Tag: latakia

The eternal city on two continents: Istanbul, part 2

See here for part 1.

Day 4
This day was going to be special. Before we left I searched on the internet if there was a pipe smoking club in Istanbul and to my delight I found one, İstanbul Pipo Derneği (Istanbul Pipe Club). I mailed to them and asked if there was anywhere I could buy some tobacco and pipes and if it was possible to meet up somewhere. Soon I got a reply from Mr. Turgay Ocak who turned out to be the founder of the club. He answered that no pipe tobacco is sold in Istanbul because off all kinds of government regulations but that I was welcome to smoke some pipes with them. We arranged a date and time. The location, I later found out, was at a pipe shop called Pipo Market based in Perpa, a huge trading centre near the Beyoğlu district. And guess who is the owner of that shop: Turgay. At the beginning of the afternoon Ellen had her own program (mainly walking through the city) and I had to take a cab to Perpa. When I was there all I had to do was app Turgay and he would come and fetch me. But the ride was a rough one. I just had stepped in the taxi and the driver took off at breakneck speed through the wobbly, windy streets of Sultanahmet. I have been in Cairo where the cab drivers also can ride like crazy so it was not a big surprise. The thing was that I got carsick.. It only was 8.5 km but man, when you are feeling very ill that is a long way, especially in twisting Istanbul with a Max Verstappen wannabe at the steering wheel. Just when I was about to spill the contents of my stomach over the leather taxi interior we thankfully arrived. I sat down on a low wall before the Perpa entrance for 5 minutes, just slowly breathing, before I apped Turgay.

Part of Turgay’s shop

Soon I was picked up by Turgay and another IPC member. First of all, even with Dutch names I am bad in remembering them, let alone foreign ones. So sorry! Anyway, now I understood why I had to app, Perpa is one big giant maze. I could have wandered aimlessly there for hours without finding the shop. Soon we were there, a surprisingly nice looking medium sized store with lots of pipes, especially corncobs and Italian brands. And indeed no tobacco at first sight except for some cigars. All the tins I did saw were empty and hung on the walls or were standing in displays as decoration. The shop has 2 rooms, the main store and one with couches which functions as the IPC hideout where other members sat. One of the first things that I was shown were all the medals that Turgay won. It turned out that he is a competition pipe smoker and a damn good one, top of the world! He asked me if I knew Cornelius from the Dutch Federation for Pipe Smokers. I explained that I have met the man on one or two occasions but that I am not a member, I don’t do competition pipe smoking. I am a member of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum, who only are active on internet and on some meetings.

Looking into the IPC room

When I was sitting down I was offered some water and coffee, which was very welcome because I still felt a but queasy from the car sickness. I had a brought a gift with me for the IPC, which I presented them: a tin of Samuel Gawith Flatlander Flake. Which was received very well. I discovered that Samuel Gawith almost has a godlike status at the IPC. Everyone has friends abroad who send tins of the old English brand or bring them in the country themselves. Especially the flakes are popular, Balkan Flake, Navy Flake, St. James Flake etc. Turgay and the others also had some gifts for me. First of all a beautiful Sultan meerschaum pipe! Wow! Further I got a mug, button and bag all printed with the IPC logo. Thank you again so very much!!!

Bosphorus Balkan Flake

I was just thinking what I should smoke when one of the members put a tin before me I did not know, Bosphorus Balkan Flake. Hmm, Virginia, latakia and Turkish orientals, interesting! It was opened and smelled delicious. I put it in my pipe and started smoking. Very, very nice but whoah, a real nicotine bomb. I said I was confused because I thought no pipe tobacco was made or sold in Turkey. Well, it turned out that there is a guy in Istanbul (later I found out his name is Birol Salman if I am correct. I tried to contact him but sadly to no avail) who makes these Bosphorus tobaccos with mainly ingredients from Turkish soil. For example the Turkish oriental is called Adiyaman. A name which rang a bell inside my head. Pipe smoking friend Kees used to go to Turkey on holiday many times and on such an occasion he brought some Adiyaman with him of which I got a sample. And indeed, from what I could remember was that Adiyaman packs a vitamin N punch. Turgay and the others said that some tobaccos also came from Syria. Huh? I thought that because of the war nothing came from there. Nono, in the North there is no war so tobaccos is grown there according to them. Interesting.. About my story of Cyprian latakia made in the Izmir region and then shipped to the Turkish part of Cyprus they were not sure, it could be.

The rest of the afternoon was spend chatting, smoking and looking at all the wares in the store. Damn, they even had an estate Lord of the Rings Aragorn and Gimli pipe! Just when my belly started to grumble I was kindly invited to have dinner with them. Just before we left I luckily was able to buy some Bosphorus tobacco tins, the Balkan Flake I already had, Navy Flake and English Mixture. I could ride with Turgay and another member to the restaurant they picked. In order to get to the car we had to walk through a traditional Turkish market. Busy as hell but no tourists, a real sight! The restaurant called Olimpiyat turned out to be beautifully located beside the Bosphorus near the Galata bridge with stunning views over the water and Hagia Sophia. Turgay had reserved a large table on one of the upper floors and the best thing was, we could smoke there. Some more IPC members joined us (who spoke English). I had also brought some real Dutch De Olifant Brasil cigars with me which I handed out and were eagerly accepted. Soon all kinds of delicious appetizers were served under which samphire/picklegrass, something I never had but tasted great on toast with some Turkish cheese.

To drink I had to try one of the national beverages, rakı. At first I kindly declined (I had not eaten much at that point) but no, I had to drink it. So a generous amount was poured in my glass, then some some water and ice-cubes (always in that order!). It reminded me of the Greek ouzo, also anise-flavoured, yummie! After the appetizers Turgan asked me what I liked to eat. Wel, uhmm.. Something typical Turkish, I answered. We all got pieces of lamb meat which tasted very good. But during the interesting conversations about all kinds of subjects and after my second glass of rakı the alcohol really started to hit me. Hmm, that is strange, I thought, I am used to Dutch jenever which has an alcohol percentage of 35%. That rakı can never have more than 30%. So I asked for the bottle and saw to my horror and the amusement of the members that it was 45%! While laughing they poured in another glass. Let’s say I don’t remember much of the rest of the evening except that suddenly my understanding of the Turkish language became much better. Especially Turgay had some hilarious stories about his endeavours during the pipe smoking championships all over the world. At the end of the evening the inevitable bill came. I fetched my wallet but no, I was their guest. So very friendly and hospitable, thank you! Seeing me in my inebriated state they also decided to drop me off at my hotel. Once we got there I hugged the old Turgay like we had been friends forever and thanked him for a splendid day.

