I have pretty specific taste preferences when it comes to tobacco. There are a fairly large number of blends that I do not care for. I try to make it clear tha, at all times, these are only my opinions and should not be anyone's basis for a final judgement. The times have been few that a tobacco I rate really high has had many detractors, but certainly there are many more cases of folks writing to tell me they like a tobacco I do not. Republic Tobacco makes a number of very fine products, including the US version of Drum (now available in cans - see below). They also make TOP, which while one of, if not, the true market leader(s) - as far as market share is concerned - in the US, is not one of my personal favorites. A few months ago, the nice folks at Republic contacted me regarding a new tobacco blend they had developed that was a low price alternative to TOP. Keep in mind that despite what many think, TOP is not cheap (wholesale price) tobacco. Republic felt they needed a lower cost blend to compete with other low cost alternatives.
Republic knows well that TOP is not among my favorites but they sent the new Gambler to me anyway. I am not sure what I expected, but as with their US Drum, Republic has aptly demonstrated the ability to come up with some real surprises and they are not afraid to work at a blend or product until they get it right. When the Gambler arrived, I sniffed at it a bit and examined the color which was darker than TOP. The leaf appeared to be of very high quality, so I decided what the hell, might as well try it. Rarely have I been more surprised and delighted with a low cost tobacco blend as I was with Gambler. This stuff is very, very good. It is much nicer (to my taste) than TOP (again I know many of you may disagree) and it is priced right at the level of Sixty-One and other low cost tobaccos. Of course, the final test is always what the general consumer likes, so we took a bag down to our experimental store and gave out a few samples. The customers liked it. People who like American Spirit liked it. People who like Turkish Special liked it. People who like McClintock liked it.
Now, no doubt the anticipated price had some influence on their reactions, but all things being equal, this tobacco is a sure winner. It comes in 6 ounce bags and it has already reached the distribution channel. We were able to get it from our state-licensed distributor who pays the tobacco tax on it which enabled us to begin selling it almost immediately. It is a definite hit. And it is good. Not my absolute favorite, not as smooth as McClintock or deep in character as the Turkish blends I raved about in the last issue, nor as sophisticated as the Stokkebye and Samson American style tobaccos, but it is really very good. Furthermore, it makes an excellent component in a blend to satisfy those who want more punch than McClintock, or other finer yet more subtle tobaccos, especially the ultra mild Turkish blends. In fact, a blend of either McClintock Gold, Lane Oriental/D&R's Ramback Turkish, Bali Red, Samson Gold, etc., with about 25% of the Gambler mixed in, is really tasty. It has no "cheap" tobacco tell-tale taste and, though it is a bit strong for me by itself, retailers will find it makes for a great transitional blend for those leaving the trough of packaged cigarettes for the more satisfying feast of MYO. We will talk more on this subject (transition from packaged brands) in this issue's Editorial Section - Part II - of our retail experience. For you RYO/MYO retailers out there: if your distributor has not yet acquired this product, encourage them to do so. Current economics is going to make this one really popular.
While on the subject of Republic Tobacco and having mentioned above their (at one time controversial) US Drum, it is fair to say that we at RYO Magazine have commented more than a few times to Republic that now that the blend has stabilized into a fine quality product, it would seem to be time for it to be available in a can just like the original European Drum was. Well, once again Republic has come through in fine style. The US version of Drum has reached the shelves in a 150 gram metal can just like the original and the seal and design is first rate.
It may be important here to expand on the reasons we like this tobacco as much as we do. After the initial disappointment many experienced with the US Drum a couple of years ago, Republic quickly redesigned the blend and created what we feel is a very good Dutch-Style halfzware tobacco. Now, these halfzwares have never been my favorites as I personally prefer the more traditional American Style of tobacco. For instance, I prefer Bali Red to Bali Blue, Samson Gold to Samson Blue, Stokkebye's Danish, Turkish, and Stockholm to his Norwegian and his incredibly tasty Amsterdam blends. This preference has nothing to do with tobacco quality. The darker halfzwares, especially those mentioned above are probably the most sophisticated, tastiest cigarette tobaccos in the world. They simply have more power (dizzy?) than I can handle, at least as stand-alones. I like to blend them with the milder American or Turkish blends because I really enjoy their flavors, but I rarely smoke them in an injected tube by themselves. However, when I hand-roll which I do on occasion, these more powerful, richer tasting blends are a joy to the palette, especially when rolled in a thin stick which enables me to maintain my vertical abilities. US Drum and Chills Americana Tobacco differ from these richer halfzwares in that they have a certain semblance of the American taste and power making them a much less drastic leap for those of us who are used to American style tobacco. In fact, I am pretty comfortable in saying that I can occasionally smoke Drum and Americana in an injected filter tube and still function. US Drum definitely has a high quality Euro flavor but it is less pronounced (the good halfzwares all are mild on the throat by the way so when I speak of power I mean - dizzy! not burn), and because of this, Republic's Drum may enjoy a great deal of success with the hard-core American Style filtered cigarette smoker who is looking for a little, or occasional, variety. It is also worthy of note that the tobacco that came in the new Drum can seems to be getting even better. The moisture was perfect and the flavor superb. For a further discussion on my favorite halfzwares as well as customer reaction to these fine blends, see the Editorial section in this issue.
