Tag: pipe tobacco

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!!!

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!

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Smooth Smyrna, a John Cotton story

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

The John Cotton re-makes

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

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

  • Edinburgh map of 1774

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* EDIT 25-9-2017: 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.

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Let’s celebrate the return of Bengal Slices

The Celebrated Bengal Slices © GL Pease

The Celebrated Bengal Slices © GL Pease

Sometimes I think I was a pipe-smoker in a former life. You know, that sometimes you look at an old tobacco tin and you could swear you have seen it before, that it just speaks to you. That happened to me in my early pipe-smoking days when I browsed through the site of GL Pease and stumbled upon an article about The Celebrated Bengal Slices. I saw a dreamy picture of a classy, black rectangular tin with red letters and flags and even without looking at the text I thought: Woww.. That tobacco must be amazing! Of course, after reading the article I was disappointed because the blend was no longer made. Luckily, after some searching on e-bay I found a still sealed tin for a good price. I immediately bought it and when the postman delivered the package it did not take long for me to crack open the tin, fill up a pipe and smoke it. To be honest I was slightly disappointed, it tasted a bit flat and dull. Maybe my expectations were too high. Besides I saw that the tin was not made by the House of Sobranie but by Danish company A&C Petersen. Bummer.. I stashed away the tin (had never heard of mason jars back then) until some weeks ago when I was able to buy the latest incarnation of The Celebrated Bengal Slices. Of course I had to compare the both. But first some history.

Sobranie made Bengal Slices © Neill Archer Roan

Sobranie made Bengal Slices © Neill Archer Roan

It all started in the early 1950’s when the founder of Smokers’ Haven, Joseph Zieve, came up with an idea for a new, revolutionary tobacco. He was thinking of a full English blend that was cut, pressed and then cut into slices. That way, you could easily rub it out with only one hand and fill your pipe. It also had to be so compressed that you could carry a weeks supply on you without a big bulge in your pocket. Smokers’ Haven Krumble Kake was born as a blend and as a style (cut) of tobacco with the help of the legendary house of Sobranie which produced it. A couple decades later, in 1977 to be precise, when Krumble Kake was a huge success in the USA the Sobranie house decided to bring their own version on the market. They replicated Krumble Kake but made it unique by the addition of a special topping. It even was whispered that the new blend, called The Celebrated Bengal Slices, was the pressed and sliced version of the fabled Balkan Sobranie Smoking Mixture. But despite that the blend became only moderately popular. It was always eclipsed by the real stars of the Sobranie house: the better known and more widely available Balkan Sobranie mixtures.

A&C Petersen made Bengal Slices

A&C Petersen made Bengal Slices

In 1980 Gallaher took over the Sobranie trademarks. The Krumble Kake recipe and all of the equipment to make it was transferred over to J. F. Germain & Son who produced it for Smokers’ Haven. The production of Bengal Slices was transferred to the Manchester Tobacco Company (MTC) but was almost directly discontinued. However, the blend made a first comeback! Apparently Bengal Slices actually was a house blend prepared by the House of Sobranie for its jointly owned subsidiary James B. Russell Inc. (a well known tobacco importer / distributor). As such it was not a part of the 1980 transaction with Gallaher. James B. Russell Inc. owned the Bengal Slices trademark and retained control of the brand (I thank Jon Guss for this information). So in 1991 Danish company A&C Petersen began producing the blend for James B. Russell Inc. It maintained something of a cult following but it was too different from the original to really make an impact on sales. In 1999, possibly due to the impending acquisition of A&C Petersen by Orlik/Scandinavian Tobacco Group in 2000, The Celebrated Bengal Slices was discontinued, never to be seen again…

The Standard Tobacco Company made Bengal Slices

The Standard Tobacco Company made Bengal Slices

…Until 10 July 2015 when a message appeared on several pipe forums: “We are pleased to announce that the Board of Directors of The Standard Tobacco Company of Pennsylvania, today at 9:30 am executed the instrument conveying to Meier & Dutch the right to manufacture and distribute, under Standard Tobacco’s trademarks, War Horse, John Cotton’s blends, and Bengal Slices.” 3 friends with a passion for pipe-smoking, Dan, Simon, and Roger started the Standard Tobacco Company after a long evening of too much sake and sushi in the autumn of 2014. They talked about resurrecting long-dead trademarks of revered British blends. At first with a laugh and not really serious but later they began to ponder. What if… So with help of other friends they acquired the abandoned trademarks, unearthed lost recipes, investigated and chemically analysed vintage tins and interviewed people whose memories held the secrets of the old tobaccos. At a pipe-club meeting Dan asked master-blender Russ Ouellette if he was willing to help make the blends, and he was. Before Russ had created a tribute to Bengal Slices, Fusilier’s Ration, released in 2012. The Standard Tobacco project provided such a wealth of new research that it confirmed that his tribute blend was surprisingly accurate. With only some subtle refinements and improvements the new Celebrated Bengal Slices was ready to hit the shelves.

Bengal Slices TinPackage/tin:
A&C Petersen Bengal Slices:
Here the same rectangular tin is used as the old Sobranie made Bengal Slices. Only difference is that the tin itself is not black and on the label is says “Made in Denmark exclusively for James B Russell Inc.” instead of “Made in England exclusively for James B Russell Inc.”. I just love the artwork, being a Desktop Publisher I can really appreciate it. Because of the simple use of black, gold and red in the letters and flags the tin has a downright classy look. There is no further description on the tin.
Standard tobacco Bengal Slices: A round European style tin is used. A bit of a let down for me because for me the rectangular tin just has a more nostalgic feel. But they made up for that with the exquisite faithfully reproduced label. Amazing job well done! Because of the relief printing the images and texts pop out of the black background even more. On the backside is a sticker with amongst other things this description: Bengal Slices is a crumble cake made of Cyprian Latakia, outstanding Orientals, Bright Virginia and a touch of Black Cavendish, finished with a subtle top note.

