We reviewed the new Gambler tobacco from Republic last time. Since then, it has quickly appeared at many outlets and distribution houses. As expected, it has become a significant success story. We updated our readers on the fact that this very good low-cost tobacco is now available in a Light and Menthol version as well as the original Full Flavor shown at left. Perhaps even more significant is that Gambler followed a marketing strategy that is becoming quite popular and that is that it (as mentioned above) comes is several varieties. Traditionally, few packaged tobaccos explored the full range idea especially under the same name. Sure, Lane LTD's Bugler, one of the most popular rolling tobaccos of all time, has their menthol version, Kite, (shown at right) but there is no Bugler Menthol. Today we find over 20 significant brands that have expanded their theme to include several varieties. For instance, Bugler's principal rival, TOP, from Republic now comes in a Light and Menthol version. These new additions (especially the Light) are not only attempts to provide variety but show improvements in the blends as well. The TOP Light is in fact very good tobacco to our tastes. Please remember that we tend to favor lighter tobaccos in general as long as their lightness is achieved without noticeable flavor loss. The new TOP Light quite readily fills this requirement. Now TOP and Bugler are by no means inexpensive tobaccos. They cost quite a bit more than the previously mentioned Gambler line. In the same way, the ZEN line we reviewed last time has a wide selection of strengths and flavors that they offer at significant savings though we find some of their blends not nearly as tasty as the new TOP or Gambler. In fact, we were most impressed with their Light version as well as their really catchy (ZEN) name. Again, this is a case of personal preference and one should not hesitate to try all of the tobaccos we mention and make determinations best suited for their own tastes.
Nonetheless, the trend of providing a of variety blends within a brand seems to be the wave of the future. The McClintock Line from Peter Stokkebye International has now expanded to four varieties in several different size containers, some with new cosmetics. Their popular original Golden Virginia now comes in an all gold can and is still available only in seven ounce cans and 1.25 ounce pouches. The rest of the line however, which is an extension of their very popular McClintock Red (Full Flavor), is now available in 1.25 ounce pouches, plus seven and fourteen ounce cans. It includes a Light version of the Red (which is delicious) and a Menthol as well. These two new blends are remarkable for, though they are high quality tobacco products, their pricing especially in the 14 ounce can variety, is nearly as frugal as many of the so-called low cost bulk bagged blends. Now, I must admit that I have seven favorite tobaccos that I regularly smoke (I mention this because our very large volume of e-mail always has a considerable proportion of readers who want to know what I smoke). The personal favorites I enjoy are in order of preference Bali Red, Ramback Turkish, and McClintock Golden Virginia with Stokkebye's Stockholm, Lane's Oriental, Samson Gold, and Gauloises Halfzware following closely as daily diversions and as part of my tobacco mixing propensity. But even with my stated preferences and frankly my ability, due in large part to this magazine, to have any tobacco I want on hand, I occasionally find certain tobaccos that are not on my most favorite list to be most satisfying and the new McClintock Light is one such treat. It is reminiscent of a tobacco we tried and reviewed last year which was a private label blended by Stokkebye International for Core-Mark, Master Roll Light (now a defunct brand shown at left). Its burning characteristics are very similar to Bali Red (at least when the Red has a chance to dry out a bit) though the taste is admittedly different. Like all Stokkebye products, there is no tell-tale taste of cheap leaf in this blend and McClintock Light in the large 14 ounce can represents quite a bargain at the sales counter.
At this point, I suppose it would be fair to our readers to share with them what I have discovered over the years as to what causes some of the "cheap leaf" taste I so often refer to. It's the BURLEY! Quite simply, I have little desire for the taste of any but the highest quality "toasted" burley tobacco often referred to as fire cured. Burley has an earthy taste (almost muddy, if you will) that bothers me and interferes with the more subtle flavors of the Virginia and Oriental (Turkish) tobaccos that I most enjoy. The toasted, and higher grade burley varieties, which you will find in higher quality (and usually higher priced) blends, can add a degree of warmth and smoothness which is appreciated but in its less aged and cured form (mostly flu cure), Kentucky Burley simply used as filler is a personal turn-off. So even though most blends contain SOME Burley, the ones I tend to enjoy most have it as a very subtle component. And as Burley, in general, is less expensive and often used as filler, cheap blends of tobaccos often have disproportionately large amounts of it. The McClintock Light does not as does neither Gambler Light nor the TOP Light. In fact, I would speculate that one of the characteristics of lighter tobaccos is that they contain less Burley in general, hence probably a significant reason for my predilection for them.