We have written volumes about Peter Stokkebye International's McClintock tobacco. This low priced, exceptionally high quality tobacco has been a consistent favorite of ours throughout its evolution from the original Green can to present. Though much controversy has surrounded the change in the tobacco during the original Green to new Gold packaging, we still found the new lighter Gold to be exceptional. However, we like many of our readers did notice the difference. We have spoken with Peter directly on many occasions as well as most everyone associated with the company regarding the apparent change. The mystery as to any reasoning for the change (we understand the label color change as too many potential new customers viewed the Green can and assumed it was a menthol blend) has persisted. You can examine our efforts in this area in our past issues (See our Archives - Back Issues for more details). And even though we found the new tobacco to be superb, many of our readers still longed for the original Green. Well something has happened. There has been a new twist and a welcome one. Some background first.
When we approached Peter at last April's ITE (International Tobacco Expo) about the apparent differences between the Green and the new Gold, he seemed non-plussed and was sure the blend was supposed to be the same. We laid out a pile of Green and compared it with a pile of fresh Gold so he could see what we (and our readers) were seeing. The differences bothered him but he had little in the way of explanation other than to say that perhaps the Green (which was admittedly at least two years old) had aged and darkened. This is not our first experience with tobacco changing with age so we could not outright refute his conjecture (and would be foolish to do so with a man like Peter who has unparalleled integrity and knowledge where tobacco is concerned). We have seen Lane's Oriental newest batch darken to its original color and rich taste within a few months so, as I say, one cannot always be sure of the mechanisms of change where tobacco is concerned. We pretty much left it at that as we enjoyed the new Gold as do, for the most part, our customers and readers.
Not too long ago, however, I noticed the little "badge" on the new can that stated "New Design - Same Tobacco" had disappeared. We sell a lot of McClintock at our experimental store as it remains unquestionably the best bargain in high quality, mild yet flavorful rolling tobaccos, especially for the injector market. The new can without badge caught my attention one day and I immediately opened it. Now, for the last year, I have been waiting for Peter's explanation (regarding the aging of this tobacco) to bear fruit and, in fact, had seen some darkening and increase in flavor depth. Whether this was wishful thinking or, if indeed, the sheer force of Peter's expertise was beginning to influence my judgement, I was never quite sure. Then I opened the new Gold can. The results you can see for yourself in the table below. This newest batch (or possibly this more aged batch as the new tobacco has now been in the market place for well over a year) is incredible. It is still just a tidge (a scientific term used for measuring quantities too small to assign a value to - you probably think I make this #%$@ up) lighter in color and flavor than the contents of my last (sob) three year-plus old can of Green (which I scanned for the graphics below and then promptly smoked). However, notwithstanding this "tidge" in difference, this is perhaps the finest McClintock I have ever smoked. It is rich yet mild (of course) but to a new level. I called Morgan Snead at Stokkebye (I have yet to talk to Peter about this) and while he was aware of the new "badgeless" labeling, had not heard of any changes to the Gold blend. I asked him if perhaps they have large amounts of this blend laying around somewhere in storage allowing it to "age" but he as of this writing has not got back to me on that. It really is, after all is said and done, irrelevant now anyway. I do know that when I compared tobacco from year-old pouches of the older Yellow/Gold labeled McClintock (see table below also) that this new batch is definitely darker. I guess the cogent point here is that for those of you who stopped using McClintock when the Green disappeared, go out and get a can of the new. You will be absolutely amazed. Remember to look for the absence of the "New Design-Same Tobacco" badge to assure you get the newest blend/batch of which I speak. I can only say thanks once again to Stokkebye, et al. Whatever the circumstances, you guys have improved on a legendary blend. You even included papers with the new can.
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 than merely his website serves and Mark is upgrading other parts of his operation as well. This includes some outstanding new vacuum packaging for his various tobaccos using a gold foil-backed pouch with redesigned (and renamed as well) labeling. The tobacco inside is even better in quality as the new packaging preserves the freshness to a greater degree than was before possible. At right, you see his new labels and names, but go to his site and see how the new names relate to the blends you are used to.
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 logic and 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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