IMG_4053Contents/Ingredients/cut:
A&C Petersen Bengal Slices: Upon opening the tin you see a gold paper in which the neatly stacked slices are wrapped. It looks organized, a feast for the eye, feels like you are unwrapping a box of delicious bonbons. The slices themselves are almost black with few colours protruding. I am not sure about the ingredients but I believe they are dark Virginias, black cavendish and quite a lot of Cyprian latakia. If there are orientals in the blend (which I doubt) it surely is not much. The cut is a classic crumble cake like Krumble Kake and Penzance.
Standard tobacco Bengal Slices: I was a bit disappointed when I opened the tin. A standard white wrapping paper with a round black insert upon loose random sized slices of presses tobacco. It just looked a bit messy compared to the neatly stacked contents of the A&C Petersen tin. The slices are more colourful and thicker than the old version. A joy to look at if only they were a bit more uniform. The ingredients are bright toasted Virginias, orientals, a bit of black cavendish and Cyprian latakia. The cut is a crumble cake like Seattle Pipe Club’s Mississippi River.

noseSmell from the tin:
A&C Petersen Bengal Slices: A dark, earthy, musty, leathery smell rises from the tin and that is pretty much it. I had to rehydrate the slices with the moist-towel-over-a-bowl technique so perhaps a part of the original topping was lost.
Standard tobacco Bengal Slices: This tobacco surely has a unique trademark smell. Aside from the leathery, woodsy latakia I detect a topping which, according to my nose, contains liquorice, chocolate, anise and a hint of vanilla. I can’t really compare it to any other blend I sniffed at. Only perhaps HU tobacco’s (excellent) RaiKo ChocoLat comes a bit close.

011Taste:
A&C Petersen Bengal Slices: When I lit the first pipe after the rehydration I almost thought the towel I used contained traces of soap. I got a faint floral / Lakeland note! Yuck! Yeahyeah, I am not a fan of Lakeland tobaccos ok? Later, when I re-read the GL pease article, I saw that the old Sobranie made Bengal Slices had such a floral taste so I guess that in that retrospect the Danish version was spot on. Once I overcame the soapy note I started to enjoy the tobacco a bit. A well balanced, dark, creamy and smooth blend wit not much going on. But in the second half of the bowl I began to lose interest. The basis taste stayed the same and I found the tobacco becoming monotonous. Damn, I really missed some oriental firework. With some effort I forced myself to fully smoke the pipe. Purely to determine if my first impression was right I smoked several bowls more, each time I came to the same conclusion: not my cup of tea.
Standard tobacco Bengal Slices: I first smoked this Bengal Slices version in the car while driving back home late in the evening. It was almost magical. The roads were quiet, the moon was high and bright, the music in the car slow and moody and I had one of my best first impressions of a tobacco ever. Upon lighting the bowl there immediately was thick, fat and creamy smoke coming off the pipe. The soft latakia in combination with the topping had an incense like quality, it tasted superb. Going further through the bowl I noticed that this was not a roller-coaster blend with different tastes at each puff, the flavour profile did not change much. You just got some leather and wood from the latakia, some sweet from the Virginias and black cavendish and some sour and spice from the orientals. All working in perfect harmony. After smoking more bowls I also detected a BBQ flavour sometimes weaving through the smoke (especially in the last part) and hints of white chocolate. In my opinion the strong point of the new Bengal Slices is the exquisite balance and great basic trademark flavour.

Miscellaneous:
A&C Petersen Bengal Slices: When I finally had dehydrated the slices they were fine to handle. Crumbling was easy, smoking also. Oh, this also goes for the Standard Tobacco slices, do not tamp the tobacco too hard when smoking. Otherwise you get a big chunk of ash on the bottom which clogs up the pipe. Nicotine level medium and no tongue bite.
Standard tobacco Bengal Slices: The tobacco was at first a bit on the dry side for me. Or I am just used to smoking wet.. Anyway, I could not help rehydrating the slices a little bit. Crumbling the blend is easy and that also goes for smoking it. In my opinion this one smokes a bit better than the old version. Nicotine level medium and only in a few pipes I had a tiny bit of tongue bite.

thumbsRoom-note:
A&C Petersen Bengal Slices: Ellen was mostly already at sleep when I smoked this one, but my nose said mwoah… Not too bad for a latakia blend.
Standard tobacco Bengal Slices: Here the Ellen-meter says: mwoah. She does not really like it (it contains latakia, duh!) but the smell is bearable.

moneyPrice:
A&C Petersen Bengal Slices: I bought the tin on e-bay 2 June 2011 and paid $26 (± €23) for it. Pretty good huh?
Standard tobacco Bengal Slices: At 4noggins you pay $12.79 (± €11,70) for a 1.75 oz. tin.

IMG_4057Conclusion:
A&C Petersen Bengal Slices: To be honest I am glad I don’t have to smoke this one any more. I don’t like the floral note, I don’t like the monotonous taste. like I said before, not my thing.
Standard tobacco Bengal Slices: I love this new incarnation of The Celebrated Bengal Slices. I smoked a lot of bowls of it and each time I was looking forward to the experience. My only comment is the shape of the tin, I rather see the beautifully elegant rectangular tin and the rough uneven slices. People at Lane Ltd. (manufacturer of the blend), can you please make neat slices of similar size and put them in a rectangular tin? The eye also wants something, let’s say it adds to the smoking experience. And that experience is already superb considering the young age of my tin. I can see the blend age very well so I definitely will stock up on this one. Standard Tobacco Company of Pennsylvania, thank you!

