Interview with master-blender Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco – Part 3.
Did you ever imagine that your blends would be as successful as they have become?
Of course, I hoped that the tobaccos were well received. But that they would become so successful, even outside the borders of Europe, I could never imagine. That makes me very happy and is also the basis to go further and to make new mixtures. The nice thing about this success for me is that I rarely have a one-time-order customer. This shows me that it is not a hype, but that people like my style as a blender.
But the customer service is not to be underestimated. It is very important for me that the customer feels that he is in good hands and gets advise from me if he requests that. I also never had a customer take the damage or loss for a package and that creates confidence.
Which of your blends would you recommend for beginning pipe smokers?
Basically I recommend a beginner to first start with a pure, natural tobacco. I do not believe in the idea that everyone should first smoke an aromatic. Especially with aromatics one must pay attention to quality in order not to get terrible tongue burning tongue or sticky pipes. I would recommend everyone here Joschi’s Oriental Sunrise. It is an easy-to-smoke, medium-bodied tobacco with a nice sweetness without being intrusive. It is a simple blend but also a mixture that wants to be discovered. A client of mine calls Joschi’s a “listening tobacco” and that point of view I find very appropriate. It means that Joschi’s shall not impose itself on you but if you smoke it more often it has a lot to tell. Well, that would be my pick for the absolute beginner.
How are your blends received outside of Germany, do you sell a lot abroad?
My main business is of course in Germany, but my export share is estimated at about 40% and that is quite amazing. There are hardly any countries within Western-Europe to which I have not yet delivered. Eastern Europe is because of their customs and border regulations a white spot on my map, and this can not be changed. More and more tobacco goes to the USA. I am pleased when people buy from me again and again even though tobacco is much cheaper to get in their home countries. Because of that I know that there are real fans.
What are some of the changes that you have seen in the pipe and pipe tobacco industry over the years?
In the pipe industry, probably the biggest changes took place in recent years. When I look back on my past pipe-smoking life some traditional companies disappeared from the market or only the name was left without building on their own traditions. This is a natural market-process and it hurts me sometimes, but it also has to be.
On the other hand, the supply of hand-made pipes has grown immensely, not in the least due to the possibilities of internet. Basically I see this as nice, but I am not very enthusiastic. In principle the term “handmade” is not a synonym for quality. As a convinced unfiltered pipe-smoker it is of course very painful to see the extreme development of the industry towards the 9mm pipe filter. To come back to two of my favourite shapes, the Cutty or the Prince, this fact above is of course aesthetically not justifiable. These two shapes rely on their thin shanks, which give them their traditional elegance and lightness. This is a shame, but again I must add, the market regulates the demand and in this case the market has been manipulated.
Tobacco-technical changes are no less clearly visible. Some small tobacco manufacturers had to give way to the big suppliers. The supply of tobacco has increased significantly, but the diversity has been lost. The highly aromatic tobacco trend has kept pace with the arrival of 9mm pipe filters. Interesting is also the excessive use of sweet Black Cavendish and it seems that vanilla has become the standard flavour. I will not judge, but in my philosophy this does not match.
Some traditional tobacco disappeared from the market or have been changed beyond recognition and adapted for the mainstream. I will not give examples, but with sadness I think back at such great tobaccos as McConnell Original Red Virginia or Orlik Sailor’s Navy Flake.
But exactly this fact has moved me to my actions. With my products I want to serve the small niche of enthusiasts of high quality and with love blended tobaccos. Although my offerings contradict all market analyses, HU Tobacco is very successful at the lowest level of sales. Now when I say that at me the percentage of British varieties with a significant amount of Latakia is about 60%, every tobacco retailer will shake his head.
The longer you think about the initial question the more you could add. But I think now that would be too much.
I have heard and have seen for myself that a lot of younger people are starting to get into pipes. Have you seen a resurgence in pipes and pipe smoking?
Honestly, I can not comment on that. It would be nice if it were so, because pipe smoking is not only a question of taste but also a clear yes to living culture. But Arno, the impressions through the internet or a variety of forums can also be deceiving. One must never forget that forums / Facebook are a microcosm that has little to do with anything of the pipe smokers world. In these media really only the “freaks” roam. And their share is less than one percent, measured to the pipe smokers market.
What are some of your favourite things about pipe shows you go to?
Pipe shows are of course always a good opportunity to introduce yourself to a wider audience and to showcase your products. This will benefit both sides. The customer has the opportunity to try tobacco without immediately having to order at me. Besides, such shows always offer the opportunity at times of personal contact to discuss tobacco. I always listen well to my customers to both the positive as well as the negative and to do something with feedback if possible. Although one can not always please everyone.
While smiling I think back to the last pipe-show in Lohmar. One criticism there was always that you could only buy my tobaccos in 100gr tins. This I have reacted to with the flakes what made a critical customer a bit angry. He shied away from the sale because 50gr tins were too small for him… Well, then you are just speechless…
Apart from the shows I always am pleased with the contacts with other exhibitors. As always we have a lot of fun, and only that makes a show worthwhile for me.
By the way, Lohmar is not too far away from Holland. Perhaps it even could be a destination for Dutch pipe clubs or forums 😉
What are your thoughts on the whole anti-tobacco movement?
Honestly, I look very critical to this anti-tobacco movement since it is very hypocritical in my eyes. Of course we smokers were not very considerate in the past. But when it really was about health protection, it would have been possible to find a satisfactory solution for both sides with the ban on smoking in restaurants. But this has not at any time been the intention.
It’s not about health but it is a struggle against the solidarity of the society. No society needs the supposed good guy who points the finger at others in order to brand them as outlaws and set people up against each other. Once the smoking problem is solved other groups in society join the series. Alcohol, sugar, fat…… Everything is controlled by politicians to finally get an obedient, self-sustaining workforce; voting cattle. Mankind must be protected from themselves and everything than can be hazardous must be prohibited. Such a society I don’t want and I can only hope that the spirit of the age soon turns again so we can treat each other reasonable and sensible.
Any last words to readers?
Arno, now we’ve already talked quite a lot and I hope we have not bored the readers. So I want to make it short. Stylish pipe-smoking is a cultural asset that I really want to defend. With all the health risks it is also important to bear in mind that a relaxing smoke is balm for the soul so we can forget some of our troubles.
I therefore wish for all people who enjoy smoking pipe that they continue to enjoy our hobby and perhaps someone or someone else wants a mixture of me. Happy puffing!
You can buy Hans’ excellent tobaccos here.