It Stretches Credulity

Proof that this man’s blood runs pure black!

The title of this post is a paraphrase from Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean Part 3. The fundamental meaning is that the subject is very hard to believe. And, trust me, this one still makes me shake my head.

Back in May of 2011, I was fortunate enough to have my entry in the Balkan Sobranie 759 Throwdown selected as the winner of the Judge’s Award. It was a real honor to win the inaugural contest, and I couldn’t wait to get home and put the new blend, named BlackHouse, into production.

We sent out the first batch to be tinned, and spread the word about its availability. Apparently the word had gotten out before we began to publicize it, as I was fielding phone calls about it before we even put it on our website. To say that sales were brisk would be an understatement. We had to send out another batch before we even received the first one back.

Then, as had happened so many times before, the power of the internet kicked in, and orders accelerated even further. What started out as a contest entry turned into our biggest seller in no time. It also put Hearth & Home on the map, as a lot of people who had never tried our tobaccos fell in love with BlackHouse.

The internet buzz increased, rather than flagging, and threads about the blend popped up on pretty much all the forums. Some people became so enraptured with it that it was taking on a cult status. I went to subsequent pipe shows, and was overwhelmed by all the positive comments about it, and the people who purchased it often tried some of our other blends as well. In the last year, the sales of Hearth & Home have grown exponentially, and our new releases are hotly anticipated. Frankly, I’m still not used to this growth.

One of the banner carriers for BlackHouse is Clint Love, who is known by the handle Baron Samedi. He had become a one-man publicity machine with his posts about his love for BlackHouse and also for Magnum Opus. Where we had expected an eventual drop-off, our orders kept growing (and are still doing so) due to, in no small part, Clint’s extolling the virtues of our blends.

As time went on, more people jumped on Clint’s bandwagon and they formed a casual group called the BlackBloods. Clint went as far as to have a crest created, and all the members were encouraged to put the crest in their signature. Threads began popping up just for the BlackBloods.

In one of the threads Clint wrote that he was thinking about the possibility of getting a BlackHouse tattoo. I wrote that we’d supply him with some tobacco if he went through with it. I had a good chuckle about it, and figured that it would be fodder for chat for a little bit of time, and then it would quiet down, but I hadn’t counted on the enthusiasm of Baron Samedi.

We communicated and Clint wanted to go through with the tattoo, amazingly, with his wife’s blessing. He just asked me for some of the elements of the label art and he would develop a final design and send it to me for my okay. The impact of this finally hit me. Something that I created had such an effect on someone that he wanted to put a symbol of it on his body…permanently. Talk about a humbling moment. Hell, I had thought, for a brief moment, about getting a Hearth & Home tattoo myself, but it’s my brand. The idea that anyone would enjoy one of my blends to that degree, well, I couldn’t really believe it.

Clint emailed me files of the potential artwork, and I was stunned by the beauty and intricacy of the design. I was happy to tell him to go ahead, if that’s what he wanted to do. The session took 4 ½ hours and no inconsiderable amount of pain. It’s large, colorful and goes almost from his right shoulder to the middle of his chest (see the photo on this page).

This isn’t about the novelty of the situation or the positive buzz that this has created. This is about someone finding a lot of pleasure in a product that we make. It’s sort of like sitting at a school assembly where one of your children is being honored for his or her work.

At a time when reflection is natural as we look back upon a nearly completed year, this year has been a real roller coaster for me, but this is the sort of thing that really helps to cap off 2012 in a positive way. I really am amazed that Clint wanted to do this. Just remember kids, that he’s a professional BlackBlood. Please don’t try this at home.

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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.