Hospitable Heukelum 2017

Label of the 2017 forumbeer

As every year the annual meeting in Heukelum of the Dutch/Belgian pipe-smokers forum marks the beginning of dark and rainy autumn. At least, that is what the weather-forecast said. And when I looked outside the window on Sunday 29 October I believed it. Oh well.. Like always I picked up Mark at the Deventer train station and together we drove to the carpool place where Ed would be waiting or us. Normally Johnny would also be there but he had to finish some work first and came later. So the three of us rode to Heukelum and to my surprise the weather cleared up; blue skies, sunshine. Very un-Dutch-like. When we arrived at ‘T Kuipertje owner/brewer Henk had made a tent at the front of brewery with most sides closed. As the inevitable rain began to fall we were glad about Henk’s foresight.

Martin’s new self-made pipe

Inside I almost immediately walked to stone-cutting tamper-maker extraordinaire Martin, who like every year organised the meeting, to get my name-badge and drinking coupons. Yup, for the money (€27,50) you get two drinks, there is a big BBQ with all kinds of tasty fresh meat, sauces, salads and baguettes, the rent of the brewery is included and last but not least you get one bottle of special forum-beer with a label made by myself! Since this year Martin is also active in the field of pipe making. And like with stone also wood seems to have no secrets for his hands. He had brought his latest creation with him and I immediately loved it. A perfect mixture between a classic and organic shape.

Like always there was also a little business to be done. The week before I had mailed Rudi, the tobacconist who always comes to our meetings, if he could bring with him a tin of the new Danpipe Fred the Frog, which I already smoked at the Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. €10 for 50 gr., not bad for this fine blend! Friend and mentor Klaas had offered some vintage tobaccos for sale a couple of weeks before the meeting. I mostly was interested in a couple of older Robert McConnell Pure Latakia tins with in them perhaps some Syrian dark leaf so I bought 3 of them. When I met Klaas he immediately apologised. “Hello Arno, I am sorry, I made a mistake. I thought I had more Pure Latakia but I only had 1 left for you. So you know what, I am going to give you 2 De Graaff Latakia tins.” Wowwww!!! Very generous! Once upon a time De Graaff in The Hague was one of the best tobacconists in The Netherlands and they had their own range of house-blends. They were made by a company in London but exactly which one De Graaff always kept a secret. Nowadays the blends are sadly discontinued. Klaas still has quite some tins under which the pure latakia. And that is not some regular pure latakia, no, it is the Syrian Mountain Blue dark leaf made famous by the legendary Balkan Sobranie 759. Soon I am going to do some home-blending and these tins will come in very handy!

For Frisian pipe-maker Meindert I also had something. Weeks before Heukelum I was looking on ebay when I suddenly saw a beautiful Dunhill. Most of the times it is an auction and in the end the price is way too high for this cheap Dutchman. This one had a Buy It Now price of €100. Hmm.. There must be something wrong with it, I thought. So I took a better look and to my surprise the Dunhill dated from 1943, a patent era wartime pipe, pretty rare! Only thing I could discover was that the rim was very slightly damaged but that was it. So I bought it. When I received the pipe in the mail and unwrapped the package it even looked better than on the pictures, it even still had the inner tube. But still the Dunhill needed some work with the rim and stem. So I handed over the pipe into the skilled hands of Meindert.

I had to laugh when I saw the entrance of forum member Kees (nickname Kiske). For a while he was absent from the forum due to ehm.. differences of opinion with the administrators and moderators of the forum but now he was back. For some time he had been (jokingly) saying that our usual name badges were no good and that we all should wear tiaras instead. Of course you should never say that aloud on the forum because someone made an actual tiara for him. Luckily it was no problem for Kees to actually wear it, it suited him!

Erik Stokkebye and me with the pipe I won

Thinking back the weeks before the meeting the Pipe God really was smiling upon me. On a Wednesday afternoon I had a meeting with other pipe-smokers and forum members at tobacconist Willem Schimmel in Zutphen. Erik Stokkebye, blender and son of the very well known Peter Stokkebye, was there to promote his 4th Generation tobacco range. We had a fun evening, it truly was a delight to speak to the very knowledgeable Erik, which culminated in a contest in which you could win a 4th Generation pipe made by Neerup Pipes. Several questions were asked and the one who had everything right in the end would win. I can’t remember all the questions but the last one was where the 4th Generation tobaccos were made. So I blurted out “In the Orlik factory!” Well, not entirely correct… “In the Orlik factory of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group!” Which was the right answer, I had won the pipe! Back home I quickly noticed that it was a rather large pipe, I mean, my thumb fully fitted in the bowl. Too big for my taste. So I decided to put up a lottery on the forum which was won by Frans. In Heukelum I gave him the pipe, I hope he gets many enjoyable smoking hours from it.

Ton

Last year I bought some pipes for the father of a friend of mine, Ton. At that time he was visiting The Netherlands because he lived abroad. Since a month he moved back to our wet, cold and flat country so I invited him to the meeting. Since he is living alone some company is always welcome, so he accepted my offer. Afterwards he told me he stared his eyes out. Ton is an old-fashioned smoker, preferably he smokes the same blend in the same pipe over and over. “What a pleasant gathering of people and what a lot of pipes they did bring with them! And so many bent ones!” Ton only smokes straight billiards  and thinks everyone smokes those because they smoke the best. Well, ehmm.. Ehrrr… Guess I have to teach an old fox some new tricks. Later I was approached by Jos, “Arno, I have something for you, do you want it now or later?” Ehmm, now? He presented me a wrapped package, so I unwrapped it and saw a bottle of Huppelolie (hopping oil)! Yummie! Huppelolie is a tasty “kruidenbitter” (no translation), sometimes my stomach pains me and a small glass of Huppelolie does wonders. But why the bottle? I asked Jos. Because years ago I gave him some tips about buying tobacco overseas. So kind of him!

I also was glad Shaun was there all the way from Belgium and of course all the others of the Fuming Four. For months they have been pestering me that I should go with hem next year to Scotland again. Not only to the beginning of the Highlands this time but all the way to the utmost North point at Kearvaig, where the home-bothy stands of the Kearvaig Pipe Club. An almost spiritual journey. But I still don’t know if I want to go.. I mean, beautiful country, Scotland, but a big chance of bad weather, cold, midgets ehrrr.. midges, mediocre food (although Matron’s curry was excellent!) and the worst of all, no comfort! The bothy has no shower, no soft bed and no toilet which means digging a hole outside if you have to take a dump.. I admit that throughout the years I turned somewhat into a sissy boy, I just like a little bit of luxury mmkay? But who knows, I like organizing such trips so perhaps while doing that I fully decide to go. The other guys of the Fuming Four had a request for me. I am a bit different from them as I don’t have a beard and I don’t have tattoos. Now they wanted me to design the latter. And I also should get it. Ehmm.. I have a virgin skin and I like to keep it that way. But in Shaun’s eyes I already could see his evil plan: Get Arno piss-drunk and then…… *evil laugh*

The rest of the afternoon and evening in Heukelum was very pleasant as usual. So many people, so many conversations, so little time. Around 5 o’clock Henk told us that the BBQ was ready and we could eat. I don’t know what it is but when someone says something like that no one wants to be the first one. But when Arno is hungry Arno is hungry you know? So I began putting tasty meat on my plate and the rest soon followed. A bit earlier then expected the majority of the forum members began to pack and went home. So not long after that Ed, Mark and I also decided to leave. When I got home Ellen was snoring on the couch and woke up when I entered the room. “Did you have a good meeting?” “Yes darling, it was another great day.”

