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 embarking on what promises to be the most innovative and exciting tobacco tradeshow since we began publishing four years ago. This year's RTDA (Retail Tobacco Dealers Association) convention is going to see the introduction of a truly enormous number of new and cutting edge products for the RYO/MYO world. And heading the list is going to be the single largest introduction of NEW tobaccos in the 70+ year history of the show. Therefore we have decided, with one exception, to wait until we get back from the show (Aug 10th) to introduce you to a staggering number of new world class blends. These blends are not just variations on the theme of bulk tobaccos that are private labeled knock-offs of existing bulk no-name products. Rather, the new blends of which I speak are of a completely new mindset of small and large US tobacco companies to provide products to compete with the finest European tobaccos available. Many of these blends we had a hand in designing, sharing our knowledge with the producers of what our readers like and wish they could find. Old standards like Three Castles and Sobranie English, as well as a whole host of Canadian style blends are going to re-emerge. No longer will the RYO/MYO enthusiast want for a host of favorite blends from the past.
I spoke of one exception above and since it is already available, I might as well showcase it before I leave for the airport. Ric at RYO Tobacco (www.ryotobacco.com) is one of the most proactive tobacco retailers in the US. He has connections on nearly every continent and his business sense, combined with his knowledge of tobaccos and what his customers want, has led him over the years to offer blends that are unique and downright delicious. After much discussion with him at this past year's NATO conference in Las Vegas, where we encouraged him to look into the Canadian blend market, he has developed a blend of Canadian that is among the finest we have ever seen. This Canadian blend lives within his Sagamore line of high quality, low cost tobacco and is anything but low cost in flavor. If you remember the great Canadian blends and cigarettes of the past like Players and Export A, you will feel at home with his luxurious new Sagamore Canadian. The price is great and the flavor is truly impressive.
Ric, being the entrepreneur that he is, has also over the last few years been in the lead in acquiring certain very high quality tobaccos that were destined for oblivion in the US and elsewhere and, along with his Brookfield which he still has in stock, he now has a large quantity of Chill's Americana. Both the Brookfield (American style) and the Chills Americana (a Euro-style halfzware) are unique blends that may not be available in the future and we feel that both of these tobaccos warrant a try for everyone who wants to taste a piece of history before it passes. These tobaccos are available at RYO Tobacco both in the original tins as well as in bulk and they won't be around forever. So treat your palette to blends that will be talked about for years to come before it is too late.
A large part of the excitement with the new tobacco products we mentioned above that are destined for introduction is attributable to Mark Ryan of D&R Tobacco (www.cigarettetobacco.com). You'll remember that Mark's was the first tobacco company to take seriously our contention that the US market was in dire need of a quality Turkish blend that was authentic in flavor to the old greats like Balkan Sobranie and others. We later found that Lane, LTD had a Turkish (Oriental #1) that was outstanding as well but was not promoting it. Mark's Ramback came to life almost immediately and remains the finest true Turkish tobacco readily available, not only in the US but anywhere in the world as far as we can tell. Its popularity (along with Lane's Oriental #1) grows daily. Well, at the last NATO show Mark, along with Ric, spent a lot of time with us discussing new blends that we felt were needed in order to continue to address the growing needs of the MYO/RYO market. Subsequently, Mark returned to North Carolina and embarked on a truly zealous journey to develop nearly every blend style we discussed. He is introducing NINE (that's right 9!) new blends at the show. I have tried each one and I tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that no longer will a gap exist between what is available from US producers and what comes from Europe, or is only available there. Ryan has brought it all home with some edgy names like Three Sails (a British style tobacco that is very similar to my beloved Bali Red), TwoTimer (a double toasted burley which suddenly takes the varietal Burley to a whole new level of rich taste), Penhooker (a Canadian style that still has me drooling), as well as other new blends we will talk about when we return. Mark has increased his already substantial presence in the market exponentially. After many years of expertise gained from doing business as D&R Tobacco in North Carolina, right in the heart of some of the best tobacco producing areas in the US (arguably the world), he has endeared himself to growers, cutters and blenders alike. In fact, to the point that now he has become a force that has encouraged and enabled these vital tobacco producing components to create finished blends of a quality, even they did not think possible. I will be at his large booth at this year's RTDA a lot. And when we return, you, our readers, are in for what will likely be a fun tale of amazing taste treats.