Day 5
After a good night’s rest I felt reinvigorated. Which was good because we were going to visit the beautiful Princes’ Islands, to be precise Heybeliada. Together with Ozan from the hotel reception we looked at the best options to get there. Which was to go by tram to the ferry boat terminal of Eminönü and there take the public ferry. Public transport costs almost nothing in Istanbul, for the two of us the round trip was about €3.. Earlier we had bought an Istanbul Card which works as an all-around public transport boarding pass, very handy. Going to and finding the correct ferry was surprisingly easy. On the large boat we went upstairs and sat outside at the stern. All around us were Turkish families with children who clearly went for a day out. The trip to the Islands was very enjoyable. There was constant “entertainment” from salesmen and women and there was a guy selling simit bread, which we took, very yummie. When we arrived at Heybeliada we wanted to hire some bikes. All the Princes’ Islands are car-free and despite the presence of the traditional horse and cart we were advised (I heard from the IPC members that the horses are ill-treated..) not to take those. Soon we had our bikes and started climbing. I thought there was only a bit of it but man, it was more hilly than I expected. Out of breath we were glad when the road starting going down.

After an hour of biking we decided we had seen enough (the island is pretty small) and head back to get some lunch at a seaside restaurant. When we got there some tout tried to lure us in. Normally I walk past restaurants who have that kind of people but we were hungry and thirsty. Sadly I can’t remember the name of the place.. Immediately he started to push the sea-bass dish; fresh, fresh! To convince me he took me to the kitchen where he showed me the actual fish. All alarm-bells rung in my head because the eyes and skin of the fish looked dull, an indicator that freshness has long past. We should have walked away then but foolish me opted for a different fish dish. Ellen was smarter and took the köfte meatballs. Afterwards Ellen wanted some ice-cream, there was a seaside café which sold it so we sat down there. While Ellen enjoyed her ice I got some shooting pains in my stomach. Oh oooh… Despite that the trip back with the ferry went smooth, except for one incident. When the boat wanted to moor at one of the jetties of the islands something happened and it started rocking sideways. The motion only grew stronger up to the point we were or going to capsize or smash into the pier. The deck below almost made water, everyone was holding on and big waves were splashing over the pier, making the people wet who could not get away fast enough. Just as I was seriously contemplating jumping off the ship the captain got it back under control. Phewww, everyone laughed nervously. The rest of the journey there were no incidents until someone started to shout and point to the sea. Jeeeez, what now? Someone fell overboard? No, he pointed at a wonderful sight: dolphins! Just magical! Less enchanting was the night, the shooting pains in my stomach worsened and I spent a lot of time on the toilet. No further details.

The things I got from the Istanbul Pipe Club

Day 6
In the morning thankfully my stomach felt a little bit better. Good, because we were going home. After breakfast Ozan called a cab, we thanked him and the wonderful, friendly hotel staff and went on our way. The taxi ride to the airport was amusing because the driver had another, much larger, car horn build in which he was not afraid to use. In the plane I had a precarious moment when I was on the toilet (my stomach acted up again). That space is so damn small so when I pulled up my pants I hit some emergency button with one of my body parts. Immediately the crew knocked on the door. “Sir! sir! are you ok??” “Yes I am, I am!” I shouted while I hastily tried to make myself look decent before they would smash the door. Luckily the train ride home went smooth. All by all Istanbul had been an amazing experience. We met so many nice people (and sadly less nice ones too) there. But it is such an enormous city that I felt we only scraped the surface. Also I expected more of a Cairo experience but Istanbul is less rough around the edges, cleaner and more European. I will be glad to come back one day to see more of it and all the sights that were under renovation now.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lohmar pipe-show 2019, the last one…

© Lohmarer Pfeifenmesse

One of the highlights of the year for me is always a visit to the Lohmarer Pfeifenmesse (Lohmar pipe-show) the first Saturday in May. So you can imagine the shock when I first heard that this years pipe-show would be the last one. What?? No more Lohmars? Disbelieve.. You know, beyond all the exhibitors with their beautiful wares I mostly enjoyed the atmosphere created by all the pipe-smokers. I met so many lovely people there. Organizer Volker Bier explained it all in a YouTube video. For those of you who don’t speak German, in a nutshell it comes to this: Next year the location where the pipe-show is always held, Villa Friedlinde, is getting a big renovation. So no activities then. Also Volker had enough of organizing the show year in year out. All those years were great, but now it is enough. Luckily two friends of Volker, Kelvin and Toto, stepped in. I was immensely happy to hear that next year a brand new pipe-show is organized by them in Hamm on May 16th.

Mark

Back to this year. Normally I would have drove along with good friend Rob, except he could not make it, he had to work. Regarding pipe-meetings it is “the more the merrier” so I asked Mark (the organizer of the annual Dutch pipe smokers forum Zutphen meeting) if he wanted to tag along. He was happy to go together with me. Only, one day before the pipe-show he texted me and I had to silently laugh a bit. The week before Lohmar Mark started in the gym, his first time ever. Being enthusiastic in trying to shed some weight, gain some muscle and improve his condition he tirelessly outdid himself. Only to discover that the next morning he could not get out of bed because of all the muscle pain. “If this continues I won’t be able to go with you tomorrow.. I can’t even get in the car this way!” he said. “Just relax and let me know early in the morning.” I answered. I was happy that apparently the aches lessened because Mark felt good enough to visit Lohmar.

The Lohmar 2019 pipe-show blend © HU Tobacco

The drive there went smooth despite the whimsical weather. Which was really sad because with almost all the previous Lohmar editions it was good to excellent. We arrived pretty early which had a reason, I wanted to go to the table of HU Tobacco as fast as possible. A couple of days before Lohmar I read on the Facebook page of Hans Wiedemann (owner and master-blender of HU Tobacco) that he was releasing a special pipe-show blend. A mixture of sweet Virginias, Burley and Latakia, advertised as: Is it a Virginia blend with Latakia in the background or is it an English mixture with a pronounced Virginia sweetness? But the thing was, there were only 50 tins! I tried to reserve a tin on Facebook and crossed my fingers. When I had finally reached Hans through the vast crowd at his table I was disappointed. All pipe-show tins were gone.. In fact, lots of Hans’ blends were already sold out! Especially the newer ones that I wanted to try.. So besides some tins that friends had asked me to buy I ended up with Moroccan Bazaar (as a lover of the oriental spice markets I just have to try this blend) and RaiKo InBeTween (formerly known as RaiKo ChocoLat, due to German regulations).

Thomas Nietsche putting some final drops of aroma on my No. 7 blend

Beside the table of Hans there stood a guy with lots of jars filled with all kinds of mixing tobaccos in front of him. It was Thomas Nietsche, the master-blender of Kohlhase & Kopp. I also read on Facebook that he and Hans had put up a contest. You could create your own blend there and let it mix by Thomas. After Lohmar all the entries are smoked and the best will become the 2020 Hamm pipe-show blend plus you get a €50 HU Tobacco coupon. I know I have been not so positive about Kohlhase & Kopp in the past but I have to say this was a brilliant initiative and Thomas is a very nice bloke. While I was waiting for my turn I explained to Mark (in Dutch) the purpose of all of this. “I understood some of that!” Thomas said jokingly while blending some tobaccos. When it was my turn I had a faint idea in my head. I wanted a kind of Balkan blend with a touch of aromatics. Very tricky because Latakia does not do well with added flavours. I instructed Thomas to begin with 30% Cyprian Latakia, then 20% orientals. I asked if he had a good Red Virginia and he did have some aged one, he put in 30%. To round it off I let him add 10% Bright Virginia and 10% unsweetened Black Cavendish. I already saw that he had some small bottles with concentrated flavours so I instructed Thomas to add just a few drops of milk-chocolate and vanilla essence to the mixture. The result was a blend that at least smelled heavenly. Vanilla-like toffee with a smoky background. Thomas saved a sample for the contest (entry no. 7 on the list) and the rest was given free of charge to me.

