Some days ago Ted passed by my desk, and in noticing several simple gesture drawings I had done of a handful of pipes, asked, "Are those Maigurs?" We deal with a lot of pipes here -- a lot of pipes, and I think it says something about this particular artisan's work that even in the simplest of two-dimensional renderings, his designs can be distinguished at a moment's glance. Nothing flows like Maigurs Knets. That's not to say he is without peer in terms of grace of line and form (though he's certainly up there with the best), but more pointedly that he's chosen for his inspiration an artistic style no other pipemaker has yet to even delve into: Art Nouveau.
Some time ago Adam and I, spurred on by a post on Neil Archer Roan's blog concerning the recent debut of the fashionista-targeted "Stiff" smoking pipe, were discussing the nature of design; more specifically, the trade-offs that have to be made between stylization and ease of mass-production. I had pointed out to him that while the furniture designs he was discussing (those of the Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and Danish Modern schools) are making yet another a comeback in certain cultural nooks and corners, I've only seen the earlier, but utterly beautiful Art Nouveau style see renewal in mediums of worn fashion -- namely jewelry and clothing. My point was, of course, that Art Nouveau furniture suffered from one majorly inhibiting factor: Attempting to mass-produce its lush, flowing, elegant, complex and organic style out of anything like quality materials would likely be a capital-devouring nightmare.
Art Nouveau lintel
Art Nouveau stairway
Art Nouveau desk
Fortunately, this isn't something an independent artisan pipemaker has to worry about -- just the extreme level of skill it takes in terms of both design and shaping to actually create an Art Nouveau smoking instrument. It may be telling that, at least to my knowledge, no such thing even existed during the Art Nouveau movement's 1890-1910 "Belle Epoque" heyday. Evidently it would take the unprecedented dissemination of independent pipemaking artisanship that we enjoy today to finally produce such a thing -- and even under these far more conducive conditions Maigurs is the single artisan to as of yet step forward. And not only has he stepped forward, he's absolutely nailed it.
(At this point some of you may be recalling theories on how the size of a population effects the works of genius it may be expected to produce; the greater the number of individuals there are active in a culture, or a sub-culture, the greater the likelihood great works will become manifest. This is, of course, assuming the presence of a popularly-accepted philosophy which encourages greatness -- which I believe today's artisan pipemakers, and pipe-collectors alike, certainly do.)
When it comes to his freehand designs, line and flow are the essential elements; fertile curves, swoops, and arcs which take flight with seemingly effortless imagination. Graining and accents follow up, playing in harmony with Maigurs' sculpting in order to emphasize a sense of richness and lush beauty. Even if you were to take the latter aspects out of play, his creations' distinctly Art Nouveau flow remains unmistakable.
Even his straightforward, classic shapes receive lavish treatment; finely-wrought artistic embellishments call to mind the richly decorated Ulmer pipes of old Bavaria, albeit in a much quieter style; Maigurs forgoestypical accents like the flashy silver inlay of the antique Ulmer, rendering his own pattern-work in natural materials and contrasting finishes. Gently drifting, crisply-defined leaves are smooth-polished, set against a fine sandblast background, or an abstract floral inlay is created by hand-making a custom composite stem-base embedded with a section of pine-cone.
In terms of pipemaking, Maigurs is most closely associated with Alex Florov, and both share a background in professional model-making for the Industrial Design and hobbyist industries - it's how they met. It should come as little surprise then that the complex and flowing works of both artisans' designs are made possible through detailed shaping of the briar by hand, with finely-honed chisels on Alex's part, and with a selection of specifically-shaped carbide burrs on Maigurs's. They are both, essentially, pipe-sculptors, and like the Art Nouveau furniture of yesteryear, they each seek to produce works of line, flow, and form that, if they could be copied by a machine at all, would require the highly advanced industrial technology to do so, even in materials far more forgiving than the dense, hardy, often unpredictable root of the briar; works, in short, whose individualistic art defies easy-come reproduction.
