complexness but Renaissance Reserve is easy accessible and heightens the curiosity with every smoke. What do I taste now? Cedar? Thyme? A member of the Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum who smoked a sample from me even tasted some hashish.. Also the mixture behaved well in most pipes, always the sign of a great blend. But I got the tastiest results in my (Dunhill) prince shaped pipes.

IMG_5114Miscellaneous:
Renaissance Reserve smokes smooth like butter on my bald head. Not a bite in sight. Nicotine-wise I rank it mild, although my tolerance for vitamin N has gone up due to the use of some snuff tobacco. Burn-wise I had no problems at all and it left almost no moisture in the bowl.

thumbs2Room-note:
For a blend that contains latakia it has a surprisingly nice room-note. I had no problems at all with Ellen. The wife of a member of the Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum even said it smelled good! And indeed, when I walk into the living room the next morning I smell a pleasant faint incense-like BBQ odour.

moneyPrice:
On the website of 4noggins I paid $11.25 (± €9,98) for a tin. Considering this was a limited blend (only 500 were made) I suspect that in some years the remaining tins will fetch good prices at e-bay.

IMG_5115Conclusion:
Renaissance Reserve just utterly wowed me. It felt like having steamy sex with the gorgeous babe you never ever thought you were going to nail. I just had to keep smoking it. Normally when I am roughly at 3/4 of a tin I lose interest and give or throw the rest away. Now I smoked it up to the last crumb. Although at first taste this blend did not seem really remarkable, it soon grabbed me at my balls and left me wanting for more every time. Like a geisha it constantly teased me, giving me something and promising pleasure with every puff to come. Smoking Renaissance Reserve is an exiting journey in which you constantly discover new tastes. And you know what the best thing is? I got one full, sealed tin left in my tobacco closet. I am a happy man.

Latakia and… Chocolate???

Rainer (on the right) and Hans (in the middle)

Rainer (on the right) and Hans (in the middle)

Once in a while you smoke a blend that surprises you, that tastes so different in a pleasant way than you expected. Such a mixture is ChocoLat (notice the capital “L”) by HU Tobacco. You would expect that master-blender Hans Wiedemann is behind the tobacco but no, it is a friend of him (and myself): Rainer. It all began when he read the excellent book by Fred Hanna: The Perfect Smoke. In there is a paragraph where Mr. Hanna describes a tobacco blending experiment with an aromatic mixture called McClelland Tastemaster (a (Black) Cavendish – Burley blend) and 50% latakia: Smoky Chocolate Surprise. The first candidate for an excellent crossover is a McClelland aromatic called Tastemaster. It appears to be the typical McClelland high-quality tobacco that is cased and suffused with chocolate. Yes, I said it was chocolate, and, unbelievably, it even tastes like chocolate. It is a nice aromatic all on its own if smoked after allowing it to dry for a few days. It smells nice and burns rather cool as long as, like I said, it has time to dry out. However, when mixed with 50% McClelland Cyprian Latakia, you have the dessert equivalent of Smoky Chocolate Surprise. It smells great, has depth of flavor, and burns cool with a nice chocolate taste. It is actually rather amazing stuff. I highly recommend it to the Latakia lover who has a sweet tooth. And, of course, the room note is pleasant indeed.

Norbert Hedtke

Norbert Hedtke

So Rainer started experimenting, got some Tastemaster from the States, mixed it with pure Latakia and indeed with a good result. But now the arduous task lay before him of re-creating the blend with European tobaccos. First he approached the master-blender of Kohlhase & Kopp, Norbert Hedtke. The blend that came out of that was ok, but it was not quite what Rainer had in mind. Something was off.. Of course! American (unflavoured) Black Cavendish is mostly made from Burley and European Black Cavendish is based on Virginia. Too much of the latter and the blend becomes a bit dry, woodsy. But with some tweaking this was solved. Then the mixture lacked a bit of body. This time the solution came from Hans Wiedemann. He added some special Burley and high quality Virginia which was precisely what the blend needed. The mixture then was rounded off with, not an overly sweet milk chocolate, but a dark chocolate topping.

logo_HU-TobaccoDescription from the producer:
The common passion for good tobacco has Rainer aka Raiko and me let become good friends. There was of course close to the Rainer finally created his own tobacco. The result is really fun – Chapeau Rainer!!! Luxurious, opulent and at the same time with a hint of decadence – ChocoLat has it all! Nearly half a measure of Latakia is sustained by high-grade Virginias, Burley and unflavoured Black Cavendish. A discreet cocoa flavour delivers a satisfying, indulging taste without ever becoming overly sweet. Deep and dark, pleasant and snugger alike a good Stout… ChocoLat – can also serve as an ideal companion to a dark beer.