The Lucifer’s Pipe duke and HU Tobacco’s Moroccan Bazaar

Because of the bad weather it was crazily busy in the tents where a lot of the exhibitors showed their wares. I opted to go to the villa itself, still crowded, but more space to manoeuvre. Almost immediately I bumped into Rudi, Fred and Paul. Especially the last one I had not seen in quite a while. After talking a little bit we discovered we were in the way so I went along. There are many skilled pipe-makers at Lohmar but often the prices they ask.. Woww.. So I was pleasant surprised when I saw a pipe I wanted for a fair sum made by Berlin based Lucifer’s Pipe. It was a nicely shaped duke made of morta. Since I always wanted a pipe made of the dark wood I did not have to think long of buying it. I even got a discount without asking for it! When I turned around a gentleman approached me. “Hello Arno do you remember me?” Although his face was vaguely familiar I could not remember him. “I am Hans-Walter, we met here some years ago, there is a picture of me on your blog. Which I love by the way! The history of for example De Graaff or Capstan blends is what interests me.” Some wheels turned in my head and suddenly I remembered him. If you read this, Hans-Walter, sorry I did not recognize you immediately! I meet so many people… And thanks for your kind words! Hope you will come to Hamm next year.

Me fitting a bracelet, on the left is Adrian

Back in one of the tents I decided to pay a visit to Adrian. Every year he is there with his hand-made leather wares and is he a very nice chap. I always have to think a bit of Blackbeard the pirate when I see him. Well, actually I see him sometimes that way because Adrian loves to celebrate the carnival dressed up as a pirate in his home city of Cologne and puts pictures of it on Facebook. After talking a bit to him I took a look at his leather stuff and spotted a cool bracelet I liked. I fitted it and yes, I wanted to buy it. The price was a tad high but with my inborn Dutch skills I haggled it down. Mark also succeeded in that while buying a pipe at another stand, not my kind of pipe but really something Mark would go for. It is good we don’t all have the same taste.

The Ashton Pebble Grain I bought at Peter Heinrichs

Mark and I almost wanted to go (the weather got worse and worse) when we bumped into some Belgian pipe-smokers forum members: Geoff, Paul and his wife. We told them we were heading to Peter Heinrichs in Bergheim for a smoke in their pipe-museum/smoking lounge and maybe something to buy. The more the merrier so the Belgians agreed to join us. On the way really everything that could fall from the sky (except aeroplanes) hit us. Snow, rain, hail.. Blah.. When we arrived we were greeted by the widow of Peter Heinrichs (who is in charge together with her lovely daughters). I must say the old lady has an iron memory. Once I had mentioned I liked estate pipes, especially vintage Dunhills. So she produced some cases with in them old Dunhills, Charatans, Ashtons and more. I face-palmed myself because I knew this was going to cost me money. Lucky for my wallet there was no Dunhill that really took my fancy. But I did like an Ashton Pebble Grain Zulu like shape, which I bought. I also purchased a tin of Château Henri No. 24; Latakia from Syria (although I beg to differ…) and Cyprus, Virginia, a bit of Burley, orientals and Java-tobacco. In the smoking lounge I could not resist smoking the Lohmar No. 7. It was way to freshly mixed but despite that, not bad, not bad at all!

Dinner!!!

At 4 o’clock Heinrichs closed. I wanted to do some shopping at the German Lidl in Bergheim and afterwards get some dinner. The rest agreed and went with me. I just love to go to the Lidl in Germany. They have many products that we in The Netherlands do not have, they are cheaper and of better quality! Almost every time I am in Bergheim, regardless of whom I am with, I go to Dönerburger for dinner. It is a Turkish style take-away restaurant where you can also just sit and eat. Nothing fancy but the quality of their food is excellent and cheap. I repeat, cheap! That always makes this greedy Dutchman happy. I had a big plate of Döner kebab (lamb meat, I also had the choice to go for chicken) with fries, tzatziki sauce and a cola and I had to pay exactly €10! In The Netherlands you can’t go out and eat like that for that price.

The Belgians at the Rauch Lounge

To round off the day I proposed a visit to the Rauch Lounge in the German town of Wassenberg. I had never been there and since it was more or less situated on the way home (also for the Belgians) we decided to go there. Inside we immediately bumped again into Rudi, Paul and Fred. They had gone there directly from Lohmar. Very nice because now I had the chance to talk to them a bit longer. Rauch Lounge has not been active for long, since November 2015. I must say, kudos to them, starting a tobacco shop in these anti-tobacco times. The store is loaded with all kinds of pipes, tobacco, spirits and cigars. And the best thing, they have a modern smoking lounge which is open late. It was bigger than I had imagined looking at the pictures on their site. Mark and I picked out some cigars in the humidor and together with the Belgians we sat down and smoked. The day had been perfect, a fitting goodbye to the Lohmar pipe-show.

I would like to thank Volker Bier for organising all those excellent editions of the Lohmarer Pfeifenmesse, I will remember them fondly and hope to create new memories next year in Hamm. Further thanks go out to the convivial Belgian delegation, always nice and educational to talk to them and of course Mark, who had to endure my music and farts in the car. Sorry man! All pictures (except the © ones) were made by Mark and myself.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My no. 1: Abingdon

Sometimes it is with tobacco as it is with music. You hear songs that are ok or ones that suck until suddenly, whoaaa.. What is that?? You listen to it more closely and slowly feel yourself falling in love with it with every time you hear it. After that the song sort of becomes part of your life and you keep listening to it until the day you die. Luckily I am not yet in that last phase but master-blender GL Pease’s creation Abingdon certainly has ingrained itself in my existence.

Unfortunately I can’t remember exactly when I first smoked Abingdon. My First Pease blend was the then hyped Chelsea Morning. With trembling hands I popped that tin, filled the bowl, lit the pipe aaand… It sucked. Perhaps I was expecting the nectar of the pipe-gods or so but it wasn’t on par with anything I had in my mind. I never had it since, maybe I should because during the years my taste-buds have vastly improved. After that I got a sample of Westminster from a friend and it blew me away. Ok, perhaps this “Dark Lord” Pease-guy does know what he is doing after all, I thought. It must have been after that when I tried my first bowl of Abingdon. Apparently I liked it really, really much because when I look at my tobacco tin purchase history the name “Abingdon” often pops up. Nowadays about once a year I open up a tin of it as a treat to myself. It never fails to deliver.