Now that this little educational journey away from the subject at hand (which is varieties within brand name blends) is over, let me continue with another brand that has achieved real success with a tri-blend array (Full-Flavor, Light, Menthol). Zig-Zag's line of American Style tobaccos, while not my personal favorite, has attracted the attention of many packaged cigarette smokers. In its full flavor form, its Marlboro like taste is a great first blend for those who are migrating to the MYO methodology. This is quality tobacco, but like Bugler, it is just a bit too strong for me. (In all fairness, many readers find my favorites too mild for them.) I, of course, like the Light version better and never smoke Menthol anything (or rub Vicks on my chest no matter how sick I might be). Their other variation, Zig-Zag Mild Golden Halfzware, is still a delight and to this day I always have some around. The point is that Zig-Zag, like the others mentioned above, has adopted a philosophy of providing a full range of variety within its brand name lineup. It is not inexpensive tobacco but is quite popular with a large portion of the MYO market and, more importantly, it comes with an array of other namesake products like great King-Size & 100mm tubes with hand injectors to match so that retailers can have full product lines within fewer brands. We discussed this strategy in our previous issue with ZEN products and there can be no doubt that offering everything for the MYO enthusiast within a single brand name (especially one as well known for quality as Zig-Zag) is a real advantage to both the manufacturer and the retailer. But the consistent quality, rep support, and availability must be there and that takes a well organized operation. And in this area, Zig-Zag has few equals.
Among the better known brands that are like the ones above (in so far as they have a preponderance of variety) is Sixty-One. We have reviewed Sixty-One products in the past and they, like Zen, have just about everything (short of premium cigars and pipe tobaccos) a smoke shop needs to function. From tubes, injectors, papers and other accessories to a very diverse line of tobacco products including little cigars, Nationwide Tobacco (Sixty-One) made the decision quite a while ago to be, as much as possible, all things to all people. Their original line of tobacco was very well received due mainly to its groundbreaking low cost but for what you paid, you got a reasonable product, certain one with better flavor than any manufactured cigarette we care to mention. Recently, we were told that a problem with batches of Sixty One was noticed and the company quickly replaced and repaired the damage caused to its market share. However, of more interest to this article, is the fact that Nationwide believes in diversity to a fault and has a continual program of launching new products just in case older ones eventually lose market share. A case in point was their Sixty-One Smooth which we reviewed in October of 2001. This tobacco was, in our opinion, a real improvement in flavor and Nationwide made the usual Full-Flavor, Light and Menthol components of this blend to satisfy each niche of the market. In addition, they came up with a new container that we feel is still one of the best in the business (shown at right). The Smooth version, by the way, is now available only in the small pouches. But they didn't rest on their laurels long as they now have a new line that is an MSA compliant tobacco (important as it safely extends their market reach) known as North. This stuff is even better to our taste than the Smooth and shows a continual progression toward higher quality and smoother taste while never abandoning the price conscious segment of the market. And, of course, North comes in several variations, Full, Light and Menthol, with a stronger menthol rumored in the works. It comes in both boxed pouches (shown at left) and in the innovative plastic jars like their Smooth offerings used to (shown above right). It can take one quite a while to read the product catalog from Nationwide. They have MANY dozens of products and perhaps have the single largest product array under one brand name in the business. This is a trend that others like HBI with their ZEN products are emulating and in some case even expanding on, especially in the accessories department. It no doubt improves both of these company's visibility potential and makes things easier for the retailer, who can deal with fewer reps and make fewer decisions as to the products they carry. We do not personally subscribe to this philosophy as we feel tobacco shops should offer as much variety across brand name lines as possible keeping in mind that the tastes of smokers are far more diverse in the MYO world than they are in the packaged cigarette arena. Nonetheless, having variety within a brand is becoming a necessity and not all tobacco retailers have or take the time to acquire the knowledge necessary to make wise inventory choices, from the myriad of possibilities, with any confidence. The real pros do and when you walk into a "professional" tobacco shop, you WILL notice the difference.
There is one area for Sixty-One and, for that matter, all other manufacturers to take a look at. As we receive a lot of tobacco for review, some of it coming from quite far away, we have noted a certain amount of cross-flavoring that occurs, especially when mentholated or flavored styles are packaged with regular blends. We mentioned the kinds of problems this flavor "contamination" can cause in our last issue when we reviewed the Dingler line of tobacco from South Africa. We found that what was obviously a very nice quality tobacco, had picked up the taste of some of the flavored tobacco included in our sample package and thus interfered with the true quality flavor of that regular flavored tobacco. We found a similar problem with the North we received from Nationwide this time. The damage this causes is by no means permanent as it took only a couple of days of "airing out" to return the regular blends of North to their smokeable quality but we do feel that manufacturers and distributors would be wise to take note of the possibility of flavor contamination when shipping a variety of flavors in a single carton. As we mentioned last time when regular flavored tobacco is kept in proximity with mentholated the result is an almost moldy taste for the regular. Even though this will dissipate with time, it nonetheless can be a turnoff for the consumer who first tastes the tobacco.
