Put that in Your Pipe

The Development of a New Blend

Russ Ouellette
Since returning to PipesandCigars.com from my illness,
I’ve spent a good amount of time preparing for the release of my newest entry to the Hearth & Home Marquee Series- Fusilier’s Ration. I’m really excited about this one as it’s the culmination of three years worth of trial and error, but I feel that it is one of the best things that I have done in the last seven years. So I thought that I would recount the process regarding this new pressed Latakia-based cake.

I’m haunted by memories. That’s been the impetus behind the creation of BlackHouse and some of the other tobaccos in our lineup. The one that has really stuck in my mind was my recollection of the Celebrated Bengal Slices. There was something almost magical about the bright, rich flavor and incense-like aroma of those slices in the black, red and yellow tin. I keep thinking back to those wonderful hours spent enjoying that blend.

I made a couple of early attempts, but was terribly disappointed with the results. The Orientals that I had to work with just didn’t have the punch I wanted. After those trials, I shelved the project for quite some time. Just when it seemed that I would never find the right tobaccos to capture the essence of my old favorite, a quantity of great leaf became available. So, as Sherlock Holmes would say, the game was afoot.

We had so many projects in the hopper that pursuing this project had to be put on the back burner. When I finally had some time, I began to play around with it again, but again, the trials fell a bit short. I felt that the problem was with the Virginias. From time to time, I would go “in search of”, but never found what I was looking for. Finally, I came across some Brightleaf that I thought promising.

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I put together some test batches using Latakia, those terrific Orientals, the superb new Virginias and some unflavored black Cavendish. One brick was particularly promising, but there was something still missing, and that was the unique topping that was used in the venerable cake.

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Now, I know that some people will pooh-pooh an effort like this, as I agree with others, including Greg Pease, that it’s impossible to duplicate someone else’s work. That was never my intention; I just wanted to capture some of the essence of the memories that I had. The way I look at it is this: I’ve gone to a restaurant and had a terrific meal and then spent time at home trying to recreate it. Why is this any different? So, even though I knew that I couldn’t make an exact clone of my old favorite, just as I could never exactly mimic that meal, I wanted to see if I could get close enough to trigger some long past emotions.

As to the top dressing(s), I gave it some thought regarding the type of flavorings that would have been used when Bengal Slices were created. This was actually a bit easier than I first thought as the choices were very limited as to what could be used. I narrowed it down to about five possibilities. I began by starting with the tobacco blend that I had settled on, and then tried each one individually. Two, in particular, had a familiarity, but neither one clicked, so logic dictated that it must be a combination of them. After a few tweaks, I tried my new blend and was thrilled with the result; my long quest was finally over, I thought … but I was wrong.

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In mid April, I became ill with what appeared to be the flu. I pounded fluids and took ibuprofen, but after ten days I didn’t improve. I was cajoled by my daughters to see a doctor, which is something I hadn’t done in a long time. To make an already too long story short, I was diagnosed with a severe infection in my left foot which was exacerbated by undiagnosed diabetes. I hadn’t taken good care of myself, but I wasn’t prepared for this. The doctors took an aggressive approach, and I wound up having my left leg amputated below the knee. I realized that I had to take control of my life and became very serious about eating well and getting healthy. In the interim, I’ve lost 45 pounds, lowered my blood pressure and cholesterol and have gotten my diabetes under such good containment that I’m taking minimal medication. I’ve been fitted with an incredible prosthesis and am walking better than I have in the last ten years. I’m back up to full strength and am hitting the gym every other day. Because of all this, I came back to work energized and raring to go. So it made sense to me that it was time to roll out my new blend, Fusilier’s Ration.

Since I returned to the show circuit for the CORPS show in Richmond last weekend, it seemed like the perfect time to bring this to market. Our crack graphic artist here at PipesandCigars.com, Josh Crystal, did an amazing job on the label art, and we’re ready to go. I handed out a lot of samples at the show, and am eager for feedback.

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Since I feel reborn, the introduction of what I feel is one of my best pieces of work as my “comeback” feels very appropriate. I had enough time to plan for upcoming projects that I am excited about this next phase of my career, and I hope to be looking at the maturation of my work. With my upcoming blend for the West Coast Pipe Show in Las Vegas in November, this will be a very busy time for me, and I can’t wait. I hope that many of you will give these new tobaccos a try and let me know what you think. It’s the enjoyment of our customers that drives me, and I hope to bring more to the plate to please pipe smokers and, oh yeah, you can read about them and get them here.

 

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe and www.pipesandcigars.com in Albany, NY. 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 on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 am to 5 pm and Friday from 1 pm to 5 pm.