Thanks to Troy Lloyd

Backstory:
I quote GL Pease here: Some may have caught the hints of the inspiration behind this one when I’ve written about it in the past, but for the rest of you, here’s the back story. When I began to think about what I wanted to do with the Classic Collection, I had it in mind to pay tribute to some of the tobaccos of the past that had inspired me over the years—not to attempt their recreation, which is always something of a fool’s errand, but to produce blends that were reminiscent of what certain blends meant to me. It was my desire to paint something of a leaky memory picture of what the now old 759 was like in its relative youth that inspired me to concoct Abingdon. First, there was 759 and there was 759. The blend went through some changes during its life, and not every vintage is like every other. Too, while many have claimed to “clone” or “replicate” particular blends, I have never once found one of these copy-cats to successfully reproduce one of the old blends. In most cases, they’re not even really close. Later vintages of 759 seem to have been more dominated by Latakia. For those, I think Abingdon may be a little closer, though certainly not identical. Abingdon was named after Abingdon on Thames, the home of the legendary MG motorcar. For me, something about that wonderful, oily, intense smokiness of the tobacco recalled the wonderful smells of my old MGA, so it seemed fitting.

Description from the producer:
Abingdon: Dark, Mysterious and Full. Abingdon is the fullest Balkan style blend in the collection. It is rich and robust, powerful and forthright, yet still possessing subtlety and finesse. Dark flavours of wood and leather mingle with delicate undercurrents of sweetness, and deep earthy notes, while the oriental tobaccos provide hints of their verdant, sometimes herbaceous character. A big Balkan blend, reminding us once more of what these blends used to be. Because of the high percentage of dark and oriental tobaccos, it’s recommended to pack Abingdon a little less firmly than you might a lighter blend. Abingdon was released in July, 2003. And another quote from GL Pease himself: Abingdon is not topped or cased. It, like most of my blends, relies solely on the flavours of the leaf to make it what it is. It’s actually a fairly simple formula, but the result is delightfully complex. It’s an interesting mixture as it is quite heavy with latakia, but the orientals are more subdued. The virginias form the backbone of the smoke, but the latakia makes quite a statement.

Package/tin:
A typical American round pop-lid tin with paper wrapper. I must say that for this review I have an old production tin (from 2012). Not too long ago the artwork changed a bit. But still on the front there is a picture of a bulldog shaped pipe on top of a fountain pen and a piece of writing paper. On the back it says: A full Balkan style blend with a generous measure of Cyprian Latakia, seasoned with fine red and lemon yellow Virginia tobaccos, and enhanced with rich oriental leaf. Abingdon is bold and assertive, while retaining a stylish finesse. The Classic Collection draws inspiration from the great tobaccos of days past. The blends offered are not meant as attempts to replicate them, but to pay them homage to capture some of their essence.

Contents/Ingredients/cut:
Upon opening the tin I am greeted by the light and dark blended ingredients: Cyprian latakia, red and lemon yellow Virginias and orientals. The cut is a kind of rough ribbon cut with chunky pieces throughout it which you sometimes have to rub out a bit.

Smell from the tin:
The smell from the tin is wonderful to my nose. Sweet, salt, leather, smoke, spice, autumn, wood, earth all mixed into one like the instruments of an orchestra. I would have expected to notice more of the latakia. Perhaps it is the age of tin (6 years) so that the tobaccos inside have mellowed but this does not smell at all like the “bold and assertive” which is promised on the tin label.

Taste:
Upon lighting the blend there sometimes can be a slight bitterness, but it usually goes away after a few puffs. I have to think of my old and trusty Toyota Starlet. When I first start it there is lots of smoke and the pungent smell of petrol but after some hitting the gas it runs smoothly. Sort of the same with Abingdon. When the blend awakens and I am lucky I get some dark fruit/raisin/apricot taste-swirls throughout the rising smokiness from the latakia, the Virginia sweetness and the oriental sourness. For me Abingdon is not a complex blend. Once it gets going basically the same taste stays throughout the bowl with some little nuances here and then. But that basic taste is… So damn yummie! The balance between all the tobacco components is unbelievable. Lots of contradictions but somehow they work together like a well composed symphony. The instruments are soft, creamy, smooth, full, leather, musty, earth, sour, spice, wood and smoky. The resulting piece is Abingdon. Like with the smell I had expected more latakia “oomph” but I am glad it is not there. The dark leaf is almost like the conductor who supports the other instruments and let them play better. In some of the Tobaccoreviews.com reviews I read comparisons with my favourite whisky: Lagavulin. And I have to agree! The two make a perfect pair. Like with Abingdon Lagavulin boasts a lot of smokiness but if you compare it to some other whiskies (Laphroaig, Ardbeg) it really is not that much. Also Lagavulin possesses that rich, full harmony of flavours that Abingdon has. Anyway, in the end the tobacco burns down to a fine grey ash.

Miscellaneous:
Abingdon can bite a little bit if you pack the bowl too firmly and the tobacco is too moist. But if you take that into consideration, no problems at all. It stays pretty well lit throughout the smoke, nicotine hit is mild to medium. In my opinion and experience Abingdon performs best in somewhat larger (Dunhill group 4) prince shaped or pot shapes pipes. It certainly is not an all-pipe friend.

Room-note:
Whenever Ellen sees this tin on the table in our living room she starts to shift uncomfortably. “Is this that blend, you know? Well, I am afraid it is darling.. Oh.. Ok, eh, I am going to sleep/play music/do the laundry/get the f*ck away from here/etc.” As I write this I am smoking a pipe of Abingdon, Ellen just came downstairs and immediately got a red face. “Are you smoking it again? Yes darling. Grrr.. I really wish you waited until I had to go away for work. You can write in that blog of yours it is the most vile, evil smelling tobacco there is! I just did that darling.”

Price:
On Smokingpipes.com a 2 oz. tin will set you back at $10.63 (± €9,30). An 8 oz. tin will cost you $35.70 (± €31,25).

Conclusion:
From all the still available tobaccos I like Abingdon the best. Period. Of course I prefer blends like London Mixture State Express, Renaissance or De Graaff Kegelbaan but eejj, I can’t get them any more. Abingdon possesses an old world quality which only improves with age, a timeless mixture. I can totally imagine myself sitting in my living room decades from now when I am old, wrinkled and slightly senile, while smoking a pipe of well aged Abingdon, enjoying the hell out of it and thinking back to the good ol’ days before tobaccogeddon. Just before Ellen whacks me with her walking stick while shouting “You are not smoking it again aren’t you??”

Of course I wish all my readers a merry Christmas and a smoky 2019!!!

Inter-Tabac 2018 impression

It was early in the morning..

September 22nd 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 625 exhibitors from 54 countries 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 Jef, who is an enthusiastic Three Nuns tobacco fan (more about that later) and also a member of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum. Sadly just a day before the fair Fred told me he could not make it. So on the early morning of the 22nd Jef drove from the West of The Netherlands, where he lives, to the East, where I live. To be precisely, to the MacDonalds in Deventer. There is a big parking lot just near the highway so I could park my car there and Jef and I could drive together. He was already there when I arrived and asked me the magic words on an early morning: “Do you want some coffee?”

We arrived well on time at the Westfalenhallen, the location of the fair, but when we wanted to go to the main entrance we could not find it. Turned out there was a big renovation going on so we had to walk through some sand and mud to get inside.. I proposed to first go to the stand of DTM/Danpipe because, well.. They have coffee there. And excellent tobaccos of course! We were greeted by master-blender Andreas Mund and his charming wife (both DTM employees) who, by the way, is responsible for many of the new DTM blends. Apparantly she has good taste buds, a good smell and some creativity. Jef knew of a perfume site where a lot of smell-combinations are explaned so he told her about it in spotless German. My German is just ok, I can understand it and make clear what I think and want but that’s it. So I looked at Jef and he smiled and shrugged “You probably did not know I am half German right?” No I didn’t but it was damn handy to have a walking translator beside me.

