I’ve been absent from Pipes Magazine for a while now. It’s not that I don’t want to write anymore, it’s been a sheer matter of lack of time. I’ve been involved with 11 new blends that have hit the market in the last few months, and I’ve got dozens more in the works. But that’s not the only thing that’s kept me hopping.
I’m much more involved, these days, with the day-to-day operation of our company, so I’ve been getting my hands dirty with developing three new lines of pipes and new accessories. I’ve been working on new pipe cleaning products, and the results thus far have turned out great. What I’ve tried to do is to identify some of the drawbacks to some of the mainstream products and find a way to eliminate, or, at the very least, mitigate those properties.
What all of this has done is to give me a new perspective on our pastime, and has allowed me to become more creative. This past year has been rather intense so I haven’t really had the opportunity to take a step back to analyze. But now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, some things are more apparent to me.
The first thing I’ve noticed is that there’s been a lot more innovation in the pipe industry in the last ten years than I can remember in any other decade. The new engineering approaches that have become widespread are leading to pipes that smoke incredibly well. Certainly, there’s a lot of creativity in shapes and finishes by various pipe makers. More blends are surfacing that fly in the face of convention, but at the same time, some great traditional-style blends are being brought to market.
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Russ Ouellette in the shop working up a blend.
When I look at the hobby as a consumer, I’m amazed at the number of choices we have. Regardless of your tastes, there are a lot of options in every segment of the market. From the reliable and inexpensive Missouri Meerschaum corn cobs to the elegant and intricate designs of master pipe makers, there are a plethora of options for everyone.
Tobacco has changed too, but some of the changes are counter-intuitive. It would make sense that, since a lot of farmers have stopped growing tobacco, the overall quality of pipe tobacco would decline. But with the numbers of pipe smokers remaining fairly level, or modestly increasing and cigarette consumption continuing to wane, pipe tobacco companies have access to fine leaf. Creative thinking has been used to develop new blends unlike anything previously available.
I have so many projects on my plate that I’ve had little spare time, but that’s fine because this has been the most productive period of my life and the opportunities seem limitless. As I continue to work on these tasks, I’ve come to more greatly appreciate the people I know and get to work with on an ongoing basis. This is the only industry that I’ve been involved in where people from competing companies will offer solutions to problems with a competitor. Maybe that’s the reason why I don’t mind long hours. When you feel that you’re even a very small part of such an interesting hobby, full of top-flight people, it makes it really easy to get up in the morning.
Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe and 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-800-494-9144 on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 am to 5 pm and Friday from 1 pm to 5 pm.