LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU
The last years that I lived in the Netherlands are associated in my memory with tobaccos. First come the unsauced Dutch ribbon tobaccos, smelling of Maryland and hay, then gradually their fragrance fades before the English mixtures and the smoky reek of Syrian leaf. The smell of which revives intense memories.
I've mentioned Balkan Sobranie in a previous posting, and others have devoted much blog-space to describing that now vanished classic. Enough.
The other classic which everybody eventually discovers is Dunhill. Usually the discovery is entirely unexpected, often it brings a sudden ray of sunshine into one's life.
Perhaps you are waiting for a delayed train on a perron in Germany (Bad-Schinkenfressersburg, or Affengrab Am See), or wandering the streets of a village in Central Europe scarcely changed since the black death (Blink, on the river Gnar), whose only genetic diversity is inherited from the desperate soldiery of some invasion or other.
The natives look troglodytic and dull, the 'besichtigungswertige' church is a boring reiteration of a typical pattern, and the local wurst is worse than the wurst in the inbred settlement of down the road and yesterday - which was a regional specialty, you really must try it.
And everything smells delicately of cow.
You want to smoke.
There is nothing else to do in this dump.
You want to smoke.
You. Want. To. Smoke.
You've run out of the desiccated wombat pelt which the tobacconist in Grubeschickelsberg recommended (damned ape!). And you want to smoke.
You spy a window with the word 'Tabak' in flaking paint in the center of the glass. A remarkably intelligent native behind the counter recognizes immediately that you are from elsewhere (there being only two local facial-types, both repellent variants on vicious troll), and in a sincerely helpful manner (!) suggests a tin of 'toonheel'.
There is nothing else in his store that looks even remotely non-toxic, so you purchase. Once outside, you light up. And your entire outlook on life changes. My what remarkable villagers! They almost look human! And dammit, I think I'll stay an extra day! That wurst was most interesting, I think I'll have it for dinner again tonight. Life is good! Maybe I'll even learn a few phrases in the local grunt tongue.
THE TIME, THE PLACE, THE TOBACCONIST
For me that discovery came via the retired ex-colonial who ran a small smoke shop on the Eindhovensche Weg in Valkenswaard, three blocks before the Merensdreef crossing. Which was conveniently on my way to school. A very gentle man, soft-spoken, and knowledgeable. But as pipe-smokers were the least of his customers (in order of importance: cigars, dark rolling shag, Dutch cigarettes, foreign cigarettes, pipe-tobacco), there was always the chance that he would run out of a blend or mixture.
One day he did not have Balkan Sobranie (I was probably the only customer), and suggested Dunhill instead. Of which he had three types: Nightcap, My Mixture 965, and Standard Mixture Medium. I bought all three. For me it was a discovery of a greater magnitude than Columbus stumbling across the new world (bloody fool thought it was India).
In the fall of that year I often spent late afternoons and early evenings in the empty hall of Jeugdsociëteit Parsifal, quietly drinking tea, smoking, and enjoying the long moody twilight. The occasional bicyclist would battle past, fighting the bluster, dry leaves would scud along the gutters, and in the creeping darkness yellow lights would appear on both sides of the street.
The aroma of Latakia drifted out and perfumed the night.
In the following spring, with the return of warm weather, greens exploded. The countryside was enveloping, rich, fertile, moist - not sensual, as the adjectives suggest, but carnivorous and hungry. Under stands of trees were dark shadow zones, above them a metal sky that threatened rain and thunderstorms.
The light of Northern Europe is unique. Not golden, like California, but clear silver. Across the distances the silhouettes of settlements show like saw-tooth ridges on the horizon, church spires make pious rude gestures at the heavens. Verdant, wet, pungent.
The dead leaf-rot of the previous autumn and the fecund vernal pongue combine, the air becomes heavy with the land.
In the rain, Brabant is dense with odeur.
At late afternoon I would stop by a café terrace to have coffee, and enjoy the view of the church, through the rain, across the square. A book, a pipe, and the remarkable sensation of solitude though surrounded by a densely populated village.
It is odd that I so fondly remember that last year... Three people who meant much to me passed away, and things changed rapidly. At the end of summer I returned to the States.
That was in 1978.
I really miss the long, long twilight.
Now then, having wasted your time with that excursus into the bog of Brabant, let us proceed to the tobaccos.
I compared six Dunhill mixtures, of which five are Balkan blends, and one is entirely composed of American tobaccos. Dunhill products have usually been of high quality, though they have in the past farmed out the manufacture to some companies who stumbled. At present Dunhill tobaccos are again very good.
Like Balkan Sobranie, Dunhill 965 and the Standard Mixture Medium are the standards against which all other Balkan Blends are measured. Balkan Sobranie and Dunhill both used tobaccos that had been matured, and both brands tended to stress the Oriental (also called Turkish) component somewhat more than many American Tobacconist's blends, though for college-boys on a Latakia kick, Sobranie provided their black mixture and Dunhill had Nightcap.
I did not include Nightcap in this review.
