I was probably no more than five or six years old when my father informed me that there was little difference between the many makes of cars, all of which I was infatuated with at the time. After my initial disbelief, it was further explained to me that Chrysler Corporation made Plymouths, Dodges, Desotos (cool fins) and, of course, Chryslers and Imperials (cool taillights up on top of the rear fenders). General Motors made Chevys, Pontiacs, Buicks, Cadillacs, etc. and Ford manufactured Fords, Mercurys, Lincolns and Edsels (ouch), etc. There were variations of course in the styling, both exterior and interior, but for the most part, the essential components of each vehicle within the manufacturer lines were nearly identical. Even the seductive and rarely seen Corvette, Thunderbird, Chrysler 300 and Plymouth Fury Hemi's with their sporty looks and distinctive paint jobs were far more similar mechanically than their outward appearance would indicate. Much the same is true today with Honda making Acura, Toyota making Lexus and Nissan making the Infinity.
It is interesting to note the psychology of marketing that dictates the public perception of what the public buys and why the variations of branding on such similar themes appear to be necessary. Now, of course, the luxury models of those early and more recent toys aforementioned as well as the more high performance models of each were indeed treated very much differently at each assembly plant, and one could make the argument that there was a huge difference between the low end models and the high end luxury cars, and likewise, the performance between the standard and souped up versions. The point is, why not call them all Chevrolets and simply give them different model designations and not make them entirely different makes. The answer seems to lie in the basis of human's perception of individuality and variety. More importantly, how to reach certain segments of the population designated by the manufacturers as potential customers is not a clear science. For instance, to advertise a 1956 Plymouth Fury in any publication other than a car enthusiast magazine would have been futile. If you look at the classic ads from the 50's and 60's in National Geographic (for those of you who can get past the naked native lady pictures or the Midget-Mexican-Mud-Wrestlers that as kids we were so enraptured with), you will find much more sedate yet luxurious vehicle ads. Mainstream publications like Life and Post concentrated on the more mundane family rocket while Popular Mechanics focused on the technologically interesting Edsel and push-button transmission Chrysler. Playboy (a little later) was into the fast and fancy upscale zoomers. It is fascinating to study the mind set of the consuming public to see how vulnerable we all are to a particular bell or whistle, even if it be only a name or an accessory that has little to do with the actual intrinsic value of the product.
All of this can be condensed under the subheading of the science of "branding". There are (and were) a great number of differences between GM, Ford, and Chrysler Products throughout each line - in fact, so much so that the never ending dialogue between each group of devotees bordered on the manic often resulting in everything from neo-religious dogma to sheer violence in its enthusiasm. Soft drinks share a similar history of identity such that anyone who is not completely taste-bud challenged can/could tell the difference blindfolded between a Coke, Pepsi, RC or Top cola immediately. As technology evolves however, as in the case of new cars, most of what we experience in product satisfaction today tends toward uniformity. Modern home electronics are nearly indistinguishable from one another as are most other products we use daily. Cookie cutter component technology provides for more cost-efficient means of producing a reliable product. It may stifle innovation, but often that is a willing sacrifice to achieve reliability and ease of maintenance (at least that is the theory).
Like most writers, I am fascinated with human motivation, and all of the above observations (and a lot more that I am sure you have noticed and will write us about) concern the way we behave as consumers. However, in the last decade or so, a new marketing technique has entered the market place - that being private label product creation. What this means simply is that an entity finds a company whose products are outstanding and negotiates an agreement to have said company produce a product for them, but with their own name on it. Now previously, you would never have found a prospective car maker going to Ford and asking them to build a Ford car but put some other name on it. That has changed and it has become pervasive throughout the manufacturing sector to the point that you rarely know who actually makes any product. Didn't the similarity between certain Mitsubish and Chrysler cars in recent memory surprise some of you? Now it has become especially prevalent in the tobacco industry, since most of the tobacco manufacturing process, and those who perform it, has traditionally been relegated to effective anonymity. As a matter of fact, there are only a few major producers of finished tobacco products (excluding cigarettes and cigars). Consequently, these few producers concoct, or for private label a wide array of brands. Anyone, with sufficient capital of course, can go to any of these producers and have a product made for them with their own brand name on it. The actual manufacturer is almost never disclosed but the country of origin is a labeling requirement. Recently, a discount cigarette chain, Cigarettes Cheaper approached this publication and asked that we take a look at their new line of Roll Your Own tobacco products. We did and the review follows. What is interesting is that at least two different manufacturers were used - one who we could identify from country of origin and quality right off the bat. The other is speculation and the third (if there be a third) we really would like to know a lot more about.