Andreas brought us all some coffee and I asked about new blends. DTM only had one called “The Untouchables”. A collaboration between DTM’s Michael Apitz and Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco. Very interesting! Andreas handed me the jar containing the blend and I first read the label: The Untouchables Special Mixture: The basic mixture consists of mature ready rubbed Virginia and a pinch of smooth Black Cavendish. Aroma of cedarwood and roses are added as a final seasoning, which marry perfectly with the tobacco’s original flavours. Untouchable – incorruptable in terms of quality! Ok, I opened the jar and it smelled inviting, so I grabbed my pipe and wanted to fill it with the blend. “Whooh! No you can’t!” Andreas said. “Huh, why not?” “Well, ehm.. We were a bit late deciding which aromas would be used so we only have this jar and nothing more..” “Ehrr.. Ok, so you have a new blend and no one can sample it?? You had loads of time to prepare for the fair!” With a laugh Andreas said: “Well, here it goes like, damn, the fair is in a week, let’s come up with something!” Ok, I opted for some tasty Fred the Frog instead. We talked some more about the company and we all believed it is a company that has “soul”.

A lot of Three Nuns vintages

Next we went to the big stand of the mighty MacBaren. This was a highlight for Jef because he is a big fan of the Three Nuns blend (and he knows all about its history) which is made by MacBaren now for a couple of years. Recently 2 new Three Nuns blends came out: Three Nuns Green (containing Kentucky, Perique and Virginia) and Three Nuns Yellow (containing Virginia). I did not have tried any of them, in fact, I did not have tried Three Nuns at all in my pipe smoking life. Until some months ago when I received a full envelope from Jef containing samples of different vintages. Some tasted better than others but still, very good! Jef even brought some of those old blends with him to show to product manager Per Jensen, who greeted us warmly. I just had to say “Three Nuns” and almost like a magician he made the 2 new blends appear on the counter. After an extensive sniffing I decided to load my pipe with the “Green” version. It was fresh as a young virgin but it tasted damn mature! Yummie! Per said: “We never looked back when we created the new blend. We never tried any of the old Three Nuns. Reason is that the tobacco manufacturers back then could lay their hands on does not exist now any more.” We talked some more when the subject came upon Burley. I said I seldom smoked Burleys but was willing to try some. So I asked if I could have a sample of the HH Burley Flake. Promptly I was given a full sealed tin. “That is how we do samples at MacBaren!” said Per with a wink. His next gift was a very special one, a big heavy book called “The Pipe, A Functional Work of Art“. It looked absolutely stunning with beautiful pictures. Thank you very much Per!

Love all the curlies ^^

When we were chatting and smoking the fabulous Three Nuns a man walked up to the counter. He had an unsmoked corncob pipe in his hand and said to Per he came for his pipe-smoking lesson. It turned out he came from Switzerland, was a cigar aficionado but wanted to explore the world of pipe-smoking. Ah, a possible new convert! Jef had some experience teaching new pipe-smokers so Per and I gave him the thumbs up to go ahead. And I have to say, Jef did a very, very good job. Per and I stood mesmerized while Jef explained all the basics to the man. Beginning with what the man liked to eat and drink in his regular life. Sweet? Not sweet? Smoky? Based on that Jef thought the man would prefer a more natural tobacco. So he let him smell some to show the difference between blends. On my advice the man also held his nose above a mixture with some latakia (some people immediately love it and want nothing else) but he did not like it very much. In the end Jef advised the man to try Amphora Virginia, because it is natural and uncomplicated yet tasty. He then told how to fill a pipe with the 3-step method (first putting in the tobacco like a child, softly, then as a woman, a bit harder and finally as a man, firmly press it). The Swiss man then lighted his pipe and began puffing contently. Jef explained some more basics on how to smoke and clean the pipe. The man loved it, “I can taste my favourite whisky!” he said with a big smile. Later we would bump into him again and he would repeat that he “really liked it, really liked it!” Mission accomplished.

The stand of Gubbels (Big Ben)

It was already time to lunch and on our way outside we passed the stand of Big Ben. As always Elbert Gubbels was very busy but he took the time to greet us. When I asked how things were going his face contorted: “All those damn EU regulations! Now they want that the Samuel Gawith tins I import no longer have a golden colour. Instead they must have an aluminium look because the gold looks too fancy!” Talking about Gawith, when we were outside having some lunch (which we brought with us because the food prices at the Inter Tabac are utterly insane) I spotted a grey man trying to sneak past us. When he saw I noticed him he tried to get away but to no avail, I gave him a big hug, it was Bob Gregory. “You bastard!” he said, “Every time I look at the bottle of beer you gave me last year I have to laugh! What’s inside huh? Belgian ale? Strong stuff!” Yes Bob, the stuff that makes you grow even more chest hair! Less funny were sadly his stories about, yet again, the EU regulations. I asked him if there was a chance Flatlander Flake would be released worldwide. “No, because the sky is blue.” “Excuse me?” “The sky is blue in the tin art which is not allowed any more. It strikes a too positive note about smoking.” Completely bonkers if you ask me.. “By the way, do you know a place in The Netherlands called Ootmarsum?” Bob asked. “Yes I do, in fact it is not too far away from where I live.” “Good, you should go there to a brewery, forgot which one, and take a good look around.” “Why?” “Because all the old Samuel Gawith machinery and equipment from the Kendal Brown House is there.” “What??? You mean amongst others the legendary old snuff mill from around 1750? The oldest, longest working piece of industrial equipment in Great Britain, perhaps even the world?” “Yup.. After the move to Gawith & Hoggarth we really tried to keep it all in Kendal, in the country. I phoned museum after museum, even the British Museum but no one wanted it.. Such a shame.. In the end a Dutch friend of mine who has a brewery in Ootmarsum bought it all to put in his little museum.” Back home I looked on the internet, the brewery in Ootmarsum must be the Othmar brewery. I think I will visit them soon.

One of Poul Winslow’s favourite pipes

After lunch Jef and I went to the stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group. Inside were pipes of brands like Peterson (! I had expected they had gone elsewhere since Laudisi took over the brand), Stanwell, Dunhill and Winslow. Stanwell had some new pipes made out of beech wood. According to the friendly spokes-lady they would last about 300 smokes. Hmm.. That does not add up to much for that price, I thought.. My corncobs are much cheaper and they already last far more than 300 smokes. Peterson had nothing really special and Dunhill had some weird pipes with a bend stem so you can smoke it around a corner or something like that.. Mr. Poul Winslow himself was present and I took the opportunity to thank him for repairing one of my favourite Winslow pipes. Some time ago I bit through the mouthpiece, I contacted my seller and he said to just send the pipe to Denmark for repair. So I did and only a couple of days before the Inter Tabac I got it back, with a new stem and polished. Mr. Winslow immediately recognized the pipe when I showed him, “Ah, the pipe with the broken mouthpiece right?” Further we had a pleasant conversation, he is such a gentleman.