ChocoLatPackage/tin:
A typical round European style 50 gr. tin is used. On the tin sadly no image but just plain text. Hans really makes wonderful tobaccos and some of his tins have really nice artwork. But also many tins lack that.. The eye also wants something and with a name like ChocoLat I am sure a good looking tin label could have been made.

IMG_4787Contents/Ingredients/cut:
Upon opening the tin you see a simple white paper. When you remove that a blend greets you which varies in colour from light to dark. Bright Virginias, slightly darker Burley and black Latakia and Black Cavendish. Which also sums up the ingredients. The cut is a regular ribbon cut.

noseSmell from the tin:
The smell from the tin is a bit strange, but in a good way. I smell the earthly, leathery camp-fire odour of the latakia but it is subdued by the other tobacco components and the topping. It reminds me of Sillem’s Black, marshmallows roasting above a camp-fire. But then less aromatic, more natural. A real chocolate smell I do not detect.

011Taste:
Upon lighting the pipe you get the dark earthy taste of the smoky latakia but without the bitterness you sometimes experience. After a few puffs the bright and sweet Virginias, together with some citrus, come through. They, in combination with the creamy Black Cavendish also provide a slight grassy taste. The Burley provides the nutty backbone of the blend. I don’t really detect a clear chocolate taste, it is just a bit of marshmallows roasting above a camp-fire. Smoking a pipe with this mixture is not a roller-coaster ride flavour-wise, all the ingredients are in perfect harmony and stay that way. Like with the smell I am taste-wise also reminded of Sillem’s Black; it is more natural than aromatic. Sometimes aromatic blends loose their taste halfway the bowl, but because ChocoLat leans on the natural tobaccos the flavour is consistently maintained throughout the bowl.

IMG_4786Miscellaneous:
German made blends sometimes have the tendency to bite but like most HU Tobacco blends ChocoLat is a good boy. Nicotine-wise it is a mild blend, I can smoke it without any troubles. Burn-wise this is an excellent mixture. I rarely required so few relights and it burns right down to the bottom of the bowl.

thumbs2Room-note:
For Ellen it contains latakia so no… However, even when she says she does not really like it, she made no remarks while I smoked it, no leaving the room, no coughing noises.. And when I entered the living-room the next morning all I could smell was a faint roasted marshmallow odour. So for me the room-note goes into the “pretty decent” department.

moneyPrice:
On the website of HU Tobacco this blend will cost you €11,30 (± $12.50).

P1090674Conclusion:
This blend will appeal to pipe-smokers on different levels. If you are a lover of Latakia-blends this mixture will be a nice and perhaps refreshing change of pace. Don’t let the “chocolat” label put you off, this is not an aromatic, there are loads of high quality natural tobaccos to be enjoyed. And if your wife loathes the smell of your favourite Latakia-blends, try ChocoLat, perhaps she will like it. Because every woman loves chocolate, right? Also when you want to try out a mixture with latakia I believe this is a good blend to start with. You get the characteristics of the dark leaf but in a smoothed, tasty way that won’t put you off.

Lohmar pipe-show 2016

12809533_1579588269032530_9107435235979943968_nOn 21 May it was time for the 11th edition of one of the most interesting pipe-events in Germany: the Lohmar Pfeifenmesse. Also this time at Villa Friedlinde organized by pipe-maker Volker Bier in cooperation with the local authorities. A collaboration I really applaud! The economy of Lohmar gets a boost from the hordes of pipe-smoking enthusiasts and they get to use community-centre Villa Friedlinde and the surrounding park. Like every year I could drive along with Rob. Only, this time I was not the only one. Rob’s car is big enough for several folks so Wilfred, Jan and Marielle joined us. The more the merrier! We drank some tea and coffee at Rob’s place before leaving and I had to laugh when I saw the big bag of Marielle. Thanks to Rob she has discovered snuff and brought along all kinds of the stuff in all kinds of little boxes like the ones you keep contact-lenses in. And besides that she is gaining a vast knowledge about the subject. Hail to the snuff-queen!

In the car, never-mind the sour-looking chap on the left

In the car, never-mind the sour-looking chap on the left

The ride to Lohmar was enjoyable, well, at least for me. Marielle, Wilfred and Jan were packed together like sardines in the back of the car. When we arrived the weather proved to be excellent. Last year we were lucky in that regard but now it was just perfect. The sight of the pipe-show looked and felt like one big garden party. People were walking around the stands, having a drink, sitting on the grass etc. The first familiar face was that of Paul, one of the Belgian members of the forum. He even brought his pipe-smoking girlfriend with him!

