This is the only page in this magazine where we discuss specific blends of tobacco. For nearly ten years we have been doing so. It is now divided into two sections: Cigarette Tobaccos and Pipe Tobaccos & Pipes. The rest of this publication deals with all other 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 here to remind our readers that underage participation in the reading of this magazine is not authorized and further, that tobacco usage must certainly be considered to have some degree of risk. 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 of the science 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 more 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 tobacco products MUST be viewed by any intelligent person as a risk-based endeavor - one of many that have intrinsically manifested within human societies for many thousands of years.
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 RYO/MYO/CMC methodology. It should be as it once was - an occasional, freely chosen pleasurable hobby and not a huge part of your life and certainly never a habit or addiction. 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 CMC/MYO/RYO experience. We know it CAN be that way, for that is how we and most of our readers handle it and have for many years. Now that many tobacco producers have migrated to pipe cut tobaccos this page will have to be completely updated. We've waited this long as the final designations of pipe versus rolling tobaccos have remained solely based on what the packaging states. It looked like the TTB (the tax arm of the BATFE) was going to make a rather quick ruling on new definitions to differentiate pipe tobaccos from rolling tobaccos. Those decisions are still not forthcoming. But we will in the next few weeks try to give you as much information as possible and as responsibly as possible to help you understand where this is all heading. So for now many of the tobaccos here may be affected, some are now pipe rather than rolling tobacco with a much larger cut. Lot's to say on the impact of using the larger cut on injectors as well as the actual differences in the smoking experience. Give us a couple of months (say ~November 2012) and we will lay it all out as it currently stands - at least at that time.- the ed.
Preserving Tobacco Perfection
Nearly without exception, the MOST asked question we receive from reader's emails concern how to keep their tobacco at perfect moisture content. We have a number of videos on this subject in our MultiMedia section, but in general those videos show pretty simple and sometimes time consuming procedures that work well but are less than elegant in both effect and practice. and now there is a real solution, a very simple one indeed.
Finally a company by the name of FreshStor has developed as series of containers that control humidity - both ways. Their CVault series uses the line of new 62% Humidipak® packages that fit into a built-in holder in the top lid of each of the CVault's stainless steel canisters. The three clamps that secure the lids on each canister are extremely robust and the stainless steel canisters themselves are extraordinarily high quality and beautiful. And the price is reasonable, especially considering how much money you will save by not wasting tobacco. The seals are silicon rubber and will not dry out or crack.
The function of the Humidipak® is to keep your tobacco at around 13% moisture content, which is ideal. The 62% figure on the packs themselves refer to the "ambient" humidity produced in any enclosed space that will result in this perfect 13%. And they work and last for months, after which they can be simply be changed out for new packs. The replacement packs when purchased from FreshStor directly are a bargain as well. The Humidipaks® themselves come in two sizes, 8 grams for most of the various sized canisters to a 60 gram Humidipak® for the larger containers. Our favorite for tobacco is the 1.5 liter canister but they come much smaller (for a few ounces of tobacco) as well as much larger (17 liters - 4.4 gallons) for a whole lot of tobacco. The largest CVaults (see the largest one so far at bottom left) will hold pounds of tobacco or even several bags of tobacco and keep them perfect.
The interesting thing about the Humidipak® is that this ingenious product both can add moisture or take it away to achieve the perfect balance. It works continually to balance moisture content and will continue to do so for, as I said before, MONTHS. No longer will you have to keep putting damp sponges in tubs during the dry seasons or silica gel packets in with wet (overly moist) tobacco when the weather turns humid. While there are many containers for tobacco that can protect it, no single solution can go both ways. And while we've been testing Humidipak® for a few years, letting the packets directly touch the tobacco we have found to be less than desirable - for a lot of reasons. A certain taste change can occur. Frankly we like nothing touching our tobacco until we make a smoke. With the bracket inside on the lid of each CVault canister, the Humidipak® can do its magic and never touch your blend. It is truly is amazing. We have been testing as well the whole system for nearly a year and have found that after even 6 months or more of storage, tobacco remains though with some taste change. Spend the money on these canisters, which size depending on how much tobacco you want to store. Perhaps the large 17 liter for your tobacco bags and the 1.5 liter for your every day supply you make sticks from. Even very dry tobacco will be rehydrated by the CVaults, and tobacco that is too moist will be optimized as well in only a few days! Personally I still like keeping tobacco moist with pure water in the winter and not too moist using silica gel packets. It is less expensive and there is no taste change whatsoever. I don't mind the small amouint of extra time to insure a perfect taste. But for those who choose to spend less time in caring for their tobacco, the CVault is certainly an efficient alternative. A good compromise is to use a light mist of pure water occasionally in dry months and put the silica gell packet where the humdipak slot is. These cannisters really don't need the humidipak as they are, in my opinion excellent containers for short term storage. Long term I still use premium sponges with purified water that sit in the tub (or the big cannister) I keep the bags in and silica gel packets for the warmer months. That's just me.
Writing about tobacco, discovering that new blend with all the excitement that accompanies trying something new and innovative is, without doubt, the most immediately gratifying part of producing this publication. It is also time consuming. We take a lot of time with new blends and hesitate to publish information about them until we, and others we personally know and trust, have had a chance to truly know them. This particular issue has been a long time in arriving, in part because of our dedicated participation in assessing much of what you are about to read as well as and perhaps even more importantly, the impact that recent legislation (S-CHIP for one) has had on the industry and consequently the consumer. At no time in history has so much innovation been present in the US rolling tobacco industry. While new products do frequently find their way to us, I can't think of a time when so many of the new ones we are about to share with you, have exhibited this level of intelligent design. Each of the blends we will look at have been examined and tested through several subsequent sample shipments. As tobacco blends can vary with each batch, it is especially the case with any new blend. Often manufacturers may change the blend in question slightly in the early stages of marketing to optimize and to deal with public opinion and perception. We like to be involved in that process, so many of the blends this time we first saw nearly a year ago. Once the particular blend stabilizes, we feel comfortable in sharing it with you, if and only if it has merit. Some don't make the grade and as we continue to exclude negative reviews, the following are the best of the latest and, in some cases, even the best of the best.
Now we certainly have had a lot to say about Mark Ryan's (D&R Tobacco) blends in the past. The last two issues had a whole bunch of new blends from this tobacco connoisseur/developer. The newest ones we will look at here are equally or even more exciting. Keep in mind, there is no other entity on the planet like D&R. Only a couple of pipe tobacco manufacturers offer a similar diversity of blends. In the rolling tobacco industry, there is no one even close in sheer blend numbers not to mention the splendid and increasingly higher quality and innovative standards. Fact is, Ryan takes a back seat to no one on the planet in sheer quality. Mark is a well rounded and engaging entrepreneur who came from a big city corporate background to return to a simpler, less cluttered life in small town Mayberry USA. That is really NOT much of an exaggeration as D&R is located very close to the fictitious burg of Andy, Opie, Aunt Bea, and of course Barney Fife. Smithfield, North Carolina, a few dozen miles south of Raleigh, is right where Mayberry was purported to exist. It is in the heart of tobacco country. Not just any tobacco but some of the world's finest. Mark has assimilated himself into this small community and into the hearts of the tobacco growers, a task most of us would find difficult. His influence has spread as well to Kentucky and Louisiana where he has cultivated relationships with not only the incredible burley growers but the more esoteric Perique blends as well. Last time we covered his new GR and SJ Rimboche Perique blends and from all accounts, these new exotic blends are doing extremely well. And to ensure his supply of the rare Perique strain, he along with a friend and partner, Steve Coley (who by the way is one of the MOST authoritative experts on tobacco one will find anywhere) have now assumed ownership of two of the three sources of this tobacco. This is really great news for folks who like the Perique as a cigarette tobacco component, but even more importantly, it stabilizes the world-wide demand for Perique as a component of fine pipe tobaccos. Such a comparatively small amount of Perique exists at any given time and, as the aging and fermentation of this product are nearly as labor and knowledge intensive as great wines, it is a very good thing that this rare entree is in hands that have a long-term eye on dedication to the future. In the last issue we looked at D&R's Perique blends. Now lets look even deeper into the future, a future that has arrived and continues to expand.
