Wednesday, November 05, 2008


In the seventies there was a middle-aged medical gentleman at the Eindhovensche golf-course with whom I would occasionally share pipe tobacco. He would have some of my ribbon cut Maryland, I would try some of whatever he had in his pouch. We did not speak much, and having lit up, would part and go our own way - I did not drink in the clubhouse in those days, and preferred to wander around near the swampy end of the links where the scrubby pines and sand gave way to pools of black water in the forest.
Occasionally I would run into him there also - especially if he was golfing by himself, and hitting his balls badly.

In 1981, when I still restored pipes in the backroom of Drucquers, and lived with my grandmother in Berkeley, I discovered Rattray's tobacco. Charles Rattray of Perth produced blends of great repute, seasoning assertive Virginias boldly with Turkish, Latakia, and Perique.

In those days I would go out to the end of the Berkeley Pier after teatime to watch the sun set and smoke a pipe. Doing so was peaceful, and allowed me to forget things. The pipe was often a Castello, the tobacco was Rattray's.

That autumn my grandmother finally succumbed to cancer, and I severed my ties to Drucquers, crashed the car, and put aside Rattray's tobacco.
I no longer have that Castello pipe.

Rattray closed and the blends eventually landed in the care of Kohlhase & Kopp in Germany, who, despite many recent negative reviews by crotchety old crocks, are doing a credible interpretation of the blends. The only major difference, and this is actually a serious problem, is that the climate in their part of Germany does not resemble the climate in Perth - average temperatures differ, as do moisture levels in the air. It really does change the flavour of the blends considerably. The bacterial influences are not the same.

Quite recently I cracked open a tin of Astleys No. 99.
Astleys is another brand that was once ranked up there with the legendary British tobacconists, most of which were eccentric operations run by opinionated gentlemen sincerely devoted to guiding their smokers on a fragrant journey. Many of them were either heirs to a family business, or staff who had purchased the company upon the owners retiring. Astleys had been founded in 1862, and was owned by Mr. Bentley, whose family had acquired the store in the nineteen thirties.
Astleys was located in the Piccadilly Arcade - their address of note was 109 Jermyn Street. They blended their own tobacco, and had pipes made for them by Comoy, GBD, and Charatan. They closed their doors about four years ago, I believe.
Their tobaccos are now, like Rattray's blends, manufactured by Kohlhase & Kopp.

Almost all of the great London tobacconists are gone now. Times have indeed changed.

Full Latakia Mixture
"Traditional full strength English mixture of Virginia, Turkish and Latakia."

Kohlhase & Kopp
Von hand gemischt und gepakt

This tobacco smells in the tin precisely like an old fashioned British mixture should; nicely plummy-raisiny, due to a proportion of pampered Virginias. The problem is the description of the product as a full Latakia mixture.

Which it isn't. Not by a long shot.

Unless you started smoking a pipe back in the nineteenth century, when this blend would indeed have been at the full end of the spectrum, Latakia-wise.

It's an excellent product, and the cut is lovely. It is, however, so old-fashioned a blend that many modern pipe-smokers will not understand it, nor want to understand it. It reflects a blending tradition that based everything on the interplay of condimentals and base tobaccos, with the seat of honour given to a ribbon Virginia. Such blends were frequently melded by panning over heat, causing the flavours of the tobaccos to mix and unite.
As such it cannot possibly appeal to young men, or smokers searching for a full strength Latakia dump. It is far too restrained.

There is a nice sweetness to the first few puffs, that slowly gives way to a more complex range of flavours, before gracefully closing at the bottom of the bowl.

It smokes easy, and will not bite unless provoked.

This is perfect for wet summer days. Teatime and early evening. Perhaps with a bottle of sherry and a good thick book.


You will note that I have already mentioned Kohlhase & Kopf in reference to Rattray's. But there is another point where Rattray's and Astleys coincide - the Astleys No. 99 is remarkably reminiscent of the Rattray's blends that I smoked in 1981.
I suspect that the medical gentleman at the Eindhovensche Golfclub must have been a smoker of either Rattray's or Astleys, and I'm inclined to believe that it was actually Astleys' tobacco in his pouch. There was a Londonian temper to his habits.

I shall not smoke this often, but I will order more of it from back east, along with a few tins of Astleys No. 1 Medium Latakia Mixture. Which is a little more Scottish in its tendencies.

Post-teatime afterthought: You might want to read up on Rattrays. In October of 2006, when this blog was still young, I quoted several angry people on the subject of Rattray's tobaccos.
See here:
Their remarks can fairly be described as cheapskates mad with both barrels. Each one of them spent money on that tobacco.


NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


The Big Little Tommy said...

I do not smoke a pipe but reading this (and other) tobacco descriptions puts me in a state of melencholy and coziness. I visualize fireplaces and warmth and dim lighting and sweetness in the air with a warm blanket and a cozy book! I do enjoy it.

J. "יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי" Izrael said...

I think there's a Pease that tries (or claims so) to reproduce it.

Spiros said...

I think there is a Pease which passeth all understanding...

Anonymous said...

Horrid pun. I smell a rat.

---Grant Patel

Anonymous said...

"Almost all of the great London tobacconists are gone now. Times have indeed changed"

Who remains? The London manufacturers are certainly gone. CE McConnell was the last, AFAIK, and they closed in 1989 selling their brands to, what was to become, Kohlhase & Kopp. By 1981 the Rattray's that you smoked were all manufactured by McConnell's. Indeed, we still see the Rattray tin labels (made for/by) in a transition (Perth to London) which completed over 30 years ago.

The back of the hill said...

For the curious, please note: the articles which most prominently mention Drucquer & Sons in Berkeley are these:





Feel free to leave a comment under any one of them, or questions.
I'll respond after the system notifies me that you have written something (if you require a response, of course).

The back of the hill said...

Readers may contact me directly:
Correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Search This Blog


Thanks to a friend and fellow pipe smoker, I shall henceforth associate Robert Frost's poems with Greg Pease's Haddo's Delight, ...