A Different Kind of Blending

hearth home jpgIn all, I’ve been a tobacco blender for just shy of forty years now. I’ve done enough different blends over that time that, frankly, it’s becoming harder and harder to figure out how not to repeat myself. Luckily, I have people who let me know about unique components so I can keep things fresh. But there’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time that’s finally going to happen, and I thought I’d let you in on  it while we’re still in the development stage.

I’ve written a number of articles for Talking Tobacco about cigars, and I’m personally responsible for putting all the new sticks on PipesandCigars.com, plus I write the copy for the site. So I guess you could say that I’m pretty comfortable around cigars. For the last few years, I’ve been thinking about a cigar for the Hearth & Home line, but other things always seemed to take precedence. So when some samples crossed my (perpetually overcrowded) desk recently from a Nicaraguan boutique manufacturer, I wasn’t thinking about much of anything other than “oh, good, another cigar to try”. I lit it up and was intrigued by the flavor and aroma. It wasn’t quite my cup of tea, but it was very good. I contacted our liaison with the cigar factories to find out about the blend. I found out the name of the factory and got specifics about the tobaccos that went into the cigar. It had a nice Habano wrapper from Ecuador, and that was good to hear because many of my favorites use some form of Habano. The binder came from Condega, and the filler came from Jalapa and Condega, with the ligero hailing from Esteli. On the surface, it seemed like it should be right up my alley, but it came up a bit short.

I mentioned this to one of my co-workers who spends a lot of time developing new cigars, and he told me that this company was very easy to work with and that they would be glad to tweak a blend. Then he asked me if I had a project in mind, and the light went on – this could be the Hearth & Home cigar. I wanted more depth in the cigar, so the first thing we did was to use a binder from higher up on the plant. Then we did a second version with the higher priming binder and we went for filler that was also a bit fuller-bodied. I personally enjoy powerhouse cigars, but that’s not what I was looking for, here. I wanted a cigar with plenty of flavor, but I didn’t want it to be overwhelming. Most importantly, I wanted it to be balanced. It needed to be sweet and spicy in the right proportions, but it had to have depth, too. After trying the samples, I found the right blend. What struck me was that there was a quality to the cigar that reminded me of some Cubans I’ve tried over the years.

We’re in the process of designing the box and bands, and we’re drawing imagery from Havana, specifically the main avenue that runs along the shore. That scenic street has given the cigar its name – Hearth & Home Marquee El Malecòn. With any luck, we’ll have them in stock before the end of the year. It’s something I’ve always wanted to be involved in, and now I can check another dream off the list.

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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.