Now that we have indeed returned from the magnificent Gaylord Opryland Hotel, site of this year's RTDA and had a bit of time to live with each of Mark Ryan's new blends, we would like to show them to you. In the table below, we will first examine the physical characteristics of each of D&R's blends with brief comments on each. We include RYO Tobacco's outstanding new Canadian Sagamore, reviewed above, as well as an up close look at my long time favorite, Peter Stokkebye's Bali Red, as a comparison. The Bali is arguably the finest tobacco in the world for making one's own cigarettes. Europeans have been buying US grown tobacco for a very long time and taking it home for additional curing and blending and they buy the best. Bali Red enjoys this tradition and the final product is a fine cut blend of US and Oriental tobaccos that is hard to beat. So let's look first at magnified (about 3-4x) blow-ups of each blend in the table so you can compare the cut and color and, for those of you who want it fast, there will be brief comments about the general aspects of each blend. Following the table will be a much more in-depth review of each of the blends.
Peter Stokkebye's Classic Danish Blend of fine cut aged tobaccos has been my personal favorite for quite a long time. This you must know as I mention this fact in nearly every discussion of tobacco I have with anyone. It needs no defending or further definition other than what is written in the table above, other than to say this tobacco reminds of when packaged cigarettes had great flavor 30+ years ago but it's even better. It is consistent and easy to inject as long as it is not too damp and is easily dried if the moisture content exceeds nominal proportions. I came to love this tobacco when it was Linda's, our associate editor, favorite. I was, at the time completely absorbed in the astonishingly good original McClintock (Green Can). When Stokkebye (inadvertently or not) changed the McClintock Virginia to the yellow can and lightened the color of the blend in the process, Linda fell in love with that and I changed to the Bali. Goes to show you how different people perceive tobacco blends. Linda loved the mildness of the new McClintock and I found the Bali to be a bit more luxurious like the original Green McClintock. Now as far as most other tobaccos go, as I will discuss below, I like variety. Somehow the Bali Red has managed to keep my interest for an amazingly long time. Consequently, I recommend it to everyone as a must try during their initial searches for the perfect tobacco for them. Bail Red does not blend well with most other tobaccos as it has a distinct flavor (not overpowering but nonetheless distinct) of its own that can often clash with blends that you may otherwise like by themselves. It is a stand alone that until now has had no analog.
The changes in my favorite tobaccos (McClintock Green to Bali Red) were several years ago and until the very recent introduction of D&R's new Three Sails, I pretty much was convinced that nothing would consistently merit my patronage as does the Bali Red. Perhaps the original McClintock in the Green Can, but certainly no other. Now this doesn't mean that I don't enjoy a variety of blends on many occasions, including Turkish and Canadian styles, Samson Gold, Stokkebye's Danish and Stockholm, and others that I either blend with each other or in the case of great halfzwares like Samson Blue, Stokkebye's Amsterdam & Bali Blue, Zig-Zag's Golden Halfzware, or Gauloises, which I usually smoke in thinner sticks. Still it has been Bali Red for me for quite a while now, and the fact that Mark Ryan could come up with a blend as close to Bali as is Three Sails frankly amazes me. It should not since he took my whining about the lack of authentic Turkish tobaccos and, in very short order, built the Ramback blend. Even so, this one is a bit different than Bali in that it is has a bit less body and is a bit more heated as it is shipped with just a tad less moisture content than the Bali. These are not criticisms, but rather finer points about this blend that may well satisfy those who are not completely enamoured with the richness of Bali Red the way that I am.
