This is the only page in this magazine where we discuss specific blends of tobacco. For nearly four years we have been doing so. The rest of this publication deals with accessories, political issues, philosophies, and other subjects that, while mostly related to tobacco usage and the rights of individuals, are not direct discussions of tobacco itself. It is therefore appropriate to remind our readers that underage participation in the reading of this magazine is not authorized and further, that tobacco usage has certain risks. These risks are often defined by the various governmental and health agencies, and their point of view should be clearly understood by all adult readers who visit here, whether they agree with the specifics or not. We feel the truth about the ramifications of tobacco usage lies somewhere between the official line and the experiences many of us have seen personally over many years of practice. Much research needs to be undertaken to fully understand the true specifics of tobacco and health as it applies to varying groups of humans and its impact on health depending on the full range of behavior that adults engage in. Until such comprehensive research can be accomplished, taking into account all aspects of each of our life experiences and habits, smoking MUST be viewed by any intelligent person as a risk-based endeavor - one of many intrinsically manifested within human civilization.
Moderation is essential in any such endeavor and we offer our assessments of various tobacco products with sensible, moderate use in mind. We don't want new smokers, we don't encourage our readership to smoke. We simply understand that many folks do, and will continue to do so, and we offer our opinions on products that best serve the needs of those who make that choice. We have consistently outlined our attitudes about tobacco and offer again this simple advice: If you want to quit, then quit. Few people we have communicated with have had trouble with tobacco cessation after converting to the MYO methodology. It should be as it once was - an occasional, freely chosen hobby and not a lifestyle. If you don't smoke, it would seem illogical to start and if you want to quit, do so. This page is for those of legal age who enjoy tobacco and can handle it with complete control and moderation. I hope that includes everyone involved in the MYO/RYO experience. We know it CAN be that way, for that is how we handle it and have for many years. the ed.
We at RYO Magazine are fortunate to get to see many of the tobacco products our readers enjoy well before they are manufactured for the retail market. These prototypes are always interesting, most good, some not so. Still it is a pleasure to work closely with the many fine manufacturers who seek our feedback and that of our readers, a hand picked selection of whom get samples for testing as well. You see, as oft stated, our opinion is only one of many about certain tobaccos. Yes, I do have a discerning palette and yes I do know tobacco, right down to being able to usually tell, within a few miles, where it was grown or at least processed. Nonetheless, tobacco quality, as with other great forms of art, is far different than its potential popularity. While sometime quality and popularity work hand in hand, often they do not. There are tobaccos we absolutely cannot stand that are quite popular and there are blends we find among the best in the world, that have yet to reach the popular status we feel they so richly deserve. We rely a lot on our readers to tell us their opinions on what we write about a particular blend and, if their perception in total differs greatly from ours, we say so.
Three particular blends that we have been involved with for over a year and that are now available to the US market are Stokkebye's London Export/ Mild Virginia, Asia Gold, the Thai tobacco we reviewed in the issue of this magazine which has now been captured for the US market by RYO Cigarette, and D&R's envelope pushing new Perique Blends. We will start with the Stokkebye offerings and give you a little background on how we became involved.
Quite sometime ago, Morgan Snead of Stokkebye along with Sandy Porter (of the Porter Agency which represents Stokkebye), both good friends of ours, called to say they had some new blends to be tested for possible inclusion into the US market under both the Bali and Stokkebye label. They sent us a number of pouches which we evaluated and then shared with a handpicked group of our readers. The readers are known personally to us to avoid any questions of age verification, etc., and have shown themselves to be both open to new ideas and have discerning tastes - not necessarily that agree with ours. The first two pouches of tobacco were a Bali destined blend that had already achieved some success in Europe and Stokkebye wanted to know what we thought as to possibilities in the US market. Both of the offerings were Euro style tobaccos but with a distinctly American ambience; in other words not too robustly European as many halfzware tend to be. Both were 100% pure Virginia tobacco each done a little differently to exhibit different characters, but still fine, long cuts that, except for flavor, were highly reminiscent of Euro halfzwares like Stokkebye's Amsterdam or Bali Blue. These two completely different flavors on a similar theme were Rich Virginia (in the green pouch above left) and the aptly named Smooth Virginia in the yellow pouch at lower right. As you can see, we received, in this case blends, that already had complete packaging (again they were already marketed in Europe). Often our first test samples come in unmarked plastic bags with only numbers to identify their contents. These were ready to go but they wanted our feedback as part of their decision making process to decide where to place them.