I would like to thank Martin for organizing the meeting! All pictures were made by Klaas, Dirk, Martin and myself.

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Happy Halloween 2017!

Also see The Demon Skull Pipe

Inter-Tabac 2017 impression

Yes, smoking is still allowed at the Inter-Tabac fair!

September 23th 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 12,500 folks from all over the world visited the Inter Tabac. With halls 2 to 8 from the Westfalenhallen the fair occupied the largest space in its history. 560 exhibitors (also from all over the globe) presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This included 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. Like the previous years I was able to secure a ticket through Fred. The saying goes, the more the merrier, so (with approval of Fred) I invited Pascal, who is an enthusiastic pipe-smoker and also a member of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum.

DTM stand

Early in the morning I picked him up from his AirBnB in the village where I live and together we drove to Germany. After a pleasant ride with a lot of talking we arrived at the Westfalenhallen. A renovation was going on there so instead of the main entrance we had to go to a smaller one. Fred texted that he was in a traffic jam so he was a bit later. “You know what, let’s head to the stand of Dan Tobacco Manufacturing (DTM)/Dan Pipe, they have coffee.” I said to Pascal once we were inside. When we got there the DTM management was in a meeting but I managed to greet Andreas (Mund, master-blender) and the lovely daughter of managing director Heiko Behrens. Like last year she recognized me, more or less. “I know you, right?” She asked. “Yes you know me” I answered.

Fred the Frog

Unfortunately they were too busy to offer us some coffee but Herr Behrens quickly gave us both a tin of Peter Rasmussen Green Label. A smooth, flavourful but a bit unremarkable blend in my opinion. My attention focused more on a big beautifully labelled jar with in it a new mixture: Fred the Frog. Rich matured Virginia, perique and black cavendish with a soft touch of English taste in the background are combined in a cube cut, loose cut and ready rubbed mixture. A really palatable casing with sweet liquorice is added to provide a full-bodied but nicely smooth smoking – natural tobacco taste. I smoked it and I have to say yummie, good stuff! Indeed mostly a natural tobacco taste and those cube cut pieces look really nice. I think some tins are going to find their way into my tobacco-closet. Once again quality stuff from DTM! By the way, just as I was sniggering a bit about the blend name “Fred the Frog” with Fred in mind (he does have some little frog-like features) the man himself found us and we were complete.

Poul Winslow and Pascal

But we still did not have any coffee.. “Let’s go to the Scandinavian Tobacco Group stand, maybe we have better luck getting some dark liquid there.” I said. And indeed, we had barely entered the booth and a friendly young lady asked if we wanted a cup of coffee. Yes please! Pascal is a huge Poul Winslow fan so when he was sipping from his cup I whispered “Look behind you..” Lo and behold, it was the famous Danish pipe-maker himself. Pascal turned around, grabbed his (Winslow) pipe, walked to Poul Winsow and blurted: “HelloMrWinslowIamahugefanofyoursIloveyourpipes!”. Mr Winslow thanked Pascal with a smile and I asked if it was ok to make a picture of the both of them. “Of course, put it on Facebook, social media, whatever” Mr Winslow said. For the rest I noticed at the STG stand that a brand was missing that was there the other years: Butz Choquin. No idea where they had gone to.. So there was more room for Peterson, but not much new there. Except that they now also had (ground) coffee! I kid you not ladies and gentlemen.

Glued tins..

As with the other years the large stand of Kohlhase & Kopp was pretty busy. No one of the staff bothers making contact with you but that is ok, makes looking around easier. Not much news here, except for the seasonal tobaccos in their beautiful tins. I wanted to take a better look at one but it was glued to the shelf! In fact everything was glued to the shelf. I guess people in the past have nicked some tins to complete their collection or so.. Some of the Rattrays pipes looked nice, I still love their Old Perth cutty line.

The stand of Vauen was close-by but when we got there I saw something weird. Something I had never seen before at the booth of a tobacco pipe company. Something with long hair, curves, sensual smile and a cleavage. It was a female promotion model! Complete in German dress with an Auenland pipe and some tobacco samples. To be honest I admit with some shame that I can’t remember what she said about the tobacco, my eyes and mind were a bit elsewhere.. Pascal wasn’t stunned, quickly stood beside her and hissed “Take a picture!” to me. What was new at Vauen were some Medwakh pipes. Some years ago I encountered a Medwakh vendor with Fred so I knew what they were. Basically just one-quick-shot-of-nicotine devices. Then they costed a few dollars but these were pretty damn expensive. Vauen also has pipes from which the bowls can turn, the Spin. I grabbed one of those, turned the bowl and to my horror had it loose in my hand. Oooh sh*t! I thought I had wrecked the pipe! Until I discovered that the parts of the pipe were connected by magnets.. *Phewww!!*

*sighs* Beautiful, isn’t it?

In what I always call “The Italian corner” (in fact the Italian row) with stands of several Italian pipe-makers we first stopped at Castello. I don’t have a pipe of that brand (in fact I don’t have any Italian pipes) but I always wanted one. Only thing was most of their shapes are not really to my taste. Until I saw a table with some pipes displayed on it. Between them was a stunning army mount Castello Sea Rock prince. I immediately knew, whatever the cost, I must have that pipe! Every pipe-smoker will recognize this feeling. But the Inter Tabac is for retailers, not customers. I tried to use my considerable charm (*coughs*) to persuade the Castello salesman but to no avail. Fred also could not help me, if I wanted the pipe I had to buy 11 other Castellos. Unfortunately way above my budget..

Bob and me

One of the mandatory stands I had to visit was that of Samuel Gawith/Gawith & Hoggarth. As soon as we came near Bob (Gregory) spotted me and pulled a tired face and made go-away gestures. British humour at its best. Of course we greeted each other warmly. Bob and I know each other from the PRF forum tobacco Flatlander Flake that he and I created. “Do you already have a smoke?” was the first thing he asked while pushing a tobacco tin towards me. At that moment I was pipe-less so I said “Do I look like I am having a smoke??” He grinned while I filled up my pipe. “How did it go with Flatlander Flake, did you sell everything?” Bob asked. I happily answered that all tins were sold.

I also had a question, on earlier meetings Sergeant Matron of the KPC gave me some Gawith & Hoggarth Balkan Flake. I really grew to like it but I can’t get it. English tobacco shops don’t send it abroad and in the USA they don’t have it. So I explained that to Bob and asked if perhaps he could convince the USA-importer to add it to their range of tobaccos. “Arno, when you are here you always present me problems. Which I solve, I am a problem solver. What is your address again, I’ll send you some.” Don’t let him know but I could kiss him right then. After all that he had done regarding the forum tobacco I could not leave him with empty hands. There exists a picture of Bob while he is on holiday while showing off his very hairy chest. So I made a label from it and put it on a large beer bottle which I gave him.

Talking about beer, suddenly we heard loud noise coming from close-by. It was German music coming from the big stand of Pöschl. Men and woman in traditional clothing were singing and tapping large 0.5 litres pints of beer for everyone who wanted. Well, we sure were interested to say the least! In no time Fred had secured some golden liquid for us. Prost! Afterwards we went for something to eat. Food and drinks are terribly expensive at the Inter Tabac so after all these years I know that I have to pack my own lunch: cheese sandwiches.

Bruno, vintage_briars at Instagram

Since August I am also active on Instagram. Photography is something I love to do (not that I am any good..) and I can share things that I and perhaps other people like more easily. Soon I struck up a friendship with a German there called vintage_briars, real name Bruno. As his Instagram name says he loves vintage briars but besides that he has a passion for all things coming from the beginning of the last century. Bruno also went to the Inter Tabac and we decided to meet each other at the DTM stand. I recognized him first, not difficult because he dresses and looks like an gentlemen. And behaves like one I discovered. We had a very pleasant (but too short) talk about the stunning old Dunhill patent era pipes he had brought with him and other things. We made a promise to meet each other another time.

