Rolling papers will probably always be a key
item in certain smoke shops. Although papers are included with many tobaccos,
anyone who takes their hand rolled tobacco enjoyment seriously will eventually upgrade to
better papers than those typically bundled with tobacco. And then the fun begins. It is
our impression that most seasoned roll your own enthusiasts prefer a fairly neutral paper.
They want something that does not taste like "paper" or anything other than
tobacco. For them, the perfect combinations of materials used for creating the paper
includes rice, hemp, and flax. I still find it hard to beat some of the old standards
we've been writing about for years. Brands like Gizeh's Sphinx, Silver
Tip, and Hanf, (an incredibly nice hemp offering) as well as their entire Mascotte line, Republic's
Ventura Whites, Job, and French Lights, and the ultra-consistent Zig-Zags
of almost any stripe but, most particularly, the Orange packaged 1¼s. These (Zig-Zag rolling papers in general), more than any other
(except for TOP & Bugler), are the most widely found brand of papers even/especially
in most general merchandise environments. RBA's Rizla's, Joker and of
course, Easy-Widers are seen in most smoke shops, and Rizla papers have
penetrated to a significant degree into certain general merchandise environs as well. HBI's
Zen, Elements, Chills line and others are found as well but, among the HBI offerings, some
of their most popular have been their Juicy Jays flavored papers. Now Republic has their
Golden Wraps, which these extremely popular (flavored, except for the original
GW) rolling papers (actually more of a tobacco wrap) we covered last time. The flavored
paper market is a bit different than that of the more natural (or neutral) tasting papers.
Many people do like the added sweetness and ambience of a flavored paper, so first we are going to both
recap what is out there in flavoreds, and then show what is new in that category. There
also some new (to us at least) non-flavoreds as well, that we want you to take a look at.
One thing is certain in this highly competitive market and that is, there are more than enough brands of papers to satisfy even the most discerning of taste or the weirdest of neuro disorders. We have written about and shown you literally hundreds of brands over the years but once a month or so, something new always shows up from HBI. So we are gonna start with them. They have added even more flavors to their Juicy Jays (it is tough to keep up) and we recommend you go to their Zensmoke site to see them all. (www.zensmoke.com) At right above are a few, but new ones include Tequila, Mellow Mango, and Cinnamon Hearts. There's 22 "Triple Dipped" flavor treats in all and they come in, 1¼, 1½ width and a new king size length as well. Even in the 60s and 70s where rolling papers were everywhere, there was never such a huge selection of flavors. The Juicy Jays, as we've said many times, are really tasty, even just to chew on. While not quite breath mint potent, they are as mouth watering as their names imply (including for some folks, the Sizzling Bacon, which I'm still not sure of - but hey, I'm older and more traditional than the typical flavored paper users - so forgive me). All in all, the HBI Juicy Jays selection is at the top of the heap in terms of variety and sheer numbers of sweet, flavorful papers.
However, their success has not gone unnoticed, as has neither the success of Republic's Golden Wraps shown at left. The GW's were extremely popular in our experimental store of a few years back and that was with only the, then new, Cognac and the smooth Original available. With all the new flavors (Peach, Strawberry, Coconut, Chocolate) and with the tobacco-like ambience added to the paper itself, these wraps make the perfect king-size cigarillo for those that want an aroma that attracts rather than repels. In fact, the resurgence of flavored papers may have much to do with the controversy over ambient tobacco smoke. These papers really do mitigate the staleness that can be attributed to some blends of tobacco's aromas and they add a sweet nip to the lips as well. The Golden Wraps, again, are different than other rolling papers in that they are tobacco wraps and contain at least a small amount of tobacco residue impregnated in the paper and are thicker than most other papers. With a gummed edge and stiffer structure, they are really easy to roll into very long elegant sticks. And they are really luxurious for a casual, aperitif-like smoke. Were I a rolling paper kind of guy, which I am occasionally, these are pretty hard to beat. Even tougher, is the decisions that are now necessary with all the newer flavors, textures and sizes, including some blunt wraps which take the experience to a whole new, if ill-defined, level. We'll get to blunts in a moment, but first let's continue with the smaller papered goodies.
