Our Tobacco Year in Review and Looking to the Future of Tobacco

Russ Ouellette, Master Blender & Tobacconist

Russ Ouellette, Master Blender & Tobacconist

Like many people, I have my grumble period. You know the feeling- you just have one of those days where everything goes wrong and you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, so you go around with your head down, grumbling to yourself.

Of course, grumbling, whining and moaning is a waste of time. I’m fairly sure that it’s helpful in a very small percentage of cases, and I can’t remember a circumstance in my life where it has aided me. Beside that, in retrospect, things really aren’t all that bad.

I have four great daughters who I am close to and a lot of people who I am fortunate enough to call friends (and, no, they’re not all friends because of free tobacco). I live in a great area. For those of you who have never visited upstate New York, you should make the trip; it’s probably not at all what you would expect. We’re the New York with mountains, lakes, vineyards, farms, quaint little towns and friendly people, for the most part.

But, specifically, I love what I do for a living. I work for and with people who I genuinely like, and I get to do something I love, and as a result, I get to be part of a lot of lives in a pleasant way. I get to bring enjoyment to people I don’t even know.

When I get a phone call, letter or email from a customer, it’s almost always an opportunity to make someone happy. Maybe it’s a question, and if I can provide the correct answer, I can brighten someone’s day. It might be a “thank you” from a pipe smoker who is enjoying one of our blends, or it could be a complaint, but that’s an opportunity as well. If I can rectify a problem, the person I’m helping is often more thankful when we clear up a situation than if he or she was happy to begin with.

PipesAndCigars.com Holiday Catalog Staff picture

PipesAndCigars.com Holiday Catalog Staff picture

I’m also very fortunate that our company is very understanding of the creative process, basically giving me the time and materials I need to develop new products and to make the varied blends already in our lineup. I have a free hand to be able to make a new tobacco and then sample it to people for feedback.

In the past year, we started wholesaling our original Hearth & Home tobaccos along with our new  Landmark Series aromatics, so we’re now reaching more pipe smokers because H&H is now available from more retailers around the country and the world, for that matter. Because of that, I developed a new bunch of blends called the Marquee Series, that would be exclusive to Pipes and Cigars.  The first three met with critical and commercial success, much to my relief. Magnum Opus, which is the only blend I’ve made with my own tastes in mind, has been very highly rated, and is a Latakia blend reminiscent of some of my old favorites. Sweet & Savory is a unique Virginia/Oriental/Perique blend that has caught on nicely. Lakeland Brickle was a real toss of the dice. Trying to make a tobacco in the spirit of the Samuel Gawith and Gawith, Hoggarth & Co. with an American twist was kind of risky, and although some people don’t like the flowery character of the blend, many fans of Lakeland style tobaccos have been quite complimentary of how the scents actually compliment, not mask, the natural tobacco flavor. The launch of these blends in the first quarter was stronger than expected, and critics viewed these new blends as a sign that we had taken things to a higher level.

Matt Guss congratulates Throwdown Winner Russ Ouellette

Matt Guss congratulates Throwdown Winner Russ Ouellette

It was a lot of fun going to pipe shows with these new blends because the tobaccos were so well received. Then I was approached about the Balkan Sobranie 759 Throwdown to be held at the Chicagoland Pipe Show in May. I thought that the contest sounded like fun, so I began working on my version of a 759 “clone” to submit. When I hit upon the combination I felt was going to be as close as I could get, I submitted it and looked forward to the show with anticipation.

When we went to the show, I was shocked when we won the Judges’ Award , and the publicity from the event was much greater than I had expected. Because of that, many people who had never tried Hearth & Home blends were giving them a shot for the first time and were becoming regular customers. The flood of compliments, congratulations and well wishes were overwhelming. As I attended more of the shows, I found that we were making inroads with more folks than I had ever expected.

After the new blend (which we named BlackHouse) was rolled out, we also added a stronger version of Lakeland Brickle, called Lakeland Brickle Fortissimo, which also was quite well received. I had promised to make a blend for the West Coast Pipe Show in November, so I began work on my project, which I had named Sierra Nevada, which was a very unique blend that was a big hit at the show.

Just recently, we added two new tobaccos to the Marquee Series. They’re called Virginia Night and Virginia Memory # 10. Virginia Night is a blend of three different types of red Virginias plus a stoved black Virginia as well. It’s deep, rich and sweet, and has gotten the thumbs up from a number of people who’ve recently tried it. Virginia Memory #10 is my take on the well-loved old Sobranie Virginian #10, and has a bright and sweet flavor all tied together by the creaminess of the cigar leaf that sets it apart from similar blends.

new pipe tobacco blends by Hearth & Home

New pipe tobacco blends by Hearth & Home

 

We’ll have a real treat for Latakia lovers for International Pipe Smoker’s Day. Our 2012 IPSD blend will be a very flavorful, Latakia-heavy tobacco which will also be called Cerberus. The first 120 tins will be labeled for IPSD, and after that, it will become part of the Marquee  Series.

What next? Who knows? Maybe it will be from an idea that you give me. Either way, as much fun as 2011 was, I’m willing to bet that 2012 will be even better.

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About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for www.pipesandcigars.com in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144.