Tomorrow morning I fly home to the States. Right now, I am rather happily ensconced in a smoking room at the Holiday Inn walking distance from Terminal 2 of the Cologne-Bonn Airport, which is where I need to be at 5am tomorrow morning. But this little missive isn't about airports or hotel rooms in Germany. It's about pipe tobacco. Or, at least, my very disappointing quest to purchase some this afternoon. The irony of it all, of course, is that I was just at the Dortmund Inter Tabac Fair. Indeed, this very morning, I chatted with folks from both Mac Baren and Samuel Gawith. And at about 2pm, I didn't have any pipe tobacco left.
I had brought most of a tin of lovely, aged GL Pease Haddo's Delight with me on the weeklong trip. I had thought that I also had a tin of Mac Baren Navy Flake with me, completely forgetting that it wasn't in my laptop bag because Alex Florov and I smoked the last of it last weekend on the way home from Morganton, NC, where we were (along with Alex's wife, Vera, and Susan Salinas from Smokingpipes.com) for Craig Tarler's funeral. Suffice it to say, that if I had been at home, that much Haddo's would probably have seen me through the five days I have actually been on the ground in Germany (apparently even I don't fly enough with Delta for them to let me smoke my pipe on the plane). But this trip was all about pipes and pipe tobacco and I have had a pipe in my mouth pretty much permanently since Wednesday morning when I arrived. I spent my first two days here with a dear friend and fellow pipe smoker who lives in Cologne. While neither of us are particular intemperate pipe smokers individually, you put us together for a couple of days and we can consume some pipe tobacco.
Then came the Dortmund show, and the smoking continued apace. Friday night, I had dinner with folks from Brigham pipes from Canada at a place that was supposed to allow smoking, but didn't. They were irritated and disappointed we couldn't smoke. My tongue was actually a tiny bit relieved.
Last night and the previous night, I stayed a few kilometers from the Dortmund show because I'd procrastinated in booking my hotel room and all the nearby hotels were sold out. This really wasn't such a big deal, though. I was rather enjoying the twenty minute drive to and from the show. It gave me a chance to collect my thoughts and smoke my pipe (don't tell Avis). This morning, I realized that I was rapidly nearing the end of my supply of Haddo's. The situation was dire; I had maybe two bowls left. But, not to worry, I was going somewhere with pipe tobacco; I'd have a ready supply at the show.
My first stop at the show this morning was to have a quick word with the folks from Mac Baren. While I was there, I loaded half a bowl from their sample jars, and proceeded to chat with them. Now, if I'd had the inclination to ask Per Jensen for enough Navy Flake to make it through the day, he, I am quite sure, would have happily obliged. I just don't want to be that guy. I just didn't want to ask Per, again, to solve my tobacco emergency for me (I admit it, this isn't the first time I've planned poorly in the pipe tobacco department while traveling).
But, I wasn't terribly worried. This is Germany after all, isn't it? Doesn't Germany consume more pipe tobacco than any other country? Per capita, it has something like five times as many pipe smokers as the United States. Surely, I'd find pipe tobacco at a gas station on the way to the airport. Since it's Sunday, and since Germany has laws prohibiting most retail on Sunday, a side trip into Cologne to go by Peter Heinrich's wonderful shop to buy some pipe tobacco wasn't in the cards.
I figured there was a decent chance I'd find some Mac Baren Navy Flake even or maybe some of the Virginia Ready Rubbed we can't get in the States. At the very least, I thought, I would find some Mac Baren Mixture or Virginia No. 1. I know epically vast quantities of Mixture are smoked in Germany and figured it'd be the corner store standard. And while there are a couple of Mac Baren blends I'd reach for before Mixture, Mixture is really good. I'd have been perfectly happy.
Alas, such was not the case. I stopped twice, perused the tobacco offerings and didn't see any pipe tobacco in either case. I was a little surprised and a bit miffed with the first stop, but figuring it was an aberration, a little hole of pipe tobacco sadness amidst the riches of such that one would expect of Germany, I stopped a second time. Again, no luck.