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Inter-Tabac 2015 impression

Entrance to the Inter Tabac

Entrance to the Inter Tabac

September 19th it was once again time for one of my annual highlights: The Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. For those of you who missed the blogposts I made of the visit the last couple of years; the Inter-Tabac is the leading and biggest trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. This year there were more than 500 exhibitors from over 50 countries who presented themselves in 5 huge exhibition halls. Renowned companies from all over the world presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This includes cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shop equipment and spirits. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers. Luckily Fred, now mainly one of the retailers of Big Ben, was willing to drag me along once again. And I was not the only one, he also had asked Rob (forum name Robbie-San) to come along. Which was pretty convenient for me because I could drive together with him.

IMG_3756

New Peterson tobaccos

After a smooth journey we arrived at the Westfalenhallen in Dortmund. Fred texted me, he already was inside waiting for us. When Rob and I met him he was in the process of ordering some miniature pipes meant for a short smoke. A funny looking partly retractable thing but ehmm.. not for me. What was for me was the stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group where pipe-brands like Winslow, Peterson, Dunhill and Butz Choquin are shown. Once again Poul Winslow was not there but we bumped in to him later. Fortunately I was just smoking one of his pipes which he immediately recognized. We shook hands and I thanked him for doing what he does best: the making of most excellent smoking pipes. Back at the stand I shook my head in disbelief that Butz Choquin still had the same bright fluorescent yellow and dark blue pipes with yellow spots. As an employee at a marketing department I wonder at which group of people those awful creations are marketed. Well, perhaps it is also a case of “tastes differ”.. Being a big fan of everything that has to do with Ireland Rob already was talking with one of the Peterson salesmen. Apparently they had some new tobaccos: Founder’s Choice (the re-release of the successful 2015  St. Patricks Day tobacco), Signature Flake (in the vein of Capstan) and Original 1865 Mixture (a classic English blend). Dunhill had some special pipes with a silver cap in the form of a bulldog. Really beautiful but also really expensive..

The new

The new “Curvy” pipes of Gubbels

The next stop was the stand of Dutch pipe-factory Gubbels, makers of brands like Big Ben, Hilson and Bentley. This year they had an innovative new pipe: a short reverse calabash named “Curvy“. Not my kind of model (once again tastes differ huh?) but I recognize and applaud the will of Gubbels to innovate and be different than the rest, to think outside the box. And they were well rewarded, I heard they had so many orders that they could barley cope with the production. For me there also was another reason to visit the Gubbels stand. I am busy again with a new forum tobacco for the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum. This one will be made by the immortal house of Samuel Gawith but… The Netherlands had no importer for the brand. HAD, because Gubbels almost certainly reached an agreement with the old British brand to import their wonderful tobaccos. Elbert Gubbels jr. was very happy about the coming collaboration and of course Fred and I added fuel to his enthusiastic flames.

Rob talking with miss Behrens

Rob talking with miss Behrens

While walking the appetite for a chair, something to drink and to smoke arose so like last year we headed towards the stand of Dan Tobacco. We were warmly greeted and the lovely daughter of director Heiko Behrens immediately asked what we wanted to drink. She even made quite an effort to arrange some earl grey tea for Rob. They had 3 new offerings: one I forgot (sorry!), one which smelled like winegums (not my cup of tea) which name is Tumblin’ Dice and one with a bergamot flavour called “Jirsa, magister Kelly’s mixture”, interesting! So we all filled our pipes with the Jirsa blend and to be honest, it surprised me in a positive way. Last year I smoked a then new mixture called Choo Choo Train and I did not like it much. It bit me like Ellen on a wild night and just.. No.. The Jirsa blend behaved very well and halfway the bowl the subtle but clear taste of bergamot prevailed. Miss Behrens so much liked to see us enjoying the new mixture that we were all gifted a tin! Besides that she made small sample-bags of all kinds of tobacco for us to enjoy after the fair. Suddenly Michael Apitz appeared, responsible for creating many of the aromatic tobaccos of DTM. And a walking encyclopaedia of everything that has to do with pipes and tobacco. He sat down with us and immediately an interesting conversation followed about how to store your tobaccos for a long time. Apparently he now and then turns a tin upside down and let it stay like that for a while to evenly distribute the little oxygen inside it. Also an older man joined us for a short while. A real character with vocal chords which have seen lots of tobacco and spirits. “I am the least known pipe-maker of the world!” he croaked. He had brought some pipes of his own making with him and showed them. “They are rejects, I only smoke those, never the ones I sell.” And even those rejects looked amazingly beautiful. He had a straight grain which he had been smoking for 20 years which had a wonderful brown patina. And I still don’t know his name..

IMG_3770We had gotten so hungry so we went outside looking for the stand that sold heavenly grilled mega-burgers last year. And it was not there! The bastards! Leaving me standing there with an empty belly! Fred and Rob gently guided me back inside while I kept on swearing in German.. Donnerwetter! Apparently some of the catering had moved to a (non-smoking…) part of one of the halls. We found a stand there that also sold burgers but sadly they were not as big and tasty as those of last year. And the price! 9 euros for a double cheese burger! Grrrrr… And on top of that some Chinese bloke sneakily tried to nick my chair while I was waiting in the queue. My flaming eyes communicated the Chinese words for “keep your f***ing hands off!”..

IMG_3773Rob loves Savinelli pipes so that was the next stand we went to. He had a malfunctioning mouthpiece and told that that to the friendly saleslady. Of course this was not a problem for her, she told Rob to send the pipe to Italy with specific instructions and then all would be fixed. Savinelli also had some really cool looking pipes with a silver skull ring that I really liked. So back home I looked up the prices and ehmm.. Nevermind.. Waaaaay out of my budget.. 1500 – 1700 euros… They also had pipes in the shape and colours of a football. No not a soccer-ball, a football. Not really my cup of tea.