Me and Per Jensen

After that it was on to the stand of mighty MacBaren. We were greeted by well known product manager Per Jensen. My first question was what was new at MacBaren, well, not much. Only some new Amphora blends, undoubtedly fine mixtures but a bit too sweet for my taste. Also I asked Per about their website, which is offline for quite some time now. New EU tobacco legislation he grumbled, you may have a website as an online tobacco seller, but not as a tobacco manufacturer. Which is kind of strange because the websites of other European tobacco manufacturers are still functioning..

HH Vintage Latakia

Earlier this year I posted an update about Syrian Latakia, specifically HH Vintage Syrian, in my corresponding blogpost. As you can read I had a bit of an discussion with Per about the subject. As soon as I mentioned it to him at the Inter Tabac I could sense him tightening up a little bit. Per is and always will be a true gentleman so he will never use harsh words but let’s say a good discussion followed. He ended with “In 2006 I created the blend and in 2018 I will take it to its grave. Not many tobacco makers can say that!” In fact the last batch has just left the factory. The follow up to HH Vintage Syrian is already known: HH Vintage Latakia. And I am glad they follow it up, MacBaren does not have that much latakia blends so.. “We had to use way less Cyprian latakia in this one because as you know it is more assertive as Syrian taste-wise.” Per said, and gifted me a tin. Thanks Per!

Doorzetter bier

Before I went to the Inter Tabac I already had made an appointment with Elbert Gubbels (Big Ben, Hilson, Bentley etc.). I know that he is always very, very busy at the fair but I had to speak with him about some things. But first I had a present for him. Elbert has done an enormous amount of work to get Flatlander Flake to The Netherlands. The troubles and sh*t he went through, pffff… So I also had a beer for him: Doorzetter bier (go-getter beer) which he very graciously accepted.

Speaking with Elbert Gubbels

Then it was time to talk a bit of business. Of course I am already thinking about the next forum tobacco and I also have in my head who has to produce it: J.F. Germain. I have a “connection” with director Robert Germain and some time ago I already asked him if he was willing to produce a small batch of forum tobacco, and he was. Only problem is getting it legally in The Netherlands. This is where Elbert comes in, he already imported Samuel Gawith so why not Germain? I spoke with Elbert about this, importing Germain tobaccos, explaining that they are of superb quality. The Samuel Gawith blends are selling well so there is a good chance Germain mixtures also will sell well. Elbert absolutely was interested. He is busy with a new range of Big Ben tobaccos but they are all sickly sweet (his own words) aromatics. So a line of really superb quality blends, very interesting. Somewhere next year I will talk further with Elbert about this.

Cornell and Diehl

On an island in one of the halls were several pipe-makers and a tobacco manufacturer together. The latter being Cornell and Diehl. They had the same small desk as last year and I had the feeling that not much was going on. Such a great brand with wonderful tobaccos but they can’t crack Europe. I think it is the prices. For example, in Spain they have C&D (and related brands) but the price difference between normals brands (± €9,-) and C&D blends (± €25!) is just way to large. At least I heard that the upcoming FDA regulations have been postponed to 2021! Also I was able to get a sample of the new GL Pease Stonehenge Flake, no Lakeland drama, excellent smoke! Talking about GL Pease, Greg, if you are reading this, come to the Inter Tabac next year, I’ll buy you a beer!

Peder Jeppesen and Pascal

On the other side of the Island were several pipe-makers such as Michal Novak, Mr. Brog and Peder Jeppesen of Neerup Pipes. Pascal is also a huge fan of Neerup Pipes, actually he had just bought a new one. But, when he puts a filter in the pipe (which I already don’t get, why filter a good smoke, you don’t see me filtering a good steak for example) the mouthpiece is just a little too short. Peder looked at it but he could not help it. “Some filter-brands are slightly larger than other..”

Pascal and his first shisha

We saw most of the pipe related stands, Fred had to go elsewhere so Pascal and I went to the e-smoking and shisha halls. But before that we bumped into a boot with all kinds of snus tobacco. “Have you ever tried it?” I asked Pascal. “Ehrr, no.. And I am not sure if I ever want to try it..” “Ah come on, you only live once, here is some that should be not too bad, lots of menthol.” “I’ll put it in my pocket and try it later ok?” “No, later never comes, you and I do it now.” So we put some between our gums and cheek. It was not bad! The first couple of minutes.. Then our gums and cheeks burned so hard we spew out the snus.. Pascal also had never smoked a shisha before. It was damn busy in the hall (lots of young people!) but at a stand we found a spot where we could try some. A friendly Spaniard helped us, we told him that we were pipe-smokers at which he smiled. “Not too long ago I tried my first pipe with some Dunhill blend, can’t remember which one but it tasted a bit smoky, loved it!” The flavour of the shisha I smoked I also loved, despite it being the weirdest taste I ever had: peanut butter! Pascal had a menthol flavour and he liked it pretty much.

Nomnomnom ^^

At the end of the afternoon my feet were killing me, I think we walked kilometres through all the halls, time to go. Not home (yet), but to the Greek restaurant in Herne, El Greco, where we go every year. Sadly the friendly curvaceous waitress was not there, but the food was good as ever! A lot and compared to The Netherlands pretty cheap. To top it off we got 2 coffee from the house, Ich liebe Deutschland! The way home went smooth and I dropped Pascal off at his sleeping address. It was another great day and I want to thank Fred and Pascal for their company.

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Smooth Smyrna, a John Cotton story

One of the great old names in the pipe-tobacco pantheon is that of John Cotton. Mostly known for their No. 1 (Mild), Nos. 1 & 2 (Medium) and Smyrna blends. My first encounter with the brand was some time ago at the end of the first year I started smoking pipe. I had done some research about the old venerable pipe-tobacco names and while surfing ebay stumbled upon an old sealed tin of John Cotton No. 1 Mild. I can’t remember what I paid but the price was very reasonable. However when I smoked the mixture I was not impressed. I had just started smoking latakia blends such as Old Dublin, Nightcap and Balkan Supreme and found No. 1 Mild too.. Mild.. How wrong I was in hindsight..

The John Cotton re-makes

In 2015 The Standard Tobacco Company of Pennsylvania brought back several old tobacco-brands from the abyss of oblivion under which the celebrated Bengal Slices and some of the John Cotton range. “Ah, they also have re-made Smyrna, I forgotten about that one!” I thought. I always loved oriental forwarded blends so I ordered some tins. And the tobacco did not disappoint me, I loved it! Master-blender Russ Ouellette did a wonderful job re-creating the old mixture. Some months ago I was surfing ebay again and to my surprise I saw a vintage John Cotton’s Smyrna tin up for auction, they are pretty rare. Probably some rich American, Russian or Chinese guy was going to pay big bucks for it so I set my bid not too high, more like a kind of joke than a serious offer. When I awoke the next morning I saw to my amazement that I had won!

Sorting out the history of John Cotton was rather difficult and time consuming. At first I could only find a little bit of information on the internet like the Firesign Theatre & Gresham’s Law document by the great Jon Guss, which mentions John Cotton. Good friend Troy Lloyd had a few pictures but nothing more and there was some loose information on several pipe-fora. But they did steer me into the right direction; the wonderful Scottish Post Office Directories for Edinburgh. There (and in later phone-books) I discovered the history of John Cotton. In contrast with common belief the firm was not founded in 1770. I know, on (old) advertisements and tins it says so, but it is not true. Also Jon Guss says that the first Cotton established his tobacco shop in Edinburgh in 1773. I could not find evidence for that so Jon, if you read this, let me know why you think it is 1773!