So if you look at the two tobaccos in the table above, you can see how closely they resemble one another; nearly same color and cut. And it goes further than mere appearance. Mark at D&R has created a blend I can smoke as readily as the Bali. It is available in bulk and while 100% MSA compliant, is less expensive than the Bali by nearly 40%. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when Mark first showed me this blend. So now I have two "personal" favorites and intend to alternate my use of both Three Sails and Bali Red evenly. The Ryan blend, to repeat, is somewhat drier in flavor than the Bali with just a tidge less character, which makes it an incredible mixer with about 20% of his Ramback Turkish. And for those fans of Bali, there is now a companion to that experience depending on your mood and taste buds at the time. Mixing Bali Red and Three Sails together about 50/50 is, for my taste, a treat even greater than the sum of either part.
However, enough about me. Of real interest is what each of you like (judging from the opinions of our copious readership) and what you can expect from D&R's various other new introductions. There are a variety of tastes that our readers are fond of and, as I said Bali Red while my pick, is not necessarily yours. Many are looking for a lighter blend. In fact, the popularity of lighter blends of rolling tobaccos has been on the rise for some time as packaged cigarette smokers, used to the much more aggressive filtration characteristic of packaged brands, join the ranks of the MYO enthusiast. And while the packaged cigarette industry can achieve this lighter perception with filtration as well as by mixing carefully constituent controlled batches of reconstituted tobacco with true tobacco blends, neither of these practices are particularly efficacious for the person who truly appreciates fine tobacco flavor. As most who enjoy the MYO experience are very flavor conscious, the reconstituted method is downright anathema to this industry. So the manufacturers of good rolling tobacco have had to come up with more "natural" ways to lighten their blends. There are, of course, a number of strains of tobacco that are lighter in presentation by nature. Therefore, one must decide whether lighter means less nicotine and tar delivery, or more comfort to the palette and throat. The former is the method by which the cigarette industry defines lightness - that is, how much tar and nicotine are delivered. However, the MYO enthusiast increasingly is more concerned with the immediate impact on the senses. Most I communicate with (and that is quite a lot of folks) consider a "lighter" smoke one that is most easy on the palette and throat. In other words, mild. And, in some cases, that which appear mild on intake may actually have a higher nicotine content than smoke that is diluted by hotter burning nicotine-light blends. What D&R has done is to come up with what appears to be the best of both worlds in their new light version blends. For instance, much like RYO Tobacco's Sagamore Canadian, Mark at D&R has instituted the use of fine Canadian leaf in his Penhooker line, along with especially light natured, gold leaf, flue-cured Virginia to achieve the desired lightness in the Penhooker Light version. These tobaccos, while lighter in nature, don't burn as hot as other light leaf combos and thus give one a flavorful yet "light" presentation without the "gasp."
In addition to the wonderful Canadian entrees labeled Penhooker and PenHooker light, D&R's new light version of Vengeur (once known as their US Blend) all express themselves in a nicely mellow way and burn smooth and cool enough to satisfy my taste quite efficiently. I have always been a fan of Canadian tobacco for this reason and have been pushing the advantages of blends such as this to the industry for several years. While the Vengeur has no Canadian component, the flu cured Golden Virginia that lightens the experience is really quite wonderful. Now Vengeur Light has a Burley component as well, as does its full flavored sibling, and those of you who have paid attention to my ramblings over the years must know by now that burley is not one of my favorite strains of tobacco. I will expand on this in a moment as one of D&R's other new blends has taken the burley component to a new high in flavor. The earthiness or vegetal nature of burley, for me, is too often reminiscent of cheap tobacco blends that usually have a preponderance of this leaf. However, burley has been a constituent of fine blends for a very long time and I guess it has more to do with the amount of burley rather than its very existence in a blend. The Vengeur Light has just enough burley to satisfy those who are used to burley ambience but not enough to cause me grief. I have felt this way for some time about burley and until just recently have had no experience with this leaf that was particularly positive. That has changed!
