I would like to wish all my readers a merry Christmas and a smoky 2018!
Unfortunately I am slowly recovering now from a mental breakdown and in January I am having surgery on my shoulder (the bottom of my right glenoid cavity has broken off..). So for the coming time there will be no blogposts. But as another Arno(ld) once said: I’ll be back!
As every year the annual meeting in Heukelum of the Dutch/Belgian pipe-smokers forum marks the beginning of dark and rainy autumn. At least, that is what the weather-forecast said. And when I looked outside the window on Sunday 29 October I believed it. Oh well.. Like always I picked up Mark at the Deventer train station and together we drove to the carpool place where Ed would be waiting or us. Normally Johnny would also be there but he had to finish some work first and came later. So the three of us rode to Heukelum and to my surprise the weather cleared up; blue skies, sunshine. Very un-Dutch-like. When we arrived at ‘T Kuipertje owner/brewer Henk had made a tent at the front of brewery with most sides closed. As the inevitable rain began to fall we were glad about Henk’s foresight.
Inside I almost immediately walked to stone-cutting tamper-maker extraordinaire Martin, who like every year organised the meeting, to get my name-badge and drinking coupons. Yup, for the money (€27,50) you get two drinks, there is a big BBQ with all kinds of tasty fresh meat, sauces, salads and baguettes, the rent of the brewery is included and last but not least you get one bottle of special forum-beer with a label made by myself! Since this year Martin is also active in the field of pipe making. And like with stone also wood seems to have no secrets for his hands. He had brought his latest creation with him and I immediately loved it. A perfect mixture between a classic and organic shape.
Like always there was also a little business to be done. The week before I had mailed Rudi, the tobacconist who always comes to our meetings, if he could bring with him a tin of the new Danpipe Fred the Frog, which I already smoked at the Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. €10 for 50 gr., not bad for this fine blend! Friend and mentor Klaas had offered some vintage tobaccos for sale a couple of weeks before the meeting. I mostly was interested in a couple of older Robert McConnell Pure Latakia tins with in them perhaps some Syrian dark leaf so I bought 3 of them. When I met Klaas he immediately apologised. “Hello Arno, I am sorry, I made a mistake. I thought I had more Pure Latakia but I only had 1 left for you. So you know what, I am going to give you 2 De Graaff Latakia tins.” Wowwww!!! Very generous! Once upon a time De Graaff in The Hague was one of the best tobacconists in The Netherlands and they had their own range of house-blends. They were made by a company in London but exactly which one De Graaff always kept a secret. Nowadays the blends are sadly discontinued. Klaas still has quite some tins under which the pure latakia. And that is not some regular pure latakia, no, it is the Syrian Mountain Blue dark leaf made famous by the legendary Balkan Sobranie 759. Soon I am going to do some home-blending and these tins will come in very handy!
For Frisian pipe-maker Meindert I also had something. Weeks before Heukelum I was looking on ebay when I suddenly saw a beautiful Dunhill. Most of the times it is an auction and in the end the price is way too high for this cheap Dutchman. This one had a Buy It Now price of €100. Hmm.. There must be something wrong with it, I thought. So I took a better look and to my surprise the Dunhill dated from 1943, a patent era wartime pipe, pretty rare! Only thing I could discover was that the rim was very slightly damaged but that was it. So I bought it. When I received the pipe in the mail and unwrapped the package it even looked better than on the pictures, it even still had the inner tube. But still the Dunhill needed some work with the rim and stem. So I handed over the pipe into the skilled hands of Meindert.
I had to laugh when I saw the entrance of forum member Kees (nickname Kiske). For a while he was absent from the forum due to ehm.. differences of opinion with the administrators and moderators of the forum but now he was back. For some time he had been (jokingly) saying that our usual name badges were no good and that we all should wear tiaras instead. Of course you should never say that aloud on the forum because someone made an actual tiara for him. Luckily it was no problem for Kees to actually wear it, it suited him!