Hans and myself

Hans and myself

The first stop was the stand of Hans Wiedemann, good friend, master-blender and owner of HU Tobacco. For some time Hans was not doing well physically. He suffered a heart-infarct and had to change his whole lifestyle. Even the existence of HU Tobacco was hanging in the balance for a wile. But go figure, during day time Hans had his regular job and in the evening and at night he was managing HU Tobacco, packing and sending away orders etc.. So now Tabakwaren Bosch, a tobacconist from the South of Germany, has taken over German orders for HU Tobacco. Foreign orders are still being handled by Hans himself. It was busy at the stand, a good sign. A slimmed down Hans and I greeted each other as old friends. He had some new offerings. First the 5 year HU Tobacco Anniversary Blend. I smelled it but no, I am sorry, not really my cup of tea. However, what was my thing was Asmara, an oriental forward blend. I already received a sample before from other German friend Rainer and it reveals all kinds of flavours when smoked slowly. The greatest surprise was a strange blend called ChocoLat. Notice the capital “L”. It was created by Rainer in cooperation with Hans. Almost 50% of latakia is combined with Virginias, Burley, unflavoured black cavendish and a light cocoa topping. It reminded me of Sillem’s Black but different, better. A very interesting smoke!

Eddy and Hans-Walter, a friend of him

Eddy and Hans-Walter, a friend of him

When walking around a bit I spotted another German friend: Eddy, who I met last year at Lohmar. Eddy is somewhat a collector of patent-era Dunhills and other English brands. We sat down on the grass in the park and I had to gasp for air when he opened up his pipe-bag. First he pulled out a gorgeous Comoy army-mount prince. Precisely the sort of pipe I like. To be honest I felt a bit like Gollum when looking at that pipe. My precioussss…. Then came a series of old Dunhills. The oldest was a smooth bulldog from somewhere between 1918 and 1923. Vintage Dunhills very often have beautiful sandblasts which I saw at the next two pipes. A Tanshell “O” shape squat bulldog from 1953 and a Shell billiard from 1925. Especially the squat bulldog had a jaw-dropping sandblast. While wiping away some drool I congratulated Eddie with his pipes. He is a very lucky (and now poor) man to own these!

Maike and Rob

Maike and Rob

Meanwhile Rob had bumped into female pipe-maker extraordinaire Maike from Maike Pipes. Last year Rob turned 50 and he wanted a special pipe for the occasion. But who was going to make it.. At earlier Lohmar editions I already saw what Maike could do so I hinted to him that perhaps the female pipe-maker from Berlin was a good choice. So Rob mailed her and Maike got busy. Literally the day before his 50th birthday he received the pipe, a wonderful churchwarden Maike-style. What I love about her is her eye for design, the insight in the flowing lines that make a good pipe shape. Just take a look at her website. I saw lots of pipes at Lohmar which looked not right. Incorrect proportions, strange lines, sloppy finishes.. The German habit of smoking and building filter pipes, which can look rather plump, also does not help. And the prices some pipe-makers dare to ask for their (in their eyes amazing) pipes.. Auwtsch.. At least with Maike you get a good looking, good smoking pipe for not too much money.

IMG_4312

The clay pipes I bought

Many (German) pipe-makers were present at Lohmar. Just to name a few: Hahn Pfeifen, Michaela Daniels Pfeifen, Eckhard Stöhr Pfeifen, Uwe Reichert Pfeifen, Jan Harry Seifert, Lucifer’s Pipes, Hartmut Heckmann, Nortbert Bauer Pfeifen, Zigl Pipes, Markus Meyer Design, Jürgen Börner Freehand Pipes, Bischoff Pfeifen and Uwe Maier. Tommi Teichmann had some amazing looking prince-shape pipes which at first sight looked perfectly sandblasted. Only, they were not. They were painstakingly beautifully rusticated by hand. Sadly way above my budget.. Another of Tommi’s offerings was almost in reach of my budget. He had made all kinds of loose bowls (some rusticated, some not) with a small hole at the bottom in which a bamboo stem fitted. A bit like a Popeye pipe if you want. But they were just above the amount I was willing to pay for them. What was within my limited budget were some surprisingly nice looking clay pipes made by Markus Fohr. He had some models which had an acrylic mouthpiece made onto the clay bowl. So I bought 2 of them and I must say, they smoke amazingly well!