I got to the hotel and checked in and was pleased that they could give me a smoking room, until, of course, I realized I had nothing to smoke. I took it anyway, hoping at least that I had a bowl's worth of in the pipe tobacco crumbs at the bottom of my briefcase.
A little later, I took my rental car back to the airport and walked on back to the hotel. Within easy walking distance of the route was another gas station. I figured I'd take one more shot at it. I peruse the tobacco selections and again see nothing. I begin to despair. I tentatively ask (I speak almost no German) "pfeifentabak?" The woman behind the counter looks at me funny; I'm not sure if it's because my accent is so bad that she couldn't make out what I was saying or that being asked for pipe tobacco is just not something that she is accustomed to. But, she suddenly gets it and turns around. I expected her to point towards the selection of pipe tobacco that I had just failed to see. A small ray of hope was beginning to break through the clouds. My personal sound track began playing something rather inspirational, like the chorale from Beethoven's 9th Symphony. She turned back around and slapped a pouch of Exclusiv Royal on the counter. The rather celebratory music suddenly screeched to a halt like someone knocked the needle across the record.
At this point, I just sputtered. All pretense of German ended and I blurted out, in English, "Is that it? Is that all the pipe tobacco you have?" I was so disappointed. And the woman, who is perhaps the only person in Germany who does not speak English, looked at me perplexed and slightly offended. She eventually figured it out from my tone and general exasperation and rather exasperatedly pointed at the pipe tobacco section. Which had exactly one facing. I bought the pouch of Exclusiv Royal. What else could I do?
I pondered, extremely briefly, not buying it. I could make it through thirty-six hours without tobacco; no problem. But I had this smoking room at the hotel that was desperately needing to be smoked in. And I pictured myself with a very sad face sitting in the Atlanta airport smoking lounge tomorrow with nothing to smoke. Seriously, I really enjoy being the only guy I ever see who smokes a pipe in the Atlanta airport smoking lounges. So, I relented and plopped my 6.25 Euros on the counter. At least it was pretty cheap. Any other European country and the taxes would have made it 10 Euros.
I mean, I expect that sort of selection in the US. A gas station, if they have any pipe tobacco at all, has maybe a pouch of Captain Black and a pouch of Half & Half for sale. But this is Germany, Dammit! I held Germany in a sort of pipe tobacco esteem. My vision of this country involves rolling hills, buxom blond girls in traditional German outfits carrying large beers, and a good pipe tobacco selection on every corner. I've spent a lot of time in Germany over the years and realized that the first two images weren't really all that true, but I'd never tried to purchase pipe tobacco outside of Peter Heinrich's shop ever before. The last piece in my slightly irrational vision of German greatness was dashed.
But, I'm smoking the Exclusiv Royal as I write. It really could be a whole lot worse. I vaguely remember carrying it eight or so years ago, but I don't think I ever tried it at the time. It's lightly flavored straight virginias with sort of an odd square cut (it says 'granulated' on the pouch). It's smokable. But definitely not Mac Baren Mixture. Tuesday morning, when I'm back in the office, I'm buying a small stack of tins of Mac Baren Navy Flake and sticking them in my briefcase, my rolling carry-on luggage and the garment bag I usually check. We will not have a repeat of this little adventure.
As many of you likely know by now, Sykes and I were in Denmark a couple of weeks ago to visit pipe makers, look at pipes, buy pipes, and talk about the current state of pipedom. Because I fail at math, and because it was a pretty hectic trip, what with having missed another flight on top of the sheer number of people to see and things to do, when Sykes says we saw eleven pipe makers in five days, I believe him. It was a whirlwind. And it was awesome (in the not over-used, absolutely literal sense of the word).