Yet another other issue that we would have tobacco manufacturers take note of is that no unsealed rolling papers be bundled in direct proximity to tobacco. Most suppliers enclose their bundled papers in cello or plastic or when in pouches, have the papers in the folded flap where the paper is isolated from the tobacco. In the jars of North we looked at, four packs of unwrapped rolling papers were included in each jar right on top of the tobacco. We all know that damp cardboard has an unpleasant odor and the interleaved packaging material plus the very nature of cigarette papers regardless of what they are made from (rice, hemp, flax or tree products) is that, when damp, they can transmit some of their undesirable "damp paper" flavor to the tobacco. And tobacco is ideally moist when fresh. Again, this all goes away on airing so if you get a can or pouch of tobacco that tastes a little funny, let it air out a bit. Although tobacco will greedily absorb odors, it likewise will lose them rather quickly in clean air. However, the best way to avoid this is to isolate tobacco from any possible sources of unintentional flavoring either when shipping or storing.
We began this article with the premise that we are noticing a majority of major brands of rolling tobacco are coming in many more varieties. One of the most interesting things related to this we have noticed is that many "bulk" or smaller name, private label products are beginning to adopt this philosophy as well. One of the nicest of the recent entries into the private label, wide variety market is Value Brand. This new low-cost offering from The Phoenix Tobacco Company (licensed distributors only can contact them at: firstname.lastname@example.org ) ranges from pretty good to outright delicious to our tastes. They have a Full-Flavor, Light. Ultra-Light, Natural (very similar to Pure & Natural), as well as a Menthol version. Now one might wonder, with all of the competition that already exists in the low-cost bulk tobacco arena, why anyone would create yet another private label. Well two reasons. One, if a company has a specific supply chain they can tap into, a private label can do quite well. But more importantly, if a company has a unique high quality product within the line, it is likely that the entire line will find success. In the latter case, Phoenix seems to have hit upon just such a product and it is a sixth blend which is their Canadian Style tobacco. This is one of the best low-cost tobaccos we have ever tried. In our opinion, only McClintock Golden Virginia (which is a bit more expensive and has a more distinctive taste) is as good a value. We can always tell a low-cost blend from the classics as we mentioned above, perhaps due to certain filler leaf that is included to achieve the lower cost. But not in this particular member of the VB line. Canadian Style tobaccos have been popular for quite a while in the US and brands like Export A have successfully wandered in and out of the RYO market for decades. The Value Brand Canadian is a fairly large cut, very smooth and easy to inject tobacco that is really tasty. And at about the price of the other ultra low cost brands, we predict it will become the franchise of the line. It has no vegetal or earthy/muddy nature indicative of too much Burley and is quite golden in appearance. Furthermore, the taste, while not complex, is neither overpowering nor has any component that one might find objectionable and has a nice "toastiness" to it. It is not completely neutral in flavor but nothing controversial either. With almost every tobacco that we have reviewed, some of our readers seem to always find a certain characteristic to their dislike. As everyone's taste buds sense flavor differently, these criticisms are nearly unique to a few smokers per blend, but we feel this particular tobacco will be, for most tastes, completely satisfying. It burns well and has the indicated toasty nature that we have not yet tired of. (Keep in mind that we spend months testing tobacco blends before we write about them as we have found that our tastes change, like yours do, and we prefer to live with a product long enough to determine our long term affection (or creeping disaffection) for each blend.) The rest of the Value Brand line is good low cost tobacco, not a lot different than others in this category, but that impress well enough to deserve review. However, this particular Canadian blend is certainly the diamond in the rough. A number of large distributors have already picked up this entire line and we continue to get glowing reports from the folks who assist us in our testing. Bottom line is that this Canadian is the FIRST really low cost bulk blend that I could smoke as an every day smoke (mixed with a little Turkish for grins) and considering (as mentioned probably too many times before) that I have access to all the goodies available, this is quite a personal compliment to the Canadian. We would love to hear from you when you try this blend (ask your retailer or distributor about it) as we are always interested in the reaction of others when we applaud a blend so enthusiastically.