After living with the samples for awhile, we sent them to our testers who almost unanimously agreed with what we had observed (we didn't give them any hints). The Bali Smooth Virginia (Yellow) was more than aptly named. It is without doubt one of the finest tobacco blends one could experience, especially for those like myself who like rich flavor but very mild attack. This is an extremely elegant blend, in some ways very reminiscent of Stokkebye's Amsterdam (arguably for some and definitively for us, the finest halfzware in the world). However, this new Smooth blend was much less potent and exhibited far less of the Euro taste. In fact, this blend is as close to what I achieve when custom blending various tobaccos with small amounts of halfzware to get a light touch of the exotic. I expect, and told Stokkebye so, that this blend may likely become their most successful ever. It is unrivaled in flavor versus mildness and even I, who am not a fan of Euro style tobacco as everyday smoking tobacco (my favored Bali Red is a Danish/English/American style all wrapped into one without much of a hint at all of Euro origins other than sheer quality that the Dutch and Danish have down pat) could smoke this on a daily basis. Slight touch of the exotic but wonderfully campfire-smoky like great American blends should be. As I sit here writing I am smoking (indoors? - not me) a hand rolled stick of this tobacco and it is like dessert. In a tube it is really, really good. Blending this with even a little Bali Red is unnecessary. It stands on its own and was the most popular of the two from all but two of our testers as it was with the staff of RYO magazine as well. Check out the animation to the left to see the color differential of the Green and the Yellow.
Now one should not discount the Green. Our only problems with it was the Green was far stronger and burned a little hotter than most halfzwares except for perhaps Gauloises. The flavor is immense and those of us who tried it had a great deal of respect for its rich flavor. Then fell face down in our french fries. A couple of our testers, who, like many of our readers, prefer strong tobaccos, absolutely went nuts for the Green. I think it will find a haven for those in the US who like a strong smoke, with a hint of the exotic Euro ambience. The fact is, if moderation is your presumption and I hope it is, the Rich Virginia will definitely last you awhile and only a few puffs will satisfy those who would need a full stick of Yellow to arrive.
The interesting things is that when we were asked by Stokkebye, et al, what our recommendation were, we were so enthralled with the Yellow that we immediately encouraged them to put the yellow in a can. They must have heard that from a lot of people as Stokkebye's new private label # 96 10.6 ounce can was born to join its royal brethren, Amsterdam, Norwegian, Danish Export, Stockholm, and Turkish Export. It carries the name London Export and it is identical to our tastes to the Yellow. Moisture content differs somewhat as the can provides better insulation from drying than does the smaller pouches, which by the way unlike the 40 grams of a normal Bali pouch is only 25 grams. This is a marketing issue and we agree that these smaller packages will more likely find their way into a wider shelf space arena, and consequently, many more folks will have access to these fine tobaccos. All three are amazing and I have two cans of London that I dip from daily. The cans of London Export are already available and are quite popular by all accounts. If you haven't tried it or the Yellow packaged Smooth Virginia, you are in for a very special treat. And as a final note, in reference to the Cover Page article this time, the retail price of this tobacco with taxes will average less than $20 depending on which state you reside. It will make nearly two cartons of cigarettes or more depending on how tight you like to pack 'em. With about $4 worth of tubes you get two cartons for about $24 or $12 per carton. Now who in their right mind cannot see the obvious fact that you are smoking one of the world's finest tobaccos for less than the price of the cheapest contraband or 4th tier cigarettes. And you won't let this stuff burn up in the ashtray.
Mark Ryan at D&R Tobacco continues to push the envelope in new blends. We did a whole section on his blend innovations last time and sure enough, he has really plucked the golden goose this time. Mark is not afraid to take chances and with his two new Perique blends, it seems to me that the only risk he took was in so far as the patience it may require before enough people find out about GR Rimboche, and SR Rimboche. Now the GR stands for Green River Acadian, which is a form of Perique that is grown in Kentucky. The original Perique that most people are familiar with is from the Saint James Parish in Louisiana, hence the SJ in the name. The Green River Strain is perceived by most as nearly identical in every way except as to how the soil conditions vary in each location. Similar (but not identical) seed type, with mostly the same look, Perique tobacco has long been a favorite of pipe smokers as a blending agent and the only cigarette tobacco previously using this component was the blend used in American Spirit's Perique blend packaged cigarette. The Perique character in the SJ and GR Rimboches is delightfully much more pronounced.