Me and Lasse Berg

At a side of the stand I spotted a friendly giant: Scandinavian Tobacco Group master-blender Lasse Berg. On a table before him were jars with all kinds of loose tobaccos; Virginias, Burley, Kentucky, Latakia, Perique etc. It turned out he was blending mixtures for whoever who wanted them. That was an opportunity I would not miss! “What do you want?” He asked me. “A good balkan blend please!” With the speed of an experienced blender he put together some orientals, Latakia and Virginia. “Would you like some Perique?” “No thank you.” “A bit of Black Cavendish?” “Yes please.” He deposited it all in a tin and asked me what the name of the blend should be. “Balkan Arno, please”. Later that afternoon I smoked it and I have to say, it was better than expected!

Next was the stand of Kohlhase & Kopp. What struck us the most were the new “just-like-Dunhill-but-different” blends under the Robert McConnell banner with names like Early Bird (Early Morning Pipe), City of London (London Mixture), Majesty Elizabeth (Elizabethan Mixture) etc. I don’t know what to think of it.. Creative, yes, but also a bit of an insult to the old Dunhill blends. Anyway, Dunhill tobacco already died for me when Murray’s took over. I had the opportunity to smoke several sublime 1970’s versions and they were superior to the later blends I had, Murray’s and Orlik. At Vauen there were few new items. I think a new Auenland and I saw some pipes with weird psychedelic spots on them.

Jef had spotted a brochure that somebody held advertising CBD oil. What the hell does someone want with oil made out of the cannabis plant? Well, sadly Jef’s father has cancer, a very lethal version. The doctors had given him only 6 months but because of the use of CBD oil and Curcuma extract pills he has been going pretty strong for 19 months already! Jef is busy with setting up a business that can import, and perhaps later make, CBD oil in The Netherlands. But he did not expect to find suppliers on the Inter Tabac Fair. So we visited several of them. Pretty interesting, one company even had a vaping device which allowed you to inhale the CBD into your lungs. Handy with patients who have lung cancer for example.

Because the visits to Danpipe, MacBaren and the CBD companies took so long we could not see the entire fair. But I don’t think we missed much. Oh wait, there was one thing, I missed some scantily dressed promotion babes! It all was very, decent, this year. Until we were in one of the Vaping halls and we saw a stunning bodypainted beauty. Yesss!!! Around 5 o’clock we decided to call it quits and find something to eat. Like every year there was only one location we could go to; El Greco in the town of Herne. The friendly owner more or less recognized me from the other years (“Netherlands, right?”) and the meal he made was as good as ever.

I want to thank Jef for keeping me company and for all the interesting conversations we had. All pictures were made by Jef and myself.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

De Graaff tobacconist

Nowadays a truly good tobacconist sadly is a rare thing here but decades ago The Netherlands boasted lots of them. Specialist stores where the knowledge of the salesmen was of crucial importance because the clients relied on it. These days we can simply look up information on the digital highway but back then you had to trust the expertise of your tobacco vendor. One of the most well known and respected tobacconists in that time was G. de Graaff in the political heart of our small country: The Hague.

Churchill at the Congress of Europe in 1948 ©Haags Gemeentearchief

Founded in 1928 by Gerard de Graaff (who was later joined by his son Frits de Graaff) the business was located at the Heulstraat no. 27. Not far from Noordeinde Palace, Council of State, Council for the Judiciary and the Binnenhof in the old city centre. They got well-known both at home and abroad very quickly, mainly because of their excellent house-brand G. de Graaff cigars, which were made by 5 different cigar factories in The Netherlands. Even the legendary Winston Churchill had heard of them. Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum member Willem tells: “My father, who had a high ranking job at the Ministry of Finance, knew De Graaff very well because he always bought his cigars there. So when Churchill visited The Hague for the Congress of Europe in 1948 my father arranged some special Cuban cigars for him which came, of course, from De Graaff.” Other famous people who visited the store throughout the years were amongst others Bill Clinton, prince Bernard, Josip Tito, François Mitterrand and Konrad Adenauer.

Frits de Graaff 1978 ©Haags Gemeentearchief

After the war the sons of Frits, Robbert and Gerard de Graaff, entered the business. But soon father Frits realized that letting Gerard and Robbert work together was not a good idea. So Gerard kept himself busy with the production side and Robbert took care of the sales in the store. Frits de Graaff was a remarkable man, a real old world salesman. He lived above the store and was always impeccably dressed, like the true gentleman he was, with his trademark bow tie. Also he was a man of principles, if he did not believe in a brand he would not sell it. Willem tells: When I had my practice in The Hague, around 1976-1980, the De Graaff store had something special, something chic. In that time I smoked MacBaren. When I asked for such a tin at the store Mr. Frits always said that the tobacco contained too much glycerine “Which is not good for your throat!”. Like the polite man I was and still am I then bought a tin of Flying Dutchman, which was much better according to him. 

Frits de Graaff 1982 ©Haags Gemeentearchief

Also I know that De Graaff did not sell Peterson because of the P-Lip mouthpiece, the often shabby finish, the many fills and because of the long time it took to break in a pipe. I think he liked Dunhill better, Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum member Rob tells: Once I was in the store together with Mr. De Graaff. While talking he took a Dunhill pot-shaped pipe out of his pocket and told this was his father’s favourite pipe. You could see the pipe was old and that it had once been a heavy sandblasted Shell Briar but because of the use the surface had become smooth. After his death he kept the pipe and smoked it several times a week. As far as tobacco went Frits de Graaff liked latakia very much. Rob tells: I remember well that I was a boy of about 18 years old when I stepped inside the store to buy a pipe. When the conversation drifted towards pipe tobacco he pointed out “the only tobacco” latakia to me. Besides the pipe I let myself be persuaded to also buy a tin with latakia and indeed, I was swept away. Back in those days that fine tobacco was significantly more expensive than e.g. Mac Baren so I smoked latakia in moderation, because I had to pay for it from the proceeds of my newspaper round. Sadly Frits de Graaff passed away in 1996, Robbert took over the business but he sold the store in 2005. The new owners tried their best but the grandeur of days past never really came back. Just recently I learned that the shop at the Heulstraat no. 27 is closing, the owners want to merge it with another store of them at another location.

Klaas and myself

My own story with De Graaff began in 2011. I was just discovering the realm of the dark leaf when I began exchanging messages and tobacco samples with Klaas. Because of him I was able to try wonderful blends like Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture, GL Pease Westminster and De Graaff Kegelbaan Mixture and Back in Town. The last 2 were house-blends. I knew sh*t about pipe-tobacco in those days but what I noticed was that they were all of very high quality. Klaas saw that I really enjoyed the De Graaff tobaccos, generously gave me some tins and told the following story: I discovered the De Graaff house-blends fairly late, in the 90’s, but I was immediately smitten. I really invested in them and bought loads of tins. Suddenly at the end of the 90’s I was told in the store that the house-blends were being discontinued. I panicked a bit and decided to buy all the tins I could get my hands on. In the store and in other tobacco shops in The Netherlands who also carried the De Graaff house-blends. Of course during the years I smoked a lot of them but I still have some left. The only thing I always wondered was where those fabulous tobaccos were made. It was a well kept secret that De Graaff never told to anyone..