IMG_3780After seeing a lot of other Italian pipe brands we ended up at the stand of BriarWorks International. This year they are making the 2016 Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum forum-pipe. Very nice folks at the stand and while I held the forum-pipe model in my hands I slightly regretted not ordering one. We moved on besides stands of Mr. Brog and Chacom. One of Rob’s favourite pipes is a Chacom so he thanked the salesman for making such excellent pipes and in return the salesman thanked Rob for buying them. We shuffled past the stand of Samuel Gawith, I had to speak with Bob Gregory about the coming forum tobacco but alas, he was busy making advances on an Asian looking woman who apparently was interested in his.. Tobaccos.. As always the space of the stand was shared with Ian Walker from Northern Briars. While chatting away Rob pulled out his beloved Chacom and sighed: “I wish I had another one..” Being the businessman that he also is Ian Walker grabbed his sketchbook and began drawing the Chacom from different angles. When he was done he named an absolutely reasonable price and asked for Rob’s email. I wonder what will come out of this.

IMG_3791Like every year German pipe-brand Vauen had made an innovative pipe. Last year they had a black diamond shaped pipe fittingly called “Diamond“ Now their newest creation was called “Spin“. A pipe that at first looks like a big joint but because of a rotating bowl can be used normally. A nice feature, but in my personal opinion noting special. What was special once were the Lord of the Rings pipes made by Vauen. Sadly they lost the rights to use the LOTR name so instead they founded the “Auenland” series. Really good looking pipes, absolutely, but I have been searching for a LOTR Bilbo model for years and I can’t find one for a decent price. So every year I ask the Vauen salesmen the same thing: Can you please bring out the Bilbo model under another name? And each year the polite answer is the same: no..

Brian Levine and myself

Brian Levine and myself

At the Mac Baren stand I had 2 things to do: sample a bit of their new tobaccos and meet PipesMagazine.com radio-show host Brian Levine who did an interview with me some time ago. Tobacco-expert Per Jensen was busy with a retailer so I looked around if I saw Brian and found him at the entrance. He did not immediately recognize me, in real life I am much better looking than on my pictures *ahemmm*, but when he did he warmly greeted me. We all sat down and a girl provided drinks. We talked a bit about my blog, I showed him my old Samuel McLardy pipe and we just had a great time, Brian really has a wonderfully wicked sense of humour. Gradually the conversation drifted toward their new tobaccos: HH Pure Virginia and HH Bold Kentucky. Since Per Jensen was still busy Brian asked me to wait, hurried to the side of the stand and came back with a tin of HH Pure Virginia and HH Bold Kentucky. Those were for me! Thanks Brian! We talked further and the subject came on the new brands Mac Baren recently acquired. Amongst those brands is a classic Dutch one: Amphora. So Brian asked if I would like to have some pouches of it. Ehhr, sure, yes!! Thanks again! Apparently with the new brands Mac Baren also acquired some nasal snuff tobaccos. They did not even know that until just before the Inter Tabac so they had to quickly buy some of the snuff in England. The last couple of months I now and then sniff some nasal snuff and Rob also likes to do that very much. So we took it upon ourselves to test the new additions to the Mac Baren product range. Must have been a funny but perhaps disturbing sight to see a couple of full grown men snorting away like there was no tomorrow. When Per Jensen finally shortly joined us I dared to ask him if it was possible to visit and see the factory. Normally they don’t do that but if I mail him far enough in advance it surely could be done! Of course we thoroughly thanked Brian and Per before we left the stand. Great guys!

Wallenstein pipes

Wallenstein pipes

Inside the posh and luxurious stand of Kohlhase & Kopp it was busy. We had a quick look at some pipes, they had a nice rack of Wallensteins, but for the rest there was nothing special to find. So we decided to see if Bob Gregory was available at the Samuel Gawith stand, and he was. He did not have much time, the next appointment was already breathing in our necks, but I did not need long to explain to him what I would like with the forum tobacco. To him it all sounded good, it all could be done. Great! He gave me his email and before we shook hands and said goodbye Rob managed to secure a tin of Celtic Talisman snuff. Talking about snuff, we even saw at a stand that they had the famous snuff offerings from the renowned  Dutch snuff-mills. Cool! But more about those in a coming blog.

Rob and the girls

Rob and the girls

After all the pipe-smoking and sniffing we all felt like trying out a water-pipe. The espresso water-pipe company of last year also was present so we decided to sit down there. We were the only customers at that moment so the girls were glad to see us and fired up the shishas. Fred once again had troubles to get the water-pipe going but Rob and I were happily puffing away. We tried all kinds of flavours but both of us liked the regular apple-taste best. One of the girls asked if we regularly smoked shisha, no, but we do smoke pipe often! She got a bit intrigued so Rob pulled out his pipes and tried to impress the (poor) girl. He even got the girls so far they posed with him for a picture, the lucky bastard! Oh yes, the girls.. Last years I very much enjoyed the sights of scantily dressed ladies trying to promote products or just sitting in front of stands to attract customers. But now it seemed that there was some kind of dress code.. Most girls were very neatly dressed, no cleavage whatsoever, no ultra-mini skirts. Only one (water-pipe) stand had girls that showed some more flesh, but still.. So vendors of the Inter Tabac, next year I hope I can feast my eyes once again on pipes, tobacco and scantily dressed girls! Thank you!

image21Of course the day ended too soon, just before 6 o’clock the loudspeakers told us to head to the exits. Brian had asked if we wanted to drink a beer with him at his hotel but to be honest I forgot the name of it… Next year Brian! Besides that we all were very hungry so we took off in search of a restaurant. We did not wanted to eat something in Dortmund but in a smaller town (restaurants are often cheaper there). So we at random picked a town when driving on the highway. It was called Herne and when we got there we went to the first decent looking place to eat, which proved to be a Greek restaurant. And an excellent one! Good beer, lots of meat for a reasonable price, just perfect! All by all I was at home precisely at midnight. I can’t remember hitting the bed but I sure had some nice tobacco dreams.

All pictures were made by Rob and myself.