Dining at the Meigermühle

Dining at the Meigermühle

In the mean time fellow forum member d’Artagnan had joined us and we all were relaxing in the grass soaking in the rays of the bright and warm sun. Some beers were fetched at the voluptuous lady who managed the stand of the local Lohmar brewery. Like every year she always tries to hide when I grab my camera and like every year she fails. The rest of the afternoon was spend talking and chatting away to each other until our bellies started to grumble. Time to go to the place we went last year: Café Restaurant Meigermühle, located in an historical timber framed building at the edge of a forest. Rob was being very stern, in order to not break with tradition we were only allowed to order a Schnitzel, which we all did. While the sun slowly disappeared behind the horizon we sat on the outside terrace smoking our pipes while contemplating what a great day it had been.

All pictures were made by myself, Marielle, Rob, Jan and Paul.

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The adventures of the Fuming Four in Scotland part 2.

Click here for part 1.

The bathroom

The bathroom

Day 3: Saturday 30 April
I awoke with a headache, a queasy feeling and a thirst for water. Ah, damn.. Hangover.. Well, things could have been worse, I thought. With some difficulty I climbed over a snoring Thierry (we both shared the upper part of a giant sized bunk bed) onto the ladder. I fumbled in my backpack for some painkillers and swallowed them with loads of water. Silently I staggered to the bathroom, hoping that a shower would freshen me up. Suddenly it dawned on me that for the electricity in the lodge British Pound coins were needed. So perhaps the boiler did not work and there would be no hot water. I took the risk and while standing under the shower I mumbled a quick prayer that it would be warm. A weak trickle of water emerged and.. Damnit, cold! No, wait! After a long while it became hot. Aahhh.. Such a good feeling!

Matron and I sporting a hangover..

Matron and I sporting a hangover..

After the shower I got dressed and went to the living-room/kitchen part of the lodge. There I saw that Matron was awake and one look at his face told me that he was feeling exactly the same as me. The dishes had to be done so we did them together while groaning softly sometimes because of our hangovers. Matron did not have a good night. He slept in a bunk bed (in another chamber as us) on the lower part with Darren above him. In the middle of the night he was awakened because his sleeping bag felt a bit moist. “Shit! Have I pissed myself?” he thought. Carefully he felt his crotch.. No.. Then looked to the mattress above him and slowly saw some liquid dripping from it. He gave Darren a nudge.. “Pssst, Darren, wake up, did you piss yourself??” Groggily the inebriated Scotsman lifted up his sleeping bag.. “Ay..”

Breakfast!

Breakfast!

One by one the rest awoke. Alf, Gregor, Shaun and Rob all felt pretty ok considering the night before. Darren was still sleeping but Thierry looked like the ghost of Christmas past. He had tried to drink some water but it had all come out.. 1 time at night and 4 times in the morning, the poor lad. Luckily Matron had the solution: a good, hearty breakfast. He started baking bacon and eggs but also had the curry from the night before. “Anyone also curry??” “Ay!” Answered Rob and myself. I must say, I seldom had such a great morning meal. Bacon and eggs on a bun with some sauce combined with a leftover bit of curry. Delicious! Thierry was thinking the same, bit by bit he began to feel better. Such is the resilience of youth.. There was a bit of drama when Shaun went for a shower. Suddenly he came out the bathroom with a pale face. “Oh boy, I am really f*cked now..” It turned out that one of his special contact lenses (€3000 a piece!) accidentally fell down the drain. Lucky for him Matron found it back in the drain pipe where it got stuck. *pheww* Outside the weather was surprisingly nice, sunny and even a bit warm. I sat on the bench before the lodge and soaked in the healing rays of the sun.

In front of the Dalwhinnie distillery

In front of the Dalwhinnie distillery

Just before 2 o’clock we left for the nearby Dalwhinnie whisky distillery, I had booked a tour there. Darren and Gregor were not coming along (in fact, Darren had gone to bed again after breakfast. He was utterly demolished by all the Westvleteren he consumed..) so it was just the six of us. The distillery is set in a desolate, wind-sliced, rain-lashed patch of Highland wilderness. Especially with the two distinctive pagoda roofs the building and its surroundings look like a scene out of the Lord of the Rings. We were greeted warmly inside and soon met our tour-guide; an old chap with almost spiky hair and hands and a face that looked like he consumed quite a lot of the brew that was made there. But he was a truly amicable fellow and guided us with clear stories and a bit of humour through the rooms and halls of the distillery. It was forbidden to take pictures inside which I really regretted when we saw the 2 enormous and impressive copper stills where a lot of the magic happens. At the end of the tour we all got genuine Dalwhinnie glasses and of course a bit of the stuff itself. Before I could say “no” Rob (who was driving) already poured the contents of his glass into mine. Oh man, and I still wasn’t feeling too well because of the hangover.. But like the brave Dutchman I am I downed the glass in one gulp. And felt a bit better afterwards crazily enough.

