This morning I received a phone call that I knew would come eventually, but I dreaded getting it. My good friend and colleague, Carl McAllister, the Master Blender and Quality Control Manager for Sutliff Tobacco Company is retiring as of the end of January. I had heard of Carl, but we had never met until 2010 when we began talking to Sutliff (then Altadis) about taking over the manufacturing of Hearth & Home, because I could no longer produce the volume needed. As you might imagine, I had a lot of trepidation about turning over the making of my blends to another company. I needn’t have worried.
I went to their Richmond, Virginia factory and was taken on a tour by Paul Creasy. Along the way Paul got hold of Carl to introduce us and informed me that I’d be working with him if we decided to make the move. Once I had the chance to talk to Carl for a while, I immediately knew that my “babies” were in good hands. I could tell that he was not only knowledgeable, but passionate about pipe tobacco, and would do things exactly the way I had, so the blends wouldn’t change.
When the time came to set up production, I spent about three weeks in Richmond, working with Carl every day going over the blends and my processes. We both had quite a case of leathertongue by the time we were finished, because we probably smoked 7 or 8 bowls during each work day. He had a favorite sports bar that he enjoyed for lunch, and we went there almost every day. During that time we got to know each other pretty well. Carl’s a real history buff and took me around Richmond to point out historical sites. When we would ride in his truck to go to lunch, he always had folk music playing, which I learned was another of his interests. We quickly became friends and I looked forward each time I would go to Richmond
Sometime after Sutliff began making Hearth & Home, Carl and I had the chance to talk during the CORPS Pipe Expo, and while we were sitting with a group of people in the food court area, I mentioned to everyone how much I had learned from Carl about casings and top-dressings, and what a fascinating process it was. What he said next took me by surprise. He told everyone that he felt that his Latakia and Virginia/Perique blends had improved immensely after working with me, because I understood leaf better than anyone he had worked with. I felt so honored to be able to work with someone of his experience level that I never thought that there was anything I knew that could possibly help him.
He first hinted at retirement a couple of years ago, but didn’t have a concrete date set as he still enjoyed his work. He stayed on past the typical retirement age, and I figured that he’d be around for some time, so when he called me today, I was kind of stunned. When we talked, I asked Carl if we could work together on one last blend, and we’ll talk about what we want to do and will produce this tribute to my friend as a Hearth & Home tobacco.
I’m sure that he and I will stay in touch, but I’ll certainly miss working with Carl, and we at PipesandCigars.com, as I’m sure all of you do, wish him nothing but happiness in retirement.