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Marvellous Motzek

Herbert Motzek

Herbert Motzek

Like I said in my last blogpost “Luxury tobacco from Lauenburg” this year the destination for the summer holiday of Ellen and myself was Germany. Of course I planned to visit several tobacco-shops and the number 1 on my list was the store of Herbert Motzek in Kiel, one of the major maritime centres of Germany. With a lot of you the name “Motzek” will ring a bell.. Motzek.. Motzek.. Ah! From the Strang-Curly (rope-curly)! I first heard of the existence of that tobacco from Dutch pipe smokers forum member and walking pipe and tobacco encyclopaedia Huub, who has been smoking it, to his utter delight, for years. But that excellent tobacco is not the only thing Motzek has to offer..

Tobacco tins stacked up to the ceiling

Tobacco tins stacked up to the ceiling

The store is located at a busy street with lots of traffic and in front of it beside the door the Dannebrog, the Danish flag, proudly flutters. The signal that the business of Motzek, which he operates with his from origin Danish wife Lizzie (hence the flag) since 1975, is open. Inside the store the sound of buzzing traffic becomes even less than a background noise and a relaxed atmosphere prevails. Smooth jazz music is playing through the shop and behind the counter the tobacco tins are stacked up to the ceiling. As soon as I saw Herr Motzek I immediately began to ramble about the Strang-Curly and ask him questions. “Easy, easy! Time enough, do you want some coffee?” Ah! The sign of an old-world tobacconist. We were placed in some soft chairs and the hot dark liquid was served. Motzek sat opposite us and took a good look at me. “An old habit, when a new customer comes in, I always ask myself, what pipe would probably look good with him. But please, fill your pipe and smoke something!”

IMG_3276For me the shop has one big plus, cigarettes are nowhere to be seen! Motzek fulfils the wishes of smokers who smoke for their enjoyment. In 1978 he received a license for (pipe) tobacco production (recognizable by German tax number 12502) and is the only tobacconist in Germany who produces his own tobacco. Well, that is not entirely true, Herr Motzek does not produce tobacco himself. In a factory in a small town just a couple of kilometres outside of Kiel the entire range of Motzek tobaccos is made by his wife Lizzie. “She has acquired loads of knowledge at seminars and trainings, that is why I leave the mixing to her. However, for the final end control I take over again because I want to exactly know what I am selling.” In addition to the finest cigars from around the world in one of the largest walk-in humidors of Schleswig-Holstein, the shop holds a wide range of pipes. Currently about 1000 pieces. But there is something special. Not only can you buy pipes from well known manufacturers like Winslow (a personal friend of Motzek), Peterson, and Vauen but you can also purchase a real “Motzek”. Herbert Motzek is the only pipe maker in Kiel and one of only a few in Schleswig-Holstein.

3Together with the opening of his business Motzek learned the craft of pipemaking from Viggo Nielsen in Danish town of Faaborg. “I did not only wanted to sell pipes, I also wanted to know how they are made.” says the trained stained-glass painter (his original profession). The thought behind it was originally that Motzek could offer his customers a low-cost repair service without long waits. From that the pipe making has grown. “At some point I was ready, so I dared to offer my pipes for sale”. 6 to 10 hours, from start to finish and nearly 80 individual steps it takes to produce a pipe in his small workshop. Motzek manufactures about 40 to 50 pipes per year, mostly on order. “First the pipe should smoke technically perfect, second comes the design that can extra delight a customer.” says the 69 year old. Even if the design is of secondary importance, the fact is that the pipes must smoke well and look good. So each piece of briar Motzek takes into his own hands in order to “read it”. To look closely at the wood and its grain before going to work. And sometimes it brings out so much that it is difficult for him to sell the pipe. “I have a pipe that I am working on for almost 13 years. That is perhaps my masterpiece. It has a perfect birds eye but I dare not properly complete it, because there is a small chance it might break..” Motzek gets a lot of recognition and positive reactions from his customers. For him the joy of a customer when he smokes a Motzek-made pipe or tobacco means almost more than the money he gets for his work.

4When asked if he had famous people in his store he nods. “Oh yes, Sigfried Lenz, Vanessa Mae, Herbert Wehner, Vicky Leandros, Blacky Fuchsberger… Motzek thinks and sighs wistfully. “I had so many customers in this store. Especially creative people took on pipe smoking. The looking into the smoke, slowly sipping the pipe, the thought and consideration process. That has inspired artists.” says Motzek philosophically. In Berlin’s trendy pubs young hipsters transport pipes in their jute bags back and forth. But whether this trend also goes for the rest of the country? Kiel certainly has not been reached yet. Motzek is increasingly relying on his regular customers. “Every time pipe smoking is a new trend, but it is also politically incorrect. Why do many public persons smoke in secret? The times when Helmut Kohl (former Chancellor of Germany) was still to be seen with his pipe on the election poster are long gone. Once the pipe was a symbol of reliability and dependability. Today society is health conscious and keeps on doing fitness into old age. The pipe does not fit with that.” With his 69 years Herbert Motzek thinks harder and harder about quitting. Only one problem, “I can let go so badly.”

Me and Motzek

Me and Motzek

The fact that a visit to the store for customers is not “just” shopping almost goes without saying. Things are not “just” bought. There is conversation, there is smoking going on and there are discussions on equal terms. But many customers Motzek does not know personally, a sign of the times. Even on the Internet he sells his wares to customers throughout Germany, The Netherlands, England, the Mediterranean region and several other countries around the world even as far away as Dubai. Asked about the health hazards of smoking Herbert Motzek responds with a sly smile with a quote from Swiss-German physician Paracelsus (1493 – 1541): “Dosis facit venenum. All things are poison. Only the dose makes that a thing is not a poison.”