Thinking back the weeks before the meeting the Pipe God really was smiling upon me. On a Wednesday afternoon I had a meeting with other pipe-smokers and forum members at tobacconist Willem Schimmel in Zutphen. Erik Stokkebye, blender and son of the very well known Peter Stokkebye, was there to promote his 4th Generation tobacco range. We had a fun evening, it truly was a delight to speak to the very knowledgeable Erik, which culminated in a contest in which you could win a 4th Generation pipe made by Neerup Pipes. Several questions were asked and the one who had everything right in the end would win. I can’t remember all the questions but the last one was where the 4th Generation tobaccos were made. So I blurted out “In the Orlik factory!” Well, not entirely correct… “In the Orlik factory of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group!” Which was the right answer, I had won the pipe! Back home I quickly noticed that it was a rather large pipe, I mean, my thumb fully fitted in the bowl. Too big for my taste. So I decided to put up a lottery on the forum which was won by Frans. In Heukelum I gave him the pipe, I hope he gets many enjoyable smoking hours from it.
Last year I bought some pipes for the father of a friend of mine, Ton. At that time he was visiting The Netherlands because he lived abroad. Since a month he moved back to our wet, cold and flat country so I invited him to the meeting. Since he is living alone some company is always welcome, so he accepted my offer. Afterwards he told me he stared his eyes out. Ton is an old-fashioned smoker, preferably he smokes the same blend in the same pipe over and over. “What a pleasant gathering of people and what a lot of pipes they did bring with them! And so many bent ones!” Ton only smokes straight billiards and thinks everyone smokes those because they smoke the best. Well, ehmm.. Ehrrr… Guess I have to teach an old fox some new tricks. Later I was approached by Jos, “Arno, I have something for you, do you want it now or later?” Ehmm, now? He presented me a wrapped package, so I unwrapped it and saw a bottle of Huppelolie (hopping oil)! Yummie! Huppelolie is a tasty “kruidenbitter” (no translation), sometimes my stomach pains me and a small glass of Huppelolie does wonders. But why the bottle? I asked Jos. Because years ago I gave him some tips about buying tobacco overseas. So kind of him!
I also was glad Shaun was there all the way from Belgium and of course all the others of the Fuming Four. For months they have been pestering me that I should go with hem next year to Scotland again. Not only to the beginning of the Highlands this time but all the way to the utmost North point at Kearvaig, where the home-bothy stands of the Kearvaig Pipe Club. An almost spiritual journey. But I still don’t know if I want to go.. I mean, beautiful country, Scotland, but a big chance of bad weather, cold, midgets ehrrr.. midges, mediocre food (although Matron’s curry was excellent!) and the worst of all, no comfort! The bothy has no shower, no soft bed and no toilet which means digging a hole outside if you have to take a dump.. I admit that throughout the years I turned somewhat into a sissy boy, I just like a little bit of luxury mmkay? But who knows, I like organizing such trips so perhaps while doing that I fully decide to go. The other guys of the Fuming Four had a request for me. I am a bit different from them as I don’t have a beard and I don’t have tattoos. Now they wanted me to design the latter. And I also should get it. Ehmm.. I have a virgin skin and I like to keep it that way. But in Shaun’s eyes I already could see his evil plan: Get Arno piss-drunk and then…… *evil laugh*
The rest of the afternoon and evening in Heukelum was very pleasant as usual. So many people, so many conversations, so little time. Around 5 o’clock Henk told us that the BBQ was ready and we could eat. I don’t know what it is but when someone says something like that no one wants to be the first one. But when Arno is hungry Arno is hungry you know? So I began putting tasty meat on my plate and the rest soon followed. A bit earlier then expected the majority of the forum members began to pack and went home. So not long after that Ed, Mark and I also decided to leave. When I got home Ellen was snoring on the couch and woke up when I entered the room. “Did you have a good meeting?” “Yes darling, it was another great day.”
I would like to thank Martin for organizing the meeting! All pictures were made by Klaas, Dirk, Martin and myself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!*
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..
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.
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.
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..
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!
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.
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.
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!
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..”
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.
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.
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..
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!
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.
1935: The first year that John Cotton Limited is active on the 100 Princes Street address although George Cotton & Son also remains there.
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.
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.
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*.
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.
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.
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*.
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.
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 25-9-2017: 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!
EDIT 16-1-2018: I received a mail and picture from Andrew Robertson. Apparently his mother worked at the Cotton’s factory in Easter Road, Edinburgh from 1935 until she joined the army as a Radar Operator in 1941. The picture was taken outside the Cotton Factory at Sunnyside on Easter Road Leith circa 1939. Andrew’s Mother, Alice Bowie as she was then, is 2nd on the left of the back row, immediately behind the foreman. His mother’s friend May Wilkie is standing on the right of the picture. Andrew’s mother always explained that she and May made “cocktail” cigarettes similar to the Sobranie brand.