Certainly one of the highlights of the trip was whisking away to tour the Mac Baren factory, as I've long been an ardent fan of many of their blends. Plus, factories are cool. Sykes and I sat down with CEO Simon Nielsen and Product Manager Per Georg Jensen and talked pipe tobacco (only a slight deviation from the normal conversation to be had on the trip), new pipe tobacco blends, and the current state of pipe tobaccodom. Then Per guided us through the warehouse and factory, paying attention especially to those things pertaining to Mac Baren's latest creation, HH Old Dark Fired. Thankfully, we had the presence of mind to bring a camera...
There are certain tobacco blends which, due to the importance of some difficult to acquire ingredient, the need for just the right leaf, or the key role of a particularly involved special process, are available only in limited batches - no matter how high they've been rated or how popular their approval. Fortunately, when such a blend does reappear, ready for the market, you can count on Smokingpipes to be one of the very first to make it available. Isn't that's why we issue these special, seat-of-the-pants, irregularly-scheduled updates, after all? Well, having said all that, there's only one more question to ask: Mac Baren's Old Dark Fired, anyone?
If you’ve recently purchased some pipe tobacco from us, chances are you’ve received a complimentary sample of Mac Baren’s Highland Blend, their latest addition to the HH series.
From the pouch you’ll find pieces of medium-brown, broken flake tobacco, interspersed with a few bright ribbons split from the flake, and a small portion of dark leaf. Mac Baren cites the recipe as ready-rubbed burley, matured Virginia, latakia, and their signature Cavendish. From what I understand the whole thing is cased (or topped) with 30-year old Glenfarclas, a single-malt whiskey from the Highlands of Scotland. Hence the name.
Up front and right away, Highland Blend is smooth, sweet with Virginia and lightly seasoned with the spice of Syrian latakia. The blend develops rather quickly into something extraordinary and complex, savory of spring grasslands, bitter of peat, and with a whisper of whiskey musk. The blend is light on the mouth and incredibly balanced. Highland Blend would indeed pair excellently with a quality single-malt Scotch. It’s certainly very different and definitely special.
Highland Blend will be released officially at this year’s CPCC show and will be available in tins shortly thereafter. In the meantime, we still have samples available. You should get in on this early. Highland is just too good not to try right this very minute.
I’m constantly trying new tobacco blends. Undoubtedly, there are so many out there it would take a life time or two to taste them all; this is all part of the fun for me. Sometimes I’m scattered all over the place in my explorations, divided between English, Balkan, Virginia, even aromatic blends, and sometimes I’m focused into a particular kind of blend by a specific manufacturer.
Yet as often as I’m actively burning my tongue off in pursuit of new flavors I am just as regularly returning to old favorites. Take Mac Baren’s Roll Cake, for instance: there’s always a tin on my desk.
These beautiful little spun cut discs, fragrant with sweet honey and berry wheat, rub out easily between the fingers for quick pipe loading. Effortless to light, simple to keep lit, Roll Cake offers up a satisfying smoke rich with nuanced, delicate flavors. Sometimes it’s spicy, sometimes it’s sweet, but it’s always tasty.
If you haven’t yet tried Roll Cake it’s about time you do.
I'm quite fond of Mac Baren's Navy Mixture. After smoking the junk my local tobacconist
had to offer, most of which were blends of his own cracked invention, I decided to branch
out and try something else. The only 'name brand' tobacco he carried was Mac Baren. So
that's where I started, with a 100 gram tin of Navy Mixture. At this point I had been
smoking exclusively those blends I would later discover to be termed 'aromatic'. Navy
Mixture was a big departure.
The tin reads that "this complex mixture consists of over 30 different raw tobaccos, and
is a masterpiece of blending. Ready rubbed Virginia and Burley tobaccos, loose cut Virginia,
Burley and the original Mac Baren Cavendish blended with small pieces of flake tobacco
ensure a slow and cool smoking pleasure." Upon opening the tin I was excited to find an
obvious and nearly overwhelming variety of different tobaccos. Here's an instance where a
tin description beautifully matches up to the product at hand, which as you likely know,
isn't always necessarily the case.