And once again, I can lay this on Mark at D&R who sent me, some time back (knowing full well my thoughts on burley), a "pure" burley blend. It was incredible and owed its changed nature to the fact that it was double-toasted. Now cigarette makers for a long time have used the phrase toasted and I suppose that process is partially what made the Marlboros and Chesterfields of the 60's and early 70's quite good by today's standards. But D&R's new "TwoTimer" blend is more tasty yet than the brands of old mentioned above but does have much of the flavor I remember. Now right here if anyone thinks that cigarettes today taste like they did years ago and that perhaps my taste buds have deteriorated, let me assure them that tens of thousands of readers have commented on this very subject and I have yet to find any among them with a different opinion. However, one of the "Holy Grails" of the MYO industry has been to achieve MYO flavors that are much like the most popular of packaged brands so that the switch to Make Your Own is less dramatic and even "traumatic" for some. And trying to match the so called flavor of the modern packaged cigarette to me is an exercise in futility. Who would want to suffer the same impoverished flavor as no 100% "real" tobacco blend will taste that way. However, if the goal is to match the flavors those of us old enough to remember, that were characteristic of the brands we liked many years ago, that is seemingly a far easier task, and with Two-Timer, it is now a reality. Plainly put, when I smoke Two-Timer in a good quality tube, the similarity to what I remember as being the taste of a good Marlboro or Chesterfield, or even a Camel (sans Turkish component) is remarkable. My tastes have changed as I like a lighter smoke normally but I have yet to see any other tobacco blend that approaches the flavor of those old brands as does the Two-Timer. Overly mild it is not, but flavorful definitely and with a more aggressive filter like the David Ross or even Gizeh's Charbon or injected in a light 100mm tube like Zig-Zag and Premier make, the strength is just about right for me. And when I want a real treat and don't need to navigate particularly well, this blend in a Vera Cruz Nocturne is pure heaven.
Now, speaking of strength, we might as well look at D&R's most heady entree. Living up to its name, CockStrong may be the most robust high quality rolling tobacco I have EVER tasted. A bit like Jason and Brookfield in flavor, but with even more power. Pure American style tobacco, very toasty in nature, but with enough kick to rival any Euro halfzware including Gauloises and Bull Snit. It is important to note here that we get a lot of diverse takes on tobacco strength from our readers. And many who are used to smoking "real" tobacco, still like it strong and often complain that blends like McClintock, Bali Red and the like are not strong enough. (We get just as many opinions that these and others are too strong - even in the case of Ramback Turkish, which is perhaps the mildest tobacco on the planet.) This apparent anomaly is why I always qualify what I write about blends to include the opinions of others and leave it clear to the reader that my tastes and preferences are not even close to being what certain others are. I do know good quality from poor, and though we see literally hundreds of blends per year, at this publication we don't write negative reviews (tobacco is too subjective). I will say though that if we have not reviewed a tobacco that has been around for a while, we probably found it to be substandard as to our measures of quality. CockStrong is really good tasting tobacco but like certain hot peppers each must decide if the flavor is worth the effect. Those that are looking for the ultimate in strength and flavor need look no further. Both Brookfield and Jason (the stronger of the two) are pretty heady as well but the CockStrong stands above all others, much like the Orange Habaneros pepper (which is 300 times hotter than a Jalapeno) stands alone when compared to any other hot pepper. Again though, with aggressive filtration, the flavor that comes through is very nice and rich and the wobble is much less noticeable. CockStrong - it sure is. A real knuckle-dragger.
Windsail, once known as D&R's AmericanGold Blend, in its full strength version reminded me too much of "Farmer's Gold". This particular style of tobacco is surprisingly (to me at least) very popular. I don't care for the almost Apple or Prune-like after taste and aroma of this style of tobacco. McClintock Red has much the same ambience and is hands down Stokkebye's largest selling blend. And Windsail remains one of D&R's most successful blends as well. So when they sent me the new light version, I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed it. The extra gold Virginian, and other lighter tobaccos in the new version got rid of most of the prune-like atmospherics and I found myself enjoying this blend without much reservation at all. As mentioned, D&R spent a lot of time on these new blends and boy, did it pay off. And for those of you who enjoy that AmericanGold flavor, but want a lighter version, this one will fill the bill.
