I started smoking a pipe in late 1975, and I went through my “phases” pretty quickly. I went with a red pot “The Pipe”, which was really more like a billiard ball than a pipe, and two pouches of Borkum Riff (it was a package deal). Because Dad was a pipe smoker as well, he quickly showed me the error of my ways and brought me to his tobacconist to get the “right” pipe and tobacco. I got a bent rusticated briar and a couple of ounces of a medium-bodied Latakia blend, and never looked back. I loved the flavor, the aroma and the cool smoking experience.
Later that year, I got a part-time job at a tobacco shop, and after a while, I learned to do a little blending. I smoked a variety of blends until the manager of the store got me to try Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture, Sobranie 759 and Bengal Slices. These three, plus Rattray’s Hal O’ The Wynd (as a change of pace), became my everyday smokes, and Sobranie Original was my number one.
When I made my old blend “321 Full”, it was my attempt at making a blend that would complement the Sobranie. My skill level being rather rudimentary at the time, it was a good blend, but not stellar by any means. But what all of my favorites had in common were: rich smokiness, bright, fragrant, incense-like aroma, a somewhat sweet, almost sparkly flavor with a very clean, pleasant and relatively short aftertaste. Unfortunately, all of my favorites with the exception of Hal O’ The Wynd became unavailable, and the primary Oriental in the Sobranie blends, Yenidje, disappeared as well, so I couldn’t even make 321 Full anymore.
About a year and a half ago, I was informed by a friend that I could get some Yenidje and Basma. I got my hands on some, expecting fair to poor quality. The reality was that the leaf was as good as any I used in the seventies, so I started to put together a blend specifically for my tastes. I wanted to get as many of the elements of the Sobranie, but with a bit more “oomph”, like Bengal Slices. I used tobaccos like yellow Virginia from the U.S. and Bulgaria, Yenidje, Basma, Cyprian Latakia and Perique. There were about 7 attempts before the “eureka” moment, but when it happened, it was amazing. I lit up a bowl and the flavors really popped. I had found my manna.
Monday night, while I was visiting with Scott Stultz in Pennsylvania, I tried my first bowls of Magnum Opus.
I wanted to write and tell you my feelings about the blend. It is superb. Absolutely superb. In fact, it may be the single best tobacco blend I have ever smoked. I loved it.
I’m going to be ordering some today for myself. I just couldn’t believe how good it was.
~Neill Archer Roan
I started smoking it regularly without necessarily intending to sell it, and some folks asked if they could try it. The response was amazing. I never suspected that so people would fall in love with this blend. I was so excited by the feedback, that I decided to make a Virginia/Oriental/Perique “cousin” to the new blend, and the reviews of that blend were outstanding as well. I brought some of both to the Richmond CORPS show in 2010 and sampled them to a number of people that I knew, and never expected the enthusiastic response. I rolled them out a month later at the West Coast Pipe Show to strong praise. In the past year, these blends, Magnum Opus (named because I consider it to be my personal masterpiece) and Sweet and Savory have met, thankfully, with almost universal acclaim and have become two of the best sellers we’ve ever made.
From the first email from Fred Goldring, who was very excited about MO, to the review in Pipes & Tobaccos where Tad Gage said that it “raised the bar” to Neill Archer Roan’s comment in his blog, these blends have made me feel that we’ve taken our new products to a higher level, and the sales continue to grow. If you want to experience a blast from the past meeting today’s approach to blending, give Magnum Opus or Sweet & Savory a try.
I’m pretty sure you’ll be back for more.