I learned a long time ago that attempting to change the mindset of humans as to their personal preferences or belief systems is at best, horribly risky business and seldom fruitful in practice. When we review any product, we try to make it clear that we are expressing our personal perceptions rather than attempting to make any absolute judgement on the intrinsic quality of said products. With most of the items we look at, like rollers, injectors, papers, and tubes, we find ourselves most often in agreement with our readership as well those individuals we share products with across the country for their feedback. Of the above categories, only papers seem to elicit a rather edgy loyalty that we often find difficult to fathom. Tobacco on the other hand is a very subjective call. And for a lot of reasons. Although most of our readers and test groups often find characteristics about tobaccos similar to our own findings, this does not necessarily mean that they agree with our overall preference for one tobacco over another. As a matter of fact, their views on which products they prefer often vary a great deal from ours. We have made it a practice therefore not to review tobaccos that we and the great majority of our readers unequivocally hate. But it is important to note here that decisions about tobacco often are based on many things other than flavor. For instance the makers and resellers of a number of value priced bulk tobaccos often use the advertising tact that their blends create cigarettes that taste just like Marlboros or Camels. While we understand that comparisons to such brands may be tempting and perhaps a seemingly effective tool for an industry that is trying to attract users of these mainstream products to the MYO world, we take exception to this approach. Our objection is based on the simple fact (yes, fact) that these manufactured brands have little or no taste, and after smoking superior MYO cigarettes we find these brands to be the last thing we would want a "good" cigarette to taste like. Nonetheless, it is vital to acknowledge that not all cigarette smokers prefer make your owns. This pertinent fact leads us to often speculate WHY people smoke the things they do. So in these pages that is often what we pursue.
A perfect example of the taste - vs - marketing phenomena is American Spirit. The company that makes American Spirit products, Santa Fe Tobacco, has had nothing less than extraordinary success in the packaged cigarette market. It is the fastest growing brand in the market's history and much of that growth can be attributed to packaging and the perception (there's that word again) of some link to Native-American heritage (incorrectly so). American Spirit cigarettes and rolling tobacco are additive-free and popular with the younger, college-age smoker. Their products are not bargain-priced by any means. As a matter of fact, they are more expensive than most cigarettes and nearly all rolling tobaccos. People tell us (and we agree) that they find the tobacco mildly harsh to very harsh but take consolation in its additive-free nature and put up with the burn (harshness) as if that is a necessity associated with pure tobacco. Surprisingly, we have found that a significant percentage of smokers of this brand actually enjoy the impact on their throats and feel that milder tobaccos simply don't satisfy. Our feeling is that American Spirit rolling tobacco (we are uninterested in any manufactured brands of cigarettes in the context of this magazine) suffers more from its wide distribution into environments where tobacco is ill cared for than from inferior manufacturing. Specifically, general merchandise stores where rolling tobacco, no matter how well wrapped, is left out in open dry, dusty shelves. Further, the thin cellophane wrapper that American Spirit pouches uses provides little protection to its contents. The cans (Original Blend shown above left) seem to do much better. In our little experimental store, we keep all of our tobacco in humidity controlled storage bins until a customer buys them. We never sell our shelf displays. The result is that our customers tell us that our American Spirit pouches are by far the best they have tried.They find it to be much less harsh and much easier to roll as the tobacco, when properly moist, tends to be less brittle when rolling or injecting. So our initial impression of American Spirit rolling tobacco has changed somewhat over the last few months. We still feel it rather uni-dimensional in flavor. We also notice no difference in our physical reaction to it, when compared with other quality rolling tobaccos that are likewise nearly or completely additive free, especially when compared to our physical reaction to most manufactured cigarette brands. (You know, like waking up in the middle of the night craving a cigarette, or the increasingly compulsive desire to smoke more and more). Our customers and readers comments seem to bear out this observation. However, we have found that, properly cared for, this tobacco does have merit. Still more harsh and stronger than we personally prefer, it makes an ideal mixing tobacco partly because of its rather high burning temperature which enables it to efficiently release subtle flavors in blends with more depth. This mixing with finer tobaccos also reduces the harshness of Spirit. Many of our customers and readers have found similar results and since there are few tobaccos that we like for any length of time as a stand alone, we have begun to appreciate more and more the place American Spirit has in our tobacco jar. Again, it is important to note that some folks absolutely love this tobacco and would not think of changing or even mixing it.