Admittedly, because of where I was coming from as a smoker, this blend took a little
while to grow on me. Subsequently, however, Navy Mixutre has become for me an extremely
reliable, all-day smoking fixture. The fragrance of the smoke is wonderful, the taste is
clean and dry,the tobacco packs easily and isn't fussy about staying lit. Another perk? It's
not deliriously popular and therefore always available. While this 'advantage' may only
amount to a hill of beans for some of you, those still sitting on their hands in
anticipation for Dunhill and Sam Gawith tobaccos know what I'm talking about.
At last count there was approximately one gillion (yes, I've done the math) different
varieties of tobaccos from at least a zillion (these are industries terms, mind you)
blenders and manufacturers. Explore, experiment, get out of your comfort box. Surprise
yourself. Just don't start buying up all my Navy Mixture.
Mac Baren rope tobaccos-- Dark Twist, Roll Cake and many others-- are some of the best loved blends by the famous Danish manufacturer. One of my favorite processes in the Mac Baren factory is the process of making ropes, which are then cut into coins. This video is longer than most we've posted (at just over eight minutes), but I think it's definitely worth it!
In this video, Per Jensen, product specialist and all round evangelist for Mac Baren, and Frank Blews, brand manager for the US importer, Phillips & King, talk about the new 7 Seas blends from Mac Baren. This is the first serious foray that Mac Baren has made into American style aromatics. Watch the video to learn more!
I find myself yet again chronologically-challenged in this reverse-chronology world of blogging. I've been meaning to pull together the balance of the trip overview, the first part of which was posted on July 18th, from Denmark. The second half of the trip found us leaving Copenhagen in search of pipe makers and tobacco manufacturers away from the Danish capital, visiting towns like Svendborg, Odense, Assens, Aalborg, and Frederikshavn. So, here's an overview of Monday and Tuesday of the trip:
On Monday, July 19th, we spent the day with Tom Eltang. We'd already had a quick visit with Tom the previous Saturday night, but this was the scheduled all-day-with-Tom day. Usually when I travel to Denmark, I tend to fill up my non-scheduled time either by just hanging out with Tom Eltang. Tom's workshop has, over the years, become something of a home away from home for me.
We arrived in the late morning, finally having taken a morning to just get some much needed rest, and Kevin and I found Tom, much as I had expected, working away. He was hand sanding stain off of bowls on one of the four smooth pipes (hopefully Snail graded!) that he's sending our way that he was still working on while we were there. We found ourselves some coffee and bounced some ideas we had off of Tom, for video interviews and whatnot. A couple of those videos are up on this blog now, and Kevin will edit some more and they'll be posted both on PipesMagazine.com and Smokingpipes.com, so I won't spoil the fun that we had. As always, Tom's working on new stuff, the big thing being his new laser engraver, which he discusses in a video on July 25th. We also got to see one of the new Eltang Tubos pipes being made, which we'll have video of at some point in the near future. Tom is always full of energy and this visit was no exception; it's exciting for me to see a pipe maker that is constantly evolving, striving to be better and better. We finished up the day having dinner at Tom and his wife Pia's home, in their garden, with their grandson Oscar. Pia, true to form, put together a fantastic meal, including fantastic pizzas she cooked on the grill. Sometimes I worry that Tom thinks I only spend time with him in the hope that Pia will feed me; sometimes I worry that he's right... Seriously, it was a wonderful visit with old friends, talking pipes, new ideas, and eating great food.