Real men

The Fuming Four: real men

Rob wanted to have lunch so we went to some snackbar/grill restaurant something at the edge of a nearby village. When ordering the Belgians made sure that this time their chips would be well baked. The Scots had a strange (for me) dish: beans on toast. Literally just canned beans in tomato sauce heated up and dumped over buttered toast. They seemed to like it. Once we got back at the lodge the weather was still that nice that the Belgians, Rob and I decided to do a group picture KPC style. So we took off our coats, sweaters and shirts and posed for the camera like real men with bare chests.

Haggis with neeps and tatties, yummie!

Haggis with neeps and tatties, yummie!

In the evening Matron was preparing a signature Scottish dish: haggis. He (traditionally) served it with “neeps” and “tatties“, boiled and mashed separately. Normally a “dram” (a glass of Scotch whisky) goes with it but after the alcoholic orgy of the night before some water sufficed. I must say, the haggis tasted remarkably excellent! Like a smooth mixture between black pudding and liver. For herbivore Thierry Matron had also made some vegetarian haggis. I had some and it tasted surprisingly great. The remainder of the evening was spend quietly in front of the fire. The rest was chatting away and I was reading on my new e-reader, such a great invention! Thierry dodged a bullet by the way, he fell asleep before midnight but just before Shaun and I were going to press our butts in his face he woke up.. Needless to say we all went to bed early.

Kirkcaldy

Kirkcaldy

Day 4: Sunday 1 May
After a great night’s sleep, shower and breakfast it was time to leave the bothy/lodge behind. The planning for the day was to go to the capital city of Scotland: Edinburgh. I rented an apartment there near the Royal Mile and opposite the castle. And the best thing was: we could smoke in there! The Scotsmen helped getting our gear to the cars where we said our goodbyes. In the short time we had together we all grew very fond of each other, that is for sure. Matron came along with us until the first stop: tobacconist G.T. Coventry in Kirkcaldy run by Maclean John Dorward. When we arrived in the coastal town at the shop Maclean was waiting outside. “The damn alarm won’t come off, I already called a mechanic but since it’s Sunday it can take a while..” Despite that he offered us a sneak-peak in his store, which was a bad move because the alarm immediately went off. And it made a truly hellish noise. Quickly we all went outside, Maclean kept waiting for the mechanic and we decided to go to a pub. Several streets further we could still hear the alarm..

Yummie food!

Yummie food!

Finding a pub was easy, but when we got inside we got the distinct impression we were not wanted there. It was a real Scottish pub for real Scottish people, not us. Across the street was an Indian/Nepalese/Chinese/Thai restaurant where an employee stood outside. “Are we welcome here?” Rob asked. (With an Indian accent) “Yes of course! Come in, come in, follow me!” We sat at the back of the place which had a lovely view across the sea. The food was more than excellent! I had noodles with chicken, mouthwatering good. On a small tray were some flakes of something which I fully added to the noodles. Rob looked amazed at me. “You realize you just threw in a bunch of spicy chilli flakes in you dish?” Whoops.. But despite that, great food, only my stomach pained me afterwards..

Maclean of G.T. Coventry

Maclean of G.T. Coventry

Suddenly Matron got a text message, at G.T. Coventry the mechanic had fixed the alarm. When we entered the shop we were (once again) greeted by Maclean. Looking around it was smaller than I though, but in a good way. It had a certain cosiness. Also because of the lovely old world style wooden interior. The building itself is really old. In 1720 it was a mill (horse-powered), in 1861 it was a chemist and drug-store and then a hatter in the 1890’s. Since 1906 a tobacconist has been located at this site. For a better and longer description of the store, see this KPC magazine.

Maclean weighing off tobacco

Maclean weighing off tobacco

Maclean proved to be a very nice, relaxed chap, answering questions and telling about the shop. Strange laws they have in Scotland, you are allowed to sample what you are buying but you can’t smoke it inside the shop.. Of course I had done some research about his store and in all honesty I must say, I was a little disappointed about the assortment. On pictures I saw that only a couple of years ago he had more pipes and pipe and snuff tobaccos for sale. Despite that, it was still pretty impressive. We all bought something and the loose tobaccos were measured in the old fashioned style on scales. I purchased 2 Gawith & Hoggarth bulk tobaccos (can’t remember which ones..) and a piece of black rope tobacco. I could not help noticing that things were going downhill for Maclean. “Alone last year I lost 8 regular customers..” Maclean sighed. How? “Well, they died of old age. And no new customers are replacing them..” When we left the store the good man gifted us a tin of Peterson Signature Flake (in the vein of Capstan). I really, really hope his business endures.

