Some of the greatest things that happen to us seem to occur completely randomly. We accidentally meet people who quickly become good friends. Someone mentions a blend that we never heard of, and it becomes a new favorite. As my life has progressed, I’ve come to truly appreciate those oddball circumstances that come from nowhere and wind up being game-changers.
One of the things that I’ve enjoyed the most in the last thirteen years has been the friendships I’ve made through this wonderful hobby. It would be very easy to rant and rave about all the negativity because of recent events, but it’s important to me to look at the positives. My life has been so much happier and richer due to the friends I’ve made, and nothing, FDA included, can take away from that.
Friendships seem to carry a certain amount of serendipity with them. When I have a question about legal matters, I know I can call a friend and get some help. I also know that when I’m on the phone with him, he’ll want some advice on pipes, tobaccos and cigars. Reciprocity is a wonderful thing.
I’m also very fortunate that I work in an industry where the competition is far more amicable than most. I have friends at just about every company in the industry, and many of these people are friends far beyond business. One person in particular that I’ve developed a friendship with is Mark Ryan of Daughters & Ryan and the L.A. Poche Perique Company.
Ours is a friendship that has developed out of geekdom. I traveled down to Mark’s facility in North Carolina to work on a project that we had discussed at one of the pipe shows. We enjoyed talking shop when we would run into each other, and this was an opportunity to work together, so I was looking forward to the trip. A couple of things that I found out about Mark when I got there was that he really loves tobacco, and is very particular about quality. The second thing I learned was that he’s a bit of a pack rat. We went into the warehouse, and he had a few bales here and there of some of the most amazing Orientals that I had seen in years. He would come across small quantities of this great leaf and buy it, knowing that it wasn’t enough to do much with, but he liked the lot enough that he had to buy it.
If you’re reading this, you probably love pipe tobacco, too. But here are two grown men, opening up bales of tobacco, grabbing hands full of leaf and burying our noses in it because we found this tobacco so incredible. We took some, rehydrated it and cut it, and spent the afternoon trying these varietals all on their own, and acting like little kids with new toys. Since that time, we’ve talked a lot, and imagined doing some really unique projects. One of them, I’ve already written about. My recently released RO Series Perique Blends were made possible because Mark allowed me access to varietal St. James Perique from each of the four growing regions of the Parish.
Last October, I went down to attend the New Orleans Pipe Show, but I went down early so I could spend some time at Mark’s operation, so I could really see how Perique is made. We had a great day talking about the process, and he showed me stacks of different tobaccos used for the varying types of products. The next morning, a busload of attendees from the show were coming to take a tour, and I enjoyed being able to give a hand in whatever way I could. The people were thrilled and really had a great time. Mark was so pleased afterward that so many folks showed up and appreciated his hospitality. As we stood there, a thought occurred to me, so I decided to tell him what I was thinking. I asked him if he had ever thought of processing Virginia in the same manner as Perique. He said that he had considered doing it, but someone with a lot of experience told him that it wouldn’t work. I said that I thought that it would work, but it might need less pressure and time in the barrel, because it might ferment so aggressively due to the high sugar content that it would break down if it was left in the barrel too long. Mark was lost in thought and then took his cell phone out and called someone to have a load of lemon-yellow Canadian Virginia sent to St. James to give it a try.
In the meantime, we continued to work on bringing the varietal Perique blends to market, so when I got a call from Mark, I thought that it was an update about the blends. When he got on the phone, I could hear the excitement in his voice. He said that they had opened the barrel of Perique-processed Virginia and that he had tried some and loved it. He told me that a sample was on its way to me, and if I liked it, he would allow me to create some blends from this new tobacco.
When it arrived, I saw this bag of golden-brown tobacco. I knew what the Virginia looked like before processing. It’s some of the brightest yellow leaf I have ever seen. The time in the barrel had darkened it up significantly. The aroma was very different – almost alcoholic, but like a beer or maybe a barleywine. I couldn’t wait to try it. The tobacco had more depth than any Virginia I had ever tried, with a certain maltiness about it. Since the FDA deadline was looming, I got to work right away so we could get blends ready in time. This was no easy task, because I was working feverishly on the War Horse Bar and War Horse Green projects with very little time to finalize things.
I decided that one of the blends would just be the straight tobacco, which I told Mark I was calling Acadian Gold. Then I put together a blend using Perique and another with a bit of Latakia and black Cavendish, so in a very short period of time, we were able to produce the RO Series Acadian Gold blends.
I was thrilled to be involved in the development of something so unique, and I was honored that Mark allowed me to use it. Of course, this is all very bittersweet because this will be the only time it will be produced, but at least we were able to get them out there so people would have the opportunity to try something completely different than anything else.
I may not be able to produce any new blends from this point on, but I’ll be able to look back at this project and the varietal Perique blends as a highlight to my career, coming right at the end of that aspect of what I do. It’s just one more example of what can happen when people with a passion for their livelihood work together.
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.