At the shop I bought two of Motzek’s house-tobaccos. Of course the well known Strang-Curly but also an English blend: Herbst 84. I already knew the Strang-Curly, I received samples from forum-member Smoking Rob from both the cut and uncut version for which I am still grateful! Here is a review of the two blends.

motzek_packagingPackage/tin description (translated from German):
Strang-Curly:
A strang (rope), a speciality, rare to find nowadays: fine virginias filled with dark burley are spun together with a spicy but mild perique. This speciality is for connoisseurs, we deliver it cut or uncut. The strang is packed in a large sealed zip-lock bag of 100 gram.
Herbst 84: The classic amongst the English mixtures. Fine oriental tobaccos, bright light and red virginias are rounded off with spicy latakia. The slow cool burn guarantees a high smoking pleasure.
The mixture is packed in 50 gram pouches and sealed zip lock bags of 100 and 200 gram.

IMG_3667Contents/cut:
Strang-Curly:
Virginias, burley and perique. It is a rope tobacco which is a delight to look at. In general the core of the rope is a bit darker with lighter leaves around it with traces of tobacco-stems in between.
Herbst 84: Bright light and red virginias, oriental tobaccos and latakia. Remarkably Motzek still has some Syrian latakia, although not much, only 20 kg is left from his once large stock. “I can’t get it any more these days..” he sighs. When I asked if Syrian latakia was used in Herbst 84 he was unsure. “My wife better knows the exact ingredients of the blends. But if it is in, it only will be a couple of strands..” It is a ribbon cut with a beautiful presentation of light and dark tobacco strands.

noseSmell from the pouch/bag:
Strang-Curly: An earthy but sweet and inviting smell comes from the strang. Hay and figs with a slightly dark nutty undertone are pleasing my spoiled nostrils.
Herbst 84: When I opened the pouch I immediately thought that the name of the blend was well chosen. It brings forth a pleasant, earthy and slightly salty peaty smell that is strongly reminiscent of autumn leaves, forest floor and freshly harvested fields. In my head it smelled like a mix of Samuel Gawith’s Squadron Leader and Pipes & Cigar’s Magnum Opus. Needles to say, my anticipation grew.

011Taste:
Strang-Curly: A few puffs after lighting the pipe-bowl the mildly sweet virginias come forth upon a broad earthy, yeasty and slightly nutty layer. The flavour is complex but almost unbelievable very well balanced. It grabs your attention and basically stays the same throughout the bowl. I would almost say it has a signature taste, once you smoked it you can recognize it blindfolded a next time. Towards the middle of the bowl the flavours broaden and become a thoroughly enjoyable symphony of natural tobaccos. In short I would say, think of toasted bread with some walnuts on it and a small splash of honey. I can’t really detect the perique but I guess it adds some zest to the strang. At the end of the bowl an ashy taste begins to appear. A messenger that the fun is almost over. Oh, I very much recommend the uncut Strang-Curly as opposed to the cut version. The taste is just, fuller, better, more intense.
Herbst 84: What can I say, like the strang this one is also unbelievable very well balanced. The smoky latakia stays in the background throughout the bowl together with the orientals and both support the dominant and sweet virginias in perfect harmony. Mid-bowl the floral orientals pop out now and then which provide interesting counter-flavours to the virginias. Towards the end of the bowl the well orchestrated blend gradually fades out into grey ash. Like with the smell I also had to think of Samuel Gawith’s Squadron Leader and Pipes & Cigar’s Magnum Opus when smoking it.

IMG_3664Miscellaneous:
Strang-Curly: The strang is wetter than Ellen when she sees me coming out of the shower.. I am used to tobaccos that are pretty moist (hello Samuel Gawith flakes) but this one requires some serious drying time. At least 2 to 3 hours. Or less if you nick the hair-dryer of your friend/girlfriend. I tend to rub out the cut coins, it makes packing the bowl easier. Nicotinewise the strang is medium, it won’t kick you off your feet but will satisfy your cravings.
Herbst 84: The blend packs and burns perfectly. Although it dries out pretty fast in the pouch. Motzek refuses to use hygroscopic agents like sorbitol, propylene glycol and glycerine to keep the tobacco wet. Only water is used to moisten the tobacco.

thumbs2Room-note:
Strang-Curly: Ellen has no trouble when I smoke this one inside. Although I kind of dislike the cigarette-like odour in the room the next morning.
Herbst 84: Because it is not a latakia-bomb Ellen has no objections when I smoke Herbst 84 inside. The next morning only a slight incense odour was left.

moneyPrice:
Strang-Curly: Tobaccos made by Motzek are relatively cheap compared to other German offerings. 100 gram will only cost you €15,50 (± $17.28)
Herbst 84: A 50 gram pouch will set you back at €6,25 (± $6.97). 100 gram costs €12,- (± $13.38) and 200 gram €23,- (± $25.64).

IMG_3658Conclusion:
Strang-Curly: I congratulate Lizzie Motzek, this is the best rope tobacco I smoked so far. Period. It has a signature taste that does not get boring. And bear in mind that the strang I smoked was pretty fresh. Imagine what a few years of ageing will do. Ooooh yeah…
Herbst 84: For me this is one of the best latakia-blends made on Europe mainland. It utterly surprised me in a most pleasant way. I never expected such an excellent tobacco could come out of a pouch. I will be stocking up on this one. Because it has a more than good price-quality ratio and who knows when Motzek finally decides to quit…

EDIT 01-12-2015: Sadly (for us pipe-smokers) Motzek decided to quit.. This is written (in German) on his website: After a working career of 51 years, 46 years within the industry and 40 years with my own business, I’m almost 70 now and I want to retire. I’m looking for an able successor for my unique shop (Cigar lounge, pipe repair shop, and tobacco manufacturing license) in Kiel. Interested parties please inquire per phone +49 431 554162.

EDIT 18-04-2016: Motzek’s retirement is definitive now. His website states that he will say “goodbye” Thursday 28 April 2016. However, the store is not closing down because Herbert has found a successor who will begin on 1 May. I heard that he is currently learning the ropes of making THE rope, the Strang-Curly. So I have high hopes that the legend of the Strang-Curly will continue.