The new D&R offerings are truly a whole new ball game. Not only is the Perique more evident but it is fresher, as is all rolling tobacco as opposed to cigarettes that are pre-packaged. And the Perique is really a tasty addition if one is careful not to get carried away. Perique is powerful stuff. Plucked from the plant and dried, it looks more like an old blackened banana peel than a leaf of tobacco. It is heavy and full feeling, not at all papery like a normal tobacco leaf. The graphic at left is just such a leaf and came from Mark at the very initial stages of his development of these new blends. Though the GR blend is stronger with perhaps a bit more Perique - toughg to tell as the Green River grown Perique tobacco (more accurately named Acadian) seems to have a bit more power to begin with. Let's be clear here. Perique will flatten most of us if smoked uncut/unblended. In proper preportions, it adds a nice, very subtle almost cigar (high grade cigar) like aroma and flavor to blends but it carries some punch. So Mark had to be careful not to create a band of wandering zombies who patronize these products. His exact proportions are proprietary but my guess would be about 20% Perique in each blend on average. He had the foresight to mix this exotic tobacco with an exceptionally high quality (and expensive) 100% flu cured Virginia. The Virginia alone, which he sent me samples of as well, is some of the finest smoking tobacco I have ever tasted, and no doubt he will soon package that as well, as a stand alone product. But the story at hand is the two new Perique blends.
It is an understatement to admit that I love these two new blends. The SJ more, as it is a bit milder but both have just the right touch of Perique to create an entirely new smoking experience for the cigarette smoker and with definite appeal to the cigar smoker who also smokes cigarettes. This is the stuff of connoiseurs without the price. Saint James and Green River versions are available as we speak at D&R's site www.cigarettetobacco.com. If you don't see them, give Mark a call. This is as good as it gets for the enthusiast. You simply cannot have a formal tobacco education or consider yourself a true enthusiast of tobacco without experiencing these blends. Our readers who have tried them already, are raving about them and I agree wholeheartedly, especially given the fact that one can inhale these blends smoothly (unlike a cigar - ie without choking) and relish the flavor for a satisfyingly long period of time. This is impressive stuff, Mark, to say the least.
In the final case of the three new blends, the scenario is even more of a departure from the norm. RYO Cigarette's new Smoker's Gold is Thai tobacco. I have tried various tobaccos from Thailand over the years and it was not until an affable Australian accented representative, Steve, from Asia Gold (which we reviewed in the November/December 2002 issue (http://www.ryomagazine.com/nov2002/tobacco.htm) contacted me and subsequently sent samples, that I finally found a blend from this country that was really quite good. Thai tobacco from past experience can be very harsh and although the climate would seem ideal for its growth, it has taken the Thai farmers and processors awhile to figure out the right formula for success, at least for marketing on this side of the ocean. Asia Gold, instead of being the horribly harsh plant material that I once recommended as needing a skull and cross bones on the label, was both exotic and pleasing. The first batch was too moist but after several packaging attempts the final product they sent me was very good indeed. I mentioned this to a number of people on this side of the world and to my surprise and my accolades, Sargio from RYO Cigarette decided to distribute it.
For MSA reasons, the name has been changed to Smoker's Gold and it comes in three varieties. Regular, Light (shown at right), and Menthol. I'm told that now full MSA compliance for the original Asia is nearing, he will market that as well. This tobacco is a rare treat for those that enjoy the flavor as I do. The Smoker's Gold version is shorter cut for the American market and works perfectly with injectors. As I said, it has a bit of an exotic, unusual taste that is to be enjoyed rather than to be put off by. Good prices and yet another little piece of the global attitude we must all recognize and learn to prosper in. I really enjoy these blends and Sargio is to be complimented for having the foresight and energy to obtain the MSA status necessary to make this product available to US consumers. I think it will find a significant audience and not just because it has a lower price. This is interesting stuff and the packaging and condition of the tobacco is first rate, with none of the cheap burley or recon (reconstituted tobacco) taste that is so often found in blends at this price point.
The original Asia Gold was actually very reminiscent of Three Castles in that it was very light and very mild with long blonde colored almost straw-like fibers. This cut made the original quite interesting but all of the flavor is still there with the newer cut. When the original shows up, it will be interesting to see which cut the market prefers. Until then Smoker's Gold is available at www.ryocigarette.com. It is certainly worth a try. The flavor is truly interesting.
The next on the list of new tobaccos comes from none other than Sally Baldwin of Cigarettes Cheaper. Packaged a new it goes by the name of Fresh Choice and is good standard fair for those first migrating to the MYO world. The light blend especially is quite smooth, completely reminiscent of some of CC's private label blends like Geronimo and Revenge. As I no longer have either of these blends I am not precise in my recollection but this Fresh Choice fits in there somewhere. Sally, under the name Cousins Tobacco Company is making this blend available to the wider market outside the Cigarette's Cheaper chain.
Not sure of the price point but I did enjoy the experience as did a number of friends who happened to stop by from Canada after the Fresh Choice 6.2 ounce tins arrived. It comes thus far in a Full Flavor and a Light and as I said the light was quite nice for a starter. The Canadians said it reminded them of certain Canadian tobaccos but I tended to disagree as a certain amount of burley is evident in the taste. Now though burley if overdone can be problematic for me, unless it is double toasted like D&R's Two-Timer, and is not used in most Canadian blends, this particular blend of burley satisfies better than many other so ostensibly low cost belnds. It is also important to note that many of our readers seem to like burley ridden blends so Fresh Choice may indeed be a good choice for those who like this style. However much burley is actually in there, it remains subtle in the lighter version. It will be interesting to see, with Sally's marketing skills, what new blends she comes up with to emerge as a supplier of tobacco outside of her chain store environment. I wouldn't bet against her.