View from the apartment

View from the apartment

Outside the shop Matron said goodbye to us, he was going home. We all thanked him for some fabulous days we will never forget! On the way to Edinburgh we noticed that Shaun his bladder infection slowly healed, thankfully he brought medicines with him. In the capital of Scotland we parked our car near the castle, not cheap but the closest to our apartment. Once we got there I opened a small locked box beside the door with the key in it with a code I got from the owner. The apartment was more spacious than I could see on the pictures, excellent! There were 2 beds, 1 in the bedroom and 1 sofa bed in the living room. The one in the bedroom was large enough for 2 but the sofa bed not. Luckily I had brought an inflatable mattress with me. The view from the main window was great, we could see the castle and the Royal Mile.

Watching TV

Watching TV

At first we wanted to get some food at a supermarket and cook it ourselves but of course we could not find one in the city centre. After a short walk we decided to eat almost beside our door at Maxies Bistro. Since it was the last evening in Scotland Shaun and I both decided to dine a bit decadent with a Scottish border rib-eye steak served with black pudding in a rich Port sauce. Yummie! That also went for the friendly and good looking waitress. They had an excellent customer service by the way. Rob always drinks Coca Cola but they did not have that, they had Pepsi, which Rob hates. Suddenly a waiter came back with a can of Coca Cola. Turned out that a while ago they had run out of Pepsi and hastily bought some loose Coca Cola cans. Rob’s smile went from ear to ear. Back in the apartment Rob and Shaun wanted to watch Match of the Day, especially Rob is a big soccer fan. So we all sat there, smoking a pipe, watching TV. Afterwards Rob and Shaun decided to sleep together in the main bed, I had my air mattress and Thierry opted for the sofa bed.

Rob and his full Scottish breakfast

Rob and his full Scottish breakfast

Day 5: Monday 2 May
My air mattress was a bit empty when I woke up but nonetheless I slept well. Soon we packed our stuff and decided to have breakfast just beside our door at The Castle Arms. Shaun and I went for a simple bun with bacon & egg but Thierry and Rob opted for the full Scottish breakfast. Rob even had haggis with it! With a good “foundation” in our bellies we began the journey back to Newcastle. This time via the coastal A1 highway, well, highway.. Here in the Netherlands we would call it a provincial road. But it had some great views of the British coastline. On the radio there was not much. Luckily Thierry brought a little speaker with him which he hooked up to his phone so we could enjoy some decent music. Before we arrived at the ferry we wanted to get some food at a supermarket because of the high prices on the boat. On the outward journey we encountered plenty of supermarkets, now none.. Grrrr..

The bad-ass Fuming Four

The bad-ass Fuming Four

Entering the ferry went pretty smooth again despite Thierry and Rob receiving a warning from customs because they brought the wrong kind of pocketknife with them. On the boat our cabin proved to be a little bit bigger than on the outward journey, but just as hot.. Because we failed in buying food at a supermarket we were forced to dine on the ferry. This time we went to the Italian restaurant. I ordered a spaghetti bolognese (for a whopping €19!) and I must say, it was THE worst I ever had. Even when you get it from out of a cheap tin it tastes better.. Shaun also had a hard time eating his pizza quattro formaggi (4 cheeses). The crust was very weak and fat just floated on top of it.. Yuk.. On this boat there was no secluded bar where we could drink something so we just stayed in our cabin. Thierry was goofing around with his camera which ended up in one big hilarious photo-shoot.

It was wonderful!

It was wonderful!

Day 6: Tuesday 3 May
Once again I awoke sweaty because of the lack of air conditioning. Nevermind, it was the last night, today I would sleep in my own bed again. We decided to skip the expensive breakfast at the ferry and eat something along the road. But the journey home went so smooth and fast we did not stop. I said my goodbyes to everyone at Rob’s place and drove to a nearby aunt and uncle of mine to get some late breakfast. Before I knew it I was home again which surprised Ellen, she thought I would have been back later that day. We hugged and she asked how the vacation was. Well darling, do I have some stories to tell…..

I want to thank Rob, Shaun and Thierry for their great companionship during the journey, you’re the best! I also would like to thank Matron, Alf, Darren and Gregor from the KPC for their unconditional hospitality and friendship! You guys rule!

All pictures were made by Thierry, Rob and myself.

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The adventures of the Fuming Four in Scotland part 1.