  • Edinburgh map of 1774

    1774: The first year I can find anything of a Cotton. Not a John Cotton but George Cottons, the founding father so to say. The following years he moves from location to location throughout the city.

  • 1813: For the first time several tobacconists with the Cotton name can be found: George junior and James.
  • 1820: Tobacconist James Cotton has disappeared from the directories.
  • 1822: James is back together with a new Cotton tobacconist: William.
  • 1826: A very important year because for the first time a John Cotton is mentioned as tobacconist.
  • 1829: One of the George’s and John Cotton are not mentioned in the directory.
  • 1834: A good year for the Cottons, John is back and the remaining George has become tobacconist to king William IV.
  • 1838: James is replaced by Chas W. and because of a royal death George is now tobacconist to the late king.
  • 1839: William Cotton is no longer mentioned but a George S.S.C. is.
  • 1840: Chas is gone, James is back and George is once again a royal tobacconist. Only now to a woman, her majesty Victoria.
  • 1846: Perhaps the Queen herself is not a big fan of George (& Son) Cotton because now he holds the title of “Tobacconists to the Royal Household”. The following years nothing much changes.
  • 1872: For the first time a Cotton (George & Son) is listed on the now famous 100 Princes Street address. John Cotton is nearby on 122 Princes Street.
  • 1879: A mention is made in the Edinburg Gazette of the dissolution of co-partnership between John Cotton and George Cotton, apparently they were partners.
  • 1884: It seems that George Cotton & Son and John Cotton are the only Cotton tobacconists left. The latter is now active on the well known 7 Frederick Street address.
  • 1890: George Cotton & Son loses the “Tobacconists to the Royal Household” title.
  • 1905: Apparently business is going well for John Cotton, for the first time a factory is mentioned on 10 Abbeymount.
  • 1906: An important year, Limited is now added after the John Cotton name and a new factory is put into service on 172 Easter Road. In fact, this building still exists! Today it is a business centre and the original chimney with the letters “JC” on it has survived.
  • 1907: John Cotton Limited gets an office at 11 Duke Street with a secretary: J. Aikman Smith.
  • 1933: Not 1 but 2 secretaries, J. Aikman Smith and Wells at the new office address of 8 Forres Street.
  • 100 Princes Street address

    1935: The first year that John Cotton Limited is active on the 100 Princes Street address although George Cotton & Son also remains there.

  • 1954: Suddenly there is a George Cotton Limited and the 100 Princes Street address is no longer mentioned. Only the 172 Easter Road factory is named.
  • 1955: George Cotton Limited is no longer mentioned, only John Cotton Limited remains on the factory address.
  • 1962: John Cotton Limited is acquired by Gallaher.
  • 1963: John Cotton Limited is no longer mentioned in Edinburgh. The address now is in the Trafalgar House, Waterloo Place in London.
  • 1968 and beyond: I can’t find John Cotton Limited any more in the phone-book. Some later addresses I found on the internet and the No. 1 Mild tin are 65 Kingsway, London W.C.2 and P.O. Box 14, Rowdell Road, Northolt, Middlesex.
  • 1972: A memorandum is written about John Cotton smoking tobaccos manufactured in Denmark (by Erik Stokkebye): Harvest Gold, Burley, Rich Mellow Virginia, Honeydew, Gaelic Mixture and Danish Aromatic.
  • 1986: In a Gallaher document John Cotton’s No. 1 Mild and Nos. 1 & 2 Medium are mentioned. After this date I can find nothing, the brand disappeared.

Now a comparison between the vintage and re-made John Cotton Smyrna. I had some help in the person of Robbin, an experienced vintage blend smoker with a good tasting palette.

Package/tin:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: 
There were several kinds of tins in which Smyrna came. I have seen pictures of knife-cutter tins, rectangular ones and the version I have is a round 50 gr. one. The background colour is white with on it the well-known lion holding tobacco leaves in red. The letters “John Cotton’s Smoking Tobacco” are in black and “Smyrna” in between them is in red. On top of the tin it says “Made in the United Kingdom”, on the bottom is a banner with in it “A blend of Smyrna and other fine tobaccos”. For me the whole has a kind of weird Wild West appearance because of the used fonts. Hell, “Smyrna” even has bullet holes in it! I don’t know what the original graphic designers smoked when they designed the tin, but certainly not Smyrna!
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: Also a round tin and ladies and gentlemen graphic designers, this is a prime example of excellent tin-artwork. I like it way better than the old design to be honest. The background is beige with on it the lion in gold. In the middle is a classic looking dark-green banner with in the text “John Cotton’s (in serif font) traditional English pipe tobacco mixture (in a sans-serif font).” The edges of the banner are in gold and together with the lion are made with embossed printing. Below the banner is the name of the blend, Smyrna, also in a serif font. The golden embossed printing combined with the fonts make this tin look real classy.

Contents/Ingredients/cut:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: Upon opening the tin I am greeted by a simple white carton with nothing on it. Hmm, at least the inlay in my old No. 1 Mild tin had some printing on it. When I remove it I see a colourful ensemble of latakia, Virginia and Turkish strands with quite a lot of the dark leaf in it. The cut is a good ol’ fashioned ribbon cut.
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: When I open the tin I see a transparent plastic inlay upon the tobacco. Oh well, better than nothing. Compared to the vintage Smyrna the tobacco colours in this version are similar but brighter. Also there are more lighter strands in my opinion. The cut is a thin ribbon cut.

Smell from the tin:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: This blend surprised me, after all these years I thought the latakia had toned down a bit but no, when I first smelled it, whoaahh.. Definitely not Syrian latakia but strong assertive Cyprian. For the rest I detect a little woodsy sweet and sour odour.
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: Yup, there is latakia in this one, no question about it. But besides that the (fresher) smell isn’t that different from its older brother. Despite the presence of more lighter tobacco-strands. However I do detect a tiny little bit of topping, coumarin (a chemical also to be found in for example cinnamon, tonka-bean and deer-tongue), which I can’t smell on the vintage version*. 

Taste:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: Ahh.. This is how I want all my tobaccos to taste like at the first light. Almost no bitterness, the Turkish and latakia are fighting about the main role and it is full, round and smooth as Ellen her bottom. A bit further the grassy, earthy Virginia comes into play a bit more. Towards the middle the superb Turkish are winning the fight and the whole becomes a big rich flavour-bomb; cedar, spice, sweet, sour, chocolate creamy, leather you name it, the blend all has it. Robbin remarks that this part also reminds him a bit of red wine. Towards the end of the bowl the different components really become one and burn down to a fine grey ash.
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: I can remember the first time I smoked the re-made version, I instantly fell in love with the taste. Cyprian woodsy and leathery latakia that is kept under control by the grassy Virginia and spicy and sour Turkish, yummie! Now I have smoked the vintage version I am a bit amazed that the latakia there seems more powerful as the re-made one. Despite the unquestionable presence of the fresh dark leaf the newer leans more on the Turkish and Virginias in my opinion. Or at least, they are more detectable, the taste is more clear. Perhaps everything has melted so together in the old one that I get this result. I can also taste a tiny little bit of the coumarin topping which for me is pleasant*. Towards the middle the Turkish come even more forward and it more or less stays this way until the end.