The six tobaccos I compared are: Durbar Mixture, Early Morning Pipe, Elizabethan (this is the one without Turkish or Latakia), London Mixture, My Mixture #965, Standard Mixture Medium. All were smoked several times, in several different pipes. The reviews below are composites based on notes taken while smoking, and also after. My significant other's point of view has not been taken into account.
Appearance: Variegated light to dark brown, mostly toward dark. Crumbly ribbons, evidence of aging and fermentation.
Tin Aroma: Dry, Turkish. Richly Oriental
Taste: Oriental, perfumy. Turkish strongly evident. Fruity, but with scant sweetness and scant smokiness; there is little Latakia evident, if any present at all. As it progresses a Virginia undertone develops. I also suspect that there is a toasted Cavendish in the blend. Tastes sec.
Ash: Medium-grey, fine grit.
Heavy on the Turkish, though somewhat lacking in character.
EARLY MORNING PIPE
Appearance: Thin jaggedy ribbon; yellows, medium reddish browns and dark browns. Mostly reddish veering toward chocolate-like, not a pronounced contrast.
Tin Aroma: Mild aged flavour, veering towards Levantine. Slight smokiness.
Taste: Very balanced, slightly sweet, a rounded Oriental quality, profoundly tobacco-y.
Coffee friendly, tangy. Starts very good, becomes even better. A good balance between Virginia types, Latakia, and probably Perique. The Virginia component is not dominated by a heavy cured taste. Enjoyable to the end.
Ash: Medium grey, slightly uneven and irregular, rounded grit.
Very satisfying, with enough character to maintain interest.
Very highly recommended.
Appearance: Yellowish and medium browns, minor darks. Soft thin ribbon, the dark leaf showing evidence of the press.
Tin Aroma: Toasty Virginia, a suggestion of air-dried. Autumn plum and fruit smell.
Taste: Sweet, predominance of ribbon cut (not heavily pressed). Reminiscent of some of the old Dutch blends which have disappeared since the Dutch tobacco industry became a flavour-whore. And probably some Perique. Sharpens as it nears the bottom of the bowl.
Ash: Brittle, powdery. Medium grey, medium grit.
A soft casual smoke, but it does require attention. Enjoyable if smoked slow.
Appearance: Ribbony dull browns and darks, touches of dull yellow. Evidence of ageing. Mottled.
Tin Aroma: Oriental, some Latakia. Turkish and fruity.
Taste: Turkish, Latakia, plum. Fragrant and sweet. Is there black Virginia? The perfume says yes. Develops a floral mouth taste, augmenting the Oriental tones. Tingly. Good nose, edge in back of mouth. Very enjoyable, smooth finish. There is a suggestion of something raw and sexual here.
Ash: Soft pale ash with a few crumbly bits.
Has great character.
MY MIXTURE 965
Appearance: Broad range from brights to blacks, soft ribbons to jaggedy rip. Slight reddish dominance.
Tin Aroma: Winey, smoky, fruity.
Taste: A tanginess of Yellow Virginia plus the fragrance of Latakia. Spicy, sweet. The impact of Turkish builds, but a slightly sharp undertone of ribbon Virginias remains. Sec, tip-centre of tongue. It is peppery. Burns well, slightly irregular. Tends towards hot near end.
Ash: Soft, irregular, and pale.
Acts better than it is.
STANDARD MIXTURE MEDIUM
Appearance: Red-browns and dark browns dominate, but there are also medium brown ribbons, a speckle of short yellows, and odd greenish fragments. Medium small ribbon mix.
Tin Aroma: Noticeable Latakia, hints of herb and plum. Raisins, cacao.
Taste: Richly Turkish, sec. An undertone of Cavendish and mature Virginias, perhaps a minute quantity of Perique (tingly note). Finishes quickly, smoothly. The Turkish definitely dominates.
Ash: Medium to pale grey, fine grit.
A good smoke. Very well based.
Medium Latakia mixture with Virginias. Not like the original, apparently, but a fish of its own kettle. Good product. Fruitiness and a hint of incense from the Virginias, lighter in dark tobacco than 965, but heavier than EMP.
DARK FLAKE (re-release)
Not at all like the dark flake I remember. I suspect K&K and Orlik decided to recycle Petersen & Sorensen's 'Tradition'. Immaterial. It is excellent, almost perfumy and incense-like, contemplative, and rewarding.
More delicate than you would expect.
A classic product, very enjoyable, ethereal. Medium body. Smoke it slow! An elderly lawyer I used to know smokes only this, and has excellent taste in pipes. A violin maker used to break in all of his pipes with this.
Shade-grown Virginias, topping of plums (probably benzyl butyrate). An old classic which is highly peculiar. Some people have described it as sickening and headache inducing. But Pipestud in Texas likes it very much, and it was smoked by the Prince Consort, Simenon, and Prince Bernhard Von Lippe-Biesterfeld of the Netherlands, which are recommendations.
YE OLDE SIGNE [re-release]
Solid Virginias, medium to full-bodied, enjoyable. If I smoke one bowl of this in a day I turn into a rather irritable and unpleasant person.
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