Ah, the smell of Dortmund in the Autumn.
I’ve come to love my seasonal jaunts to this funny little German town – usually, it’s a lovely tail end to Summer, with a wistful, melancholy air – and yet this year was the first time the great and the good (and me) of the cigar industry were able to gather for the first time in three years.
The refreshing morning walk to the cavernous Westfallenhallen centre is redolent with bratwurst, the left-over tang of fried onions from last night’s stalls outside the mighty Borussia Dortmund FC stadium, and, as you march ever closer to the entrance, the faint, gag-inducing fog of disgusting scents from the vaping hall.
Welcome to InterTabac.
I normally camp out with the Cigar Journal crew at each event, and this was no different – all working, playing, eating and drinking at an out-of-town hotel which is comically Teutonic. But imagine my surprise (horror?) this year to receive a crack of dawn call from El Jefe himself asking me when I was coming down to breakfast. He’d only gone and booked himself into the same hotel by sheer coincidence.
LD and Tomas Szroka had chosen to smoke their way across Europe in the herfmobile – better known as Laurence’s car. I wisely chose a more prosaic route via air a little earlier, as I had a rehearsal for the Thursday night Cigar Journal Trophy Awards ceremony to attend; I was slated to hand out the gong for Charity and Community, which incidentally went deservedly to the Vandermarliere Cigar Family, makers of Oliva. While those two sat under the Channel, stuck in the tunnel and around three-quarters of a way through an entire box of Cuban cigars, I waited patiently in Dusseldorf airport for a hold bag that never seemed to come. You pay your money and take your choice.
And InterTabac itself? It seemed to me very busy indeed in the cigar halls and everyone I spoke to over the course of the three-day event spoke of unprecedented levels of business. But the real riches were to be found in seeing one another face to face, asking after one another’s family, and being able to share a smoke and drink once again. Bliss.
The awards evening went swimmingly and was massively over-attended. By the time I stepped up onto the stage in the cigar world’s equivalent of the Oscars, some 400-odd people were packed into the hall, many forced to stand around the walls, in order to see the winners announced.
On Friday evening, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Cortés dinner and after party – Cortés being another part of the Vandermarliere axis – which is always very popular indeed. It was a beautifully run event and I was fortunate to be seated opposite the great Henke Kelner of Davidoff fame and next to Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana. It’s just wonderful to be able to eat, drink, smoke and talk cigars to these people.
And LD was in attendance for a couple of days, shifting between favoured stalls, agreeing to a few selfies, sealing some accessory deals and generally getting the lay of the land. Our paths crossed briefly, but my diary was packed with appointments, so it was only for a quick smoke before dashing off again. The Cigar Journal booth was the centre point around which I span, for here I could take the weight off for a few moments, bash out some writing, grab a roll or enjoy a delicious Hovells beer or two from the pump before heading back into the maelstrom again.
It’s great to be back among the noise and bustle of the cigar industry. Long may we puff and pontificate among good friends.