EDIT 08-05-2016: The successor for Herbert Motzek is pipe-maker Thomas Darasz! He also took over the Motzek name and the tobacco tax-number needed for producing the house-blends (under which the Strang-Curly). So it looks like the future of the store is secured.

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Springtime in Seville – Part 2.

Click here for part 1 which describes the history of Seville and how it became the tobacco capital of the world.

carmen_posterFor me visiting the Real Fábrica de Tabacos (Royal Tobacco Factory) was a highlight of my journey to Seville. Today a part of the renowned Seville University is located there. Unfortunately the interior has been renovated and “no smoking” signs are everywhere. But until 1959 this magnificent building was Spain’s, no, Europe’s powerhouse for the manufacturing of tobacco. It is also the inspiration and setting for Seville’s most renowned fictional heroine, the free-spirited gypsy girl who embodies the Spanish ideal of the sensual femme fatale: Carmen.

Front of the Real Fábrica de Tabacos

The Real Fábrica de Tabacos was built between 1728 and 1770 and was designed and supervised by several military engineers from the North of Spain and The Netherlands. The works were abandoned for a long period (1735 – 1750) due to financial troubles (the initial budget was clearly not enough) and because the engineers and architects in charge were not fully committed. Its huge size (rectangular area of 27,195 square meter or 292,725 square feet) is just smaller than the mighty El Escorial located near Madrid. With a mixture of architectonic styles the building is divided into 2 areas. One devoted to the tobacco process and a smaller one that included the entrance, offices, depots and apartments for the superintendent and the director.

Painted tiles on the outside wall

Painted tiles on the outside wall

The factory was officially inaugurated in 1757 even though the building was not yet completed. Unfortunately, the factory was already out of date by then. It had been designed for the making of snuff, but during those 30 years the export demand for cigars increased and demand was equally high in the domestic market. The shift away from snuff production made a bigger labour force necessary. Cigars could not be ground out by the hundredweight but had to be assembled and rolled individually.

Las cigarreras

Cigarreras

Before 1800 all the Fábrica’s workers had been men because making snuff was heavy work. But these proved to be too clumsy and slow for cigar-making. In 1813 the Fábrica came with a solution by employing single women, whose fingers were nimbler and who would accept a lower wage than men with families to support. The Fábrica recruited its new workforce from the young women of the Triana district. Seville is a hellish furnace in summer and the Triana girls, many of whom were gypsies, were reduced by the heat to working in their underwear. Even hotter became the well-bred European men who visited the factory in search of sexual thrills: This immense harem of four thousand eight hundred women is as free in speech as in words. They showed no reserve in profiting by the tolerance which permits them undress as much as they like in the insupportable atmosphere they live in from June to September. Almost all worked stark naked to the waist with a simple linen petticoat unfastened round it and sometimes turned up as far as the middle of the thighs. And they presented an extraordinary mixture. There was everything in this naked crowd, virgins excepted, probably.

Las cigarreras

Cigarreras

The so called “cigarreras” prepared and rolled the tobacco leaf into cigars, chopped, rolled and ground it for pipe tobacco or snuff and made cigarettes rolled in paper. Cigarettes were initially considered a humble by-product, improvised by the factory girls to enable them to smoke discarded scraps from cigar production. The leaves were dried in special ovens that demanded a constant temperature and humidity apparently was secured by a system of subterranean waterways. The workforce was organized in a sophisticated hierarchy. Ranging from apprentices who started work at the early age of 13, peeling the stalks from the leaves, until (under the watchful eye of a veteran) they perfected the art of “making the baby”, rolling a cigar with the delicacy and precision of a midwife wrapping a new-born child. The aristocrat of this noble profession was the purera or maker of puros (cigars), who received top wages. But by far the majority of the women workers were employed in the humbler, poorer-paid, tasks of making cigarettes and pipe tobacco.

Las_cigarreras

Cigarreras

The right to bring babies into the factory was one of the important early victories of the cigarreras labour struggles. These feisty women were pioneers of European trade union rights. The factory even provided high-sided, wooden cradles that the mothers could rock with their foot without having to interrupt their work. Other victories achieved were the 8-hour workday, retirement pensions, working clothes and the custom of respecting the preferences of workers nearing retirement. The only inflexible rule was the absolute prohibition on stealing tobacco. This prompted the much remarked-upon personal searches that each cigarrera had to undergo. However, some were creative and hid the tobacco in a place his Catholic Majesty would have never dreamed of.

Altadis factory

Altadis factory

But by 1918, it was all over. The United States seized control of the world’s tobacco trade and both the economic reality and mythic reputation of Seville’s tobacco factory entered into decline. New machines improved the process and the cigarreras were replaced. In 1950 it was decided to move the tobacco operations to the Los Remedios neighbourhood and to use the historic building as the headquarters of the University of Seville. The replacement factory built in the 1950’s remained part of Spain’s national tobacco monopoly Tabacalera until that was merged into Altadis in 1999. In 2004, Altadis announced plans to shut the plant in 2007, bringing to an end Seville’s long tradition of making tobacco products. The last day of operation of the factory was 31 December 2007.

Andalucía Pipa ClubIn Spain tobacco is sold in shops called “expendeduría de tabaco y timbre” or “estanco”. You can find them anywhere, small and big, and are recognizable by a big banner with “Tabacos” on it. Compared to many European countries tobacco here is still cheap. Still, yes, because prices are rising rapidly because of the taxes. Despite that you pay for example for a tin of Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader €8, in Germany the current price is €12,85. But the assortment of pipe-tobacco differs greatly from estanco to estanco. So I decided to get some local help. After a bit of Googling I stumbled upon the Andalucía Pipa Club and mailed them about my upcoming journey to Seville and if they knew some good tobacconists in the city. I got a reply from the very friendly and helpful Alfonso who lives in Seville and immediately provided me with lots of information.