Some time ago, while Mark at D&R was developing several blends for another manufacturer (the name of whom shall remain anonymous for now) he came up with a pure Virginia flue cured which was the best single strain cigarette tobacco I have ever tasted. For various reasons, the deal did not work out and, to my great joy, Mark decided to incorporate this fine new component in many of his newest products. The pure stuff, the stuff that is pure magic, is now his Windsail brand's Windsail Platinum. Never have I been happier with a blend. It is rich and mild and so satisfying that one cannot think of a time when even the best cigarettes of old approached this quality. Now we've reviewed many of his tobaccos in the past (as previously stated) and on the D&R website under Tobacco, one can find his descriptions of nearly all of his blends. Two, which are really new are not yet ready for distribution but by the time you read this, they likely will be. To save you time (so you don't have to go through a whole bunch of archived issues of this magazine) we will present here a listing of all of his tobacco creations thus far. Again since Mark develops new blends as fast as most candy manufacturers create new flavors, there will, no doubt, be more to come in the near future. Here is his current selection, twenty-seven in all, with descriptions and my personal impressions along with their appropriate category.
There is even more to say about what impressive things Mark of D&R is up to, but we don't want to completely spoil the surprise. Let's put it this way. Once upon a time there was a blend of rolling tobacco that excelled all others in mildness. It came in green, round flat tins and was a favorite all over the world. Several years ago, like the original Drum and an ever increasing number of blends we all used to love (like Gauloises, Export A and many others), it disappeared from US shelves. Now when that happens, when a manufacturer stops selling a trademarked item in a country, the mark can be in jeopardy or even sold or assimilated for use in the country where distribution has ceased. Such is and will be the case of the aforementioned name brands. But the particular brand we speak of is revered by connoisseurs even more fanatically than those above. Well, a company well known to us and our readers and with Mark Ryan's expertise (and a number of samples back and forth to us to verify both the nature and quality) will begin marketing this timeless blend. It is reborn, with Mark's considerable help, into what may become the most sought after roll your own tobacco in history. Based on the last sample batch we tried and signed off on, it really is that good. How good? It is incredibly mild and yet amazingly flavorful. The term elegance is an understatement. Extremely fine and long cut, which helps it hold its moisture for extended periods. There are some rather esoteric hints in other parts of this issue and the first reader that emails us at the link below with the correct name will win a new Premier Supermatic. How's that. We are not going to announce this contest in large bold print. Those of you who read carefully here and on other pages will be the only ones to know of this contest and will likewise be exposed to hints - of a sort. You can email us here with your intuitions. Remember the first reader who correctly guesses the name and contacts us will be the winner. For shipping, customs and duty reasons this is available to US residents only.
UPDATE: We have a winner. Greg E. from New Jersey provided the winning answer within a few minutes of our posting this page about 4am PST on August 22nd. Frankly we were blown away at how many responses (about 150) we got within the first few hours or so. I guess there are a lot of either early risers or late night folks out there. Greg was the first with the answer and won by literally only two minutes. We thank all of you who entered and will keep all of your names as entries in future contests. Oh yeah, the answer was "Three Castles" More fun to come. - the ed.
Now the tobaccos above in the table - most we have reviewed. The ones marked NEW are so new they are not yet on D&R's website. You can order them by phone, which I suggest anyway as speaking with the folks at D&R is quite educational and rewarding and will keep you up to date on issues of taxation, payment option and shipping, all three of which are becoming more restrictive and regressive. Though by the time you read this, these new blends may, in fact, be described on the D&R website, we want to give you our detailed impressions here. Keep in mind when we use as references terms like Marlboro, Camel and other brand name cigarettes, we are trying to give our readers a "rough" idea of what they can expect and give credit to the intellectual property rights of all of the products. But remember these analogies refer to a time when these brand name cigarettes were much better than today's similarly branded offerings. We are talking about the classic namesake brands of the 60's and early 70's and prior. If you are too young to be familiar with just how good these classic American Brands used to be, you truly missed something special. Also a few of the light versions in the table are relatively new as well but I think the brief descriptions in the table serve them well enough. It is the truly new blends that we will discuss here and, in all cases, these new offerings have to do with the blending of the current Ryan blends with D&Rs new high grade flue cured Virginia, packaged as a standalone as Windsail Platinum. As we stated above, this new 100% flue cured Virginia is the finest we have ever seen. And when blended with just about anything, the difference is striking. We could probably stop right here, suggest those who smoke (and are of legal age) to order Windsail Platinum and be done with it.
I suspect not one of our hundreds of thousands readers would find a more satisfying smoke (except for the menthol leaning and there is even something later on for them as well). However, since diversity (along with moderation) should be the cornerstones of the MYO experience, the following blends are all exciting, depending on how you view flavor. Let's start with one of our favorite D&R blends of the fairly recent past. Ramback! Now those who have faithfully read this magazine over the years need not be reminded of my affection for real Turkish Tobacco, nor my frustration in not being able to find it. After a year or so of trial and error, D&R (Mark Ryan) and the master blenders he works with came up finally with a true Turkish I could appreciate. Now Turkish is not for everyone and my experience with it dates back to my college days of the late 60's when great Turkish cigarette blends were available in the myriad of authentic tobacco shops that populated nearly every mall in every decent sized city in the US.
Back then one had a choice between either Turkish cigarettes, like Ramses, Balkan Sobranie, Turkish Special and others (all at a hefty premium price) and bulk tobacco of the same heritage. The bulk blends were mostly Yenidje, a strain of Turkish that is still grown at a specific latitude in both Turkey and Greece. Yenidje is on the Greek side of the Aegean and Izmir on the Turkish side. These two tobaccos are indistinguishable from one another in flavor and are the very tobaccos that, for quite some time, have not found their way into the US tobacco market (or the European market), at least in any significant quantity. They are expensive, but well worth it. D&R developed Ramback around these two strains but added other Turkish components as well. We have pure Izmir here, sent to us by an individual in Turkey associated with Tekel, the Turkish Monopoly. It is of the highest grade (AG) and it is incredible. However, whether one speaks of this eloquent pure Izmir or the blended version that is Ramback, not all folks like pure Turkish. It is so mild that you really can't feel the inhaled smoke. The flavor on release is glorious but cigarette smokers traditionally want to feel as well as taste the experience. This is why those classic Turkish cigarettes mentioned above had other tobacco blended with the pure Turkish or Greek leaf as well. It was usually a fairly bright Virginia style leaf that would heat up more quickly and thus release the Turkish flavor and at the same time give one the feeling of inhaling something. Since Ramback emerged, I have found that blending it with Canadians like Penhooker, Sagamore and others or with bright Virginias like McClintock, or Windsail light nearly achieved the classic Turkish cigarettes I remember. With the introduction of Ramback Gold, I no longer have to blend components myself to achieve the perfect (in my opinion) Turkish Cigarette. Mark has added his Windsail Platinum high grade Virginia to the original Ramback and saved me all the trouble. There are distinct advantages to having a professional blending operation combine components for you. Done by hand, one rarely achieves a perfect mix. Done by a machine, with the infinite patience machines have over us, the blend is uniform and the result is unbelievable every time.
For those of you who remember the Balkan Sobranies, or Turkish Specials of old, you simply must try this new blend. And for you Camel Smokers who remember the days when you could actually taste the Turkish tobacco in even a Camel filtered, adding about 50% of this next new blend, Vengeur Platinum, to the Ramback Gold will get you there. Deja Vu - big time! This new Vengeur, while at least half of the component is the original US blend D&R has been offering for a decade or more, is a whole new experience for those that don't remember how good Camels used to be. Though there is some burley from the original mix, it serves to smooth the rest of the components, and the addition of the Windsail Platinum flue cured in significant amount resulted in yet another remarkable blend. No earthy taste whatsoever and the exceptional quality of the brighter golden Virginia accelerates one's taste bud activity to the max. Without the Ramback Gold mixed in, the new Vengeur Platinum is very reminiscent of another classic, the Chesterfield of old. Either way you will find that this blend is unlike anything you have seen in the RYO market. But you legacy Camel smokers really need to try adding some of the Ramback Gold to this blend. Remember in blending these two you are getting the high graded, flue cured Virginia from both components. Simply Unbelievable.