Keeping in mind, once again, that my preferences are not yours, my aversion to certain kinds of tobacco should not sway your enjoyment for any one of them. Obviously you should try lots of different blends until you find the ones' best suited to your taste. Some of those I dislike the most are quite popular. Now I don't know if this is because some have been around longer, are more available, or they are a lot cheaper. Perhaps it IS really just a matter of taste. It also may be the fact that I have tried a great deal more blends, side by side each year, than most people have the opportunity to try in a lifetime. No matter the reason, it is without reservation that I "know" one category of tobaccos I have never like is mentholated blends. Most people have a love/hate relationship with menthols and in that I am as normal as possible for me. D&R's new light menthol, Wingate Light will be a delight for the menthol oriented MYO enthusiast, especially given the fact that a significant proportion of those switching from menthol pre-made brands to MYO often find the menthol rolling tobacco to be just too mentholated. With any "flavored" tobacco product, one has a much harder time discerning the relative quality of the actual tobacco as its true flavor is masked by the added "flavorings" whether it be menthol or others. D&R uses its highest grades of US blend tobaccos for its Wingate menthol line and the new light version is a little more genteel in its approach to power of both the tobacco and the menthol taste. Again, not everyone who switches to menthol MYO from packaged menthol brands finds too much menthol but for the majority who do, this new Light version seems to please. I can't personally smoke much menthol without getting a headache so I have a group of menthol oriented associates who I rely on to give me their impressions. They really liked this blend and confirmed its light nature. Of course, I always take a few puffs of these blends to get a sense of their relative quality and characteristics but I cannot live with them for the extended times I like to give each blend before I write about it. There is definitely a difference in this Light Wingate and it fills a niche (high quality tobacco, lightly mentholated) that has very, very few competitors.
Finally, as far as D&R's new blends are concerned, there is a refreshingly unique one whose time has more than arrived. If you remember our brand naming contest of several issues ago, we were asking for creative names for a mint flavored tube or tobacco for one of the categories. Our interest in this arose from our experience during the experimental store adventure last year, where we sold a lot of Sherman Classic Mint Cigarettes to those who could find no MYO alternative. My suggestion to those customers was to put Spearmint Flavored Gum (unchewed) or LifeSavers (unsucked) in their tobacco containers for awhile. Well that didn't go over very well so we were pretty much stuck with the Sherman product which, by the way, is a pretty darn good, albeit expensive, cigarette. I did, however, see a definite trend there and passed it on to a number of folks in the rolling tobacco industry and sure enough Mark, as with my (and many readers) Turkish and Canadian suggestions, took the ball and ran with it. His new WinterGold is the result. Now even though I don't like menthol or almost any flavored cigarette tobacco (pipe tobaccos are another thing altogether as I don't inhale them and we will show you some great new ones a little later below), this new blend is really good. I don't mind the flavor, as spearmint is one of my favorite tastes (besides chocolate - which I don't like on tobacco, period). I love Spearmint LifeSavers - Wint-O-Green, (the big white ones) a lot and have them stuck in my face as much as MYO Bali Red cigarettes - which is to say 7-10 times a day. All mints are not equal for me, and true wintergreen has more of the smell of certain sports creams than spearmint and reminds me of sports related injuries more than I care to remember. But don't let the name WinterGold fool you. This is a heavenly spearmint-like aromatic flavor like the Sherman Classic Mints and I can actually smoke a few. Those that like flavored smokes and those who want a little of the menthol-like coolness without the Vicks taste are in for a tremendous treat now unique to the MYO enthusiast. (Used a lot of brand names here so remember all those brands are the respective intellectual properties of the appropriate companies.) WinterGold, while not really sweet, is very refreshing and the added spearmint flavor interferes much less with the good tobacco taste than does pure menthol. It was a hit with not only those who enjoy both menthol and flavored smokes but with quite a few people who, like me, tend not to like flavored tobaccos at all. And the bonus is that the mint flavor is transmitted to the nose efficiently making for a smoke that is much less controversial to the olfactory prejudices of non-smokers.