So first, let's take a look at each of Cigarettes Cheaper's (from here on CC) selections as they compare in taste to our established standards. Their top of the line product is Noble. Now Peter Stokkebye makes a small cigar line called Nobel and the CC Noble container (can) clearly designates the country of origin as Denmark, so it was not a stretch to guess that it was a Stokkebye product which was confirmed by both CC and Stokkebye. This is a very good tobacco though a bit on the strong side (full flavored, never harsh). It is not nearly as subtle as other Stokkebye blends, with the exception of McClintock Red, which we find it has a certain similarity to. Nonetheless, McClintock Red, though not our personal favorite Stokkebye product, is a huge success among our readers and frankly their opinion is at least as valuable as our own. CC's Noble has less of the fruity smell of the Red, but all of the power. This is a quality tobacco and, considering the price point that all of CC's tobacco arrive at, it is a great value. What is even more important to this publication and the RYO/MYO market in general is that CC's operation is growing quickly, spreading throughout the country about as fast as any chain in recent memory. While we are not fans of manufactured cigarettes or companies that sell them as their sole product, we do understand the necessary proximity of manufactured brands for comparison to roll your own.
CC has experienced a few bumps in the road for their rapid growth but their management is very energized, cooperative, and proactive. We do feel the obvious connection to Native American culture with CC's various named blends is a little on the presumptuous side, much like American Spirit's wholesale image of Native American origin, but it sure seems to work well as a marketing tool. If Native Americans can overlook, or at least tolerate, the unsolicited connection to their culture that these branding schemes inaccurately imply, techniques such as these likely will help increase the presence of RYO. Regardless of advertising/branding methodology, CC's Noble is a very fine rolling tobacco.
Geronimo, Stokkebye's other contribution to CC's selection is likewise a very nice blend with more of the fruity (I sense an apple-like aroma, others refer to it as more like prunes or dates) but it is lighter in nature and pretty tasty. As with Noble, these may not be Stokkebye's very best offerings but still stand out as being heads above most other blends in this price range and all promise to make the migration to MYO for packaged smokers much more peaceful. At this time, the cans are in the $10 range in Oregon (including tax) we're told, but as they are available only at Cigarettes Cheaper (CC) and as we are six hours away from the closest outlet, we have seen them only as samples sent to this magazine. We were told by CC corporate that they are considering offering these blends to other outlets on a distribution basis but we have found no carriers as of yet. There are CC outlets in nearly all states with more each day it seems.
We're not quite sure of the origin (or what to make of the rather aggressive nature of the name) of the next selection from CC - Revenge - but have the distinct impression that this could be an RJ Reynolds or Lane Ltd. product. This is only speculation as it is made in the US and it could just as likely come from Fred Stoker & Sons or several other smaller producers of low cost roll your own tobacco. Not very appealing to our tastes, but for people who like 'Sixty-One, Pure & Natural, Farmers Gold and the like, this is an equal or superior substitute to experience. It is reasonably mild but has a taste that is somewhat bitter to my tongue (a little like Bugler which, by the way, happens to be among the most popular rolling tobacco in the US - in fact, it smells a lot like Bugler but is lighter in color). Having said that, we think it will nonetheless find a market and does offer some significant variation over the other blends CC offers.