Next we look at another of D&R's blend innovations that uses their double toasted Two Timer Burley (a lot like Lucky Strikes of old but milder) and adds roughly 50% of the new flue cured Virginia. As toasty and smooth as the original Two Timer was/is (and for someone like me who dislikes most Burley, this blend was a real surprise), the addition of the Virginia here creates and even better Lucky and yet exceeds even that venerable brand's satisfaction. For some reason, the double toasting of the Burley (exceptionally high grade Burley - by the way) when added to the Virginia makes for one of the smoothest, nuttiest, campfire-like smokes one could imagine. I suppose there are a lot of adjectives one could use to describe the overall flavor of this combination. Sure it's nutty (what the hell that means may not be clear to anyone), and sweet (not sugar or honey sweet) expressed as a light refreshing tingle on the tongue without bitterness, and the smoothness can only be best described as being completely non-intrusive on the throat. Whatever language one would use to describe this blend, one thing that is apparent is that it is unique. Now unique may be a term that is over used in the world of marketing but sometimes there is no better way to describe something this . . . unique. Let's try it this way. Cigarettes did not always have the stale and artificial odor that most packaged brands have today. I can remember a time when I actually enjoyed the smell of someone lighting a cigarette around an early morning campfire with a pot of "cowboy" coffee boiling happily away. This blend reminds me of this vivid experience and for those that are puzzled by the term Cowboy Coffee, it simply refers to the practice of making coffee by putting the ground coffee directly in the water in the pot and cooking it until both the flavor was released and the grounds had settled to the bottom so you could pour a cup without eating coffee grounds. This is why those old stove top coffee pots had holes in the pouring spout to help strain any excess grounds.
Too much information - perhaps - but for those that have experienced the above, this tobacco can help take you back there. And speaking of unforgettable memories, few who have tried European style Halfzwares will ever forget the experience. Many in fact, once bitten - stay bitten. D&R has offered a fine German/Dutch blend for some time. Under the newer name Ryback, this tasty and potent form of dark fire cured tobaccos is similar in nature to US Drum, Gauloises, etc. It is not as long cut as Bali Blue, Samson Blue, or Stokkebye's benchmark Amsterdam Shag. Now I like these kinds of stronger, more aromatic and frankly, exotic tobaccos quite a bit but in small quantities. I find they are more suited for handrolling in thin sticks rather than injecting into an MYO tube. By keeping the stick thin, one gets far less dizzy and the flavor is desert-like in the best sense of the term. However, as most of you long time readers must know by now, I usually mix these fine tobaccos with American styles for injection as they lend an exquisite flavor to such blends. Well once again D&R comes through - with their new Ryback Gold. With about a 50/50 mix of the original Ryback and the new Virginia flue cured, they have achieved what I often mix for injection. The high grade Virginia brings American sensibility to the overall experience and likely will attract those who, in the past, may have found Euro style dark fireds interesting but a bit too much. This is a great blend for not only handrolling but for injection as well. The Virginia component effectively controls the dark fired Euro ambience in a very productive way, leaving one with not only a great smoke but an experience that may change some minds about dark fired tobaccos. Overall it is much milder and the high class Virginia component is balanced perfectly such that one can selectively taste both tobaccos. Another unique experience for all but those who have been blending their own for a while. As a treat mix about 20% Ramback Gold with the Ryback Gold and you have about as close as one can get to the old style Egyptian cigarettes that were the rage in the 30's and 40's. Very elegant.
Now the word elegant may overused as much as the word unique. Often I don't agree with either terms in assessing products unless they really knock me out. I am confident in using terms like this with these new D&R offerings and this last one, while a member of a style of tobacco that I truly can't stand, is the most smokeable of this genre I have yet to experience. D&R's newest menthol (arghh) is their Wingate Gold. By mixing the original Wingate menthol blend (there is also a new light version of Wingate) with the high grade flue cured post mentholation, you wind up with a blend that addresses a concern that many menthol cigarette smokers have about mentholated rolling tobacco. That is, too much menthol. Now of course some folks want even more menthol, so don't ever get the idea we are speaking in absolutes here. Nonetheless, the addition of the non-mentholated flue cured makes for a delicious and much more tobacco flavored blend - one that I can even smoke (on occasion). It still has the menthol character, just less of it and the added quality the Virginia imparts make this a very refreshing and ultra-premium smoke. Now I honestly can't smoke menthol much (or have Vicks rubbed on my chest - even pneumonia is a preferable alternative) as it usually gives me a headache immediately. Something in my checkered past no doubt. But we do have friends and business associates who smoke menthol tobacco exclusively and we share menthol blends with them for their evaluation. They absolutely love this blend. Any less menthol flavor they perceive is more than made up by the great flavor the Virginia component contributes. I have smoked it and there is no doubt it is a great blend with a robust tobacco flavor which is not completely masked by the menthol. That is in itself a rarity and for those that like menthol, this may be of extreme interest. Again, it is unique.
And finally, as to D&R's new blends there is Rowland Light. This is arguably the least unique of the new blends as it is simply a lighter version of their original American Flavor. At least that is what we initially thought. However, one must be reminded that blends change over time and this blend, since acquiring the new name Rowland several years ago saw a marked improvement at that time. This new light reflects its original heritage but the overall experience is, to our taste, dramatically improved. A very delicious light blend without the harshness that characterize some light blends. A good old fashioned cigarette taste with some Kentucky Burley and Virginia with just a tidge of oriental to smooth it out. This blend exudes a cocoa aroma when the bag or tub is opened and that subtle but fetching aroma accompanies the resultant smoke. Rowland has gone from a blend I like okay to a blend that is dynamite. This blend was one of D&R's most popular original blends and for those that have stuck by it, this new light will no doubt be an exciting evolution. We certainly enjoy it.
Remember, the D&R lineup of fine tobacco comes in both 14 oz. gold foil lined bags and 3.5 oz. plastic tubs. The tubs are really unique and provide both an excellent barrier to the environment while giving one the opportunity of trying dozens of incredible blends in smaller quantities. We reviewed the new tub packaging in our Winter 2003 issue. You can find that article at http://www.ryomagazine.com/winter2003/tobacco.htm. If you fashion yourself a true connoisseur of fine tobacco, you simply must explore what D&R has to offer. Simple as that!
Speaking of ZEN, as we did above, this HBI brand which is produced by M&R Holding, (Dean Rouse again) has become extremely popular. This great name has panache and speaks to the ceremonial aspect of tobacco that is sorely missed in traditional cigarette marketing. ZEN is now available in 3/4 ounce pouches in addition to their 6 ounce and 1 pound bags. These tobaccos smell damn good burning and this new smaller size pouch will allow wider access and a chance for many smoking people to try this tobacco before committing to a larger quantity.
Needless to say, Tobacco has enjoyed a fascinating history, some of it quite mystical. It has been in use by humans for at least 14,000 years and has gone through incredibly restrictive, Draconian attitudes throughout history. These periods were usually followed by much longer periods of mass acceptance or even frenzied worship. People have been beheaded for its use - people have been made royalty by its use. In fact, here is as good a time as any to bring up a very special book that we feel everyone of our readers should read. Its called, simply TOBACCO with the subtitle "A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization." The author, Iian Gately, who is a noted journalist in Britain, explores the entire history of this special plant and, in a very entertaining and interesting way, with an amazing amount of research that pulls no punches. It is without doubt the most comprehensive history ever written on the subject of tobacco.