00000009065042 Belgians and 2 Dutchmen are sitting in a car in Scotland… Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke right? Well, it is not! Since some time the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) is friends with the Scottish Kaervaig Pipe Club (KPC). Members of the latter (Matron and Florian) have even visited the PRF Wuustwezel meeting several times. So now it was time to return the favour. At first Fred (who you know from the Inter Tabac blog posts) was busy with organizing a trip to Scotland. The original plan was to go with 9 PRF members in a van to Scotland, stay in a bothy in Balgowan (near Laggan) with the KPC and then, on the way home, pay a visit to the factory of Samuel Gawith (Gawith & Hoggarth). Sadly at the end of last year there have been some troubles on the forum and during that time Fred decided to leave. In the end he handed over the information to me about the Scotland trip he gathered so far. But when I asked if the members who had applied for the journey still wanted to go several called it quits. So I decided to pull the plug out of it.

The Fuming Four before take-off

The Fuming Four before take-off

However, I still wanted to travel to Scotland so I already had a plan B in mind. I called Rob(bie-San) and asked if he was willing to make the journey with me in his (large, diesel fuelled) car. “Of course!” He said. “And who’s coming with us? I have place for 2 more.” I immediately thought of Belgian friend Shaun and to make the group complete I asked his fellow-countryman Thierry if he was willing to join us. They both were enthusiastic so the deal was sealed. Only setback was that the visit to Samuel Gawith could not go through. Due to the British excise tax office tours to the tobacco factory are no longer allowed, to the disappointment of both Bob Gregory and us. Oh well, instead we opted for a short trip to Edinburgh. Finally at the end of April the day for the Scotland journey had come for the Fuming Four (aka. The Beards and the Bald).

Behold Thierry's packing talent

Behold Thierry’s packing talent

Day 1: Thursday 28 April
After a restless night (too much excitement) I started packing my belongings for the trip. I could not bring too much with me because the packing space in Rob his car was limited. Besides, bringing enough booze with me was more important than a clean pair of pants. When I arrived at Rob’s home I noticed the 2 Belgians (who had arrived the day before) and Rob himself thought exactly the same. We all brought many pipes, (snuff) tobaccos and cigars with us but the vast amount of alcohol was staggering. The Belgians brought a large crate of the best beer in the world: Westvleteren and all kinds of other Belgian beers with them. Rob had bought Beerenburg, Citron brandy and Old Jenever. I had taken Lagavulin and an excellent Jonge Jenever with me. So now getting it all in the car.. Fortunately Thierry proved to have a talent for packing and with ease he stuffed the car full to the brim and, also important, invisible for curious customs officers.

Shaun and I having our intimate Titanic moment

Shaun and I having our intimate Titanic moment

After a very taste lunch made by Rob (home made chicken satay) the trip to the harbour of IJmuiden where we had to get on the ferry-boat went smooth. The weather was a bit chilly but at least dry. Luckily it did not take too long to get passed customs (who looked at us rather intensely, all those beards, suspicious…) into the huge ferry. After climbing some steps we soon found our cabin not far from the bow of the boat. I expected it to be small, but that small.. No way of letting a fart without everyone smelling it.. However the worst thing was the itty bitty tiny air conditioning hole in the ceiling. It was bloody hot in the cabin. We dumped our stuff and went on deck for some refreshing wind and a drink. When I watched the sea passing by at the ship’s rail Shaun no longer could hold back and we had our own intimate Titanic moment.

In the ship's bar

In the ship’s bar

Our bellies grumbled so we went down to look for something to eat. Aboard you had several options: buy small things (like sandwiches, chocolate bars or bags of chips) at the shop, there was an Italian restaurant, a steakhouse, a fancy dining place, an all-you-can-eat restaurant and a café. We opted for the latter because it was the cheapest option. Well, cheap.. Not exactly, not even near. I had a plate of dry nasi goreng, with only 3 measly pieces of chicken, which was just enough to full my hollow tooth for a whopping price of €17! I almost asked the waiter if he could hold my man-boobs, because I like that when I am being screwed! Later that evening we luckily found a nice and quiet bar on the boat which shielded us from noisy children who were running around and (half)drunk bachelor party folks. When I walked back to the cabin afterwards I noticed the weather outside had become a bit more rough. I only had 1 alcoholic drink but when I bounced from wall to wall in the hallway it felt like I had plenty more.