Bandito is a spicier than usual made-in-the-US blend reminiscent of cheaper tobaccos that have flavors added to overcome or disguise their inferior breeding. CC did not send us a sample of this one but one of our experimental store customers brought some in one day for us to try. It is actually pretty entertaining on occasion and the name is cool to a fault. All of the aforementioned blends come in both light and regular and as we only had the opportunity to try the full flavor of each and, as we often find that we like the lighter versions of most tobaccos, we can only guess that somewhere in the plethora of blends offered by CC, nearly all smokers will find a taste they will like - perhaps even like a whole lot.
Saving the best for last, Cigarettes Cheaper's "Peace - or Else" (another unusual approach to dealing with the bottled-up aggression of someone in the product naming department) is amazingly good. It is light and flavorful and has none of the telltale elements that we usually can find to pick apart a blend. It is made in the US and we have no idea by whom. Whoever is responsible, however, should be commended on a truly sensible tasting piece of work. The name is frankly a turn off to me (as was the Vietnam War - a time when the slogan was more appropriate) - but one must remember that a younger more aggressive generation is afoot and they have a lot of pent up frustration over something, (most likely being ignored by their upwardly mobile parents). Whatever the political ramifications or intent of such a brand name, we really liked this tobacco. Though not as sophisticated as Bali Red or Samson Light or even McClintock Gold, this tobacco is VERY close to what cigarettes like Marlboros and Camels tasted like 25 years ago. CC has used a rather wide field, shotgun approach to its RYO/MYO product line which, while one could criticize both method and some selections, does some extremely valuable and positive things for the RYO/MYO market. All of their rolling tobacco products are well made, whether you like the taste or not. More importantly, they are making the product and the concept available to a much wider audience than will likely occur, in the short term at least, through any general merchandise environment. They have battled with several state revenue departments and have certainly gained my respect for their tenacity. One must remember that while I am considered (humbly, I submit) somewhat of an authority on the subject of rolling tobacco, this generous reputation comes not from a generational background in the tobacco growing business but simply from my willingness, perhaps often fanatic desire over MANY (35) years, to try and compare every tobacco on the planet. I make copious notes about my experiences and first impressions and often revisit each brand tested to make sure my tastes, as they evolve, remain as objective as possible. And I listen to those who have both been at it longer than I, AND likewise bothered to pay close attention to what they experienced over the years.
Further, we here at the magazine also have several staff members, as well as over a hundred associates across the country, who we provide samples to for their input. And we get a tremendous amount of e-mail from our readers who FREELY share their opinions as well. Therefore, what you read in this publication about tobacco should always be tempered by your own taste experiences. We simply try to provide our readers with a shortcut to finding some blend (or many blends) they will likely enjoy. The fact is that the RYO and especially the MYO experience, if it indeed is destined to gain a significant share of the smoking market, must please the package cigarette smoker rather quickly. A Marlboro user will only give the method a few tries before giving up entirely on the idea of changing to MYO. In most cases, if initially disappointed, they likely won't ever try it again. While cost is an obvious draw for folks to try MYO, it is quality and variety that will keep them. Quality in both tobacco and accessories. Variety in tasty choices of high quality tobaccos with minimal chemical enhancements. And most importantly, the perceived extra effort necessary to acquire and use materials to make one's own cigarettes must be reduced to the absolute minimum. See our Editorial section this issue to see how we have implemented some of our concepts in a trial retail environment - concepts, I might add, that Cigarettes Cheaper is wisely exploring as well.