The importance of learning about tobacco is an imperative each tobacco user should welcome. The restrictive nature of the current regulations on tobacco and the absurd taxation it's under has been attempted time and time again throughout its long history. More importantly, even more frequently were its uses decried as the ultimate medicine, treating everything from cancerous growths to mental illness. The sheer number of philosophical and societal flip-flops over the use of tobacco is staggering. We are in one cycle of an incredibly complex cyclic attitude about this plant. Empires rose and fell at the whim of tobacco. The slave trade began as a way for the Dutch to pay for their prohibitionist driven high priced tobacco (a lesson not seemed to be easily learned by groups and governments who would tax and regulate tobacco right into the hands of black market smugglers - who then use their ill-gotten gains for practices that threaten everyone). Even our own United States was founded and financed on its back. It was highly thought of, in certain cultures, as currency more valuable than gold itself. This is a truly interesting story that takes one right up to the restrictions and Puritan prohibitionist attitudes of today. Throughout history taxation of one form or another, not to mention violence against its users, was always the first thrust for certain control minded groups attempting to irradicate its very existence. A strongly recommended read for the smoker who is currently under attack from so many directions. Buy it, read it. It is a worthy investment and a hell of a lot of fun. Click on the book graphic to go to Amazon.com where it is available - at a reasonable price for a change
Now that we've had this brief histo-literary interlude, let's get back to the subject of flavored tobaccos. We've tried a lot of them. The bad one's, ones we don't bother to write about, have a taste than reminds me of nothing as much as face powder. A very cosmetic like flavoring. The good ones, while they might differ in their delivery, used flavorings that were quite pleasing and quite natural in both taste and aroma. The ZEN above is like that. Its flavors are right on judging by the aroma they produce when burned. However, there is one more step, or boundary that is rarely crossed when it comes to flavored tobaccos. That is, like coffee or great cheese, or even most pipe tobaccos, the aroma is more enticing than the taste. I never met anyone in my life who hated the smell of coffee, though many of them don't like the taste. If coffee actually tasted like it smelled, everyone would drink it. Cheese on the other hand, especially really great aged varieties smell so bad that it is a wonder anyone ever tasted it in the first place. Once they did however, they found that the taste was wonderful (to most people at least) but the smell - jeez the smell of some really great tasting cheeses is plainly awful. Pipe tobaccos offend few. But rarely does the smoke in the mouth match the wonderful aroma that is its atmospheric by-product. This has seemed to be the mold for pipe tobaccos for centuries.
A few years ago, while Peter Stokkebye was still alive, we reviewed one of his new pipe tobaccos that literally broke this historic mold. It was the Skandinavik Vanilla Cavendish. We wrote: "Stokkebye's new Skandinavik Vanilla Cavendish is absolutely mouth watering, moist, sweet (but not syrupy sweet), and downright delicious. It practically has food value it is so good. Now all of that seems like a pretty big load of hype but take my word for it, nothing you pipe smokers have ever sucked into your mouth compares to the taste bud orgasm you will experience with this stuff. It is my hands down favorite of all time. Sources (in addition to Peter himself) tell us that it has become Peter's favorite as well." Now what was so unique about the Vanilla Cavendish was that it actually transmitted its flavor to the palette, the tongue, the mouth. It tasted like it smelled. It was truly mouth watering.
Many famous international blends have disappeared from US shelves in the last few years. Most notably DRUM, which Republic, after a hurried and less than successful reproduction, is now a very good tobacco again available for the US market. Other blends such as Gauloises are now gone. There is some legacy stock of course but the time will come soon when it will be gone. Export A is history here. And so is Three Castles (more on that below and this is important as it ties into some remarkable proceedings currently under way!). So even though many of our favorite foreign blends have gone missing and more will soon (more on that in a minute as well), there are some welcome new additions from Europe, blends that have been successful there for many decades. One such excellent tobacco our UK and European readers have asked about for years is Auld Kendal. This great fine cut blend is now available here.
Ric at RYO Tobacco has seen fit to introduce this classic to the US Market. It is destined for full MSA compliancy before shipping. It not only will come in its standard Mild Golden blend, but will be available in a Medium, a Dark fired (think halfzware), and a delicious Georgia Blend. The Georgia blend has a bit of burley to accompany the fine Virginia cut and the amount of burley is just right for that warm smooth addition that fine burley, when used intelligently, can impart. There is also a Menthol but, more importantly, they have even created some tasty flavored blends as well. Black Cherry and Vanilla to be specific. This is great stuff. The cut as mentioned above is very fine (see photo at right) and like many original rolling tobaccos, their moisture content is such that they must be dried a bit to be used easily in injectors. The wait is worth it. These are all very mild smokes and little (if any) harshness is produced even when dried to the maximum needed for MYO. The Dark fired is robustly European in the finest exotic tradition and the flavoreds are really quite aromatic in a very classy way.
However it's the Mild Golden that interested me personally the most. Now this is really fine tobacco. Very mild with great taste and more importantly it has plenty of character without making you goofy. Our European readers, who have raved about this brand for several years, were right on about it, and while it's a bit pricey at $3.50 for a 25 gram pouch and $6 for the 50 gram tin (my favorite), you can buy the one pound bag (at about $30) and save quite a bit (a least a buck an ounce). As price is not really an major issue to most of our more experienced readers (who've discovered, justifiably so, that incredible tobaccos are worth the little extra expense, as they sensibly reduce their intake to fit their individual budgets), the slightly premium price is certainly worth it. The Mild is similar to the much revered Three Castles in cut but has more real tobacco flavor than the original Three Castles. (HBI has acquired the trademark for Three Castles in the US and with the help of Mark Ryan at D&R has created the true rebirth of this blend even more accurately.) We'll talk about this fine tobacco in a moment but to return to the Auld Kendal, suffice it to say that this tobacco is one that any rolling tobacco enthusiast must try. There are only a handful of tobaccos in the world of this quality and elegance.
As mentioned above, HBI had reintroduced the Three Castle brand to the US right down to most of the original artwork and verbiage. We began getting samples nearly a year ago and after some careful but critical compromises, this new blend is now ready for market. It may be the finest rolling tobacco in the world especially for those who desire the ultimate in mildness. The compromises that I speak of were in many ways minor but nonetheless critically important. You see, the original Three Castles used a method of Chinese origin whereby the tobacco, after cut, is placed in water and soaked until most of the tobacco juices are removed. The Chinese actually boiled their tobacco, but from what I have been able to find out from both the very few true experts left on this blend and from my own testing of the last five 50 gram tins that I got my hands on several years ago, this tobacco was washed, diluted or however you wish to describe it. Like a tea bag after use. While it was considered a fine cut for its time and as it was not that fine compared to Euro halfzware, in making that assessment the actual Three Castles was simply not a true fine cut. It was a very long cut, but each strand was at least twice as wide as all other subsequent attempts at this blend. The original was mild when smoked in its original condition (in other words being packaged in an airtight metal tin with many decades of shelf life it was very moist tobacco).
The moisture content, in fact, was so high that one could "squeeze" nearly a teaspoon of water out of the contents of a 50 gram tin when first opened. Handrollers liked this as this size tin would last a very long time and, again, with this much moisture, the smoke was excessively mild. However I found it to have little tobacco taste. In fact, it reminded one more of hay or alfalfa burning than tobacco. Still very pleasant and unique, it was a huge favorite of a copious amount of smokers. I wish I had one of these round flat tins left to show you - I used the last one for an ashtray screwed into the dash of an old VW bus and when I sold the bus, I failed to retrieve this precious artifact. They (the tins) were beautiful, a brass colored base and a striking green screw on lid, much like many pipe tobaccos come in today - much like an old shoe polish can, only larger.
Now one thing that most people fail to either remember or report about this beloved tobacco was the fact that once it did manage to dry (which was absolutely necessary if one ever hoped to inject it into a tube) it could become quite harsh. It simply was not designed to be injected nor to be dried, but when it was, it could zap the throat with the best of certain hot burning golden Virginias. This characteristic I personally found unacceptable and since more and more folks are enjoying tobacco in tubes and therefore need a blend that can be injected, it was my criteria of acceptance that this blend needed to be mild, even when dried enough for MYO. After a number of samples, Mark Ryan reproduced, to the highest degree I've seen, the overall experience of the original blend, but with the aforementioned improvements. Mark has a rare gift for figuring out tobacco blends and making them better.
The new Three Castles from HBI is superbly mild, and though it comes (so far) in a beautifully waxed paper wrapped "cake" placed inside an equally beautiful green 25 gram pouch (3/4 ounce), the moisture content still requires some drying before injecting. This compromise is most effective as for the handroller this tobacco will stay plenty moist for the life of the pouch, yet with a little drying, will inject quite well. (The animation at right shows this blend in its various states - from pouch to tobacco.) And in either case (rolled or injected), the resultant smoke is incredibly luxurious and mild. No hint of harshness even when we dried one sample for a week in open air. Now it's summer here in southern Oregon and hot, and while not as humid as the Midwest or east coast, it does take tobacco a bit of time to dry. Nonetheless, this tobacco held its moisture, perfect for injecting, for an amazingly long time even when at the mercy of the elements. Those few lucky enough to have tried this brand new offering are stunned at its character. As I said, it is perhaps the finest rolling tobacco you will ever see, and for injecting, it creates the ultimate in an extremely mild yet flavorful experience. No cigarette ever existed that had this combination of qualities, not even the original brown tinned Three Castles cigarettes of a hundred years ago..