We've barely begun to cover the multitude of tobaccos we received for this issue and already I have found a second low-cost tobacco that I can smoke regularly. This one is from a company in Idaho by the name of H&R Tobacco. Now we referred above to reasonings behind bringing to life yet another private label blend into a world filled already with them. (H&R appears to have their own tobacco producers ID # - TP ID 2 so they may be considered more a manufacturer than simply a private label company.) While Value Brand has the unique product angle (the Canadian), H&R has the supply chain. They have marketed their line of RYO tobaccos to correctional facilities for some time now and have found that to be a fruitful and much overlooked market segment. Their product which is basically a Full-Flavor and a Menthol is strikingly good tobacco for the category. It does not have the rough flavor characteristics of cheap tobacco and is obviously made from very nice leaf. The Full-Flavor is really quite good. I must explain here that I really cannot stand Menthol Tobaccos as they give me an immediate headache, so I rarely personally comment on their flavor. Part of the reason (other than the headache) is that the menthol usually masks whatever flavor and quality characteristics the tobacco may have to begin with. However, we do have many menthol users as readers and several of our test group will smoke menthol on occasion. In general, we find that most menthol packaged cigarette converts find that roll you own menthol is simply too mentholated. However when mixed with regular tobacco this effect is lessened and the fact is, menthol tobacco is a steadily growing segment of the MYO market. H&R's menthol, as a stand alone, actually impressed a number of people who we had try it and they reported that its menthol nature is reasonably under control. H&R intends to expand their reach to other market segments and, with the quality of product they have, we think they will easily find new avenues of support. Distributors have not yet found this blend so for you distributors (and retailers with proper tax licenses) you can reach them at email@example.com. Now we usually refrain from providing direct contact information in our critical reviews but we think this company has shown some unique ideas and is serious about quality and we feel they could become an innovative force in this industry. Remember this contact info is not for consumers. You can't buy a pouch of tobacco from them. But we are always willing to help good folks who show creativity and stability to expand their visibility especially when they have a product that has a pleasing taste and good pricing. And this stuff is very good. It is also worthy to note that this fine, low cost blend comes in a new one pound bag (shown at left). The bag is designed to stand vertically making it even easier to store and access. The savings on this larger size container are even more robust. We are anxiously awaiting a light version as well.
I guess, with a rather broad stroke, it can be best expressed thusly: There are a lot of cheap-ass blends of tobacco out there that are downright disgusting - period!. Since making one's own cigarettes save the smoker so much money to begin with, why someone would smoke some of the garbage available to save just a few pennies more, is beyond my comprehension. The tobaccos we choose to review are selected from many we receive and we only review the ones where we can find something to appreciate within the line. We are not total snobs here, but when all is said and done, we would recommend, regardless of each person's fiscal situation, that one smoke better quality tobacco and smoke less of it. The low cost tobaccos we review are never usually our favorites but still offer a much better flavor than any manufactured cigarette. And even though their flavor may fall short of some of our absolute favorites, every one of them are plenty tasty enough to smoke if say we were isolated on a desert island and had no alternatives. The point here is that, for the ones that don't make the cut, given the island scenario, we would sooner stop smoking tobacco altogether. . . So now you know what I think (as if I have concealed this particular philosophy for these past three years). The H&R Full-Flavor is mild enough that I find myself smoking it, along with the Value Brand Canadian, far more often than you might expect and both of these blends are cut perfect and have the proper moisture content for optimal injection into tubes.
Another brand/blend that has garnered our favorable interest recently is an offering from USA Tobacco. Makers of the Single Stick line of cigarettes (one cigarette in a plastic tube, which we cover the political and distribution ramifications of in our Editorial section this time), the company has expanded its repertoire over time to include Prime Time little cigars/cigarillos, (much like the Sixty-One line of similar products but in more flavors), Havana Honeys flavored cigars (deliciously sweet wrapper we will discuss below), the line of Visions Flavored Cigarettes (Chocolate Mint, French Vanilla, Wintermint, and Cherry), which we will discuss in a minute, and most pertinent to this section, their new line of Single Stick Rolling Tobacco. Yes, this is yet another low-cost bulk blend but benefits from association with a very large (as indicated above) line of ancillary products. Like the H&R line above, the Single Stick rolling tobacco comes in only Full Flavor and Menthol at this time. I would be surprised if that line is not expanded to include a Light and Ultra-Light in the near future. Again, this is very smokeable tobacco. You will notice we don't use phrases like "it is better than brand X" for the simple reason that we cannot even begin to anticipate what your opinion will be and our opinion only serves to help us decide that which meets our standards of quality and flavor (and we may miss one or two from time to time). Whether we love a tobacco taste or not is less the issue than is the importance of its smokeability. Now Single Stick tobacco, when injected, tastes almost identical to the Single Stick manufactured cigarette. We say almost identical in so far as, we have noted with other rolling tobacco/manufactured cigarette combos that the Make Your Own is always superior even though the tobacco is arguably identical. When compared with a Camel or Marlboro we find even this low-cost tobacco injected into a tube to be markedly superior. However certain blends, like Single Stick, are very reminiscent of those aforementioned brand name cigarettes and, as often is the case, we are reminded that tobacco such as this is a very good introduction to smokers who are leaving the pre-made world. We encourage our readers, especially those who are new to MYO, to try some of these private label blends as the difference in flavor between what they are currently smoking is less dramatic. Eventually many will upgrade to more sophisticated tobaccos like Bali Red, McClintock, Stokkebye's Danish, and Samson Gold, stopping on the way for Zig-Zag's American blend. And, in many cases, people will find complete satisfaction without upgrading at all or at brands encountered along the line. Again we respect and emphasize the fact that no tobacco can be all things to all people.