The following morning, Tuesday July 19th, we got up early and headed to Svendborg, about ninety minutes from Copenhagen, to visit Per Jensen at the Mac Baren factory. I've visited the factory four or five times at this point and it is always fantastic. Seeing all of the work, machinery and expertise that goes into bringing us the blends that we love is as special as watching great pipe makers work, except that the machines are massively bigger, which, if, like me, you've never grown out of thinking backhoes are really cool, just makes the whole experience that much more fun. As with everything else on this trip, this was Kevin's first visit to Mac Baren, which gave me an excuse to ask Per to, yet again, show me around the factory. When I visited last year with Tony Saintiague (our now departed, but still involved, VP for Sales, who still pops up for pipe shows and occasional meetings), lots of changes had been made to accommodate great growth in production. This trip, the changes were more subtle-- new, safer, automated cutting machines, new flake tobacco packing machines-- the general little improvements that are the hallmark of any well run company. Per Jensen himself is always a pleasure; he knows so much about tobacco and speaks so lovingly of the Mac Baren factory that it's impossible to not be swept up in his enthusiasm. And, as both a tobacco and Mac Baren enthusiast myself, it doesn't take much to sweep me up in that enthusiasm. Following the factory tour, we had lunch with Per and Simon Nielsen, Marketing Director for Mac Baren, but someone I've known for awhile because he had been the export manager for the United States before he was promoted to his current position. While lacking the extraordinary depth of tobacco knowledge that Per brings to the table, Simon is similarly enthusiastic about Mac Baren and its product and it's always a pleasure to talk about the business end of the business with him. I think that's part of what makes the whole Mac Baren experience so special. These folks really love and care for Mac Baren. They believe in what they do. I love companies, or any organization for that matter, that's like this. It's just always a pleasure to see these guys. Oh, and see giant machines making tobacco...
That afternoon, we traveled on to visit Peter Heeschen, but that's the subject of the next post in this occasional series...check back for Danish Chronology, Part III.
I've visited the Mac Baren factory every year for five years now. And every time, I come up with a way to get Per to take me through the factory. Sometimes it's because they have new stuff he wants to show me and sometimes, as with this trip, it's because I have someone with me who hasn't experienced it before. I'm starting to run out of reasons to see it again, other than that I think a giant tobacco factory is probably the coolest place on earth. My inner eight year old loves all the giant whirring machinery, and the slightly more grown up me loves the resulting product. Slightly more seriously, I've always been impressed by Mac Baren and the people I've worked with there. There's a dedication to what they do that is impressive. Per Jensen's enthusiasm for pipe tobacco is infectious. In this video, Per guides us through the flake pressing and cutting process.
As we mentioned yesterday in our post comparing the two factories, after the factory tour, Per Jensen, Mac Baren's product development and all round Mac Baren tobacco evangelist guy, sat with us over coffee. The conversation turned to what he thinks is the best flake tobacco packing method. Not only did he describe it, he felt obliged to pack Kevin Godbee's Dunhill Ruby Bark with some Mac Baren Virginia Flake to show us how it's done by guys that play with tobacco all day, every day. We gave Mac Baren the nod for personal pipe packing service for this extra effort on their part when we visited, but we also took a little video of it so that you can, hopefully, enjoy the little lesson as much as we did.
by Sykes Wilford, Smokingpipes.com, and Kevin Godbee, Pipesmagazine.com
When one has an opportunity to visit two of the largest pipe tobacco manufacturers in the world on back to back days, comparing the two is all but
impossible. Mac Baren and Orlik, between them, produce over half of the world's pipe tobacco. Along with the Lane factory in Tucker, GA, they make up the big
three pipe tobacco producers in the world. And they're both on the island of Funen that sits between Sjaelland, the largest of the Danish islands, and
Jylland, the peninsula that juts off of the European mainland. Indeed, they're an hour drive apart on either side of the island. Having had a thoroughly
hospitable reception at both factories and being tremendously impressed by both operations, we nonetheless found ourselves drawing some comparisons.
Having left Orlik, we started discussing the differences between the two. Perhaps the similarities are more obvious: both operate massive, modern
factories, both are fanatically dedicated to the quality of their tobaccos, and both have a long history and make famous brands that have stood the test of
time. But this, our dear readers, is about the differences.