Great praise is due both HBI for undertaking this project and the cooperation of Mark Ryan of D&R for providing discerning knowledge and palette to help get it done right including full MSA compliancy. If you try no other new tobacco this coming year, you must try the new Three Castles. I'm told future plans include perhaps a re-creation of the 50 gram metal tin, perhaps even a 100 gram one like the Three Castles of many decades ago. This kind of packaging is expensive so it will cost more once it hits the tinned stage, but believe me when I tell you, it will be worth it. Nothing controls moisture content better than all metal tins. You simply leave it open until the moisture is perfect for your taste and purposes and then keep it sealed until you use it, resealing as soon as you've extracted the tobacco. It will last for months at a perfect moisture level. Now it may be some time before the tins are ready, but the double protected pouch - again waxed paper wrapping the tobacco (almost looks like a flat tamale) placed inside of the green pouch is the next best thing to a tin and exhibits serious staying power. It presents itself with a simple anachronistic elegance that is absolutely unique.
Both tubes and a hand injector from HBI now bear the Three Castles name as well. The tubes we cover in the Filtered Tubes Section in this issue and they are nearly as unique as the tobacco itself. The injector is actually a pretty damned good injector for a hand model which we'll discuss in the Injector section as well. But make no mistake, this tobacco is going to attract a huge audience as will the other components of this brand. Now many readers are going to ask me if this is now, indeed, my favorite tobacco. Quite frankly with all the new D&R offerings, not to mention my affinity for Stokkebye's Bali Red, it would be like asking me which of my many guitars is my favorite or even which of my children deserves that dubious distinction. The fact is, I like a number of different tobaccos depending on my mood and palette. You know I love Turkish tobaccos, and the new Windsail Platinum is unbelievably good. Three Sails from D&R as well is right up there with Bali Red, and the new Two Timer Gold's combination of double toasted Burley and the incredible flue cured Virginia, mentioned in the D&R section above, is seriously irresistible. Where the new Three Castles falls into my own personal "if I was trapped on a desert isle and could chose only one tobacco" dilemma is hard to say. Some days it might be even too mild for me. The fact is any one of the preceding would satisfy me as much as any one thing ever does. I like variety. However, and again make no mistake, though there have been many Three Castle pretenders since the original left the US market, it would be hard for me to discount the distinct possibility that even I could ask for nothing better than this new incarnation. It really is, however, more important what YOU think. There are lot more of "you" than me and I rely greatly on your opinions to at least remain grounded enough to write about these products without undo egocentricity creeping in. So try the Castles and let me know. I suspect you will be blown away - KABOOM!!! Is it the original - No I think it is exponentially better, with immaculate flavor and all the mildness that made the original an icon.
With all of the new and incredibly interesting tobaccos that have appeared in this magazine over the last six years, one name has stood out as a hallmark, the very cornerstone if you will, of the sense of quality available to those who choose to smoke tobaccos they personally pick. That is Peter Stokkebye and the products this family and company have given birth to. With Peter's passing, we found ourselves a bit unsure of the future. Erik, Peter's son, had been running the Stokkebye organization already for several years after Peter retired so it was not a question of capability that concerned us. The members of this company here in the US are of extreme talent and energy. They have a passion for their products that translates into absolute reliability for the consumer. However the whole story is not that simple. Stokkebye International is owned in part (a large part) by entities outside the Stokkebye family. This occurred many years ago and has been almost completely transparent to the end users - you and me. We choose to write about this now as there are going to be some changes. It is one of the reasons we have delayed publication of this new issue. We wanted to get the facts right and the facts have been continually evolving. Further, the facts as to how smokers in the future will obtain tobacco are changing as well. These particulars and why, we cover in detail on the Cover page as well in this issue's Editorial section. But this is the Tobacco section and we felt it necessary to bring all of our readers up to date, as best we can, as to the subject of the future, both of Stokkebye products, and other tobaccos in general. As I said, more detail will be in the other sections but here is where we choose to start.
Peter Stokkebye, International has been owned for quite some time by Orlik of Denmark in partnership with Scandinavian Tobacco and another individual by the name of Gundersen. Peter himself made this decision and strategic move many years ago and the US based Stokkebye entity has been under the direction of his son Erik for over ten years. Now marriages of companies go through various periods of adjustment and for the most part, this has been an uncharacteristically smooth marriage. It remains so, but the changes that are coming will raise some eyebrows. As far as we can tell, most of the dedicated customers of the incredible line of Stokkebye products will notice little difference. We write this so that if you do, we want to know about it - and if we notice any problems first - we're gonna squawk like hell. However, knowing the various entities as we do, the likelihood of any problems or product degradation is as close to impossible as anything we could imagine. What really needs to happen is that RYO/MYO consumers get over the idea of CHEAP and concentrate on quality. There are countless and long term advantages to this. If you've read this magazine much, you will know what they are, but to make it simple, quality breeds moderation, connoisseurship, and a respect for a product category that is under attack from just about every possible direction. Over consumption or abuse of low grade tobacco simply cannot be a positive for the future of tobacco for the many who both respect and enjoy it.
Now Orlik of Denmark (a company with enviable traditions of its own) has for some time been trying to reduce somewhat its already relatively small dependence/involvement in the highly volatile and litigation prone US market. In Europe, where Orlik has an immense presence, taxation is high but regulation is less stringent and litigation is almost unheard of. This is the primary reason so many great brands from Europe have disappeared from the US market shelves in the past and are continuing to do so. Even now, joining the ranks of the original Drum and Three Castles showcased above, is Gauloises. And Gauloises was one of our favorites. Many European companies simply don't want to mess with the often frivolous and contentious US civil legal system which is driven to the point of absurdity by bottom feeding, personal injury, personal claims attorneys and their flock of whining clients who refuse to accept personal responsibility for use of a legal product replete with warnings. Calling them "ambulance chasers" would do a disservice to ambulances. No this group of attorneys, working on contingency fees, has made our civil legal system a literal nightmare. They aggressively approach prospective clients rather than wait for someone who has a justified complaint to find them. This is nothing new and I would be suspect of anyone who does not realize this is fact. It has driven up medical costs, insurance costs, attacked fast food, sweets and of course tobacco as well as every other sector of our economy that dares to show a profit. They have forced us into foreign energy dependence and basically taken the adventurous, risk taking spirit that was once the envy of the world and transformed too many of us into frightened sheep in search of a shepherd. And as things get worse, more international companies, with seriously fine but possibly controversial products, will simply leave the US behind. (Oh China will be there to make our electronic junk for us. Our legal system rarely shows its head when a Chinese TV blows up and TVs are rarely blamed for obesity though they are a far greater cause than McDonalds.)
Consequently having a company like Stokkebye with its operations here in the US (in Charlotte, North Carolina) gives one a certain amount of comfort that its products will survive. It takes a lot of money to do so, especially with the weakening US dollar and their tobacco coming from Europe. Nonetheless a strategy has emerged that, at least at first glance, seems like it will benefit both the US consumer and the Stokkebye company as well. It comes in two parts. First Stokkebye has replaced (or will soon) its formal ties to Orlik with a new partnership with Villiger. Their new logo is above. The tobacco itself will not change one bit. Villiger, a Swiss company, is best known here for their fine little cigars and will increasingly be known for some of the finest full sized cigars in the world. Villiger North America has plans to increase its presence dramatically in the US and Stokkebye can help them do that. In return, Villiger returns expanded control to Erik Stokkebye for his US operations. We're told (we didn't make the show) that the booths this last week at RTDA in New Orleans were labeled Villiger/Stokkebye although the show program states separate booths for Peter Stokkebye International and Villager North America and we heard later that in fact this was not the case after all. Whatever! The point is this deal is all but consummated, at least from all I can find out, and it SHOULD benefit both Stokkebye and Villiger (whose presence in the US has not been particularly strong up to now). There are tradeoffs nonetheless with this whole deal.