There is a large selection of pre-made cigarette products with the American Spirit name but only a few rolling selections. In pouch form they make an Original blend, an Organic blend, and a Pow-Wow blend, the latter being better for pipes than cigarette rolling and smoking. We have found few that like the flavor of the Organic blend though many still smoke it, probably because of the organic designation. Since no clear research has been done to isolate the precise elements of tobacco smoke produced by either additive-filled manufactured cigarettes or additive-free rolling tobaccos that may indeed cause health problems, we think flavor is more important than an organic designation. We are far more concerned with unnecessary additives to enhance addiction to nicotine. The case can be made that any substance when burned produces carcinogenic chemicals so we focus more on moderating consumption, and enjoying great tasting, high quality tobaccos. With that in mind and once we began to appreciate the American Spirit Original Blend for what it is, we discovered Spirit's other rolling blend, their US Grown which is available only in cans (shown above right). The table below shows both cans and close up views of both blends. You will notice that the US Grown version is finer cut and has a bit richer appearance. We have found it to be consistently more moist when opened and the flavor to be outstanding with far more depth than the Original version with less harness as an added benefit. We haven't yet figured out why the US Grown is not available in pouches like the Original. We find it superior in every way and the cost per can is the same. Being more moist from the beginning, it is much easier to roll and injects beautifully with almost any good injector. Those of our readers and customers who have tried both blends have nearly universally proclaimed their preference for the US Grown version.
It is interesting, in writing a magazine of this nature, to observe and make note of how our own tastes change from time to time, how manufacturers improve (often without much fanfare) their brands, and how large numbers of consumers, retailers and even manufacturers react to the excitingly non-static environment of RYO. Our analysis of American Spirit products above is a dramatic example of the importance of taking into account the tastes and perceptions of the many, rather than the few. In basic terms, a good tobacco is one that folks enjoy. Issues of unnecessary additives and leaf quality aside (which we are VERY concerned about here at RYO Magazine), if people like the taste of a product, it should ultimately be appreciated and successful. It is all the better that most rolling tobacco products available to American smokers are low in, or without, unnecessary additives and are at least middle to very high-grade in quality. Now it is well known that we avoid reviewing those which we consider really poor tobaccos and there are (we feel) some that are without any redeeming quality whatsoever. While not all of these are "cheap" tobaccos, most are. However, as we have noted over time, products low in price, like McClintock and certain "bulk" offerings, like Andron's Turkish Special are extremely high in quality and there are many other so called bargain tobaccos that many people enjoy that can provide a highly cost-effective transition from packaged brand cigarettes. Remembering that even the most expensive of rolling tobaccos provide significant cost saving over these pre-made cigarettes, we are hesitant to ever recommend a tobacco based solely on its low price. First impressions of MYO are critical to successful migration to the method and cost is only one of many considerations that are far less important than flavor.
When we first started this magazine a couple of years ago, we were sent many tobacco products by many manufacturers and distributors and some came from the category of the very inexpensive. Many of those we did not care for at all and accordingly did not review. Of all of these really "cheap" tobaccos, we found Sixty-One to be among the very best in the category. Sure, we prefer other tobaccos over the Sixty-One line but for those who are really on a budget (and frankly, some of our readers seem to love Sixty-One products irregardless of price) it would be hard to find a better bang for your buck.
