A Daunting Proposition

JC Smyrna No 1 No. 1 & 2I’ve put together a number of “tribute” blends. One of the first Hearth & Home Signature Series tobaccos, Old Tartan, was an homage to what my father used to smoke. I did a number of these kinds of blends, including BlackHouse, WhiteKnight and Fusilier’s Ration. I may have opened myself up to criticism as people compared them to their memories of the original, but they weren’t intended to be exactly like the originals, they were meant to evoke memories of them. But then I was offered the opportunity to work on a project that, frankly, scared the hell out of me…

Dan Z. Johnson and Simon Thurlaw, who are kindred spirits, had lunch and a modicum of warm sake one day and were talking about old tobacco brands, and they wondered if any of those old trademarks were lying dead. So the two of them, along with Simon’s associate, Roger Fidler, set out to see if any classic brands had been abandoned. They determined that the John Cotton’s name, and an old Irish brand, War Horse, were there for the taking. They filed for the trademarks and waited. Dan and I happen, by sheer coincidence, to belong to the same pipe club, so at one of our meetings, Dan broached the subject by asking me if I’d be willing to take a crack at recreating the old blends. I had fond memories of No. 1, Nos. 1 & 2 and Smyrna, and while I try to avoid self-promotion, one thing that I possess is a very strong palate memory. But this was an entirely different kettle of fish as compared to my “tributes”. I had to get them so close that they would be able to bear the original names. I hadn’t ever tried War Horse, however, but fortunately, Dan and Simon has sent a sample to an Israeli laboratory that did work for the Mossad to have it analyzed, so I had a strong basis to work from. When I accepted the challenge, they asked me if there was any other trademark that I might be interested in, and I immediately said “Bengal Slices”. They checked into it and that marque was available as well. I began my research by getting my hands on vintage samples of the Cotton’s blends to use as a way of triggering my memory of how they used to taste, and then I got my hands on whatever blending notes were out there. In the meantime, we waited to see if the trademarks would be approved.

Of course, there’s a lot more to a project like this. As I got closer to where I wanted the blends to be, we had to think about labels for the tins. Bengal Slices was the low-hanging fruit. The art was so iconic, it was just a matter of resizing it to fit the round tin. Since the initial version of War Horse that we’re going to release is the ready cut, we started from scratch with that label. We’re planning a plug version, called War Horse Bar, in the near future, and we might try for a more fragrant iteration as well. The labels for John Cotton’s was a different matter. There were so many changes made over the years that we had to decide which era to focus on.

When I had the blends fairly well finalized, we began sampling them to people, and the reception was very positive, but many of the people who had tried them had never had the originals, so when Dan told me that he was going to bring them to the Christopher Morley Club meeting in Philadelphia, I began to get a little nervous. I became even more fidgety when I found out that William Serad would be trying them. William wrote the Trial by Fire tobacco reviews for Pipes & Tobaccos Magazine for a number of years, so I wondered what the reception would be.

The next month, I went to their meeting myself, and had the chance to talk to Mr. Serad, he told me that John Cotton’s Smyrna was the most faithful reproduction of an old blend that he has ever tried, and that’s especially impactful, since that was one of his favorites back in the day.

Now we’re coming up on the release of all these blends. We’re taking pre-orders on John Cotton’s tobaccos (as of 11/15/15), with deliveries starting around 12/1, and we’ll be taking pre-orders for Bengal Slices and War Horse Ready Cut effective 12/15/15, targeting 1/1/16 for release.

It hasn’t always been a smooth road, and it’s still a daunting proposition, but we’re all really excited to see what’s next.

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.