Last time we reviewed several new blends and promised to follow up on our observations, over time, of their availability, consistency of flavor, and success with our readers and others. We were concerned about the availability of a great new product from Peter Stokkebye called Master Roll as the distributor, Core-Mark International, had not really promoted it much and appeared to have sole distribution control over it. After many productive conversations between Stokkebye, Core-Mark, and this magazine we have been assured that this product is out there, available in quantity and priced to sell. To contact Core-Mark for a list of retailers who are carrying this product click here or go to the Master Roll Banner on our cover (front) page about half way down. As you remember, if you read the tobacco review in the last issue, we were quite impressed with the Master Roll line for several reasons. Not only was the tobacco an exceptional value but we found the light version to be critically outstanding. Now as we tend to favor lighter, mellower tobaccos we took the time to share this new line with a number of folks who willingly submit themselves to various blends we send them and found similar laudits. However, for those who presently smoke more than one pack of cigarettes a day, the Master Roll Full flavor was the clear winner. It is not all that much stronger and the taste remains a high class American style. The menthol received surprisingly high ratings from people who don't tend to smoke much menthol and even better ratings from those who do. Thus, the overall picture of the Master Roll line bodes well for a great future as it is a complete line of products with injectors, tubes, kits, and all three varieties of tobacco. We hope the distribution and presence increases as this is a good product to enhance any RYO/MYO store's product line.
While there was some confusion as to the new McClintock, we can definitely say that the new gold packaged Mild Virginia is somewhat different than the original Green labeled blend. While the Stokkebye company appeared not to have made this change intentionally, we feel that, for a number of reasons, the change was for the best. We have many readers as well as customers in our experimental store that were completely enamoured with the original. Many first reactions to the new blend were not dramatically positive, nor was our original assessment. However, after a short time of exposure to both products, the opinions have changed almost unanimously in favor of the new blend. While it would be convenient to assume that part of the reason for this is the fact that the Green is history and logic dictates it futile to dwell in the past, but we think there is more to it than that. The new yellow is milder than the original and still retains a great full taste. It burns only slightly hotter as most lighter Virginian's do, but the simple fact is that many smokers enjoy that extra spice in their smoke. Hands down for those who had never tried the Green, the Yellow (gold) was far more popular and most of those, including our group, have now switched enthusiastically, thus, making the new Gold McClintock once again among our favorite blends at any price. The fact that it remains significantly lower in price than anything else that is even close in quality is an added bonus. We however did discover, mostly through our readership, who are admittedly much more into MYO smoking than most of our local store customers, (see our Editorial this month about our retail experiences) who in many case are in large part new participants in making their own cigarettes, that our more than one pack a day readers vastly prefer the new Red McClintock to the Gold. They do comment on the smell of the tobacco as having a fruity almost prune-like odor but once lit, that component disappears leaving the smoker with a very satisfying and somewhat heartier smoke. Either way, both of these products are very effective introductions to the MYO method and stores would do well to make sure they have plenty of both on hand. The yellow packaged Golden Virginia comes in 1.25 ounce pouches and 7 ounce cans, while the Red comes in the same size pouch with its can being an even greater value in a 14 ounce economy size.
Now, while we are on the subject of Stokkebye products, which we admittedly seem to dwell on (for the simple reason that across the line they make consistently outstanding tobacco blends, and a lot of them), there is some very good news a comin'. Peter Stokkebye is introducing two new blends to add to his namesake blends (Norwegian Shag, Amsterdam Shag, and Danish Export). We promised Stokkebye not to be too specific as we do not wish to steal their thunder prior to their introduction of these new products at the RTDA (Retail Tobacco Dealers Association) get-together in August in Tampa, Florida. Suffice it to say that we have tried both new blends and they will fill two gaps sorely missing for sometime in the RYO/MYO market. More than that, we will leave it for the Stokkebye Company to announce in due process but we were EXTREMELY impressed with these two new blends. They will be available in the traditional 10.6 ounce gray cans, but with slightly different label colors. By the end of August, we will update this section with a full test of this new release, but as expected, we will all have to wait a few more weeks before these products actually reach the retail shelves. Trust me though, the wait will be more than worth it. And by the way, the new Bali White Mild Halfzware is a stupendous hit.