It seems that the competition is heating up over flavored papers (and flavored tobacco to some degree) and three companies are pushing the envelope even further. HBI we'll cover last, as some of their newer products are not quite rolling papers, not quite blunts. Most surprising to me was Republic's newest flavor offerings in a more standard non-tobacco wrap format. With their unique Golden Wraps, I assumed they felt pretty comfortable with their ownership of the "wrap" market. Well I suppose they still do, but they've now come up with some downright delicious flavored papers to compliment their newest TOP Wildfire flavored tobacco blends. We look at these really palette stimulating tobaccos this time in the Tobacco Section and our readers have been responding with a lot of praise, even long before we introduced them here. They are still the only rolling tobaccos we know of that actually transmits the flavor to the tongue itself and even the inhale is far more gentle, yet flavorful, than most flavored tobaccos. The Peach Wildfire was a huge hit a recent NATO show.
Their newest offering (besides the Top-O-Matic of course) is their line of "WildFire" rolling papers. These are the perfect 1&1/4 wide, 79mm length that most people seem to prefer and the flavors are incredible. They are served up retail in a cello pack to preserve their flavor on the shelf and this rolling paper packaging innovation is an idea that really works. It works with menthol tubes and it works with tobacco. So it's no surprise it works as well with flavored papers. So far we've only seen three flavors (which is more than likely plenty - with something for everyone). They are Blueberry Frost, Vanilla Cream, and Sunrise Strawberry. And, of course, the papers themselves have the colorful imprint of the fruit or flavor element on each them. The Vanilla Cream really makes a pretty, visually mellow stick, while the other two really jump out at you especially with such vivid colors that result in a stick you can see from a good ways afar. No faded watermarks here. This is real graphic art, as pretty as most holiday decorative paper. The flavor again is without compromise and, like the Juicy Jays, I can suck on these puppies like candy. They impart a nice flavor to the tobacco as well and, when used in conjunction with their Wildfire tobacco, the sensation is solid and lasting. I've said many times that flavored tobaccos and papers are not my primary interest as far as a smoke. Well, it's getting harder to stick to that - as it was (as a matter of fact) with the Golden Wraps.
There is something about the Sunrise Strawberry (done really right) both in terms of tobacco and paper that really works for me. Damn!! The Vanilla Creams are like you fell into a See's Candy store and mix that with the New York Vanilla Wildfire Tobacco and you vanilla nuts are going to be really happy. This is good stuff and may be the best vanilla flavor (including all the buttery richness as well) I've experienced outside of a candy store. For those who really like the experience of flavored tobaccos and papers, I can't think how you could be disappointed. Really quite amazing even for a traditionalist. Republic, with quite a few recent innovations, is (as we mentioned in the Injector section where we reviewed their new Top-O-Matic) absolutely grounded in the RYO/MYO sector and their dedication to producing products that excel is really to be admired. They are such a large company that I suppose they could take things for granted with TOP tobacco and a few papers and still practically rule the general merchandise market shelves, but they haven't rested on their laurels. The Wildfire combo, with or without the Top-O-Matic, is a "winner" by any measure of such terms. What is even more important is that their already significant penetration into general merchandise environments is going to spread the word of MYO/RYO to a significantly greater degree. Just be careful to keep the Vanilla Creams away from the "sweets" in tobacco store candy counters to avoid confusion by those older folks with good noses, but poor eyes. Yes, tobacco shops have candy displays for adults. We did. Imagine See's Candy Chocolate Cremes and great tobacco in one store - oh my - OINK!!
Not being too much of a fan of flavored smokes, the new RBA flavored offerings may appeal to others of my particular ilk as well. They call them their "Wild Berry" and these papers, in both the EZ-Wider and Joker lines, are much more subdued in their flavor presentation. Actually, it appears the gum itself is the only flavor bearing element. These papers are white, which does lend a more traditional look and with that, the flavored gum does add a bit of flavor to the smoke and aroma of the stick. Its an interesting approach in that these papers make a nice stick that, from all appearances, is a regular roll your own, but with the subtle aroma that makes a nice, lightly fruity finish for both the smoker and those exposed to the smoke. They used flavors of raspberry, blackberry and blueberry to make up the "Wild Berry" ambience.