We have noted the propensity before among certain rolling tobacco makers/private labelers to promote the duplication of the taste of mainstream packaged cigarette flavors. While we believe (and can remember a time) that major manufactured brands USED to have a much better flavor than their current offerings, as it stands today, I personally would not want a rolling tobacco to taste like a manufactured stick. However, we do recognize that transitional periods differ between cigarette smokers entering MYO territory and the blends that more closely duplicate the brand name flavor are important for attracting many packaged smokers. And with the selection increasing among the private label companies to include Light and Menthols, this transition will likely be even easier for many more. No matter which low-cost blend you chose, occasionally go buy a pouch of Bali Red, let it dry a bit and inject it into a good tube. You will most likely be amazed that it will remind those smokers who were around in the 60's and 70's the kind of flavor one used to get in a manufactured brand. As always, we love to hear from our readers regarding their adventures into flavor.
Before we go into greater depth regarding the copious Single Stick lineup, there is one tobacco that we have yet to review, mainly because just at the time last year we were ready to talk about it, it suddenly became hard to find. The brand is Brookfield and we still refer to it in our Buyer's Guide that you can access from our cover page (or go to www.ryomagazine.com/guide/gdstarter.htm.) The Brookfield product we talk about there is actually a starter kit and, as such, was a very good deal as offered by RYO Tobacco (www.ryotobacco.com). We tried the Brookfield over a period of several weeks and enjoyed the flavor. It is a little different than what we are used to, but very good quality with a very pleasingly smoky taste. No cheap tobacco here and it burns evenly and slowly. The taste reminds one of tobacco that used to be found in upscale tobacco shops of years past where the tobacco was kept in close proximity to cigars and other more robust tobacco products. (Most of you know by now that I love to experiment, so to try to prove the previous point about cigar aroma influencing cigarette tobacco, I took about two grams of Bali Red, enough for a couple of injected smokes, put it in a plastic bag and blew some high quality cigar smoke into the bag. I sealed the bag and let it set for about four hours, hoping the cigarette tobacco would assume some of the flavor of the cigar smoke. Well it worked and the result was an alteration to the Bali that came close to the Brookfield - point for me) - To continue: While the Brookfield is not strong, it does have a full flavor while being mild on the throat. Basically a rich, smoky flavored yet mild blend that is unique in the market today. This product was originally a Davidoff (cigars) product, imported by them from Germany from the manufacturer Pöschl Tabak. And while this product is still not easy to find, RYO Tobacco has it back in stock and in quantity and at great prices as well. This is one smoke you should not miss trying at least once in your life but remember, when it is gone it probably won't reappear for awhile, if ever. Much like Balkan Sobranie Turkish cigarettes and the McClintock Original Green, it is one of those experiences that will bring fond memories for years to come.
As promised earlier, we would like to share with you a rather extensive line of products from Single Stick. As in the past, we have given special attention to companies that have enormous variety within their product line (like Nationwide's Sixty-One and HBI with their ZEN line). Among the Single Stick products worthy of note here is a really good little cigar with the name Havana Honeys. These great little smokes are far superior in quality than most supermarket grade cigars and have an absolutely delicious honey flavored coating on the wrapper. I love to hold them in my mouth and occasionally light one. When smoked, their true Cuban seed quality comes through but even without lighting, the hand-made honey flavor is a real treat. These are not the same as the cigarillo-like filtered cigars, Prime Time, discussed above that is also a Single Stick product that comes in a wealth of flavors, including Cherry, Vanilla, Chocolate Mint, Rum, Cinnamon, and Raspberry. The Honeys are real hand-made cigars just with a great added flavoring. They are 4"x 30 ring gauge so fit into the category of small cigars that is the fastest growing category in the cigar business. We reviewed Little Cigars in two consecutive issues from January 2001 through June 2001in our Special Review section (go to archives for a look at those issues - if interested) and at that time stated that we felt this category was in for a big increase as cigar smokers find less time and places to enjoy the larger counterparts. It looks like we were right on the mark as several trade publications including Smoke Shop Magazine has recently confirmed the little cigar success story. At any rate, these Honeys are of like size and will appeal to the cigar smoker who wants a bit of sweetness to mitigate the more tobacco like oral sensation of traditional cigars. Even those of us who really enjoy a good premium traditional cigar find these to be highly enjoyable. And they come in singles or in ten packs tins like their premium cigar name competitors.
The other product of note in the Single Stick lineup is their new offering of upscale flavored cigarettes, Visions. These come in packs of 20 and are very reminiscent of the Dreams line of flavored smokes. The flavors are spectacular with Wintermint, Clove (not my cup of tea), Chocolate Mint (incredible), Vanilla, and Cherry. They come in boxes like the Dreams and are definitely a class offering. The actual tobacco flavor is better than the other Single Stick line and appears to be an attempt by the company to begin the appreciated journey into even higher quality products. They obviously have the resources to accomplish this and we suspect the RYO/MYO world is going to benefit greatly from this company's innovative spirit and desire for steadily increasing quality.