For some of you, this is saving the best for last. I am not a fan of flavored cigarette tobaccos and with the one exception of Arango's Sportsman Vanilla, I simply can't handle aromatics in tobaccos I inhale. I love really pungent and aromatic pipe tobaccos (like Latakia) but never inhale them. Ha! So when HBI (yeah, here they come again) sent me the latest from their collection of ZEN flavoreds, I took awhile to try them. Many of our readers, as well as many 25-30 year old smokers I know, really do like flavored tobaccos and even my editor Linda smokes Sportsman on occasion. However this new line of ZEN product is surprisingly good with the flavor of the tobacco pretty much left alone only to get the aromatic ambience in the smoke after exhale. In other words, you can still taste the tobacco and the smoke is certainly more pleasing than normal cigarette tobacco to people who don't particularly care for smoke at all in their environment. Not quite pipe-like but certain sweet and airy kinda like a nice mellow fruity incense at about 100 yards.
In fact, Zen sent me a whole display full of these and other Zen tobaccos. They certainly never under achieve anything and the heavy cardboard display, shown above at right, is available to retailers and contains tobacco, tubes and hand injectors (termed "shooters" in ZENspeak). While it took myself and 4 other bozos (inflatible shoes and all) nearly an hour to figure out how to put it all together (the instructions are very small inkjet printed pictures), after it was finished, it did make for an attractive display (shown at above right). While the regular, normal, non-flavored ZEN tobacco I was familiar with, I finally tried the various flavored ones as well. You have four (at least for now) to choose from and the Vanilla is every bit as tasty as the Sportsmen mentioned above. I was quite surprised frankly as Zen has always been smokeable but nothing nearly as special as the name itself which is a worthy study in ingenious marketing. The Gold Premium Series reviewed last issue was a big upgrade in quality but the tobacco in the display seems to be the normal ZEN.
However there is NOTHING normal about their flavored offerings. They are simply damn good. And other friends who happened by who are mostly puffers and not inhalers went crazy over the wonderful flavors these tobaccos exuded. You have your Vanilla of course, which as I said, was striking in both flavor and ambience and not too much of either, the VERY Cherry which gave me the munchies, Strawberry likewise, and then Cognac. Now the Cognac flavoring was the only one that seem to alter the taste of the tobacco to some degree but the after aroma was still pleasing and whould be well enjoyed by those who like the apertif class alcohol seasonings. The other three are dynamite for what they are and what they are, indeed, addresses what an awful lot of readers seem to be looking for and that is tobacco that is good smelling after it is smoked. Roommates, husbands and wives and others who don't smoke will want this for their partner who does. And with the tobacco flavor being maintained, the smoker does not have to give up flavor to please other noses in proximity. I would suspect these tobaccos will be incredibly sought after with the college crowd, for female smokers who seem to like nicer smells than boys, and for anyone who wants some sweet ambience, whether on the backpacking trail (beward of bears) or in the car. Smoking products like this find far less confrontation on public sidewalks. Silly perhaps, but true.
And finally, a look at some tobacco that's been around a while and that is available now more than ever. This tobacco has some of the basics that have remained among our favorite bulk blends over the years. It is made by Mac Baren, a Danish Company and comes in both a true halfzware and an American Version. The American version is quite incredible and many have had great success repackaging it for a long time. It is very similar to Ric at RYO Tobacco's House Blend #1 though we like his House blend even more. RYO Cigarette sent us the original in two pouches and we found both offerings to be delightful. One more example of the global nature of our world and though some may not like the French much now, nor the Germans, we do all have to live together or destroy one another. Not much in between in a world with the power potential of weaponry of all ilk nowadays. This tobacco is a tribute to Danish attention to detail and we recommend it highly, if for no other reason as you can at least experience once. Kinda like the original Drum. You hear people talk about it but few younger than 35 have ever seen it or will likely ever see it again at least in the US. The new Drum is different. I like it better as there are not as many flavoring agents in it and Republic has done a great job in improving what started out to be a poor imitation, but the original was something special regardless of how they got the flavor. The Mac Baren is that special as well and it just may become a favorite. Who knows? And . . .
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. Never smoke anything you hate just because it is cheap. There is GOOD value tobacco and even the highest priced tobacco in the world is a far better bargain than even cheap cigarettes. 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. Until next time, remember to practice moderation and good taste to a fault. These can be great contributions to our civilization with unintended consequences that can make a positive difference. - 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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