Again, as not everyone is into heavily flavored tobaccos or decorative papers, these will find their own market, perhaps quite a large one. The packaging is typically first rate as expected and seen from other RBA rolling products such as regular EZ-Wider, Club, Rizla, Joker, and El Rey (I personally have not seen the El Rey rolling papers, but I am, of course, familiar with their tubes). Not having the printed fruit on the paper may, to a very minor degree, lessen the coloring of the taste of the papers that printing might add. However, the papers above, both the Juicy Jays and the new Top Wildfires, neither seem to have any ink flavor anyway. Certainly nothing like some of the flavored papers of old whose ink presence was overwhelming. I remember especially American Flag and Black papers that were like sucking on an inkwell. None of these new offerings detract from good tobacco and when used with flavored tobaccos, the experience for those who like this kind of dessert approach to tobacco will be most rewarding.
Now before we get into blunts (yes, again we will do this), there are some other papers that are more traditional that we've known about for awhile but had not had the chance to try. The first brand name is Pure Hemp. These are, as the name implies, pure hemp papers. They are quite beautiful, clean, pure, and completely neutral with a touch of the warm overtones that hemp supplies to the hand-rolled smoking experience. They are also pretty sheer which make for a paper that is more transparent than the traditional rice or flax papers most RYO folks are used to. This sheer transparency carries over to the smoking experience as well, with almost no taste whatsoever transferred to the tobacco. HBI distributes these in the US (not many brands they don't), but in Canada another company, Natural Emphasis, handles them. They are available at most smoke shops and if they are not at yours, we strongly recommend you try them. One of the nicest hemp papers available anywhere in the world and, as you can see, the package design is really classy as well.
The sticks we make from these papers are not only quite beautiful, but they are very easy to use with handrollers. In fact, their neutrality of taste and ease of use makes them ideal for our testing of initial blends of tobacco. Some hemps are thicker and thus easier to roll but have more impact on the tobacco. Some are even more sheer. We've covered a lot of hemps over the years. These we find to be just right for tobacco testing and for the increasingly fewer times I get out of the office and into the backwoods where I tend to roll all of my smokes. While I could carry an injector in a backpack and even tubes I suppose, I really do like to roll nice pure sticks of tobacco when the feeling strikes. I always use a handroller - my hand rolling skills are way too lacking and inconsistent to enjoy any sort of simple or quick enjoyment on the trail, and the more consistent the stick, the better it burns and the more accurate the tobacco flavor. I like a 3/8 inch stick by the way. This size is just right for flavor and mildness using 79 mm papers like the Pure Hemp. They also come in 70mm and King Size (nearly 100mm).
These papers are among my very favorite for such adventures. (Don't like any of the sweet ones in the woods mainly because the bears really do! - and I tend not to bond well with bears). These papers are manufactured in South America by Miquel y Acostas (spelling) who is a major supplier of hemp papers to the world. HBI now provides another highly interesting paper (as does Natural Emphasis in Canada) from Miguel y Acostas. Brand-named Guarani, they have perhaps the most captivating package design I've seen in quite a while. No flash, just simple and pretty earthtones that really accentuate the natural colors of the Amazon or the US southwest for that matter. They too are hemp, a little more robust than the Pure hemp but are equally outstanding papers. Each packet is a different color but the papers inside are identical. I have received an awful lot of feedback from people who've I've pulled a pack of these out in front of. They are really unique looking with the mellow advantages of hemp used for rolling papers. Very warm and forgivingly mild even with some pretty devastatingly strong halfzwares like the now defunct (in the US) Gauloises.
No doubt one might get the idea that HBI is involved with nearly every paper in the US. One must remember that HBI not only manufacturers their own lines, but is a distributor also so, the fact is, if they don't make it, they likely still carry it. These Guarani are a first class act. Now a new paper that HBI did come up with is called simply RAW. This is perhaps the most unusual paper to come along in a very long time. The name really says it all but for those who may not get it, these papers are as natural as a paper can be. They are unbleached, natural brown and incredibly sheer to the point of near transparency as you can see from the graphic below. Even though they are sheer to the extreme, they are also easy to roll (again with a roller for me). You can see in the stick above that the tobacco shows right through and were this paper a lighter color you could see each tobacco strand. (Note how the Sharpie pen logo shows through this paper). When you have a paper this sheer, there is no paper taste - none! And being that they are not bleached as most white papers must be to be white, there is not the slightest hint of chlorine. Now most people don't notice the chlorine in most good papers but it is there and once you smoke one of these you may be able to tell the difference. I sure could. (I can't stand chlorine in water and use a water purifier on my taps for drinking and cooking - so I could taste the difference, depending of course on the paper). Anyway these new designs are special, once again showing that innovation is still alive and well, especially so at HBI. Since they sent me the first box, they have changed the font for the packaging. The old script was more edgy, kind of a distressed font look. The new font is more readable and looks less oriental. I guess that mattered to them. Anyway, the RAW brand papers you will see in your store should look like the graphic labeled NEW at left. Really interesting papers. We're not sure if any of the original design got out so we'll show you both at left. Whichever you see, the paper inside may be the most unusual paper you've ever tried. RAW!