Tabacos at the Calle O'Donnell

Estanco at the Calle O’Donnell

The best places to buy pipe-tobacco in Seville are:
– The estanco at the Calle O’Donnell 30B. Google Maps is not accurate, just look for a big sun screen with “Tabacos” on it. This shop has the best assortment of pipe-tobacco in Seville. Basically everything from this list (Scroll to “picadura de pipa”). Just one thing, I had to point out the tins I wanted to the young employee to the amusement of the other customers.. Samuel Gawith? Qué?
– The estanco at the Calle Lineros 11B (Palacio del fumador). More focused at cigars but a lot of pipes and a decent assortment of pipe-tobacco.
– The estanco at Expendeduria 113. Not in the city centre, not so many brands as the first one, but more focused at specialities.
BEWARE: Spanish airport customs are very strict. My bag got searched and they counted the weight from all my tobacco tins, the ones I bought and the ones I brought with me from home. If you live within Europe you may take 1 kilo of tobacco with you and if you come from outside Europe even less.. Also be sure to keep your receipt if you buy tobacco in Spain. When you can’t show it if the customs officer asks for it all tobacco will be confiscated. Luckily all my tins could come with me.

SG_perfectionI also got some very useful tips where to eat and drink from Alfonso and asked him if there were places where I could smoke inside. He had to laugh: No problems for smoking your pipe because almost every bar/restaurant/café in Seville has a terrace. That’s the way of life in Seville: if we are living in a sunny city… Why we should stay inside a building? Good point.. We kept on mailing and he told me a story that he on a trip to Amsterdam got conned by a Dutch tobacconist. He paid €25 for 1 tin of Samuel Gawith Perfection! I mean, tobacco is expensive here but that amount was outrageous and nowhere near correct.

Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader Special Edition

Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader Special Edition

We also decided that we had to see each other when I was in Seville. So after a couple of text messages Ellen, Alfonso and I arranged to meet at the splendid Puerta del Pérdon near where we were staying. I put a corncob pipe in my mouth so Alfonso could recognize me but that was not necessary. I saw him first, puffing away under the great gate. We met like we were lost brothers, it really felt that way for me. We opted to go to the terrace of a nearby restaurant Alfonso knew. A bit tourist but Alfonso swore to me the drinks and food were excellent. We sat down and I said I had a present for him. I pulled out an aged tin of Samuel Gawith Perfection to compensate for the Dutch con. Alfonso laughed and thanked me, but he also had a surprise for me. The Andalucía Pipa Club had a blend made by Samuel Gawith: a limited, special edition of Squadron Leader containing perique. And precisely that was what he gave me, wonderful!

Me and Alfonso

Me and Alfonso

Time flies by when you are having fun, we chatted away and were even joined by Alfonso’s charming wife Macarena. They let us try local drinks and foods like shrimps in garlic, Jamón ibérico and deliciously sweet desserts. At the end of the magical evening I wanted to call the funny waiter (he had to serve the terrace alone and was so busy he forgot us several times which resulted in apologies in rapid Spanish and some free drinks) to get the bill but discovered Alfonso and Macarena already paid it. They gently refused my money and just said with big smiles: Welcome to Seville! Once again I thank them both for this unforgettable experience! Gracias!

To round off this blogpost, here are some tips from my own (short) experience about Seville:

View from our terrace

View from our terrace

– Hotels can be pretty expensive, especially near the old city centre. But thanks to AirBnB I found a small but delightful penthouse apartment, literally a stone-throw away from the cathedral, with an excellent price-quality ratio.

View from the Giralda

View from the Giralda

– Visit the large Seville Cathedral where the remains of Christopher Columbus are buried and climb the ancient Giralda tower for a stunning view of the city.

Part of the Alcázar garden

Part of the Alcázar garden

– Visit the Royal Alcázar of Seville which is one of most beautiful palaces in Spain and the oldest one still in use in Europe. A part of season 5 of Game of Thrones was shot there. Also marvel at the heavenly, lush gardens which are a blend of Moorish, Renaissance, and English traditions.

– Visit the Real Fábrica de Tabacos. Duh!!!

– Visit the famous Plaza de España, where movies like Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia were shot.

IMG_2851

Torre del Oro

– Stroll along the Guadalquivir River and pay a visit to the old Torre del Oro.

– Visit the neighbourhood of Triana. It played an important role in the history of the city and is a folk, monumental and cultural center. If you want to see flamenco, go here.

– Wander through and get lost in the small streets of Santa Cruz where around every corner is a new wonder.

IMG_2893

Mezquita

– Make a day-trip with the AVE high-speed train to Córdoba and visit one of the most awesome sights Spain has to offer: The Mezquita, the more than a millennium old mosque-cathedral, crowning glory of Muslim architecture in the West. In its heyday, a pilgrimage to the great Mezquita by a Muslim was said to have equalled a journey to Mecca. When you are done drooling in the mosque-cathedral you can re-fill your body-fluids at the enchanting Salón de Té.

hosteria_del_laurel

La Hostería del Laurel

– Eat tapas! These little wonders of gastronomy are cheap and oh so yummie! Just order them randomly and find out what you like. Good places (but there are many, many more) are La Hostería del Laurel, one of the locations in Don Juan and Bodega Santa Cruz, better known as Las Columnas. I especially grew very fond of the latter, cheap and basic tapas but very delicious. Especially in combination with a tinto de verano or a local Cruzcampo beer. And a tip from Alfonso: If you find a bar/restaurant with too much tourism and no locals, or they are offering “real Paella”… It’s a trap!

After a long journey home (no thanks to the Dutch railways) Ellen and I came to the conclusion that Seville certainly had not forsaken us. Olé!!!


A part of the 2003 movie Carmen, filmed at the actual Real Fábrica de Tabacos!

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