"This time we take a look at six
wonderful Bulk Tobaccos, from RYO Tobacco,
lot of great tobacco is available, in bulk, from many tobacco shops across this country.
This tobacco is often provided to these shops by one of a handful of distributors, so it
is not out of the ordinary to find the exactly the same blends being offered by various
retailers. This being the case, it is always exciting to find a "new" blend, one
that is a fresh discovery. Those are the kinds of tobaccos we search for and are anxious
to review (and smoke). Now tobacco shops, understandably, play it pretty close to the vest
as to their tobacco sources and while some may blend several mainstream distributed bulk
tobaccos to create unique sub-blends, many do not. We can tell if we have tried a tobacco
before and when we find something new we are happy. Personally, I like to custom blend my
smoking tobacco. Using fairly common, high quality blends like American Blend and adding a
little Turkish (oriental), some dark Dutch or Scandinavian style for kick and aroma, and
occasionally even some Kentucky Burley for that mellow woody taste, I create a
smoking mixture that is right for my taste at any particular time.
Blend Your Own
It is with this custom blending in mind that we have selected the following tobaccos for review this time. Anytime you blend tobacco, you need to start with a significant percentage of a fairly standard tasting and preferably light-natured tobacco that will not overpower the more flavorful albeit smaller portions of that which you choose to mix in later. Above we mentioned American Blend which is a standard description of a tobacco carried by many tobacco shops. It is usually mild and not overly stringy making it easy to mix. We asked Ric Glaubinger of RYO Tobacco to send us tobacco that fit this description and were rewarded with several of his most appropriate blends. The first (at left) is his House Blend #1 which is his lightest (labeled UltraLight) American Style. What a pleasant surprise this tobacco was. Not only was it mild with just the right cut for blending but it was, quite frankly, delicious as a stand alone everyday smoke. Although touted as ultralight, it had none of the harshness or excessive temperature that is sometimes characteristic of ultralight cigarettes.
Ric also sent us his House Blend #2 (at right). Now this particular tobacco seems to be a mixture of the first blend with a little of his darker Dutch style tobaccos added. As it turns out, this blend is almost exactly mixed in the same proportions that I personally use for some of my own custom blends, and boy, I really like this one. Many of his blends tend towards the darker Dutch style which progress in strength to his House Blend #5 (not pictured) which is pure, very dark Dutch style with no compromises. It's a bit too strong (not harsh, just powerful) for me as a stand alone but ideal for blending with milder varieties. Evidently, Texans (RYO Tobacco, a.k.a. BRNews, is in Austin) being the he-men and she-women they are purported to be, reportedly love this style. For my tastes, however, the House Blend #2 is a true delight without further blending (or as a major component of a custom blend), and I can still walk relatively straight after smoking it.
For many years, Drum was a very popular Dutch style rolling tobacco available in grocery and convenience stores alongside other consumer grade tobaccos like TOP and Bugler. Its popularity was due, in part, to the fact that it was much closer to higher grade tobacconist quality tobacco than the other two and was even considered by many to be a reasonable replacement for custom quality tobacco. The more sophisticated Dutch style taste was a welcomed change for many of those who had traditionally rolled their cigarettes with TOP, Bugler, Prince Albert or even Bull Duram. For some reason, unfathomable to the faithful, Drum is no longer available in the US. Douwe-Egberts, the manufacturer, ceased their US operation a little over 2 years ago and while some Drum remains in the backlog, here it is rare to find. We have heard that there is a poor quality substitute labeled Drum, but have been unable to find or try it. To read an interesting letter from a former Drum associate, please click here.
