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Interview With Master Blender Russ Ouellette - Part 2

    February 12th, 2010

 

By Bob Tate

russ-ouellette-01In part 1 of our interview with Russ Ouellette (Blendtobac), we talked about some of the things he has done before he got heavily involved in the tobacco industry. We also talked about how he got started blending pipe tobacco blends, how he maintains the consistency of his blends, some of the problems that he has acquiring certain tobacco components, and a few other things. Here, we pick up the interview where we left off in Part 1:

PipesMagazine (PM): What are some of the major changes that you have seen in the pipe industry over the years that you have been involved?

Russ: Certainly from the pipe end of things, some of the old brands are not quite what they used to be, but there are still a lot of wonderful pipes out there. I think one of the best things to happen is that we’re seeing more individual carvers around the world. There weren’t that many individual artisans in the US in the 70’s even though the market was pretty strong. It was mostly mass manufactured, even though a lot of those brands produced wonderful quality pipes. But now we’re seeing a lot more one-of-a-kind freehand pipes by very, very talented carvers.

In terms of tobaccos though, it’s radically in the other direction where the European cigarette companies have snapped up a lot of the Oriental tobaccos that used to be available for pipe blends and some of those tobaccos that I mentioned to you before just aren’t available. Mike McNeil [McClelland Tobacco] was able to acquire a number of different Orientals because he has a friend in the cigarette business. Unfortunately, I don’t have a contact like that; that would allow me that kind of access. And a lot of the old blends have disappeared; the current versions aren’t the same as what they used to be. The one thing that I think a lot of people don’t understand is the subtle complexities of the tobacco leaf, and they shouldn’t have to. Unless you’re dealing with it, you won’t recognize it unless you’re doing it all the time. One of the problems that I have seen in recent years is that a blend will become unavailable and I’ll get phone call after phone call, you know “Can you reproduce it?” Some people say that they can and they make an attempt, and sometimes they do a great job of it. Read the rest of this entry »