When we speak of quality, we admittedly spend a great deal of time criticizing the packaged cigarette industry as having smoked for a number of years (about 30) we have noticed considerable taste differences between the products of old and those of today. A case in point is Camel. During the late 60's and early 70's while in college, I smoked a pipe. It was cool and I really did enjoy the aroma. Soon after being drafted into the US Army (1969), I began smoking certain cigarettes, mostly Marlboro, and at that same time discovered at my favorite smoke shops (there were a lot back then) Turkish tobacco. I hand rolled it and really became enamoured with the Oriental taste. My father smoked unfiltered Camels and I could definitely taste the Turkish components of his cigarettes though they were way too strong for me and I preferred hand rolling the pure Yenidje Turkish or the filtered Marlboros. The point is his cigarettes and mine had FLAVOR. Today, I can barely tell the difference between one brand or another and my Mom who liked Camel Light 100's (she never inhaled and simply liked the smoldering stick stuck in her face) would occasionally share her cigarettes with me. No taste except for a rather oily after taste that usually gave me a headache. She liked my make your owns but as she didn't inhale or even puff much, the effort was wasted on her. But I found that her cigarettes were without flavor and certainly had none of the traditional Camel Turkish flavor I had experienced so many years before with my father's smokes. To this day, Camel (RJ Reynolds) sports the Turkish labeling and it was with a great deal of interest that I tried (last year) their new Turkish Gold - hoping, I guess, against hope that they somehow had brought back that wonderful flavor. I was disappointed to say the least, but as I said, I like to experiment. Recently I noticed at a Costco tobacco section a new product from Camel with the seductive name of Camel Turkish Royals. I tried to find a store that would sell me a single pack without success so the next time I was at Costco, I bought a whole carton (35 bucks and change here in Oregon which is $6.00 less than the price with the new tax starting November 5th). Anyway, I opened them as soon as I hit the parking lot and found to my surprise that these indeed were different than the other Camels tried recently. But there was still absolutely none of the true Turkish flavor I had hoped for. Instead they contained a typically pretty mundane tobacco but with a slight Vanilla over taste. The vanilla helped smooth the smoke and I have to admit that even though the cigarette in general is not even in the same league as most any make your own, the added Vanilla flavoring did improve the smoke. I still got a headache and ended up giving away most of the packs (to folks who wanted to compare them to their make your own sticks). Some of these people actually liked them but most had pretty much the same opinion that I had. The reason I bring this up is two-fold. First it may not even be possible to mass produce a cigarette, regardless of how good the tobacco inside may be, that tastes as good as a freshly injected one. The second point is more important. The Big Cigarette companies are trying their damnedest to learn from the MYO industry and are making what appears, to me, to be serious attempts at improving their products. Winston has an all top leaf cigarette that claims few if any additives and I suspect in the future these companies will either begin making smokes that taste as good as before 1975, or will give up entirely. The price of cigarettes is increasing as are taxes on them and many in the media think that the savings that are reflected in MYO smokes have to do with lower taxes on rolling tobacco. That is simply not true. Though state tobacco taxes on rolling tobacco vary, few states tax this tobacco less (when you break it down to a per pack cost of making your own) than they tax (usually a per pack tax) manufactured brands. The real cost of name brand cigarettes is in the packaging, name branding, and advertising that Big Cigarette companies employ not to mention the legal fees and damages that they are subjected to. That is why you can buy generic cigarettes still rather cheaply even though these cigarettes are subject to exactly the same per-pack tax burden as name brands. I want to emphasize this point because a few weeks ago a reporter from the New York times called me for an interview. After four hours during two phone calls he managed at least to get my philosophy of moderation correct, but the title of the article was "Roll Your Owns Cut Taxes." While that which he quoted attributed to me was fairly accurate he missed the mark entirely regarding taxation of rolling tobacco, and further, he only gave slight credence to the fact that while many people find the MYO experience because of cost, few would change back regardless of how cheap manufactured brands became. It is always interesting to discuss MYO with the uninitiated but I make it a point to convey the fact that quality is the issue, not economy. Many in the industry still believe price is the predominant issue but few that actually smoke MYO (which surprisingly many in the industry do not) have any doubt that flavor quality is, above all, the real bonus. I can afford any manufactured cigarette I choose and there is not one I have found yet that even comes close to one injected - even with tobaccos I rate as mediocre or "smokeable."