There's one last paper brand from HBI we should look at before it's Blunt-Time. This is their Rollies brand of hemp papers. Of course, they come in a typical interleaved pack 1&1/4 wide, 79 mm in length. These are nice papers. While there may appear to be some redundancy among HBI papers as they have so many brands, the fact is each one is a little different. This is especially the case with Rollies as they not only come in standard forms, but they also (like the RS Rolls we reviewed years ago) come in a ten foot roll of gummed papers. These are nearly double wide (they say 1&1/2s but seem wider) but the real difference is the plastic container they come in. It not only looks really cool but, more importantly, protects the paper roll inside to a greater degree than a cardboard outer. Even more satisfying with this plastic design is the fact that the cutter (shown at left magnified) is sharp plastic and cuts very straight and cleanly. This was one of the most frequent complaints concerning the RS Rolls product, that the paper would tear unevenly (I think HBI has the RS brand as well now - certainly would be no surprise). The cardboard cutter was just too easily bent and worn down after a few uses. Regardless, the Rollies are a superior product, not only 10 ft of gummed wide paper, but in a container that travels better than any other rolling paper I've ever seen, and works perfectly every time. It just goes to show you, there is always room for improvement. From what I considered a bit of a gimmick to a really useful system. The pure hemp papers inside are quite good, fairly sheer and yet strong, one of the real advantages of hemp (in addition to their warm neutral flavor). We take a closer look at a better view of this unique packaging at left, so you can see just how well this container is constructed. Now if your going to carry a roll of papers, the idea is to be able to use all 10 ft (about forty 79 mm leaves worth) of the paper without mishap or waste. Of course you can use your own judgement as to how much paper you pull out, mostly determined by what sized roller you are using, but having a nice clean cut to work with makes an huge difference. And the plastic case exhibits much more in the way of moisture protection, not only from real water like rain, but more commonly from perspiration that papers are subjected to when carried in pockets. Even a slight amount of this perspiration can ruin a paper, especially the gummed edge. Now don't throw these in the river and expect to use them again, but they are incredibly water resistant. This strategy is incredibly more forgiving, and is one that I actually WILL use.
Once again, HBI has built a better mousetrap and I think the reluctant acceptance of rolls of paper, as being less than useful for most traditional tobacco rolling enthusiasts will be changed to one of wider use. We don't yet know the price point but I suspect it will be in line with what one pays for a similar amount of interleaved papers. This product really does deserve some sort of award for ingenuity and high quality execution.
- BLUNTS -
Now, as promised we'll take a rather brief look at some new blunt wraps. I have to tell you, I've used only a few blunts in my whole life. While this particular wrap style is incredibly popular, I prefer tubes and then standard rolling papers followed by normal sized tobacco wraps, like the Golden Wraps, for smoking tobacco. That's just me but to be truthful, I do have problems with non-gummed papers not to mention non-gummed blunts. I'm not even quite sure how some of them work so well for so many. Since they have no gum, without a lot of slobber I can't get them to stick together very well. Actually, if you get them quite wet (with water) beforehand, roll your stick and then use a hair dryer to dry it, they really do stick together and thus make an effective cigarillo-like finished product. I'm sure there must be easier ways, but they escape me. These HBI offerings come bundled (in this case) with a plastic clear little straw that keeps the Kingpin blunt rolled up until ready for use. Further, each blunt is packaged in a convenient sealed plastic tube that keeps the blunt fresh until ready for use. It's the part that transcends from ready for use to rolling with them that I have trouble with. Obviously, a lot of folks do not have this problem - as I said, they are incredibly popular. HBI has focused on these products quite a bit in the last year or so, and have two brands which are really quite aromatic and tasty. The brands are Kingpin (a name a bit on the edgy side) and Cyclones which are not an open wrap but rather a cone already formed with a tamping stick to pack the tobacco in with. I can't tell much difference in the homogenized, tobacco-impregnated paper between the two except for, obviously, a lot of different flavors.