For starters, no pun intended, let's talk about lunch. Typically, large companies have cafeterias. In the United States, outside of Google, such places
offer fare that make sixth grade school lunch seem palatable. At both Mac Baren and Orlik, we were pleased to discover that the Danes have a subtly different
approach to such things. They serve edible lunches in company cafeterias. Offering traditional Danish comestibles, including black bread, a variety of
impressive cheeses and cold meats, paté, and full salad bars, Sykes wants one of these for the Smokingpipes.com campus. Imagine visiting a tobacco company and
coming away with company catering ideas. Picking a winner in this category was impossible.
Both Orlik and Mac Baren have machinery that causes otherwise reasonable grown men to act like eight-year-old boys who just saw a backhoe. Conveyor belts,
automatic weighing machines, little robotic arms to fold packaging, slides, chutes, and sundry whirring doodads abound, but the nod, if only a half-nod, goes
to Mac Baren, who can go from tobacco coming in from the ceiling, to pouches, to cartons, to outer cartons, to pallets, all without ever being touched by a
human hand. Orlik was close, requiring slightly more human intervention, but in this category, Mac Baren is a clear winner.
Both factories produce rope tobacco. Rope tobacco is a traditional method of fabricating tobacco for transport, back when finding a way to keep tobacco smokable after a transatlantic journey on a wooden sailing ship was a serious problem. The tobacco is literally spun into ropes: the process lies somewhere in between cigar rolling and rope braiding. But, the factories' respective methods are a little different. Mac Baren uses whole leaves as something comparable to the binder and filler. Orlik uses thin pressed sheets of tobacco, similar to those used for flakes, but much thinner. Inside, Mac Baren generally uses loose leaf dark fired Kentucky, whereas Orlik uses pressed perique or black cavendish. From this process comes some of the world's most famous, most tastiest blends, including Mac Baren Roll Cake and, Sykes' personal favorite, Escudo, which is made by Orlik (which we both happen to be smoking while engaging in this absurd literary exercise). However, the nod goes to Mac Baren in this category, for they have what looks and works like a giant RYO cigarette machine. Frankly, the little machine that presses it into a rope at Orlik just isn't nearly as cool.
About an hour on the road after our visit to Orlik, Sykes turned to Kevin and said "did the tobacco blender guy make you think mad scientist too?" To which Kevin retorted with a maniacal laugh. Yes, Orlik has its very own evil genius tobacco blender. Here in Denmark they offer a personalized blending service where different stores or individuals can choose to craft their own blend. The idea started in the 1930s and grew into Paul Olsen's My Own Blend, which Orlik purchased from the Olsen family in the 1980s. Today, roughly eight metric tons of pipe tobacco is custom blended for customers and stores to the exact recipe, based on almost fifty component blends and dozens of flavorings, by Lasse Berg, Chief Evil Tobacco Genius (ok, we made up the title). It is abundantly clear that a) Lasse thinks he has the best job on the planet, and b) he played with chemistry sets as a kid. At one point, he showed us a cola flavored tobacco topping of his own creation, of which he was very proud, but then went on to admit that he doesn't use it very much because, apparently, no one really thinks of cola as a tobacco flavoring. He went on to create for us, sans cola topping, individualized blends based on our preferences. Sykes' had more perique, Kevin had more rum. Also, during this exercise, Kevin drank a bit of the rum used on the tobacco (he approves), also giving Orlik the nod for best adult beverages (Mac Baren did not offer adult beverages at 10am when we arrived there). So, two categories at once to Orlik: mad scientist tobacco blender and best adult beverages. Does it surprise anyone that the mad scientist blender was also the keeper of the adult beverages?
While we were visiting Mac Baren, after the factory tour with Per Jensen, who is something between a product development guy and a general Mac Baren evangelist, we sat and had coffee with him. As our conversation meandered from topic to topic, we ended up with Per showing Kevin, with Kevin's pipe, how to pack flake tobacco by folding it and packing it vertically. So, not only did they humor us with a factory tour, fed us lunch, plied with coffee and tobacco, they even had a Mac Baren executive pack Kevin's pipe.
On net, it was a tie. Both organizations are impressive and were wonderfully accommodating to two very excited, tobacco crazed Americans.
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