UPDATE: Well the time has come to reveal to our readers who have anxiously awaited the two new blends from Peter Stokkebye. We will do a full taste tour/adventure with photos in the October issue but for now, to the right are the new cans. The treasures inside are, to say the least, spectacular. The Turkish Export has a definite Turkish/Oriental component and is an exceptionally mild and American tasting long cut shag. The Stockholm is a bit milder (both are even milder than Stokkebye's Danish Export which remains one of the most beloved non-European tasting shags anywhere) with a touch that we find incredible in an age where too often tobaccos are judged (or advertised at least) as having little or no "birdseye" component. For the uninitiated birdseye refers to cross sectional disk-like cuttings of the actual tobacco stems. While it is not part of the leaf, we have always found tobacco with a certain quantity of birdseye to be superior because of the rich woodsy-campfire-smoky taste it adds to any blend. It reduces the vegetal nature of the flavor of most tobaccos and we feel should be left in a lot more tobaccos than is currently the practice. In the Stockholm blend the birdseye is very thin cut disks of very dark birdseye and, at first glance, reminds one of the thin sliced chocolate chips found in some premium ice creams. No, the birdseye does not add a chocolate flavor to Stockholm but it adds many other wonderful hints of flavor that are absolutely irresistible. As we mentioned above both of these new blends are American-like in flavor (as opposed to the definite European character of Stokkebye's Norwegian and Amsterdam Shags) and both are extremely mild and flavorful. They cause little vertical challenge (dizziness) even when smoked in a full-sized cigarette tube, which they fill efficiently. All injectors tested worked perfectly with these cuts though we would recommend that folks using injectors rather than hand-rolling let these wonderfully moist tobaccos dry for a few minutes to prevent some bunching up when injected. Both Turkish Export and Stockholm Blend are already available at many distribution centers and should, as of this writing, be available at many retail outlets as well. If you love truly connoisseur quality tobacco you must try each one of these. Thanks Peter et al.
As a side note, we very often are asked by our readers where they can find all of the great tobaccos at the best prices. There are plenty of advertisers on this site who are here because they have demonstrated to us that they offer very competitive prices on certain items and are reliable sources of said products. Now no business can be all things to all people, meaning that certain companies have low prices on some items while others have better pricing on different ones. And prices change, so we recommend going to the websites of our advertisers if you are in search of a good deal on a specific item. For instance, as of this writing, one of the best on-line sources for Peter Stokkebye's three current master blends (Amsterdam, Norwegian, and Danish) is ABS Tobacco (their ad is at page bottom). Most fine tobacco shops have these blends but Maryetta Abels at ABS ( http://abstobaccoshop.safeshopper.com/13/cat13.htm?213 ) specializes in very competitive pricing for Stokkebye products. Our best advice to our readers is to shop around, using the ads throughout this site as an initial guide but, also use the search engines, ask friends, and look around locally. In high tax states, it is often difficult to justify the higher prices you will pay for tobacco from your local shop. But the value equation can and should be based on many things. And often local merchants can offer much more to a prospective customer than simply price reduction (like samples, etc.). Likewise, some places on-line may charge more but offer wider selections, deeper stock, or faster, cheaper delivery. If you take the time, you will find many first class tobacco shops both locally and on-line that will reliably provide you with outstanding product and top-notch service. The final decision is yours, of course, but always keep in mind that at some point, local taxes, that have been avoided on out of state tobacco purchases, MAY be collected from the consumer (retroactively) by the state in which they reside. Enforcement (boy have we said this a lot) is weak or non-existent and it may prove impossible for the government to force the issue without a serious revolt on their hands. Always consider. It is up to voters as to how much power we want to give our governmental agencies over our private behavior, whether it be mail order sales, on-line sales, tobacco taxes, or smoking in general.