Nationwide Tobacco of Blaine, Washington, the maker of Sixty-One products, is unique in the low-cost market with its huge variety of blends, products, and accessories. They have made an attempt to be nearly all things to all smokers and have been surprisingly successful in pulling this off. We have, in the past, reviewed their Maiker 100 mm injector and 100 mm tubes so this time we want to specifically take a look at their tobacco line. And it is indeed, a rather impressive array. These products come packaged in sizes from a small pouch, a 6 oz. bag, and even a one pound bag of bulk rolling tobacco, as well as cigarettes and cigarillos. Their flagship Sixty-One Regular or Full flavor rolling tobacco (at right) has gained great popularity with the cost-conscious market. It is certainly smokeable but we prefer their lighter blends shown at left. These lighter blends are pretty tasty considering the cost, which is as much as 30% less than even the very affordable Stokkebye McClintock line that we love so much. They make both a Light and Ultra-light in this category as well as two Menthol blends, a regular and a light version which according to many of our readers are quite good (we are not fans of mentholated tobacco products so our objectivity in this category leaves a lot to be desired).
Now Sixty-One tobaccos are not particularly sophisticated blends. By that we mean that there are few of the subtle nuances that add to the enjoyment one may find in more refined tobaccos. Nonetheless, there is none of the bite and downright strange flavor elements that plague most really cheap tobacco. The quality of the cut and the apparent leaf characteristics of these blends are better than average, and again, considering the price, they are quite a bargain. We find MYO cigarettes made from these blends are superior in flavor to any manufactured cigarette we have tried recently except for perhaps MacDonald's Export A line. We like them better than any Sherman cigarette and, in fact, find them to be very reminiscent of Dunhill's Superior Milds. Now, in all honesty, we have not chosen to smoke much Sixty-One tobacco as we have available to us all of the finest (and certainly higher priced) blends that we review. Still, for us (snobs that we are), on occasion, a Sixty-One MYO makes for an interesting change of pace.
Recently however, Nationwide sent us a sample of a new product that may change our above-stated rare to occasional use. Keeping in mind that Sixty-One blends are produced in the Philippines and though they are US grown products, what we are about to say may still surprise some. (**Note here that most high quality blends begin life in the eastern US and are, from there, exported to mostly Europe and Canada for further preparation.) The new Sixty-One Smooth is really outstanding tobacco. We were, quite frankly, amazed at its mildness and toasty ambience as well as its depth of character. It is darker in color than any of Nationwide's other blends and speaks volumes somehow of an enhanced lineage. And not only is this tobacco really quite tasty, it is packaged in yet another of Nationwide's continually impressive innovations, a plastic cylinder with a screw top. Sixty-One Smooth is available in both Regular and Menthol and promises to surprise a lot of folks who have looked down at low-cost tobaccos in the past. (assuming of course that its pricing is in line with other Sixty-One products). We have not yet seen the wholesale cost nor have we seen this product in distribution inventories but if the price is near other Sixty-One products, we predict this stuff is going to attract a lot of new customers to the Nationwide line. UPDATE: Sixty-One Smooth is now in the distribution channel and is priced identically to other Sixty-One tobaccos making this blend even more appealing. Is this our favorite tobacco? No, of course not, but in all honesty at the typical Sixty-One price, there is no competition that we have seen. We are really sold on this one and will update here once we get a chance to get feedback from those others who try tobaccos we recommend.
Since 1995, I personally have been looking for a Turkish tobacco to replace my favorite Yenidje blend that was easily obtainable from Tinder Boxes nation-wide. For a while I was unable to find anything even close, other than some legacy stock of Balkan-Sobranie cigarette tins at outrageous prices. Collectors and connoisseurs today pay as much as one hundred dollars for a tin of ten of these cigarettes from European sources. The GA Andron Turkish Special we have spoken so much about, while a very good blend, had little of the Turkish flavor I was after. In 1999, I discovered Lane Ltd's Oriental at Cascade Cigar and Tobacco and was delighted. It was not exactly like the Yenidje but after all the years of searching, it was extremely satisfying. Lane, who had considered discontinuing this blend because of weak sales, decided to not only increase production, but also lower its rather heady wholesale price. Again, we are delighted. The newest batch is not quite as dark as the original Lane, but nonetheless, it is an outstanding Turkish blend.