Since our first issue in January of 2000, we have continued to applaud the efforts of Mark Ryan of D&R Tobacco (www.cigarettetobacco.com) for his fair pricing and excellent tobacco blends. In our last issue, we extolled the virtues of his new Ramback Turkish blend which is now beginning to make its presence known and accepted by several large distributors. Likewise, his Windsail tubes are finding a larger audience. It is worthy of note that among the many folks who have tried the Ramback Turkish as well as Lane's Oriental Blend #1, there are some who find these wonderful tobaccos simply too mild. Last time we recommended using a full-flavored tube with these fine tobaccos and this time we will let you in on another alternative. While not exactly a secret, it is perhaps something a few of you have not considered. Specifically, we speak of mixing the Turkish with a hotter, brighter tasting tobacco. And this time we have found and incredibly cost-effective choice. It is the Value Brand Canadian reviewed at the top of this article. Try 70% Canadian and 30% Turkish (Ramback or Lane) and you will find a wondrous combination. By the way, D&R now has a new smaller package available. Their traditional 14.5 ounce bags are still available but new is the 3.5 ounce plastic tub. It has a great locking top (very ingenious) and allows one to try smaller amounts of tobacco as a first experiment. This tub also helps keep the tobacco inside even fresher than the already outstanding foil packs D&R provides. It is a winning combination and the 3.5 ounces will make about 100 smokes (injected).
And two additional things we will share with you as we get so much mail on these subjects:
Tobacco, especially cigarette tobacco, is a sensitive product in that it absorbs odors more efficiently than even baking soda. You can easily contaminate cigarette tobacco by keeping it in an enclosed proximity with your favorite pipe tobacco but, conversely, you can create your own favorite "flavored" blend by exposing the tobacco to proximity ambient flavors. I occasionally add a touch of vanilla to a storage container of smoking tobacco to give it a bit of that taste. It is not necessary to actually apply the flavoring to the tobacco itself and many folks who like a mild menthol blend could do the same by exposing non-mentholated tobacco to the ambient odors of a menthol blend without actually mixing the two together. It takes very little aroma to permeate tobacco so if flavoring is your intent, start subtle.
And secondly, to keep tobacco at an optimum moisture and freshness you need not spend a lot of wampum for a fancy humidor or expensive humidifying elements. Here's what I do. First I keep my cigars in a cedar humidor, but use a lightly moistened sponge which I clean in hot water (no soap) once a week. When I get a humidor I immediately throw away the oasis (that green junk used by florists that absorbs the water in most humidifying elements) that is inside the humidifier and replace it with a sponge. If the humidifier element won't come apart, I throw the whole thing away and use a sponge placed in a corner away from direct contact with the cigars. That's for cigars. By way of definition - the humidor is the box, the humidifier is the rectangular or round device that holds and dispenses the moisture, and the hygrometer is the gauge that you find on some humidors that conveys the relative humidity inside the box - usually between 60-70% is optimal for cigars.
For rolling and pipe tobacco, storage is even more straightforward though they need not be kept as moist. I use Rubbermaid sealable tubs (I like this brand because there is no plastic or chemical smell inherent to the tub itself) that I fill about halfway with rolling tobacco still in its respective containers except that I remove all cardboard shipping or packaging elements and place the tobacco on cedar boards or strips. Spanish Cedar when available is optimal. I then use a four by five inch clean sponge that I locate in an unused corner of the tub. The sponge and tobacco should never touch the tub itself nor should the sponge touch the tobacco. I clean the sponge every week with hot water and wring it as dry as possible and put it back in the tub. If I detect any mold on the sponge I replace it. Sponges are cheap, tobacco isn't. A humidifier like this is all you will ever need for reasonably well moistened tobacco. If you happen to get a batch that is dry from your supplier, a little more moistening can be done, again with a sponge that is clean used in whatever container the tobacco comes in. When the dryness issue has been cured, put the repaired tobacco in with the good stuff. Keep like flavors together and never put flavored or menthol blends in with regular blends unless your desire is to alter the flavor of your regular blend as addressed in the paragraphs above. It is that simple. Good tobacco will keep for years with just a little thoughtful, low-tech maintenance allowing you to buy in bulk for additional savings.
UPDATE: The new Bali Shag offering we discuss below is now a reality. With the name , Turkish Shag, it is a true delight. It is milder than Stokkebye's other Turkish offering, Turkish Export. In fact it is somewhat in between my favorite, Bali Red, and the very successful Turkish Export in Peter's private name line shown below right and, needless to say, I was immediately impressed. It will be available in pouches only for a while but as its success is demonstrated, (which we have no doubt will occur), it will appear in cans as well, just like all of the other Bali product line.
We have written volumes about Peter Stokkebye International's McClintock tobacco. There is an exciting new blend from Stokkebye that MAY be on the way. ***See Above: We have tested it and seen the packaging but that is all I am allowed to share at this time. It may never be produced but that is unlikely as this new blend in dynamite. Look forward next time to a review of this new entry. By the way, Peter's Private Blend of rolling tobaccos, Amsterdam Shag, Danish Export, Norwegian Shag, Turkish Export and the enticing Stockholm Blend have new packaging labels as shown here. Look for them as they are gaining market share at an amazing rate.