I suggest you go to the Zensmoke site (www.zensmoke.com) to see all the flavors (we simply can't keep up with all the new flavors) but the graphic here (at above right and at left) basically shows you what you get. Note the plastic straw sticking out of the Kingpin blunt wrap above. It's there to preserve the "roll" of the paper to address the issue of the brittleness of these wraps if they do dry out. Already being rolled makes them less prone to break during filling and final rolling. Some sheets we will see in the near future will come flat and it is imperative that these be kept very moist to allow them the flexibility needed for a reliable roll. They need the elasticity analogous to that of a true tobacco leaf when being rolled, say into a cigar wrapper. Blunts we have looked at in the past have been so dry on occasion that they crumbled when rolling was attempted. The Kingpin and Cyclones are well protected by the plastic case they come in and the Kingpin (since it needs rolling) also has a cellophane wrapper to aid in moisture retention. Still it is probably a very good idea to moisten all blunt wraps before any manipulation of them.
HBI is justifiably proud of their new line of blunts. There have been quite a few other brands we have seen and some we have reviewed over the last couple of years. Benefiting from those who have gone before, as to what works and what doesn't, HBI's new offering are the best packaged, most thoughtful design yet. These items have only recently been accepted into the mainstream of traditional smoke shops. For a while, the two major tobacco trade Shows, NATO (National Association of Tobacco Outlets) and RTDA (Retail Tobacco Dealers Association) would not allow blunt makers (whose only product was blunts) to exhibit in these venues. That has changed to some degree but there are still concerns that these products are used primarily for things other than tobacco. We've seen first hand that this is not the case, though any rolling paper can be used for things other than tobacco. So can any pipe.
In concluding this section, let me just say that because of the enormous variety, design, and sheer numbers of rolling paper designs, we would be completely presumptuous to recommend any specific paper. Rolling papers are a matter of taste almost to the degree that is tobacco. Most people buy what they can find. Too many outlets sell limited brands and varieties. These retail stores are really missing a great, eye catching opportunity to bring in new customers and increase their bottom line and propagate and increased interest in diversity. I would recommend all of the papers mentioned on this current page as well as most all we have looked at in the past. Rolling papers are a relatively (compared to tobacco) higher profit product for retailers and even those who are completely convinced thay MYO is their cup of tea, occasionally will use as an occasional treat, rolling papers for stronger, more aperitif-like tobaccos such as strong halfzwares. Papers also make a very convenient way to taste the essence of tobaccos during your first experience with them. While good tubes do not lessen the taste of good tobaccos, there is something much more intimate, using rolling papers, in the relationship between tobacco and the enthusiast. Try a variety of papers even if you are a tube user. You will find they are a refreshing change for the occasional "special" smoke. And they can't be beat for portability and for retailers - profitability.
Though we have a worldwide readership (some 100 countries are represented in e-mails) we get a relative small number of international samples. We do get some and, in fact, have helped bring a number of such items to the US market after seeing them first here for review. While we hear from retailers frequently worldwide, there are only a few retailers who actually send us products they are excited about. However, one such exception is a man named Johnnie from the UK. He has a shop and an online tobacco and accessory business and always seems to be on top of the current trends regarding products across the Big Pond. His company, Roll-Ups ( www.roll-ups.co.uk ) operates in an environment in Britain that is even more regulated than here in the US. They don't have the MSA over there, but simply tax the hell out of everything. Johnnie, from time to time, sends us interesting brands we have not seen on this side, brands that are popular in Europe and Britain (not the same thing in case you didn't know). He does ship certain non-tobacco items to the US market and provides some really unique product lines, ideally suited to the collector in us all, as well as functional items that have not made their way to the US market. Visit his site and get a taste of some of what we are missing in the US and, conversely, what they in the UK are missing from us. This truly is a global market and, even with pretty Draconian regulations regarding free enterprise when it comes to tobacco itself, the accessories market is fairly wide open and should be explored. We have long contended that rolling papers often sell based on the exterior design of the packaging as much as for what is inside. Years ago, when one could find a "head" shop on every corner, the design of paper covers was an art form in and of itself, much like fruit crate labels. Designs like these above, while not quite as edgy as some of the older designs, have a lot of flair to them and should occupy a place in the history of this product. Enjoy the art of Rolling Papers. Art is a reflection of life and there are many mirrors available.
|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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