So there you have it. D&R has done an outstanding job of expanding the variety of blends for the MYO/RYO enthusiast. We are quite sure there will be even more new blends coming from the D&R stable and encourage you to try all of the various new blends (that are appropriate) we have shown here. I know personally that the Penhooker Light, Three Sails, Two-Timer, and Sagamore Canadian, will be constant companions to my Bali Red and Ramback and all the others mentioned above for both blending and as stand-alones.
It seems more and more companies are emerging as either manufacturers or private labelers to introduce new blends to this ever growing market. We mentioned H&R Tobacco last time as one of the better of this category. They continue to grow their presence and, despite certain pitfalls and delays that arise because of ill-defined MSA compliancy requirements (fully compliant or NPM Escrow Compliant), are making their way into the mainstream distribution channels. There are other new ones that are producing worthy products as well. For instance, one of the best we have seen recently is from a company named People's Pride. This line is manufactured for People's Pride by Kentucky Cut Rag, LLC, in Lexington, Kentucky and they (PP) are working feverishly to become 100% compliant. The two types of compliancy not only differ in method, but in cost to the manufacturer and the subsequent recognition by each state. It is an expensive process to become 100% MSA compliant (as are D&R and the bigger guys like Stokkebye, Zig-Zag, Lane LTD, Republic, and others), and to have your product listed on each state's (at least the 46 MSA signatory states) manifest of compliant manufacturers. People's Pride has a line of tobaccos we have been hearing about for some time and actually tried quite a while ago. A number of tobacco shops called us about their compliancy as they could not get the info from their respective states. We liked the product then as did, for the most part, the shops as well. As expressed above, the company is working diligently to become fully compliant and make the compliant rosters of each of the states they wish to operate in.
Now this is good ole' bulk tobacco. No fancy labeling and pretty low cost, but certainly smokeable. Certainly far better than many of the bulk blends available only a few years ago and some of their blends are very good indeed. We particularly like their Light & Ultra-Light Versions (of course). These are all American style tobaccos and have little, if any, of that flavor that usually permeates many low-end blends. Their Light version is recommended without qualification. The blends come in Full, Light, Ultra Light, Natural, and Menthol and represent yet another good product line that needs a little time to grow and become known to smokers, and accepted by the powers that be. Many of these companies fall by the wayside, so we usually wait awhile before writing about them to assess their stability. It appears that these folks are in it for the long haul even with the compliancy challenges that lie ahead. People's Pride also has a line of flavored tobaccos, which is a category that seems to be gaining ground among certain smoking demographics. Cherry, Vanilla, Strawberry, and Orange Cream are the current offerings, as well as a Fig, Chocolate and Raspberry. Flavored tobaccos are not my particular preference, but these seem to be among the rare that use pretty good tobacco to which the flavorings are then added. You will be hearing more about this company in the near future as things stabilize, but their products are already available at a number of retail outlets. All of their blends are available in 2 oz samplers as well as 6 oz, 1 pound AND 5 lb. bags. Check with your local retailer to see if they have this brand yet.
Would any page of RYO Magazine be really complete without something new from HBI, International? We previously reviewed their ZEN (www.zensmoke.com) line of low cost tobaccos and it passed our quality test for what it was, a very low priced but OK blend with a highly marketable name. Recently, we received an upgraded version of their line, the new "Gold Series" which includes a Full flavor (Supreme), a Canadian (guess they were listening as well) and a Natural. This new series is a significant improvement to the already acceptable ZEN line of tobacco. A bit more expensive (small bit), these new blends are quite smokeable and are available in attractive and well sealed pound bags. Smaller quantities may be available soon as well and we think this new line will do even better for HBI than their original ZEN. There appears to be less burley in this blend and far more prime leaf. It burns well and injects well, so what more could you ask for in a good low cost bulk offering. HBI is relatively new at developing their own blends though they have distributed all of the other top brands for many years. It is a risky business getting into tobacco intimately (your own brand) in the first place and the cost in time alone, of finding and testing a multitude of blends in order to private label your own, is extensive. Still, with all of the other fine products that HBI produces either themselves, or has private labeled for them, I get the feeling that this is just the first in a number of better blends with the HBI stamp on it that will emerge in the future. Until that happens, the Gold Series is a definite improvement over previous attempts. From what we hear from retailers, the ZEN product line sells very well indeed. It's a catchy name to begin with, though the adult college age and older customer it appears to be aimed at, is less likely to be familiar with Eastern philosophies than were we in the 60's and 70's. Nonetheless, they do seem to get it, so if you are a retailer in a college town (or anywhere for that matter) you might seriously consider their whole line. It is extensive with everything from rollers, papers, injectors, tubes, a plethora of other smoker's toys and accessories as well as tobacco.