Finally the last two tobaccos we will comment on are the Sagamore blend from RYO Tobacco ( www.ryotobacco.com ) in Austin, Texas and our oft highly touted Turkish Special imported by GA Andron of New York. With the first, though we liked the tobacco a lot, especially (of course) the light blend, we knew little of the future availability of this product. We have since discovered that this line of offerings is here to stay and is doing very well indeed in the market place.
And now, as to our beloved Turkish Special, we have great concern about GA Andron's capability of providing this very popular tobacco on a reliable basis. They have been out of it for several months and their response to our inquiries have been, at best, cavalier, if not downright rude. We are not the only ones having this experience with the company concerning this product now is this the first time the product has played hard-to-get. When we first began writing about this tobacco nearly two years ago, the demand went up markedly and we recommended it to a large number of retailers. Now these retailers, who have built a significant customer base for it, are left in the lurch to explain its lack of availability and, in some cases, to refund money on back orders. We feel a company as large and with a reputation as esteemed as Andron could do a great deal more to service the industry that has made one of their products a real hit, or at least coherently explain the problem to some reasonable level of satisfaction. We await their response. There are some ongoing efforts by several frustrated entities to garner distribution rights for this product for themselves and we wish them well. In the meantime, however, don't hold your breath - nor will we!
UPDATE: GA Andron has come through finally with a new shipment of Turkish Special. We extend our gratitude to their organization for doing the best they could to expedite. We hope future shipments will be more timely as this special blend is growing rapidly in popularity. We never did hear from Andron about the nature of the problem but since tobacco and not our collective ego is the issue, we are simply happy it is here. (They did , however send us a tub as soon as it came in). We're told (by others in the manufacturing, import, and distribution sector) that there were US Customs problems related to certain cigarette imports Andron simultaneously was dealing with and the Turkish Special was apparently caught up in that same bunch of Customs red tape.
But, as the more things change, the more they seem to balance out in the end, The Sagamore Light from RYO Tobacco mentioned above, is VERY similar in color, cut, and pretty close in flavor to the Turkish Special. We tested about a dozen people (quickly after finally getting torqued off enough at Andron) with samples injected into identical tubes. Out of the twelve, only one was sure which was the Turkish and which one was the Sagamore. Pretty interesting as Sagamore is very close in price to the Turkish and we TRUST Ric at RYO Tobacco ( http://www.ryotobacco.com ) to follow through on supply. Retailers stuck with customers who have been waiting for the Turkish to arrive would do well to contact RYO Tobacco as we're told they have the capability of distributing quantity amounts to qualified retailers - i.e., those who are licensed to import tobacco into their various states and pay the state tobacco taxes due on such imports. Two other tobaccos that are also similar, very tasty, and economical as well are D&R Tobacco's US Blend ( www.cigarettetobacco.com ) and Cascade Cigar & Tobacco's American Blend ( www.cascadecigar.com ). These tobacco have nothing CHEAP about their taste and while they are not identical to Turkish Special, all three are outstanding, reasonable substitutes for the Turkish should GA Andron continue to fail to address this issue.
However, Lane Ltd's Oriental blend is actually a much better, more authentic Turkish blend, much like the Yenidje style popular years ago, and Lane has shown great foresight in increasing its supply while lowering its wholesale pricing. It is still carried by too few online dealers and we don't yet have a list of local retailers who offer this incredible taste treat (our little store does offer it, of course, as it may be my most essential ingredient to an always satisfying smoking blend). But Cascade Cigar and Tobacco of Portland Oregon, ( www.cascadecigar.com ) has had it consistently for several years and plans to keep it in stock indefinitely. And for you retailers out there, Crossline Distributors Ltd, of Blaine, Washington (360) 332-7196, has begun distributing it to the retail market. We salute both companies and Lane as well for their taste, foresight, and wisdom. We will update our list of retailers and distributors who carry this product as we are sure that the preceding will stimulate a great number of them to acquire it. Turkish (Oriental) tobacco has a very real potential to regain the prominence it once had in the connoisseur tobacco market.
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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