During this time we also asked Peter Stokkebye to look into producing a Turkish blend as, if anyone could do it, Stokkebye could. Their resulting Turkish Export is another absolutely outstanding blend but still lacks the true Turkish Yenidje flavor we were seeking. Peter Stokkebye sent me a tin of Balkan-Sobranie cigarettes (Thank you, Peter), which is pure Yenidje, that he found in an old desk and even though they were a decade old, the taste was unmistakable. There is simply nothing like this exotic blend and our search continued for something closer. Our friend, Mark Ryan at D&R Tobacco, who was present when Peter and I had the initial discussions concerning Turkish Tobaccos at the ITE (International Tobacco Expo) in Las Vegas this last April, also took interest in this tobacco. All of us agreed that the market was ripe for a truly authentic Turkish (the term Oriental is often used interchangeably) tobacco. The three of us even spoke with a leaf representative from Greece in the hope that she might know why this tobacco was impossible to find and Peter followed up the discussions with, during an already planned trip to several European countries, additional efforts to see what he could find or create in this genre.
Now while Stokkebye's new Turkish Export was possibly the result of our meeting, (or perhaps my constant whining about Turkish blends over the last year or so), the Stokkebye Company (not Peter) felt that a blend that was too Turkish in nature might not be successful in the US. The problem is that many people have forgotten what a wonderfully rich, aromatic, yet extremely mild blend the Yenidje is. We have been so relentless in our search that we were seriously ready to personally attempt to find/create and market such a tobacco under our own label. We are aggresively convinced that not only will a Yenidje blend be successful but hugely so for the MYO market. It should be noted that the word Turkish in both Camel cigarettes and Bugler rolling tobacco packaging is instrumental in the success of these products no doubt stemming from a time when Turkish cigarettes WERE extremely popular in this country.
Meanwhile, Mark Ryan, whose operation is in North Carolina (arguably the major tobacco producing area in the US) was busy, quietly (and somewhat sneakily I might good-naturedly add) working behind the scenes, doing precisely what we were beginning to feel we would have to do ourselves. The result? D&R's New Ramback Turkish. When he finally told me that he thought he had found the magic blend, I was somewhat skeptical but as Mark finds and markets some downright outstanding blends directly from growers and blenders, we certainly wanted to see what he had come up with. It arrived and I have been in a state of ecstasy ever since. While somewhat darker in color than the Yenidje I remember, the flavor is as close to what I have long been seeking as any product I've seen. Ramback is elegantly mild with almost no impact during inhaling. However, when you exhale, the magic hits you full force. This is the warmest, richest blend we have seen, and it is pure Turkish in nature. I am so impressed with Ryan's ability to have found a source to manufacture this tobacco that I given samples to nearly everyone I know. And, their reaction is the same as my own. Whether they were familiar with Turkish previously or not, they universally find this smoke quite simply unbelievably delicious.
The aroma of this tobacco is unlike any other blend when smoked in a cigarette. There is no hint of the typically stale tobacco smoke one often experiences second-hand, but rather a wonderfully warm and toasty smell that even people who dislike cigarette smoke will likely enjoy. You must try this tobacco. I am of the firm opinion that it will revolutionize the MYO market, and influence many future blends. Better yet, its price is reasonable (under twenty dollars a pound) at D&R's online outlet, http://www.cigarettetobacco.com. It is still not exactly the Yenidje blend found in the Balkan-Sobranies but it is so close that any difference at all will take the most sophisticated of palettes to differentiate. If you love tobacco for the sheer enjoyment of its flavor, do yourself a favor and experience the world of authentic Turkish tobacco. D&R's Ramback is available at the link above and Lane's Oriental is available at Cascade Cigar and Tobacco http://www.cascadecigar.com - it is designated their Turkish Blend. Turkish is back - bigtime! I hate to say I told you so - but I did.
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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