Magic is once again afoot. And there seems to be no limit to the magic spells that Peter Stokkebye somehow manages to cast on tobacco. The Grand master of tobacco blenders, who in case you did not know, is responsible for many if not most of the truly fine cigarette and pipe tobacco blends on the planet once again impresses. Of course, names such as Bali Shag, McClintock, as well as connoisseur favorites like his Danish Export, and Amsterdam and Norwegian Shags are pretty familiar to most RYO enthusiasts. Pipe tobaccos carrying his name are likewise legendary. But what many do not know is that he is responsible for quite a number of similarly fine tobaccos marketed under other brand names. The list is long and while the information is for the most part fairly widely known in tobacco circles, it is probably not a great idea to spread the names of these various blends around as their namesakes may not take kindly to such revelations. Suffice it to say, that if you have more than a few favorite tobaccos, it is a bet that Stokkebye, one way or another, had his hands on a significant number of them.
Accordingly, I have become somewhat immune to surprise when Stokkebye International sends me samples for review. And so it was that, along with an expected sample of Stokkebye's latest Bali entry, the Bali Light Shag, which is pure heaven (we will take a look at it later in this article) I found, included in the box several packages of a tobacco with the rather auspicious name of Master Roll. I wasn't quite sure what to expect nor am I sure which niche this blend is intended to fill. As there are many low priced (dare we say cheap) tobaccos out there (Farmers Gold, Sixty-One, Midnite Special, Old Hillside, and the like) that, while they have a strong following and are great bargains, we find less than sophisticated and in some cases downright distasteful. On the other hand McClintock, (once green can now gold can - which is somewhat different) remains right at the top of the list as one of our favorite blends and cost only slightly more than the lowest priced offering out there. Now as we frequently remind our readers, everyone's tobacco tastes really do differ dramatically. We never write off any tobacco as long as it is reasonably smokeable. We have our favorites and the one's we don't review most often are bad beyond description. We try to keep a positive outlook in this publication. For example we received a sample of some Korean tobacco one day that could well qualify with the FDA as an effective and fast acting poison and should come with all of the appropriately coincidental warnings, (including skull and cross-bones) on any label that it might wear. (certain by-products of tobacco actually do make pretty effective pesticides and have been used as such for many years).
At any rate, relying on my often over-estimated experience and Stokkebye's reputation I gladly exposed myself to this unknown quantity; this Master Roll. The label states only its distributor (CM Marketing of Oyster Point, CA - which is known to us as Core-Mark - a huge distribution firm with a wide range of products designed primarily for the convenience store world). But the fact that the packaging further states that it is made in Denmark is a dead giveaway as to who really makes it. (The fact that Stokkebye sent it to us was admittedly, another significant clue). Not to put too fine a point on it, this tobacco was quite a treat and I am flatly amazed that it is not being more actively marketed by the distribution channel that has control of it. Perhaps Core-Mark has an exclusive on it as we can find no other supplier/distributor representing the product.
The tobacco itself comes in three varieties, Regular (full flavor), Light, and Menthol. Surprisingly, even the mentholated, a style of which I personally am not a fan, was very smokeable (with only a slight case of brain freeze resulting). The Regular was full bodied and had some kick (no harshness but a definite buzz) but very tasty with less strength and more sophistication than say, Bugler. The light was the real treat. It was absolutely wonderful and I dare say that it may well be, of all the blends I have tried to date, the most likely to tempt the typical (Marlboro-type) American cigarette smoker to defect from the many disadvantages of packaged cigarettes. Now we routinely classify tobaccos both by flavor and by the likelihood of acceptance by mainstream cigarette smokers so the fact that we find this blend so close to what American cigarettes "used" to taste like, is truly good news for the RYO/MYO industry. Further, the fact that this particular blend has that unique Stokkebye sophistication can only be viewed as an added bonus, one that will help expand the taste consciousness of the smoking public, encouraging them to explore the nearly overwhelming number of options indicative of the RYO/MYO experience.