Louis

Throughout the years I smoked some excellent De Graaff blends which were given to me by Klaas and another forum member. Also whenever I was in a tobacco-shop I asked if they had some old tins stashed away somewhere. Now and then I even got lucky and I was able to buy some old De Graaff tobaccos meant for home-blending, which I did and created lovely blends with them. But when I heard that the actual shop at the Heulstraat was closing down I decided to write a blogpost about De Graaff and do some research. At that point all I had were the names of the 2 sons of Frits, Gerard and Robbert. So I asked yet another forum member, Rudi, who had a tobacco-shop in Middelburg for years, if he had a contact address or something like that. He didn’t but he pointed me towards a Belgian man who made cigars for Gerard. I contacted him but he knew very little, only that, very sadly, Robbert had passed away a few years ago. Damnit! Robbert was the mastermind behind the pipe-tobaccos, so I was pretty gutted when I heard that. Then I decided to use an old contact of mine, Louis Bracco Gartner, founder of the Historical Tobacco Museum in Delft and the Tobacco History website. He helped me before with my Diepenveensche Tabaks Centrale blogpost and when I mailed my questions to him he responded with “call me, I know more.” So I phoned him and he turned out to be friends with Gerard de Graaff. I got the mail-address of the latter, contacted him a couple of times and got no response besides a mail which said I had the wrong man and that he did not know anything about pipe-tobacco..

So I phoned Louis again, told him this (according to him the mail-address was correct) and said I only wanted to know where De Graaff house-blend pipe tobaccos were made. “Oh but I know that!” “Ehmm.. Excuse me??” “Yes I know that, the house-bends were made by Dunhill in London.” Wowwww…. I was gobsmacked.. Made by Dunhill.. Hmmm, the 60’s and 70’s ok, Dunhill was still Dunhill, but during the 80’s and 90’s Dunhill blends were made by Murray. Those tobaccos were not highly acclaimed, not just by me (I smoked some) but also by others. The De Graaff blends I smoked dated from the 90’s and were of exceptional quality, way better than Murray-era Dunhill. Then from out of the back of my head I remembered I read something on the Dunhill page of the great late John Loring. Something about blends still being made (in the 80’s and 90’s) at the Dunhill Duke Street shop: One exception to the 1981 blending transfer (from Dunhill to Murray) should be noted. The Dunhill Duke Street shop continued to offer custom blending for the next two decades and as part of that continuation, a small batch blender in London (I suspect with Dunhill associations) continued to produce a number of My Mixture blends available only from the Duke Street shopSo it could very, very well be that that was the way the De Graaff house-blends were made.

Now about those house-blends. I don’t know precisely when the first pipe-tobacco house-blends were made but Rob has to say this: It must have been 1967 when I first visited De Graaff. I remember that in the room where the pipes were there also was a display with pipe tobaccos, sold under their own name. A couple of years ago I luckily had downloaded through the Wayback machine the original house-blend descriptions from the old De Graaff website. Here they are with notes from myself and pictures:

-Abu Riha-
Exceptional aromatic flake with a good deal of Latakia, as well as Turkish, and Red Virginia tobaccos. Excellent composition over a glass of Single-Malt whiskey. I smoked some tins of this one and I can best describe it as the prefect marriage between Smoker’s Haven Krumble Kake and Esoterica’s Penzance. In fact, it looked and tasted so much like those blends that I decided to mail J.F. Germain (and added some pictures) and they responded: These are very interesting pictures, we did not make any tobacco for De Graaff but I understand why you ask the question the tin and the tobacco look like Penzance from years ago.

-Back In Town-
One of our most successful mixtures, an ex-cigarette-smoker assisted in composing this blend. A fine composition of light and dark Virginia’s, Syrian Latakia, Kavalla (Macedonian tobacco) and Carolina Cavendish. A medium mixture with a pleasant flavour. A pleasant flavour indeed! This is one of the De Graaff classics, Syrian latakia, Kavalla, nomnomnom! Perfectly blended, very harmonious.

-Carl’s Own Blend-
Carefully composed by the HOUSE OF GOOD TASTE. Is the choice of a man of FINE TASTE. Born and bred in the THEATRE OF ROYAL TASTE. Full-flavoured mixture on the basis of Virginia tobaccos (Flue Cured East Carolina and Georgia) and a small quantity of Latakia. Sadly I never smoked this blend.

-Coronation-
This blend has been already produced for more than a century for the discerning smoker. Very mild, not burning the tongue. For the morning. I once had a sample of this blend but can’t remember it any more..

-De Kegelbaan-
An unique blend of first class tobaccos: Syrian Latakia, Old Belt Virginia, Brown Cavendish and Turkish tobaccos (Yenidshe). Mild taste, cool, slow burning. This is another big classic, I just finished a tin and only 1 word: exceptional. And not just a couple of times, no every time! The Yenidje is immediately recognizable (for those that have smoked Yenidje Supreme) and sings together nicely with the Syrian Latakia and Virginia’s. The Brown Cavendish mellows it all out a bit. I think that the creator Robbert De Graaff tried to imitate the old Balkan Sobranie with this one if I see the ingredients. And for me he absolutely succeeded!

-Golden Virginia-
Cool, somewhat sweet Virginia Bright Leaf. This is one of the oldest varieties of “flue cured” tobacco. Pleasant taste. I used this blend a couple of times in home-made mixtures. It reminded me a bit of Dunhill Flake, but then in a ribbon-cut. I had several tins but threw them away in a fit of cleaning rage before I could take a picture..

-Latakia-
Jebeli is also called “Abu Riha” (Father of the pleasant smell) by the Syrian population. The flavour is acquired by drying the tobacco over a fire of camel-dung (nice commercial story but not the truth..). Tobacco especially for mixing. And that is precisely where I use it for. When you open a tin, whoaaa… It smells so damn good! Also when you smoke it straight it is very yummie. On the tin it says Mountain Blue Syrian, of course made famous by Balkan Sobranie 759, the stuff of legends.

-No 27-
This tobacco gives evidence of craftsmanship. Composed of the best Golden- and Middle Belt Virginias, Corolina Cavendish, completed with a pinch of Lousiana Perique, for the perfect taste. Especially made for those smokers who prefer a Virginia blend. This tobacco is particularly aromatic and yet mild of taste. The only thing I can remember about this one is “tastes a bit like Dunhill Elizabethan“.

-Perique-
The Perique tobacco is unique, its history is dating back to the Choctaw and Chicasaw Indians. It adds a spicy flavour to all tobacco blends. It is without “bite”, although it is far too heady to be smoked straight. Well, Aleister Crowley did! I use it only for home-blending.

-Seamen’s Club-
Matured dark Virginia. This warm, dark tobacco is mild in taste and can be smoked pure or in mixtures. Unadulterated Red Virginia, I used it many times in home-blending for some Virginia backbone.

-Turkish-
Excellent burning qualities. Suitable for mixing, can also be smoked pure. Extremely mild with sweet undertone. I used this once in home-blending, it tastes like there is some Kavalla in it.