Part of the most controversial to us was the desire of Orlik to sell off the Bali and McClintock lines. This according to a number of sources has now been accomplished. Now on its face, this deal really doesn't change much as the anticipated new owner of these brands, CommonWealth Brands, has a very effective sales force in the US. However, they are almost completely cigarette wholesalers - so one of two things can happen. They will get on board with the RYO/MYO movement and expand its presence into many additional retail locations including general merchandise environments, or they will continue to emphasize packaged cigarettes. We suspect it will be the former, as the Bali brand should be gold to anyone who owns it, and Commonwealth is highly respected for its ingenuity and business acumen. Even though it is a fact that large companies will at times buy a competing product line for the sole purpose of killing it, in this case it is impossible to see CommonWealth benefiting in any way from this kind of strategy. No, we feel that CommonWealth will do a great job in expanding the availability of both Bali and McClintock. However, there will be changes. We're told that the Bali Shag line will be cut to include only the original Blue, Red (Mild Danish Blend - my favorite), and White (mild halfzware), ending the Bali Shag Turkish plus the Bali Smooth Virginia and Rich Virginia (the yellow and green pouches we reviewed last time). Now the Smooth really is London Export so with Stokkebye personally retaining ownership of the Stokkebye Signature line (Amsterdam. Norwegian, Turkish Export, London Export, Danish Export, and Stockholm), two of the three Bali blends going legacy will remain in the form of PS Signature blends (the Bali Turkish is ostensibly Turkish Export as well). The only real loss with the Bali transition will be the dark green pouched Rich Virginia which was our least favorite anyway. Basically, Bali products that never made it to the can stage (pouch only) will be dropped, and McClintock products that never made it to the 14 oz. can stage will likewise, go.
While this simplifies things to some degree, there is one serious loss. The McClintock line, going to CommonWealth, will lose one of our all time favorites, the McClintock Virginia in the gold can. Unlike its newer and lower cost (and priced) Red, White, and Menthol, siblings - all available in the larger 14 ounce cans - this Virginia has been a very special treat for a lot of discerning folks from the moment of its birth in the original green and white can. It was the original McClintock, and while the newer Red (Regular), White (Light) and Green (Menthol), have achieved extreme popularity, they are not of the caliber of the original, at least to our taste. We could see this coming to some degree as this Virginia, though value priced, was not cheap tobacco. It was as fine a quality as any premium tobacco produced. Even when they changed the can color from Green and White to Yellow and White and ultimately to all Gold, and though we noted some change in the blend at each can color change (which we discussed in the January 2002 Issue - see http://www.ryomagazine.com/jan2002/tobacco.htm) - the tobacco inside was still in the exceptional premium category. Since its price point was lower, there was not a lot of profit in this blend. Because of this, I'm not completely surprised to hear that CommonWealth may (yes, will) discontinue the Virginia. But I am disappointed still and my advice to Stokkebye for some time had been to increase the price of this blend to make it more profitable rather than drop it. We felt this tobacco would continue to be accepted by those that love it - even at a higher price. Occasionally, I must admit, the industry doesn't listen. Of course, they have no obligation to, but we do have the option of helping see this blend remains available and Mark Ryan at D&R seems to have little trouble with such re-creative endeavors. The Three Castles reviewed above speaks volumes to that. So if indeed, the classic McClintock Virginia disappears under that name, rest assured its analog will be available under a new name by the time the last can of the original Mac is gone. We've kept a couple of cans of the original Green and White (shown at left) carefully preserved just in such a case and, if such is the case, we'll let you McClintock Virginia devotees know how and where to find the replacement, in all its pristine original glory, and immediately upon its release.
Now much of the above Stokkebye information is at least 99% certain. I have not seen the contracts and until either I do (which I have no right or expectation to do so) or we get formal notification from Stokkebye, Villiger, and CommonWealth as to the complete master plan, this must remain a bit speculative - but only a very, very small bit! We really don't like surprises and want to keep our readers informed so that they, in turn, can make informed choices and plan for the future. For instance, if you love the McClintock Gold Virginia, my suggestion is buy all you can now and keep it in a cool, dark, medium to low humidity environment. It is very frustrating to love a product and see it go legacy without any warning. More than frustrating, it angers customers and can affect their attitudes about a company's entire lineup. However, it is important to understand that these kinds of decisions are often made by accountants and not tobacco enthusiasts. Peter Stokkebye had great respect for this blend as does Erik, but it is most likely out of his hands now. Perhaps Erik and Mark can get together. I like the name PlacerGold Virginia. I'd buy that if it was authentic - you can bet I would!
Regardless of how wacky some these deals may get, (and we'll talk in other sections this time about some other "deals" that have gone down since last we published, that have actually turned out pretty well regarding CTC, etc.), it appears for now, that most Bali Shag and McClintock customers will notice little change. These fine tobaccos will still come from Denmark (except of course for any new but renamed McClintock Virginia that may be necessary) and we honestly expect this transition will actually widen the visibility of these great brands. It may even make them less expensive and possibly more widely available as well. And, without any doubt, the Peter Stokkebye Signature line will remain as it is, directly from Stokkebye - a true world class group of tobacco offerings, ones that simply the RYO/MYO can not do without.
I mentioned earlier other tobacco issues, especially the supply chain that is changing in seemingly unstoppable ways. Specifically, I mean Internet sales of tobacco. We will, in the Editorial Section of this issue extrapolate some methodologies that SHOULD satisfy the various states who are trying to kill all Internet Tobacco Commerce. Though they use the tired old excuse of Age Verification, what the states really want is their money. And to be fair, these state excise taxes on tobacco, while they one day may be seen as in direct conflict with the Interstate Commerce Clause of the US Constitution, for now are within the rights of each state to collect. The problem is not so much that online retailers or online customers want to beat the system and avoid the taxes. The fact is that shopping on the Internet opens the consumer to a much wider variety of product than can be found in most local stores. Retailers are not particularly fond of having large varieties of selections. It is expensive to stock a large, diverse group of products. However many retailers stock only the cheapest-ass tobacco they can get their hands on. Until new RYO/MYO dedicated stores open with owners who both know quality and insist on it in their products, this will remain the case. We see significant change coming and coming soon. We'll cover this much more comprehensively in the Editorial "A New World", but for now we would suggest that you contact your local tobacco retailer (hopefully not some Cheap Cigarette Operation) and begin requesting they stock a larger variety of the fine blends we review in these pages. Secondly, we encourage those that have any entrepreneurial spirit left at all to consider opening these kinds of stores. Obviously the States should be satisfied if online retailers charged their customers state specific tobacco excise taxes and then passed these revenues along to each state periodically. This is not that complex in theory but the states have made and are continuing to make these kinds of mechanisms unnecessarily difficult. Again, in the Editorial section we'll get more specific but in general if the States and online retailers can get together, the States will get their money (at least until the voters of each state begin to see the patterns emerging from governmental intrusion and taxation and vote the tax addicted reps out of office) and the consumer will be able to continue to get the products they want. Even if the prices are the same or even a bit more than that which can be found locally, many will find the variety more important than merely the price. And it will force the local retailer to have an adequate variety of great tobaccos, because people WILL pay more online to get exactly what they want if they can't find it locally.
We hope you enjoy looking at all of the new tobaccos that are now available to you. From just those mentioned on this page this time, there is almost every kind of experience one could want. And of course, there are the many other fine tobaccos we've looked at previously that you should include in this adventure. Remember nobody here wants you to smoke. If the personal risk appears too high, then quit. You really can. It is not nearly as hard, especially with high grade rolling tobaccos, as many would have you believe. In fact, I recently took two weeks off without a smoke to make sure my thoughts on nicotine addiction were still applicable. Not a shake, not a tremor, my appetite didn't go crazy and make me fat. I did miss the flavor and the ceremony but I had no physical craving whatsoever and, any psychological desire I had to enjoy the flavor of a good smoke was easily managed with a little exercise and work and a few toys (cars, guitars - you know me). Perhaps packaged smokers DO need more help, but our readership tells us in copious detail that once they've converted to MYO, they too can go days or months, or permanently without a smoke. They can take long flights or be in other stringently non-smoking environments for extended periods of time with little or no adverse effect. Yes, they read more and think more and maybe have a few new toys to play with to keep their hands busy, but the dreaded "nicotine fits" don't materialize. If you adhere to an intelligently moderate approach (and I mean really moderate) to good quality tobaccos, it is likely you will experience the same. If you are coming to make you own solely for the fact that you can once again afford to smoke four packs of cigarettes a day, then my friend, you are in two short words - an idiot! And it's completely your responsibility, not the tobacco's.