As far as price is concerned, we find this tobacco wholesaling somewhere between McClintock and the higher priced blends like Bali, Samson, and Zig-Zag. It would be nice for the industry if this relatively unknown brand had come in at a little lower price but that is not to say the tobacco's quality doesn't warrant its price point. We just feel that new products, especially ones that have the best chance of enhancing the smoker's migration from packaged cigarettes, should have as many seductive qualities in their corner as possible in order for smokers to take the plunge. After all, most smokers of packaged cigarettes are suspicious of the Make Your Own Method to begin with and those that have tried it have not always had the best experiences with cheap injectors and tobaccos they have never heard of.
However, we are confident that once the typical American smoker tries this one, few will deny its tastiness. The trick is to get them to try it and Core-Mark will need to promote it much more actively and increase its visibility considerably, which, to say the least, is no easy task. That is why we feel that pretty dramatic cost-saving promotions would certainly be appreciated. Undoubtedly, it would be well worth the effort in the long run.
Not long ago we received several blends of a new tobacco from RYO Tobacco (http://www.ryotobacco.com) of Austin, Texas. It goes by the name of Sagamore and with the Native-American logo and the fact it was in bulk, we were prepared for almost anything. By that I suppose I mean that very often Native-American produced tobacco tends to be harsh and not particularly flavorful though often quite gratefully inexpensive and appreciatively very low in additives. This particular one comes in at about $15 per pound but really has a far more enjoyable character than we were expecting. It comes in four varieties, Regular (full flavor), Light, Menthol, as well as a Natural blend. We tested all four ourselves (of course) and with nearly 100 RYO/MYO smokers as well and were extremely impressed with the results. It has none of those telltale hints we find obvious in "cheap" tobaccos. The Regular is robust but not at all harsh and was a real favorite with packaged cigarette smokers. We like the light much better (as we often do) and the menthol, among those who would try it, was viewed favorably by all. The Natural, however, was the biggest surprise of all. Now most "natural" blends like American Spirit, Pure and Natural and others tend to burn fairly hot, increasing their harshness to varying degrees. (For fans of these kinds of tobacco, much of this harshness can be mitigated by placing the tobacco in a jar with a small piece of lightly moistened sponge, thus increasing the moisture content of the smoke). This Natural however, was mild and nutty and will definitely find a place in the often rotating contents of my tobacco jar. (The point here being that few tobaccos except for Lane's Oriental, McClintock's Gold, Bali's Red, Samson's Blue, Zig-Zag's Gold Standard, and GA Andron's Turkish Special, find their way into every one of my personal blends). The Sagamore, for the price, is really very well presented and the Natural and Light are especially tasty yet mild. We don't know much about this tobacco, its long term availability, or even its true source (manufacturer) but we suspect that if its presence and quality remain consistent, it will become quite popular with the bulk tobacco crowd. We will, in subsequent issues, find out more.
Next time we will explore in detail the world of Nat Sherman Cigarettes, especially the Black and Gold, The Natural, The Fantasia, and the Classic Mints. While these are obviously not Make Your Owns, they are, nonetheless, very popular with the RYO/MYO crowd who at times simply don't want to take the time to inject a daily ration of their favorite blends but are way past the time when typical packaged cigarettes provide any satisfaction whatsoever. We will also update you on McClintock's new Red Full Flavor which, if our many highly complimentary e-mail messages are any indication, stands a good chance at becoming THE most influential tobacco yet in satisfying the traditional "American Cigarette" smoker. Stokkebye's new Bali White Shag, which is creating quite a positive stir among the handrolling folks will be reviewed, in depth, as well. Just so not to leave you frustrated, it is now my favorite Euro-style shag - PERIOD. And finally we will do a definitive comparison between McClintock's new "Yellow" Mild Virginia and Samson's "Gold". They are not identical but are both EXTREMELY fine newcomers (as one might expect) and are generating a lot of positive e-mail as well. Until next time enjoy - the ed.
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. After all, that is the specialness of RYO. You can put any kind of tobacco you damn well please in your cigarette - whichever mood may strike. - 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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