Miscellaneous:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: The tobacco had the perfect moisture when I opened the tin and the ol’ fashioned ribbon cut made filling the bowl and smoking the pipe easy. The nicotine level is just above medium and there was absolutely no tongue bite.
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: I had to get used a bit to the springy, thinner ribbon cut but after a couple of times you know how to best fill your bowl. Simply don’t press the tobacco too hard. The blend does not bite but if you puff too hard an fast it can burn hot. Vitamin N level is medium.

Room-note:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: For a latakia blend the room-note is pretty decent! I could smoke it without a complaint from Ellen. The next morning a lovely incense smell lingered.
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: This one has one of the best room-notes I have ever smelled for a latakia mixture. Like the old one incense-like and perhaps enhanced by the coumarin*.

Price:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: I paid €61 for it, not too bad!
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: At 4noggins you pay $11.99 (± €10,03) for a 1.75 oz. tin.

Conclusion:
Vintage John Cotton Smyrna: It is an excellent blend, I can understand why people still speak with respect about the old John Cotton Smyrna. It totally talks the talk and walks the walk so to say. I had many very pleasant evenings smoking it. It is a blend that demands attention, grabs you by the balls and does not let loose. For Robbin and me one of the remarkable things was that the latakia had not really subdued, it was still powerful. We both rate this mixture a 8.5 out of 10.
Re-made John Cotton Smyrna: First of all Russ Ouellette did a wonderful job re-creating the old blend. It is not exactly a copy but according to Robbin more an excellently executed remake. When I smoke it and I keep in mind the ageing process, well, in 30 years it could be where the vintage version is now. And that is a compliment! Robbin and I both rate this mixture a 8 out of 10. Oh, and that vintage No. 1 Mild I thought was too mild, I love it now. But I have to end this blogpost in a sad way. Probably the new version will not be amongst us much longer. See this Facebook message from one of the founders of the The Standard Tobacco Company of Pennsylvania, Dan Z. Johnson: 

Buy It While You Can
With the FDA Deeming Regulations poised to take effect in about two weeks, I have some sobering news for our friends. Unless something changes, there will not be another production run on the 5 original Standard Tobacco Co. of PA blends. Once the current inventory of War Horse, Bengal Slices and John Cotton’s is sold, there will be no more. Ever.
I’ve held off making this announcement until I was certain that the end is near. August 8, 2018 is the cut-off date for selling post 2007 blends such as ours without an FDA Substantial Equivalence (SE) approval. Since it now appears highly unlikely that we will get an SE, and since our distributor does not want to get stuck with product that they can not sell, their plan is to sell out existing stock and not re-order.
Caveat: If we sell out of everything quickly, the distributor might change their mind and do another run, but that is doubtful given the glut of new, last ditch blends clogging up production and warehouse space. Also, if the FDA is forced by congress to change the grandfather date to include post 2007 blends such as ours, then we are free to continue production. That, however, is exceedingly unlikely at this point in time.
I can’t tell you how sad and disappointed I am to have to tell you this. It’s not where we wanted to be at this point in time, but I wanted to give you all the opportunity to order your favorites before it’s too late.

* EDIT 25-9-017: In the comment below this post Russ Ouellette says that there is no top dressing on the re-made Smyrna. So I don’t know what I smelled and tasted, but certainly no coumarin!

 

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Dutch Pipe Smoker on Instagram

After a short lesson in “Insta”, as my young and hip nephew calls it, this old bugger is also active on Instagram! Sometimes a picture says more than a 1000 words so to say. Please follow me there! See the link below.

https://www.instagram.com/dutch_pipe_smoker/

Island of the Gods Part 2.

See here for part 1.

Another traffic jam, this time because of a cremation

It was time to begin with our scooter round-trip. Some people say that driving scooter on Bali is very dangerous. Bullshit! Like I previously said, the traffic in (South) Bali can be chaotic (imagine a four-lane way with as many cars and scooters that can fit beside each other) but compared to Western countries it goes slow. We rarely drove faster than 60 km/ph. You just have to use your common sense. Normally the scooters drive fully on the left and the cars to the right of them. But when it is busy or in a traffic-jam (and they have a lot of those) the scooters go wherever they can find a gap. After some riding we found out, when it is busy, try to follow a local to make your way past all the vehicles. Luckily we had one advantage: positive discrimination, we where white-skinned. Every Indonesian knows that foreigners can’t drive, therefore they try to avoid us like the plague. Which is very handy if you want a bit of space around you. Furthermore Indonesians are very polite drivers, no swearing, no inappropriate hand gestures, no irritation. I already miss it…

Also a lot of roads in Bali are made for scooters, not wide, if you drove there with a car it would be difficult. In any case I would not recommend driving a car simply because you miss a lot. Would you rather be in an air-conditioned box looking through a window or on a scooter in the wind, feeling the sunshine on your skin and experiencing all the sights and smells? It is so much fun driving through the villages, to see the colourful people, houses and temples, waving and saying “hallo” to children, smelling the incense from the daily offerings. Or riding over narrow roads through lush forest covered areas over large hills ending in spectacular green rice-terraces views. Besides, the Indonesians find it hilarious when they see a big white man on a scooter passing by. “Look! A sunburned foreigner trying to drive! Whahaha!!” When you leave the touristic South you’ll often find locals staring at you or taking pictures of you. Like the policemen we encountered in the North. Imagine a group of smiling police-officers making photos of you with their smart phones and friendly waving you goodbye after you showed them the correct documents while speaking a few words of Indonesian.

Bluebird, an excellent taxi company

Navigating though Bali during the scooter trip was surprisingly easy. Since half a year I have a smart-phone (before that I had those simple unbreakable Nokia telephones that you can use as a brick for your house) and in Bali I had bought an Indonesian SIM-card so everywhere I went I had internet. Marcello advised me to download the Waze app on it. In essence it works the same as the Google Maps app only it uses less battery energy and internet data. I plugged my ear phones in the phone and when I was driving I would hear something like “Over 800 metres go left”, “Over 200 metres go left”, “Go left”. It worked perfectly! Later I discovered that I could also put my music on which would automatically go softer when Waze had to say something. I can tell you it is quite an experience to ride through tranquil villages while Death‘s Evil Dead is blasting in your ears. Another app I frequently used was the Bluebird one. If you ever need a taxi in Indonesia (because you don’t want to drink and drive), get a Bluebird. Indonesian taxi drivers are sadly well known for trying to scam you. Longer routes, not putting on the metre (Oh sorry, it’s broken.. Yeah right..) etc. Bluebird has none of this. You can order a cab with the app. Immediately you see which driver you are going to get with a number that corresponds with the one on the car. You also see a little map where you can follow your taxi so you know when it arrives. When inside the metre starts at 7,000 Rp. (about €0.50). Afterwards you get a mail in which you see the route you drove and the amount of money you paid. Ideal!

Ngurah Art Pipes

During the meeting with the Bali Tobacco Lovers group they had shown me a couple of  pipes that were Indonesian made. There were some nice ones but nothing that really piqued my interest. In the mean time I had added some Indonesian friends to my Facebook when I saw that someone of them had liked a post of Ngurah Art Pipes. It was a picture of a beautifully sculpted Ganesha pipe. Woww, that is very, very nicely done, I thought to myself when I scrolled further along the page. Suddenly I saw what was to become my souvenir of this whole trip: a breathtakingly sculpted Boma pipe. Boma was first known as an evil demon. After death he was transformed into a benevolent spirit and guardian. His image is placed above and beside doors and windows to offer protection to the inhabitants and to maintain the fine balance between the forces of light and dark in the universe. Immediately I messaged Ngurah if the pipe was still available. Soon I got a reply, unfortunately it was already sold but he could make a new one. Yesss!!! The costs would be $100, expensive for Indonesian standards but pretty ok for Western. I did not want to haggle so I said that he could go ahead. I had already planned to attend yet another Bali Tobacco Lovers meeting on my last evening in Bali and asked him if he could come there and have the pipe finished. No problem.