For several years now (from the beginning as a matter of fact) we have spoken of the ceremonial heritage of tobacco and the obvious advantages of the use of tobacco within the restraints imposed by a higher regard for the plant and the amount consumed. Walking softly on the Earth entails using its treasures in wise measure, whether its tobacco or petroleum. Again, we urge you to read the book, "Tobacco - A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization." You will gain incredible insight into all aspects of tobacco usage, past, present, and future. During our six years in existence, we have met a large number of Indian and others folks who historically and currently treat tobacco with the care, moderation and reverence it deserves. In Indian cultures, tobacco was seldom abused. In fact, any sacrilegious use of the plant was considered a high offense. There are many entities who grow, harvest, process, cure, and sell tobacco. Some are extremely conscientious about the endeavor, some have no more feeling for tobacco than some used car salesman have for the cars they sell. These less than "connected" tobacco people are fortunately, fairly rare. What you find as you get to know this industry (this industry, once again being tobacco - not cigarette makers) is that most of its principals, including growers and leaf cutters as well as most reputable manufacturers, take great pride in their products - and not the kind of pride that is solely expressed in terms of a bank account. The Stokkebye's, Ryan's, and a small handful of others we choose to mention in these pages, really have had a highly personal relationship with their products.
There are others who have even a more ceremonial attachment and among those are Native Americans (Indian is the term preferred by most we've spoken with) who cultivate tobacco and have done so for centuries, well before the white man came to North and South America. Though relatively few in number, there are some that really stand out. One is the Sotoya Ceremonial Tobacco Company. You can read about their operation and philosophy at www.sotoyatobacco.com. Now these are not Indian Rez cigarette sellers. These are tobacco people, pure and simple, and are masters in the art of cultivation. They have nurtured USDA certified Organic plots and create pure organic tobacco, using experience gained over many, many generations.
Sotoya is one of about 20 groups or so that participate with Santa Fe Tobacco (American Spirit) to provide tobacco for Santa Fe's Organic blend. Sun Butler of Sotoya works with other growers to help them with the USDA certification process for organic standard qualifications. More importantly Sun has a reverence for tobacco that is truly inspiring. We speak frequently and he has taught me much. Sotoya has a number of interesting products they produce, both for wholesale and retail. Many are decorative by design such as their "Decorative Hands" (hands is a term you will hear a lot in the next few paragraphs and it is basically defined as a gathering of whole tobacco leaves into a bundle for either shipping or storage, usually weighing 3/4 to 1 lb., sometimes even more). Though other tobacco producers provide "hands" for sale on occasion, Sotoya's Decorative hands differ in so far as they are specifically designed to be displayed. Even though the tobacco itself in the oval shaped decorative hand shown may not be the point of the purchase, it is nonetheless quite good tobacco. A pure flue cured Virginia. But it is so pretty that I'm going to apply a fastener (or Varathane) to preserve it. I first pinched a little of the tobacco from the side that won't show to verify its taste (very nice), but this "hand" is bound for a frame or wall hanging. If I still had the experimental tobacco store, this art object would have found a prominent place on the wall. Probably several. Beats the hell out of a cigar store Indian, which pisses everyone off.
As I said there are other hands we have received and they are all beautiful. At left, the Sotoya is flanked by a flue cured and a dark fired hand from Mark's Perique partner, Steve Coley. Notice the oily sheen of the dark fired and the rich tanned character of the flue cure at lower left. Absolutely beautiful. However, the width of the Sotoya hand makes it ideal for display. And there are other Sotoya products that are of equal interest. For instance, they supply braided tobacco for Indian ceremonies nationwide as well as other more esoteric blends or parts of the tobacco plant. The graphic at right shows some of these various items. The tobacco "flowers" are a particular mild smoke, whereas the N. rustica is pure and potent "Indian" tobacco. Both are used preferably in a pipe. The Brick or "Plug" you see is the cake formed by compressing the tobacco in a press so that it can be subsequently cut. Using a sharp knife or serrated blade, you can saw the properly moistened cake into strands of tobacco ideal for rolling or injecting.
Perhaps the most interesting/important aspect of all of this is that it should put you in touch with the possibility and the fact that tobacco is an easily grown plant, and moreover, is a "crop" that anyone could create in their own growing space. While there are flavoring and other curing techniques that will make home grown tobacco taste more like commercially manufactured blends, every American has the right to grow tobacco for their own consumption. You may not be able to easily accomplish the intricate hand tying techniques as shown at right, but the finished product can still be unbelievably attractive and delicious if you learn your stuff. And if the governmental controls and the anti-smoking regulations and taxation continue to escalate, this is an art that might be a good idea to learn.
We frankly think that tobacco brings in too much revenue to all of these entities for it to ever be banned, but it has happened before. We'll write about that more on the Cover page and in the Editorial section but it is clear that tobacco cultivation, for one's own use, is a very long and dangerously political way from extermination. The elegance of tobacco starts with the plants which can grow beautiful and extremely aromatic flowers. (For smoking tobacco it is best to trim the flowers and "suckers" (pre buds) from the plant early on to optimize the flavor.) However many people throughout the world grow tobacco as decorative plants. (See links to our experiments on the possibilities below.) But first take a look at some more photos of the beautiful outcome of professionally grown and bundled tobacco. It really is quite a seductive plant, whether viewed or smoked. Check out these links to both our previous attempts at growing tobacco and to our review of Jim Johnson's Seedman.com operation. First is our experiments (note especially the lovely white trumpet shaped flowers we produced from lovely Amazonian Jasmine plants): http://www.ryomagazine.com/october/index.htm. Next is a review of what the Seedman has to offer for those interested in growing their own: http://www.ryomagazine.com/july/review.htm. Jim Johnson's site is www.seedman.com. This site has not only seeds from a huge array of tobacco plant strains, but has great information on the cultivation, care, curing and processing of the tobacco. The site has added many features since we first reviewed it five years ago. It is a fascinating site as is the Sotoya site. It really is time for tobacco enthusiasts to learn as much as possible about the substance they enjoy smoking. So get the book, go to the sites, learn and enjoy the history of a very magical part of our biosphere.
And finally, for you true connoisseurs, those that have been around long enough to understand and internalize why I rave on about Turkish (Oriental) Tobaccos. Last year, a group in Turkey contacted a friend of mine, who is an international enabler of trade. The trade deals he puts together involve nearly every legal product seen in the world. Often what he sees is merchandise that has either been over produced, under produced or has been overlooked or discarded by first level, potential buyers. It so happens that he likes Turkish tobacco as well and so he passed this possibility on to me. The problem was the Turkish company wanted to move a LOT of Turkish tobacco. I was a bit skeptical so through him they contacted me and sent a 10 pound sample.
Now we have discussed Turkish tobacco to no end in this magazine and most of you by now realize that MOST Turkish leaf is not that special. There are only a couple of provinces in the World that grow the really aromatic and wonderfully mild stuff that made brands like Balkan-Sobranie, Turkish Special, Ramses, etc., the classics they were. It boils down to this. The two locations where this incredible delicacy comes from are the Izmir Province of Turkey and the Yenidje Province of Greece (Macedonia). They are geographically separated by the Aegean Sea but lie at precisely the same latitude. Soil conditions, climate, humidity, whatever aside, the tobacco that comes from these two regions is unmatched in character. Every bit as good as any estate bottled 30 year old cabernet. This tobacco is, I guess, simply too expensive for most companies to use in their blends and as there are no "authentic" Turkish cigarettes left in the world, this tobacco has been sitting in storage for as much as 12 years. Even the oldest batch from 1993 was superb. There are three grades of tobacco of this sort, AG, BG, and KP in order of quality, AG being the best. Of course there are hundreds of strains of Turkish, some with names like Samsun, Basra etc., but none of them come close to this flavor. Anyway in the ten pound box was an assortment of the 3 grades, mostly AG as they wanted to impress us. At nearly $3 per pound in containers totaling 60,000 metric tons (that's a hell of a lot of tobacco - a metric ton being 2200 pounds) the deal was just too big for even the largest of potential buyers. We still are interested and are trying to get some entrepreneur to come up with the dough for at least part of the shipment in order to create a new and authentic Turkish cigarette. It does not look promising and unfortunately we can't just buy a few hundred pounds of this tobacco. They want to sell it all at once. Point is, I have my ten pounds and I will sip it like a fine wine for a number of years. We still hope to cause a deal to happen between a potential US manufacturer and this Turkish entity but the point of all this drooling for dollars is to show you what a small portion of this treasure looks like. Remember, what you are seeing is as rare as tobacco gets and as fine as anything ever produced. I hope you suffer along with me until this deal can come about. A Turkish cigarette made form this leaf would be an instant hit. Low nicotine content, very mild and an aroma that is indescribable. Here's the picture - Now you can drool. Also note that this true Turkish has very small leaves, only about 4 inches long. Magic!