Because of Drum's popularity, a handful of newer tobacco's (as well as quite a few older ones) have claimed Drum similarity but few have satisfied the Drum faithful. Until now that is. Having used Chills papers for quite a while (see the special review on Chills in this issue), we were anxious to try their Americana entry as it is touted as being very similar to Drum (reportedly Chris Hill of Chills is working with one or more of the previous Douwe-Egberts master blenders to achieve this). Well, in our opinion, it is considerably better than we remember Drum being and differs from the other Drum clones in that it is a lighter halfzware (defined as: very long thin cut - almost stringy - very dark, rich tobacco from Africa and America) mixed with, as Drum was, a higher percentage of what appears to be Kentucky Burley to give it the mild, hint-of-cocoa like taste that Drum had. Our problem with Drum was that it always tasted (to us) like a somewhat cheap tobacco and never had the depth or sophistication of truly high quality tobacco shop bulk tobaccos (it is possible that some of our dissatisfaction with all grocery store tobaccos is that they are not always as fresh as most bulk tobacco store offerings). Chills Americana, on the other hand, has all the smooth and refined characteristics of a custom tobacco. And, like Drum, it is milder than most Dutch style tobaccos, some of which are Zware (or fullzware) which means they contain a far higher percentage of that very dark and powerful tobacco than the halfzware offerings. Though I personally prefer injecting tobacco into light filtered cigarette tubes, Americana is one of the few that I thoroughly enjoy rolled, without a filter, in a 100mm paper. Rolled like this, it truly outshines any Sherman's offering. Hopefully, Americana will soon become as commonly available as TOP or Bugler.
We still get so many e-mails from folks looking for Drum that it is nice that we now know of a tobacco we can recommend as a replacement. AND it is not alone. As fate would have it, we have found a Dutch Blend offering from D&R Tobacco that, while slightly stronger than Americana, is a wonderful example of the advantages of increasing the constituent amount of Kentucky Burley in a halfzware blend. (For those who are really picky, this particular cut is not quite as long and hairlike as true halfzware but it is close and the outstanding flavor is more to the point in this review). This tobacco has the additional advantage of being available in bulk which means you can personally monitor and control its freshness, and enjoy significant savings by buying bulk quantities. For now, you can get it only one place (D&R) although, as D&R does acquire directly from growers and manufacturers instead of distributors, they do wholesale out their own products so it may turn up in other tobacco shops, especially those who are looking for a great bulk Dutch blend. This tobacco is superb, deserving of all of the positive appellations used to describe the Americana above. Both of these Dutch style blends are ideal as stand alone smoking tobacco or as blending components, but be aware that the stringy nature of all halfzware cuts take a little care and patience to mix with other tobaccos. We find the effort completely worthwhile.
Our next selection from Cascade Cigar & Tobacco of Portland, Oregon and The Wharf in Beavercreek, Ohio is the only bulk Turkish we have been able to find anywhere (other than the G.A. Andron Turkish Special we reviewed in the last issue - see Archives Mar/April or click here). Samples sent to us from these two fine tobacco shops appear to be identical which is a common occurrence as mentioned above. Many retailers buy their tobacco from the same distributors and many distributors obtain their inventory from the same manufacturers. Whichever may be the case, this Turkish (oriental) Blend is the most Turkish in character we have found in the last few years. And it is great for component blending. Even a small amount used in a custom blend will give you a hint of that rich, yet mildly exotic taste that characterized the old Turkish cigarettes that were so popular (and, alas, available) a few years ago. Turkish blend is not cheap and the prices do fluctuate depending on availability but it seems to be readily and consistently available from both Cascade and The Wharf. This is really a top notch blend - a must try. By the way, I mentioned Sherman's cigarettes earlier in this column and in my search for that good 'ol Turkish flavor, I tried a pack of Sherman Turkish Ovals. Pretty good smokes, much better than normal packaged brands but no where near as good as roll your owns, and a box (20 cigarettes) cost me $5.50 in Oregon. (Ouch!) As far as the Turkish part though, no - not even close to the old good stuff. In fact, I could detect no Turkish character to the taste whatsoever. I realize that, similarly, Bugler claims itself to be a "blend of Turkish and Domestic tobaccos" and while I am convinced there is Turkish tobaccos in there somewhere, they are not the fragrant Turkish strains of which I speak. One day, I will find the Turkish I remember and I will send to each of you (who wants it) a small quantity so you may, once and for all, realize that no, I am not hallucinating that taste of which I so often reminisce.
As mentioned at the top of this article, I blend tobaccos to my taste. Below is an example of one of my favorite blends.
And then . . .
Next time we will attempt to review every Drum look alike that we can find. If you have such a product and would like it included, please refer to the paragraph below. All samples must be received by June 20, 2000 to make it into this special review.
We review tobaccos and other RYO items sent to us in small quantities from sources around the country. We look for new and interesting blends and welcome your submissions for review. Contact us here if you have a new or unique blend you would like us to review. Please, no perique, as we have a neighborhood dog problem already. - The Ed.
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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