Shaun with our Titanic moment still in his mind

Shaun with our Titanic moment still in his mind

Day 2: Friday 29 April
When I awoke all sweaty because of the shitty air conditioning I was glad I brought ear-plugs with me. Man, those guys could snore. The surprisingly good shower freshened up my sleepy brain and to further wake it up I joined Thierry outside on the very windy deck. The cold wind blew so hard I could backwards lean into it without falling! Soon it was time for breakfast. Which was also very expensive.. While not trying to think too much of the price I shoved in the bun and soon we all got back to the cabin to pack our stuff because the ferry had arrived at the Newcastle harbour. Without much hassle we left the boat, went through customs where I was the suspicious person (why do you have no beard?) and started driving.. Left.. Being a land of traditions the British still drive on the wrong side of the road. Oh well, Rob drove in Ireland before so the only places we had to look out were roundabouts and in busy city centres.

Snow, snow, snow...

Snow, snow, snow…

The weather was also typical British: nasty. A couple of weeks before we went I mocked Rob for keeping his winter-tires for the journey. The end of April, beginning of May, certainly we were not going to see any snow! Ehrrrr wrong! On some roads it was so bad we even had snowplowers in front of us. In fact, everything that could fall from the skies we had (except aeroplanes luckily). Rain, hail, snow.. It seemed as we were on some Lord of the Rings kind of quest (with Rob as Gandalf, Shaun as Frodo, Thierry as Boromir and myself as an.. An.. Orc?) where we first had to conquer the elements before reaching the safe haven. But I have to say, the views along the road were amazing. We opted to take the A68 through the scenic Kielder Forest Park and despite the bad weather we very much enjoyed it. Unfortunately Shaun was having a difficult time in the car. It turned out that he had a bladder infection so he had to take a piss every couple of miles..

Baaaad fish & chips..

Baaaad fish & chips..

Around lunchtime we stopped at a town called Jedburgh with the ruins of a beautiful old abbey. Unfortunately the weather was so bad we decided only to look out for a place to eat. Soon we found a Fish & Chips bar and upon entering we got the first warning: the owner spoke German to us.. Do we look like a bunch of Germanz yez?? Most of us ordered fish & chips and when we got the food it looked, well, not really appetizing. The chips were bleak and proud Flemish guys Shaun and Thierry nearly retched when they tasted the defilement of what in essence is their region’s proud heritage dish. Blagh.. Shaun wanted to buy a Scottish cap and we were directed by the friendly Tourist Office to a menswear store: David Thomson & Son. Soon Shaun found a good looking suitable cap but while looking around Thierry saw a nice coat which fitted him well and I spotted a tweed waistcoat (always wanted one) which we ended up buying.

Explaining to Matron were we had gone wrong

Explaining to Matron were we had gone wrong

The ride to Balgowan took longer as we expected due to the weather and windy roads so I constantly had to text to Matron, who was waiting at the bothy, that we were going to be late. But lo an behold, as soon as we approached our destination the sky opened up and the glorious Scottish mountains and hills basked in sunlight. I led Rob upon a small and bumpy road which, in my opinion, led to the bothy. When we after some hassle (we were loaded too heavy) got to the end of it the house we saw was not the bothy we were searching for. The Scotsman who lived there was not amused to say the least we had driven upon his private road.. Whoops! After a phone-call with Matron he told me they were waiting at the main road. Luckily when we got down from the private one we saw him and other KPC member Alf waiting for us. Turned out we had to turn off one road earlier..

Curry time!

Curry time!

We were led up a footpath with the bothy at the end of it. Well, technically it wasn’t a bothy. A bothy is, I quote, “a basic shelter, usually left unlocked and available for anyone to use free of charge.” What we had was a mountaineer lodge with basic luxuries as a toilet, shower, kitchen, mattresses and furniture. Inside it already smelled good because the curry Matron made was quietly bubbling on the fire. After a welcoming glass of whisky other KPC members Darren and Gregor joined us, they had been mountain biking nearby. When I greeted them I noticed that real Scottish is a language that is pretty hard to grasp. Half the time I just smiled and nodded without understanding a word.. The curry Matron made together with some bread tasted more than excellent. I also had my first experience with a real English ale Matron brought along: Harveys Best Bitter. A bit strange at first but once you got used to the taste, great!

Anarchy!!!

Anarchy!!!

The rest of the evening was spend smoking (Thierry and Rob had brought some excellent cigars with them and Matron yummie pipe-tobaccos), talking and drinking. Matron already warned the other Scotsmen about the strength of Westvleteren compared to British ale but most of the bottles were consumed in no time. It took not long for Gregor to fall asleep on the couch. One of the bothy rules is that you can’t fall asleep before midnight so he was photographed with some bare asses in front of him. The later it got the more my memory failed me. I can vaguely remember Matron making all kinds of strange “dance” movements and I was screaming along at the top of my lungs with the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK and God Save the Queen..

All pictures were made by Thierry, Rob and myself.

Click here for part 2.

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