As we mentioned in our last issue, this magazine is expanding its focus in several ways. One is that it will become a print media magazine later this year as well as continue as an online resource. We also are going to expand our focus on other types of smoking pleasures including pipe tobaccos. We received a lot of e-mail on Stokkebye's Skandinavik Vanilla Cavendish we looked at last time. This time we wanted to show you another Stokkebye import. Licensed for distribution in the US by Stokkebye, this new blend series is manufactured by Paul Olsen and known as MY OWN BLEND. This is a really diverse series of incredible tobaccos that, like Skandinavik, will likely show up in selected general merchandise stores as well as professional tobacco shops. My personal favorite, and one that completely took me by surprise, is Olsen's Bend 7000. It is considered a strong English Style pipe tobacco, that label given to tobaccos that generally contain Latakia. Latakia is a very black strong tobacco with a very unique taste and, by itself, I find it amusing from no closer than 100 yards. However, though this blend is considered a "Heavy English" blend, I found the Latakia component to be subtle and wonderful, reducing that 100 yard tolerance to zero. This tobacco is ideal for outdoor chilly mornings when the moisture in the air is equivalent to the moisture on the grass. If you think you have tried good Latakia blends before, you will be amazed at this one. Also available from Olsen is a Navy Flake cut as well as many other blends, some aromatic, some not so much. The Navy Flake cut is interesting and I am told it received this name as sailors needed more solid pieces of tobacco to deal with in their pipes on a windy ship's deck. The picture below shows a Navy Cut (actually another Stokkebye blend but you get the idea). Both Skandinavik and Olsen's MOB are connoisseur grade pipe tobaccos that should be available soon in general merchandise environments and, as such, the pipe smoking world should gain converts readily.
Finally, a relatively new entry into the exotic market that comes from Thailand. Now I have tried a number of Thai tobaccos over the last three years and to be honest, not many were to my taste. In fact, some were so harsh that I could not take more than one puff. However, we were contacted by a firm in Thailand quite a few weeks ago by the name The Inter-Continental Trading Company, LTD. who had a Thai blend they thought we might like. We asked them to send us some and a couple of weeks later a really nice box of pouches arrived. The packaging is first quality and the graphics are beautiful. The name, Asia Gold, is very classy and nicely addresses our interest in better branding names that we discussed on our Cover page this issue.
When we opened one of the 50 gram pouches, we found the product inside to be extremely nice looking tobacco - but very moist. We tried it immediately and the moisture content was simply overwhelming. We contacted the company and told them we would need to let it dry out a little before giving them an opinion. After a couple more weeks letting it dry slowly and naturally, we again tried it. This time we were rewarded with quite a lovely taste. This tobacco is a bit different than normal American styles even though it is pure Virginia seed tobacco. It has a slight earthy flavor but not so much that it interferes with the otherwise good taste. The cut is very fine and the tobacco strands are surprisingly tough (high tensile strength for tobacco). We like it and have encouraged the company to explore the US market. If it can be brought in at a value price, we think this blend has a chance at the lucrative market here. It IS different, and that makes it a candidate for a following among the connoisseurs who like variety. We wish Inter-Continental good luck in their endeavor here and will talk more about this product in the next issue after we have had even more time to live with this interesting blend. We have recently had many inquiries on this product and the possibility is good that it should start showing up in the US in the near future.
Remember that no matter what you read in these pages about tobacco, you owe it to yourself to try each blend yourself. Everyone has different tastes and no one opinion is right or wrong. As long as you enjoy the flavor and can afford to buy it, for you, the tobacco you choose is the best in the world - whether you smoke one brand or fifteen different brands for variety. Never smoke anything you hate because it is cheap. There is GOOD cheap tobacco. After all, that is the logic and specialness of RYO. You can put any kind of tobacco you damn well please in your cigarette - whichever mood may strike. Until next time, remember to practice moderation and good taste to a fault. These can be great contributions to civilization. - RYO
EDITOR'S NOTE: These reviews are solely for the convenience of people of legal age who already smoke, are trying to cut down on smoking, wish to spend less money on their smoking, want to roll their own cigarettes from high quality tobacco, and, in general, wish to have a far more satisfying, and economical smoking experience when compared with smoking pre-manufactured cigarettes. We, in no way, encourage people to smoke. Further, we prescribe to a sane, more logical approach to smoking that involves common sense as to quantity coupled with a strong desire to manage the habit until it becomes an occasional, freely chosen, diversion, that can be fully enjoyed with minimal health risks. Finally, we strongly encourage those who do smoke to take it outdoors, or to appropriate environments where tobacco can be enjoyed away from those who do not smoke, most especially children. We do not sell tobacco or related products from this site; We distribute information about our perceptions of the quality of what is available and where it can be obtained. If you are under 18, it is illegal to buy tobacco and you should immediately exit this site. If you do not smoke, it would seem illogical to start.
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