Finally, we should take another look at Republic Tobacco's US version of Drum. Several years ago we did an analysis of this tobacco, comparing it to the original Drum and several other would be contenders that arose after the original left the US market. Republic's US version, after a bit of a shaky start, began to satisfy quite a large number of US enthusiasts. No, it was never identical to the original and to date no other blend is. However over the years the Republic product has undergone steady improvement. We had a chance to taste some of the latest samples of this blend at last year's NATO show and noticed not only a bit of new packaging panache, but even more enticing flavor. Several weeks ago we had Republic send us a current sample and I must tell you, this is even better than it was last year. The new packaging uses the terms "European Blend" and "Excellence." This is how you can tell if you are seeing/getting the latest version. And believe me it is worth looking for. No, it is still not identical to the original but it has grown in quality now to the point that it is among our very favorite halfzwares. With Gauloises halfzware leaving the US market, this new Drum is going to find a lot of penetration into that blend's abandoned market share. It is probably, in some ways, more similar to Gauloises than it is to the original Drum, but since Gauloises was another one of our favorites, the latest Republic offering is even more appreciated. This newest Drum is significantly smoother than the Gauloises, very much more like the original Drum (in that way) while retaining that special, wood smoky flavor the original Drum had little of and Gauloises was known for. It really is the best of both worlds - combining the best traits of Gauloises and the original Drum. If you haven't tried the latest iteration of the US version, we urge you to do so. This is truly an elegant blend that has matured into a very sophisticated, world class tobacco. We think you'll be surprised. Comes is a 150 gram metal tin and a 40 gram pouch. For the sake of long term freshness, we recommend the tin. Great stuff!!!
Preview of Things to Come
In our various travels in the US and in many other countries, we have found many interesting products and lifestyles. We love the trade shows and the opportunities afforded to see old friends and make new ones. Sometimes the destinations are less formal as far as required events. Some are really exotic. These kinds of adventures I find personally the most satisfying. Recently, we embarked on a trip to the Philippines that, to say the least, was pure magic. Now though we ostensibly travel to such locations on business, some related to tobacco and many others for the various markets our parent company is involved in, they are always rewarding. The point is I rarely am a "tourist." I find conducting business (while playing of course) to be all the fun I could hope for when in such varied environments and my personal view is that if there is nothing new to learn, why go there? Well my recent trip to Asia (primarily the Philippines) was no disappointment. Not only were the people bright, warm, and highly innovative, but the scenery was nothing short of spectacular (as you can see in the photo above - no I'm not standing in front of a painting - I'm standing on an island beach - Boracay - with the sunset in the background). It was hot, humid and about as sensuous as any one man in his right mind can stand. Even more important, however, was the discovery of a product that was as spectacular as the country itself. And it was completely unexpected. While in the next issue we will explore in detail all that occurred on this glorious journey, one particular discovery is worth noting and which perhaps will provide an irresistibly tantalizing taste of things to come.
Fortune Tobacco, a very large cigarette producer in the Philippines, has a number of brands under its umbrella. Some represent their own labels and some are licensed from more well known international brands. Honestly, in my experience one often finds foreign made US brands can be inferior. Marlboros and others that come out of Eastern Europe, especially Russia, can be quite harsh when compared with the reconstituted tobacco laden US products. Fortune, in addition to its own brands, licenses Winston from RJR/Japan tobacco. The company provided to me without exception the most thorough tour of any cigarette plant one could ask for. I saw every process from start to finish. I expected pretty much the same experience one would find at any cigarette manufacturing plant. However, before I visited the plant, I smoked the locally produced Winston brand. I compared it to the currently more popular (there) Marlboro and found the Winston dramatically superior in every way.The difference was so significant that I had to investigate further. It was during the tour (tour does not begin to describe the amount of detail I was allowed to see at the Fortune/Winston facilities) that I discovered the reason for my unexpected enjoyment of the Fortune made Winston. They use REAL tobacco. And some of the best real tobacco I've seen. No recon, no chemical additives other than the very few flavorings like found in most great rolling tobaccos. Those that read this publication know I like a pretty light, yet flavorful smoke. I pulled some of the tobacco directly from the manufacturing line and injected it into a tube. The taste was incredible - absolutely incredible! Again the taste of real and fresh tobacco.
Specifically, I asked for the Winston light line and was taken there. I was denied access to nothing in the plant. There was no hidden places where chemicals could be added and I inspected every bale of the various tobaccos (pure Virginia, Burley, and Oriental) that were being put into the manufacturing line. All questions were answered comprehensively. I have to tell you, Fortune is doing things right. They are making cigarettes that are as different and superior to any American made brands I've seen - just as RYO/MYO/CMC is superior to those same American packaged cigarette brands. To make a long story short (much more to come in the next issue), I can categorically say that the Winston Light produced by Fortune Tobacco in Manila is the finest modern packaged cigarette I've tasted. It rivals nearly anything I've enjoyed in a tube and when this blend (again directly from the assembly line) was injected into a tube, it remained as pure, mild, and satisfying as many of the finer RYO tobacco blends available in the US. Fortune Tobacco's rejection of "fake" tobacco (as they call it there) in their formulations as well as their absolute rejection of chemical enhancements make their cigarettes what cigarettes should have always been here. Pure tobacco products - not processed by-products. No, you can't buy these in the US, but perhaps this little story will gain traction with cigarette producers here. So I'll leave you with a quote that I firmly stand by. "Fortune Tobacco's Winston Light is, in my opinion and to my taste, the finest packaged cigarette made in the world." Only the far more expensive Treasurer ($25-30 per pack here) comes pretty close. We'll look at the Treasurer next time as it deserves a very worthy mention as well. However Fortune's Winston Light should rightfully own the Philippine market, and the fact that Philip Morris' Marlboro is currently enjoying more market share in the Philippines, can ONLY be attributed to more aggressive marketing. How do we know?
We took "packed" tobacco from both brand's sticks purchased at retail. We emptied the tobacco from Philippine produced Marlboro Regular and Light cigarettes as we had no access to their plant, and to be fair, did the same with both the Winston Light and Regular rather than using the fresher, "straight from the manufacturing line" Winston light sample. We injected the tobacco back into tubes and shared them with quite a number of smokers at a variety of venues. The Winston Light tobacco blend in blind tests (using the new VeraCruz Elegante tubes for both tobaccos, which made it easy to conceal the contents and no doubt contributed to the "test" smoker's perception of sheer elegance) won out every time.The Winston Regular came in second - every time. And again this was tobacco gleaned from already packaged cigarettes, not "fresh" from the manufacturing line. Injecting the fresh tobacco sample of Winston Light I had made the difference even more dramatic for the subjects. Freshness is a key component of CMC (MYO). However these demonstrations should reinforce what we've know for a long time and that is that human beings everywhere who choose to smoke do prefer and recognize real tobacco when they taste it - especially without the hype or the brand name to confuse their senses. I sincerely hope Fortune's model is adopted elsewhere and maintained there. In the case of this one company, and this one line, cigarettes and tobacco are the same thing. Cigarettes are relatively inexpensive in the Philippines - around 50 cents per pack. Taxation is low compared to the US and CMC will be more expensive there than packaged brands. Still, using our injector and VeraCruz tubes, the locals loved the MYO/CMC experience. And they need look no further than Fortune Tobacco for their "real" tobacco blends for injection if such a market develops. We'll go into more detail (without divulging any proprietary engineering we saw at the plant, of course) in the upcoming issue. I simply could not resist sharing with you how much I am enjoying the small bag of tobacco, straight from the manufacturing line, I brought back with me. True tobacco lovers in the Philippines are very lucky indeed - and are very fortunate to have Fortune Tobacco right in their backyard.
As always, 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, it is real tobacco, and you 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/MYO/CMC. You can put any kind of "real" 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, and far reaching consequences that can make a significant and positive difference in what we like to think of as our civilization. - 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.
© 1999 RYO Magazine
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