Ellen at the Sekumpul waterfalls

I will give you now what were for us highlights of the scooter round trip. First nature-wise. Bali has a lot of stunning waterfalls which you can visit. We went to the jaw-dropping Tegenungan and Sekumpul waterfalls. Both fully accessible but I warn you, you have to be in a pretty good shape because a lot of climbing stairs and walking over rocks is involved to get there. Hiring a guide at Sekumpul is advisable, you learn a lot more about the environment, support the local people and you make sure you don’t break your leg (there have been cases..). Further there are natural hot springs in Bali which are good for all kinds of ailments. We visited the Banjar hot springs, I cannot describe how good it feels to relax in the warm water. At Lovina in the North you can spot dolphins. There are trips at 6:00 and 8:00 am, take the last one because then it is less crowded with boats and you can better see the jumping and twirling aquatic mammals. If you want to dive or snorkel, go to Menjangang Island, one of the most beautiful places in the world to do that. We only snorkelled but I will never, ever forget the magnificent coral reefs and colourful fish. And last but not least you have the majestic rice-fields all over the island. Some of the most beautiful are at Jatiluwih with stunning views.

Nomnomnom!

Eating-wise Bali is also a top destination, I already told you about the warungs. Further I can recommend eating seafood on Jimbaran beach. There are a lot of restaurants there but Roman Cafe is one of the best and with reasonable prices. You can choose which fish you want and then it is grilled above a fire of coconut shells and served with rice and an array of tasty sauces. And if you say that you stay at Home Bali Home they put you in front, right at the water. We went for mussels, squid-rings and Barramundi. To eat there on the beach with your feet on the sand while the sun is setting, just magical. A lot of restaurants are also to be found on Bali. Our favourite was Dapoer Chef Wayan, I admit, I am no lover of vegetables but the way the chef made them.. Wowwww… Ambrosia for my taste-buds. And if you ever on Bali have the opportunity to eat a proper Indonesian rijsttafel, please do so, you won’t regret it.

Pura Ulun Danu Beratan

I think it is hard to find a better destination as Bali culture-wise. Balinese Hinduism, the main religion there (the rest of Indonesia has Islam), makes sure of that. It is ingrained in every aspect of daily life; the small and big rituals and temples, the colourful clothes, the offerings etc. For example everywhere across the island, on streets, before shops, on crossroads you see little palm-leaf baskets called Canang sari. In those are things like betel leaf, lime, gambier, prestige, betel nuts and yes, tobacco. Incense sticks are burned with them and they can be topped of with some money but I have also seen things as a lollipop. It is ok to walk on them, sometimes they are really in the way.. The most important, largest and holiest Hindu temple is Pura Besakih and is truly a sight to behold. Built on six levels and perched nearly 1000 meters up the side of mount Gunung Agung it is an extensive complex of 23 separate but related temples. For years tourists got swindled and harassed there but since this year that is all forbidden. The entrance now is 60,000 Rp. and a guide is included, who you don’t have to take. If you take him, give a tip afterwards. It was a bit cloudy when we were there but if the sky is clear you have breathtaking views. Unfortunately you can’t see everything if you are not of the Hindu religion but at least you can take a peek through the gates. Another stunning temple is Pura Ulun Danu Beratan, a so called floating temple because if the water in lake Beratan is high enough (and it luckily was when we were there) it seems to, indeed, float. Other great places to go are the mini-Borobudur, Brahma Vihara-Arama and the luscious royal water garden of Tirta Gangga where you can walk across the water on small stepping stones.

Hanging out with the guys at the base of the Kawa Ijen volcano

During the scooter round trip we also had an excursion to the Kawah Ijen volcano in East Java. The idea was to climb it at night because then the present sulfur makes for an almost magical light show. We went there in the evening by a ferry which only took about 45 minutes thank the heavens. This because the sea was pretty rough and I got sea-sick. Really a shame because Ellen and I were talking to a friendly Javanese English teacher who had just made an excursion with his class when I started not feeling well. When we arrived I had to pose on several pictures with his students with my sea-sick head.. Solid ground, I thought I was saved, just a little ride in the car and then we will be at the damn volcano. A nice woman, Dewi, waited for us with her husband and they took us there. A 1 hour long ride in the dark with lots of twists and turns followed. So I also got car-sick. When we arrived the weather was horrendous, rain was pouring down and it was misty. I was so ill that I decided to stay at the warung at the base of the volcano but Ellen went for it together with a group of other tourists and guides. Fortunately I soon felt better and had a splendid night together with some Indonesians who were also there. I had to laugh a bit, they were shivering from the cold, dressed in long pants, hats and thick sweaters while I was perfectly ok sitting in just my shorts and shirt. In the morning Ellen came back, she had not seen much of the “magical” sulfur light and sunset but was nonetheless proud of her achievement.

Back at Home Bali Home after the scooter round trip I was smoking a pipe when the lovely daughter of Marcello, Jade, suddenly approached me. “What are you doing? What is that?” she asked with a curious voice. A bit surprised that she didn’t knew what I did I answered that it was a pipe, that you smoke tobacco from it, that you don’t inhale, that you not get the same addiction as with cigarettes (although I urged her to never ever begin smoking), that for me it is almost meditative etc. She liked the smell of the Vooroogst tobacco in the tin and was fascinated by the smoke coming from my corncob pipe (is it really made out of corn??). We talked a bit further about her life, school, her dreams and I came to the conclusion that she was a bright young lady with no doubt a promising future.

The following day we left for Kalimantan to go on a boat and see some orang-utans. At the end of the afternoon we arrived and our guide, Nisa, was already waiting for us at the airport. At first I thought that we had a small girl of about 16 as a guide, but that could not be, she had to be at least 18, 20. When we went on board of the klotok I could not resist asking her age. I almost fell overboard from surprise when she told me: 33. The klotok was more luxurious than I expected. The upper deck was for Ellen and me and included a table with some chairs, a hammock, two mattresses (which were put together in the evening so we could sleep on them with a mosquito net above it) and on the front 2 deck-chairs. We even had a Western style toilet and hot shower! The deck below was for Nisa, the captain, the helmsman and a little girl with her mother, the cook. Who could by the way create fantastic dishes! We were surprised at the quality of the copious lunches and dinners she made for us in the tiny kitchen. The klotok trip was just fantastic, sailing on a clear river that got smaller and smaller right through the tropical rainforest while spotting wild animals. We saw amongst others gibbons, a hornbill and proboscis monkeys. Suddenly Nisa became very enthusiastic and pointed to the side of the river. There, between some trees was a baby orang-utan, curiously showing itself to us. One of my highlights of the Kalimantan journey. That and waking up early in the morning with the sounds of the jungle, precisely like on one of those CD’s! By the way, at the hotel we had in Pangkalan Bun we could really notice that Indonesia in general is a smoker friendly destination. To my amazement there were no no-smoking rooms available and you could smoke anywhere (even in the breakfast room the next morning).

