Two Sides of the Same Coin

So far, I’ve made five pipe blends that contain some cigar leaf. I use it for two reasons- like Maryland, it can help the burning qualities of a too-slow-smoking mixture, and it increases the amount and density of the smoke itself. The most recent was Virginia Memory No. 10 from the Hearth & Home Marquee Series. I really had no intention to do another one anytime soon, but I received requests to create a number of blends for three different companies, all containing some cigar leaf. Two of the projects are for cigar companies, so they sent me some tobacco to use in the blends, and I received samples of a third mixture of cigar tobacco for the other one.

The first one consisted of mostly Java and Sumatra. It had qualities that most cigar leaf has, but it also had a floral/herbal character with some sweetness. The next sample was from Costa Rica, and it had strong wood and roasted nut flavors. The last was Nicaraguan and Honduran, all ligero. For the uninitiated, ligero are the leaves highest up on the plant, which tend to be the most potent, and this tobacco didn’t disappoint in that regard. I used a small tasting pipe and got blasted with espresso, earth and a healthy dose of black pepper. For obvious reasons, whatever I make with this tobacco will contain a fairly small amount of cigar leaf. This stuff was so robust that I almost got the nic-hics (hiccups caused by a quick shot of nicotine), and the bowl only lasted about 20 minutes. I’m no nicotine wimp, but this stuff was strong.

The drastic differences in all three cigar tobaccos got me thinking about how soil and climate affect tobaccos. Most commercial tobaccos all stem from the same species, called nicotiana tabacum. I’ve heard that the original strain was most like modern Burley, but it varied depending upon where it grew. Even within the same category, tobacco will be quite different based upon the growing region and how the leaf is processed. Burley can be quite mild and almost bland, in the case of white Burley, but it can be downright powerful in its darker forms. Virginias can be sweet, citrusy and grassy (lemon yellow), toasty (red) or earthy (brown). They can also be fairly low in nicotine, or they can be really strong, like Gawith, Hoggarth & Co.’s and Samuel Gawith’s tobaccos. Orientals may belong to the same family, but the flavor palette is pretty broad, ranging from earthy with a lot of umami to bright, slightly sweet and floral.

All this brings me back to making these blends. It’s going to be a challenge to make blends that pipe smokers will enjoy while showcasing the cigar leaf, which will be a necessary part of the project. If nothing else, these blends present me with some interesting work, and I love to think outside the box.

About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for 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 or by calling 1-800-494-9144.