See our interview with Russ Ouellette Here

 

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    Jud
  • October 9, 2012
I'll have to try some of this at some point. Never had Bengal Slices.
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    simenon
  • October 9, 2012
Best of luck with your health, Mr Ouellette. Nice to see that you have revived another lost blend...
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    Bill Brooks
  • October 9, 2012
Years ago I smoaked many tins of Bengal Slices. Will look forward giving this a try
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    cigrmaster
  • October 9, 2012
Glad to hear your health has improved and you are happy with the results of your latest creation.
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    shawn622
  • October 9, 2012
What an inspiring story. Glad you are back Russ.
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    cortezattic
  • October 9, 2012
It's interesting to learn about the challenges involved in developing a new blend, or in trying to recapture the magic of one that has fallen by the wayside. Thanks for taking the time to write-up the article. Nicely done, but I had to look up the word fusil :)
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    Rigmedic1
  • October 9, 2012
Hang in there Russ, it can only get better from there. I am looking forward to trying Fuselier's Ration, to see if it sparks some memories.
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    baronsamedi
  • October 10, 2012
After reading this it is clear that I must try this blend! P&C will be hearing from me soon! 2012 must be the year of resurrection.
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    Chris G
  • October 10, 2012
Great to hear and see you looking so well Russ! I have spent the last few days with Fusilier's and it is the real deal! Great job!
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    doctorthoss
  • October 10, 2012
First off, it's great to know you're feeling well and retaining such a positive attitude!
I have a question: You mentioned that there were very few topping that "could" have been used, and that you were able to narrow it down to five. Would you care to explain why there were so few potential candidates and a little more about the process? I'm asking because I've been wanting to experiment some with flavoring on my own, plus I'm just curious.
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    DanS-NYPC
  • October 10, 2012
So glad to hear you are back to health, Russ. Last night, I had a chance to smoke both Fusilier’s and Bengal Slices side-by-side!
The Bengal was great to smoke again [danish production] but your Fusilier’s was more than a great match in taste and body, it was also smooth, creamy and complex. Wonderful!
All the best going forward, Dan
B
The reason that the flavoring choices were limited is that the British Commonwealth used to have regulations somewhat similar to the German beer purity laws. The approved flavorings were limited to liquors and certain others such as maple, molasses, licorice and a handful of others.
Flavoring at home is a bit more difficult than it sounds. The casings (applied at the beginning of the final processing) are usually water-based, applied using a vacuum chamber and then dried in a special device. The top-dressings are alcohol-based and are normally used with a carrier(a safe liquid). The vast majority of toppings are made by companies specifically for use on tobacco. I'm not trying to discourage trying it, but without the right kind of flavors and equipment, it's more likely to be a miss rather than a hit.
Russ
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    maduroman
  • October 10, 2012
give 'er hell, Russ.
i have put your new blend on my next order list.
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    nismo270r
  • October 11, 2012
Great to hear you're back in the full swing and doing well! I definitely look forward to giving this a try and will be adding a couple tins to my next order. Thanks!
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    chuckb
  • October 12, 2012
It was great to see you again at the CORPS show, and even better to see you looking so well. I picked up enough of a sample for 2 bowls, and really love it. Good job, Russ!
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    Walkman
  • October 15, 2012
Glad to hear that you're doing well and back on the circuit. I've ordered both Black House and Fusilier's Ration and can't wait to give them a try. Thanks, Russ.
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    kashmir
  • October 17, 2012
Russ - Really glad you're back in the game. Can't wait to try this new blend of yours. Pressed Latakia Kake reminiscent of Bengal Slices! Sounds like another homerun to me. Many thanks!
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    Pauljmjr
  • October 18, 2012
Russ - first of all, glad you're feeling better and back at it. Secondly, I have to commend you on developing some of the best blends I've ever tried. I've been smoking a pipe on and off for about 40 years, and I've only just within the last several months tried some of your offerings. I've been making my way through Magnus Opus, Black House, and just recently your new creation Fusilier's Ration. If I was left with only those three blends to smoke from here to eternity, I'd be a very happy and contented puffer! Great job and thanks so much for all your efforts.
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    Charles Funn
  • October 20, 2012
Was glad to see you in Richmond. Didn't try the new blend but loved the Slice O' Gold, as you probably realized and can't wait until it is produced after Vegas. Glad to see you're in control of your diabeties. I've had it for 16 years so I can appreciate your recovery. Keep blending..you do excellent work Russ..
Funn
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    smokey422
  • October 28, 2012
Russ, so glad you're back to better health with a positive attitude. I've been smoking your wonderful Classic Burley Kake and enjoying it immensely. I still need regular doses of Larry's Blend, too. Now I'm waiting for my first tin of Black House along with my new pipe from P&C. You have a loyal customer for life!
Smokey
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    dhfairbanks
  • October 29, 2012
Welcome back Russ! I am working through my first tin of Fusiliers ration.Do I detect licorice and molasses aka treacle? Licorice makes sense for the British palette (sweet tooth) and I love the essence. Spent 10 yrs in South Africa where like every Brit commonwealth the love of licorice is supreme. I figured you blended it with molasses as they go well together. Well whatever you did it was time and thinking well spent on a wonderful blend. Thanks for sharing your passion with us. Much appreciated!
B
You're half right. There's licorice in the topping as it was widely used as a sweetener in British tobacco blends. The other one remains a mystery...bwahahahaha!
Russ
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    RichC
  • October 31, 2012
I enjoy your blends Russ & look forward to this new one. Glad you took control of your health & are back to doing what you enjoy. God Bless!
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    slownumbers39
  • November 8, 2012
Russ, was great to meet you at the 2012 West Coast Pipe Show. Thanks for the sample of your new blend, Fusilier's Ration. Looking forward to trying it soon.
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