After we came back from Kalimantan on our last evening in Bali I had one more place to go to: Kopi Zeen to again meet the Bali Tobacco Lovers group. When I arrived I already saw Ngurah sitting. “I think you have something for me.” I said to him with a grin. At which he produced the stunning Boma pipe he had made for me. I think I could not stop smiling while I closely examined it. The craftsmanship and level of detail, wowww… He certainly earned his money. Ngurah also showed me some other pipes he made, skull pipes but also normal ones, all made from exotic woods. By the way, mine was cut from sapodilla wood, never heard of it but it smokes just fine. I was also delighted to finally meet Handoko, he even knew some Dutch words! It turned out that he is a leather craftsman, he showed me some pictures of the beautiful things he made. So soon I will give him a order to make a new pipe-bag for me. When I was talking to one of the members I sadly heard that Indonesian master-blender Punakawan recently had died during my stay in Bali. Such a shame, also because I was going to buy some of his blends. Another member had a tin of Squadron Leader, ah, finally some good ol’ latakia. Vooroogst is nice but sometimes.. The rest of the evening was wonderful again and time flew away. When I was about to leave the members presented me a cool Bali Tobacco Lovers t-shirt and Monoss wanted to give me a giant sized bag (I think a kilo or more!) of pipe-tobacco. I had to kindly refuse the latter, not because I did not want it but because of the damn customs office in The Netherlands. I can only import 100 grams and I already had the Java tobacco..

Just before we went to the airport the next day Marcello suddenly produced my hat, which I thought was thrown away. Someone had put it on a place he hadn’t searched before. I silently thanked the Buddha statue. The flight home unfortunately went a little less smooth. At the Ngurah Rai airport a customs officer noticed the Zippo fuel in my hold baggage. I tried to play the dumb tourist but he did not fall for that, I had to leave it behind. And in Hong Kong a stern female customs officer wanted to look into my hand luggage because the scanner beeped. She searched and searched and finally showed me a pack of pipe-cleaners and asked what that was. Damnit, those things have an iron wire.. Fortunately a male colleague of her saw me sweating and explained the purpose of them after which I could go on. Ellen angrily hissed to me “A man and his hobby….” Luckily the rest of the journey went well.

I had an absolutely fantastic holiday and if you ask me what the most beautiful was I don’t have to think long: all the people I met in those 3 weeks. Just go there, off the beaten path and you will see I am right. I want to thank Marcello, Jolanda and Jade for their hospitality at Home Bali Home and for organizing the scooter, Java and Kalimantan trips with the 888 Pure Travel agency. And of course thanks to the wonderful Bali Tobacco Lovers members for their kindness and generosity! You guys rule!

Here a short video of my second Bali Tobacco Lovers meeting made by Baskoro:

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Island of the Gods Part 1.

Indonesia

Normally my girlfriend Ellen and I stay for holidays in more or less nearby countries like Germany, Belgium, France or Spain. But we had saved some money so this year Ellen, who has travelled much more and further as myself, wanted to go far away from Europe again. Ok, I said, where precisely do you want to go? Since we both have a preference for Asia the choice was pretty easy: former Dutch colony Indonesia. We checked some travel agency sites for round trips but I had a bad feeling with them. Being in a group of other Dutch tourists, doing things together, frequently travelling long distances with them in cramped vans and visiting overcrowded tourist attractions is not my idea of a vacation. I want to be able to choose my own tempo, see as few tourists as possible, meet the locals etc. On the wish-list of Ellen was visiting the Borobudur, experience a sunrise from a volcano and see orang-utans in the wild.

Marcello, his wife Jolanda and daughter Jade

Luckily a niece of mine (who also happens to be my godmother) had a tip. 2 years ago she and her husband (who comes from the Indonesian Maluku Islands) went to the island of Bali to the bed & breakfast of (Dutchman) Marcello Supusepa, Home Bali Home, in Jimbaran and had a great time there. Marcello also has a travelling agency, 888 Pure Travel, which organizes trips throughout Indonesia, so my niece said that I should send a mail with the wishes of Ellen and me. No sooner said than done or we had a reply. Marcello suggested that we made a scooter round-trip through Bali (and see amongst other things the mini-Borobudur), shortly visit the Kawah Ijen volcano in East Java and travel to Kalimantan to go on a boat and see orang-utans. It all sounded good to us, the price was ok so we booked the 3 weeks trip.

At a tax free shop at Hong Kong airport

5 May Ellen and I packed our belongings and went to the train station in Olst, the journey had begun. Amongst other things I had brought with me 4 corncob pipes, a Zippo pipe-lighter (with some fuel), a tin of Vooroogst tobacco, a tin of Flatlander FlakeSamuel Gawith Elmo’s Reserve snuff and some Oliver Twist tobacco bits. Of course I had the last 2 items in my pocket and the rest in the hold baggage. At the Cathay Pacific desk where we had to hand over our luggage we were lucky. The evening before I checked in online but there were no more seats beside each other available. Oh well, I thought, so be it. But the nice lady behind the desk offered us 2 places together at the emergency exit. That means more leg space so of course we gladly accepted it. I had never been in a long flight before (the longest was to Egypt, about 5 hours) but 11 hours… Pffff… Luckily I could watch movies and series and before I knew it we arrived at our first stop, Hong Kong. Sadly the transit time was too short to visit Hong Kong city so we stayed at the airport where I took a stroll. As a (pipe) smoker you can smoke at the airport, they have special smoking rooms. Although I won’t advice going there. They are small and overcrowded with nicotine-needy cigarette smokers, just look at this video.. In the tax-free shops I could find some pipes and tobacco to my amazement. Although pretty expensive, Davidoff pipes and tobacco and Dunhill tobacco.

Ellen at the pool at Home Bali Home

After another 5 hours of flying we arrived at the destination: Ngurah Rai International airport near Denpasar, Bali. Marcello was already waiting for us above the busy entrance hall but had some trouble spotting us. After some texting we found each other. “I was looking for a bald man and now you are wearing a hat!” he said with a big smile. Marcello is a jovial, friendly and easy going type of person with a good sense of humour. We put our bags in the back of his car and he invited me to sit in the front. I opened the door, saw the steering wheel and so and while laughing Marcello said “Oh? Do you want to drive?” Ah yes, they drive on the left in Indonesia so in cars everything is also reversed. I was glad I did not accept his offer because the traffic we encountered on the way to his Home Bali Home bed & breakfast, woww… Chaotic busy.. Suddenly it occurred to me that the scooter round-trip through Bali wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.. When we arrived at Home Bali Home after a short drive I made a capital mistake. My hands were full with bags so I put my hat on the statue of a Buddha with the intention of getting it later. We put away our luggage in our lovely room, changed into our swimming clothes, went for a dip in the pool and relaxed the rest of the evening. The next morning I suddenly remembered my hat but it was gone. I asked Marcello and he said that was not a smart thing to do of me. He is not really religious but his staff is (all of Bali is!) and putting a hat on a Buddha statue equals putting a hat on a statue of the crucified Christ for example. Probably someone of his staff just threw my (expensive) hat away.. Whoops.. But I could not blame them, my mistake, it was a good lesson.

Myself with a plate of the most delicious nasi goreng in front of me

The first days, before we were getting our Indonesian driver’s license needed for the scooters, we were being driven around by Tata, our Balinese driver. We visited a Buddhist temple, a beautiful part of the coast with some high waves, did some necessary shopping (we needed a powerbank for our smart-phones and snorkel gear) and ate at a warung. I really came to love those places which you can find all over Indonesia; delicious, traditional, rustic, local and cheap food. Often we dined for no more than €2 per person, including drinks! Heaven for this cheap Dutchman. And being Dutch we already knew a lot of the dishes offered since, I said it before, Indonesia is a former colony of us and many Indonesians started restaurants here. Dishes like Nasi Goreng (fried rice with small pieces of chicken/sea food, vegetables and egg), Ayam Goreng (fried chicken), Sate Ayam (chicken on a stick with peanut sauce) and Babi Kecap (pork meat in kecap sauce) were no stranger to us. But if you go to a warung, go early or have a late lunch. The food is made in the morning so most places close around 18:00 pm because the Indonesian hot climate and stuff to eat does not mix well..