De Graaff also had house-brand pipes. Several Dutch Pipe Smokers members have such a smoking device. They were made in London and later in France. But where? No idea.. So I mailed Louis again, he asked around and came with a name: GDD! Ehrrr, I guess you mean GBD? He wasn’t sure but I now know it was GBD indeed, just look at the picture beside this paragraph. Where the pipes were made in France I sadly do not know..

Of course there is much more to tell about De Graaff, especially their cigars, but since this is a pipe-smoking blog it is enough for now. One last thing, here is a PDF document of 2 interesting old booklets/flyers from De Graaff, in Dutch.. I would like to thank all the forum members and people who have helped me and made this blogpost possible!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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 25-9-2017: 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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Pleasures of life in Belgium 2017

Shitty weather…

Halfway March it was time again for the annual meeting of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) at Wuustwezel (Belgium). Normally for me this always marks the beginning of spring. You know, sunshine, flowers, birds and bees, girls in short skirts etc. But when I awoke the sky was dark-grey with rain coming out of it and it stayed that way throughout the day, even in Belgium. Argh… This year about 60 people attended and like the previous time Matron, a Scotch-man and Florian, a German, both from the (in)famous Kaervaig Pipe Club, were there.

Mark on the left

In the morning I drove to Deventer to pick up Mark at the train station. When I had parked there I got a message from him. He had to go for a no. 2 when he would come out the train so it could take a while. Well, when nature calls you have to answer right? Surprisingly quick he came walking to the car. “Damned, there was a line where I wanted to change money and there is a long row before the toilet. But I know a McDonald’s just before we get on the highway, let’s go there.” Not wanting Mark to explode in my car I put the pedal to the medal and in no time we had reached our destination. While Mark was inside unleashing hell I texted Ed, who was waiting on the carpool spot further along the route where we were supposed to meet him. “Mark is doing a no. 2 at the McDonald’s in Deventer, you know he likes to take his time so it could be a while until we get to you.” But Ed, who was waiting in the rain, had no patience. “I am not going to wait in this shitty weather, I am coming to you, stay there.” So when Mark came back to my car with a face of relief I said we had to wait for Ed. Luckily he got here fast so we could begin the journey to Belgium. The only sad part was that Johnny, who normally is also driving along with us, could not make it due to private circumstances.

Frikandel XXL 🙂

After a pleasant ride we arrived in Wuustwezel. Like always the first thing was to stop at the local liquor store. This time I did not need much. Last year I had bought so many beers that I still had a reasonable stock in my cellar. The only thing I wanted to buy was some bottles of Piedbœuf Brune, a table beer of only 1.5%. Not because I like to drink it, but I use it to make hachee. After that we went for something to eat. Throughout the years I discovered that the snack-bars in Wuustwezel have a kind of rotating system about who is open on Saturday afternoon. So this time snack-bar Manneke Friet was the one we could go to. Only thing, the tiny place had no room where you could sit and eat, you could only order food. Which resulted in the snack-bar being crammed with lots of hungry pipe-smokers. I choose the long frikandel XXL with mayonnaise, curry and onions. We took the food to the location of the meeting, the Bellekeshoeve, where we could eat it. When we arrived and I unwrapped the frikandel I immediately got a friendly pat on my shoulder from pipe-maker Meindert who said with a wink: “You will keep your thick head if you eat that stuff!”

Freek on the left

When I had finished the long frikandel I was looking forward to a glass of delicious dark Vlaamsche Leeuw beer. But to my astonishment it was not available. I looked at Jan, the organizer, and he apologetically shrugged. His supplier could not get the mouthwatering brew. So I opted for another beer instead. It were all Belgian beers so in essence I could not pick wrong. I then bumped into Freek. Earlier on the forum he offered a jar of Tinder Box pure latakia for free. Since I was almost out of blending latakia I responded. Since I was the first I got it! The generosity of some people knows no bounds. Throughout the years Klaas gifted me quite a lot. Samples of Balkan Sobranie, Upper Ten tobaccos, De Graaff tobaccos etc. Now he had a tin of John Patton’s Latakia Junction for me, thank you very much!

Me, matron and Jan

And still the Pipe-God was not finished blessing me. Matron called the Fuming Four and Florian together, all members of the Kearvaig Pipe Club. Who also belongs to that exclusive society of fine gentlemen is Bob Gregory, the master-blender from Samuel Gawith/Gawith & Hoggarth. He had given Matron some tins to divide under the KPC members. They were packed per 2 so you could not see what tins you got. I choose… Wisely! When I opened my pack I saw a tin of St. James Flake and Kendal Cream Deluxe Flake. I have never smoked the latter so I am very curious! Afterwards I had some time to chat with Matron, who surprisingly knows a bit of Dutch. Turned out that in time he still looked like a young god he had a girlfriend from the Dutch province of Friesland. When I walked around a bit I was stopped by stone-cutter Martin Romijn. He showed me his new shirt which was pretty hilarious, and beautiful! On it was an image of a pipe-smoking weasel. The story behind it is: the town where the meeting is held is called Wuustwezel. If you roughly translate that to English it is something like “fierce weasel”. Hence the picture on the shirt.

My François Dal tomato shaped pipe

Suddenly Nick called for attention. Like the last years he had been busy with the forum pipe and he wanted to unveil the new pipe-maker. It is… Drumroll… Bruno Nuttens! He is a French pipe-maker (with Belgian roots) and is going to make a cutty shaped pipe with a beautiful silver coloured ring. Since my pipe-cabinet is getting a bit too small I don’t know yet of I will be ordering this one. But it is a beauty for a good price, that’s for sure. One of the reasons that my pipe-cabinet has almost no more room walked around in Wuustwezel: maître pipier and pipe-maker François Dal. Since some time he is a member of the PRF forum and he continues to impress us with his craft. He brought some of his pipes along and I immediately fell in love with one of them: a tomato shaped beauty with flawless cross-cut and flamed briar. I smoked it several times now and I can honestly say it already belongs to the top smoking part of my collection.

No one can smoke a cigar as tasty as Ed

Sometimes I looked around and thought I had gone to the wrong meeting, a cigar smoker one. Many folks around me were smoking the phallus-shaped rolled tobacco leaves. Don’t get me wrong, I like them very much, especially in the summer, but on a pipe-smoker meeting.. Mwah.. At the end of the afternoon the delicious mandatory sausage rolls were served. I am a big fan of the Brabants worstenbrood but these one are also very yummie! Slowly it got dark outside and the Bellekeshoeve quieted down a bit. I sat at a table with d’Artagnan and had just fetched some tobacco from a jar I brought with me. As a mean of experiment he added a bit of the Tinder Box latakia. I did the same and.. Great! How easy it sometimes is to blend a decent tobacco..

Before we knew it it was time to go home. We almost were the last ones left so we did not have to say goodbye to many people. The ride home was pretty silent from my side, I was tired. I had spoken to so many people.. But it had been utter fun! I would like to thank Jan for organizing the whole, the bar-crew for serving us delicious drinks and Ed and Mark for the conversations on the road. By the way, Mark made a brilliant and funny photo-bomb! As usual I was oblivious to it all..

All pictures were made by Dirk, Klaas, Nick, Marielle, Roelof, Thomas and myself.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.