Bali Tobacco Lovers

Before we went to Bali I searched on the internet for a group of pipe-smokers there, but could not find one. When I am in another country I always love to meet local pipe-smokers. However, there was a facebook group of Indonesian pipe-smokers and they pointed me towards some Balinese ones. I addressed one of them, Handoko, and he was being really nice to me. A smokers group, Bali Tobacco Lovers, existed but getting pipe-tobacco on Bali was impossible. Cigars and cigarettes were available but there were just too few pipe-smokers to make it interesting to sell pipe-tobacco for any vendor. I also asked him about Soppeng tobacco, which I had read about in this excellent article. But alas, Handoko had heard about it but it was not available on Bali.

Kretek cigarettes

Handoko also mentioned that cigars were available at most Circle K supermarkets. So when we encountered one I could not resist asking the clerk inside if they had some. He produced a few thicker cigars, I am not sure if they were short- or longfillers, but they were expensive, almost Dutch prices. And I just wanted thinner, simple and cheap Indonesian made ones. Also at some other Circle K supermarkets I was not successful, bummer! After we had lunch Tata was smoking a cigarette. Normally I really dislike cigarettes (one of the best things I have done in life, getting rid of the cigarette addiction) but this one actually smelled pretty nice, a bit like clove. I grabbed his pack, looked at it and saw “sigaret kretek“. I could have one, lit it up (while not inhaling the smoke) and I immediately liked the taste; tobacco with smoky and slightly sweet clove. So later I bought some packs myself, ideal for a nice quick smoke when I did not have the time or patience for a pipe and did not feel like snuffing or chewing.

In the evening we went to buy an Indonesian SIM card (really cheap and having internet everywhere was mandatory for our coming scooter trip) and just as we calmly walked along a street Tata enthusiastically shouted at me “Mister! Mister! Look! Tobacco!” and pointed toward a small stall. He already knew I smoked pipe and was looking for tobacco. There were all kinds of loose tobaccos, finely cut but perfect to put in a pipe. Through Tata (who functioned as a translator) I asked the old man behind the stand where his tobacco came from: Java, all of his tobaccos came from there. And which tobacco was the best he had? With a big smile he pointed to a heap and said: just like Marlboro! Ehrrr, well, needless to say I took something of his “second best” heap (even in my cigarette smoking days I avoided Marlboro like the plague, yukyukyuk..). To my nose a grassy Virginia with a bit of an exotic smell, interesting! The price was to laugh at for Western standards: about €1,25 for 100 gr. And I did not even try to haggle! When I put it in my pipe back at Home Bali Home I was pleasantly surprised. A mild smoke (no bite at all) with a fascinating flavour, a bit like a Virginia with a tiny little bit of Lakeland aroma. Normally I am not a fan of that but now.. Only thing was the nicotine content, whoaahh… It blew me out of my slippers!

Our Indonesian scooter driving licenses

The next day Marcello had arranged that we were going to get our Indonesian scooter driving licenses. A regular Dutch driving license is not enough since Indonesian scooters are qualified as motor cycles (the bloody things can go over 140 km/ph!). All we knew was that we had to go to the Denpasar police station. Indonesia is a kind of country where you can still “arrange” things if you have enough money and know the right persons. And that is exactly what happened. The driver who brought us turned out to be a kind of Indonesian CIA agent. He dropped us off at the police-station and said we had to wait. Soon an officer walked outside and asked “Mr. van Goor”? Yup, that is me. Ellen and I followed him inside where there were lots of waiting rooms packed to the brim with Indonesian people. We went upstairs into an overcrowded room with 1 officer behind an old computer. All the files on his desk were immediately pushed aside and ours were placed there. A picture was made, a fingerprint was given and we had to write down our autographs. All under the eyes of the many Indonesians in the room, we felt pretty embarassed to say the least. After that we went down again, there was a large desk so we thought we had to wait there. Some minutes passed by when the first police officer showed up again. “Your friend is waiting outside.” But we did not have the licenses yet.. “Your friend is waiting outside.” Ok, we went outside and lo and behold, there was our CIA driver again. With the licenses.

Ellen and me on the scooter

Back at Home Bali Home the scooters already were there so we could practice. I had never driven a scooter before and Ellen only had some experience on a moped. Luckily Tata rode with us to teach us the finer points of driving on Bali. Almost immediately our new driving licenses came in handy. The South of the island is infamous for its corrupt police officers (really??) who like to stop tourists on scooters (who almost never have the correct driving license) and extort money from them. About a kilometre on our way we were stopped by some police officers. “Your ID”, one of the policemen said with a grin that read “I am going to get soooo much money out of you.” So I showed him my fresh driving license and I really wish I could have made a picture of his face. His eyes were full of unbelieve, how the hell did that fat, white tourist get such a thing?? He was so surprised that he almost saluted me when he gave back my license. Kind of logical, tourists don’t get those thing easy, so when one is in possession of one it probably means he has friends in high places, higher than a common police officer that is.

Endi and me

That evening I had an appointment with the Bali Tobacco Lovers group. Earlier Handoko referred me to Endi, the organiser of the group and owner of Kopi Zeen, a coffee bar in Kuta. I was very welcome there and he tried to get as many members to attend. When I arrived I was not sure I had the right place but Endi recognized me and he greeted me warmly. Proudly he showed me his coffee bar and of course I ordered an (excellent) Indonesian cup of the dark liquid. We sat together and I showed him my tin of Vooroogst. On the lid it says “Java Lumadjang Pijptabak” and Endi almost fell out of his chair when he read it. “I grew up near there!” When the others of the Bali Tobacco Lovers group arrived he let them all see the tin. Also I gifted them the tin of Flatlander Flake. They knew Samuel Gawith but for some reason it has a reputation of strong tobaccos there. The pipes they brought with them were not spectacular, what we would consider as B-brands in the West. Although some of the members owned Dunhills! Also they had several ok looking Indonesian made pipes of makers I never heard about.

I was a bit surprised at all the pipe tobacco tins the members brought with them like Sillem’s Black, Erinmore Latakia Supreme and some MacBaren ones. But it was not easy for them to get those. They have to order them online at high (Western) prices in tobacco shops in Indonesia or other countries in Asia. A colourful member, Monoss, complained to me that they could get about every tobacco in Indonesia except latakia. Together with other members he had recently bought a bag of 1 kilo of latakia somewhere for quite some money. “Can you buy latakia cheap in Belanda (Indonesian for The Netherlands)?” he asked me hopefully. Sadly not, I also have to buy it in the USA.. Also a lot of home-blending is done with the various import and local tobaccos and I discovered the Balinese have a taste for “smoky-sweet”. So latakia with a bit of sweetness just like Sillem’s Black or HU Tobacco’s ChocoLat. Endi had a home blended mixture with some added wine which tasted good. Monoss also made a blend of his own, I can best describe it as an Indonesian Balkan blend. It was absolutely wonderful. Also I let one of the members try some Elmo’s Reserve snuff. He got tears in his eyes so to say. At the end of the evening Endi had a gift for me, a tin of Indonesian made Punakawan tobacco with in it his home-made blend, a flake consisting of Indonesian tobaccos and a bit of the Punakawan mixture. I thanked him (and the others) thoroughly for this and the wonderful meeting I had.

See here for part 2.

Here a short video of my first Bali Tobacco Lovers meeting made by Baskoro:

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