Our favorite of this group is the Canadian (no surprise there). Pretty mellow and with a nice toasty taste. In fact, we were quite taken with the Canadian blend and showed it around and received quite a bit of positive feedback, even from those who we consider as picky as we are. All three blends are a large bulky cut that work well in injectors and for handrolling. We often prefer the finer cut Canadian style tobaccos like the D&R PenHooker or the slightly larger cut Sagamore Canadian, or even the first Canadian we reviewed last time, the often hard to find, Classic Canadian from Republic (shown at right), but this New HBI blend I could live with for a long time. The Supreme has some burley and a premium, but fairly routine, taste while the Natural is very similar to "Pure & Natural" and with that in mind, probably a lot of MYO/RYO practitioners will enjoy both the Supreme and Natural as well. Our pick though is hands-down, the Canadian. It is very good. There is something about Canadian style tobacco that I simply have trouble finding fault with. It is fairly neutral in flavor and there is really nothing about any true Canadian blend that I can demonstrably dislike. Some burn hotter than others, but otherwise they are all pleasing and not overpowering to my taste. The ZEN Gold Series Canadian should do quite well in the fast expanding (finally) niche of Canadian style tobaccos designed for enthusiasts of such blends.
And, amazingly enough, there is still more. We weren't kidding when we told you there was a lot of new tobacco coming. Recently, another company contacted us about their tobacco line. They are located in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which was one of my favorite ski spots in college as well as one of the prettiest places on the planet during the summer. The company, Wind River Tobacco, (great name) offers a couple of blend lines and they are quite good. Their bulk offering, Teton, (another great name) is obviously a very good quality leaf. It has similar aromatic characteristics to McClintock Red which is, again, apple like in nature. The blend is a medium cut and is a bit lighter in both flavor and color than most other blends with these fruity characteristics, possibly due to a bit less burley in the mix. These kinds of blends as mentioned several times in the preceding reviews on this page, while not my favorites, seem to be very popular indeed with MYO enthusiasts. The price point of this tobacco is very competitive as well and the company is both fully MSA compliant (SPM - Subsequent Participating Manufacturer - the highest level of compliance for new signatories) and has their own tobacco manufacturer's ID number. In fact, everything about this company speaks of a professional operation that is taking no short cuts. There is a considerable knowledge of tobacco behind this company. Their Teton line comes in Regular, Mild, Ultra Mild, as well as a Menthol. Again, this is very good tobacco as the principals of the company are not newcomers to the tobacco business. In fact, there is over 25 years of experience at the management level and their goals and strategies are proactively creative, realistic, and very well planned.
Wind River's ( www.wrtco.com ) Bison blend is even higher quality than their Teton. Bison is a finer and longer cut blend, reminiscent of European Danish style tobaccos we find delicious. Really good stuff with an abundance of mild, aged flavor. This showpiece of Wind River's blends is 100% Natural/additive free tobacco as is used in their Bison cigarettes and comes in a 5.29 oz. can only. A pouched version may well be offered in the future. This company, with their Bison line, is doing pretty much what American Spirit is doing as far as additive free cigarettes and rolling tobacco, but on a much smaller scale so far. They are a new company, but I have the distinct impression from talking with the principals Brad Abrams, President, and Stacy Budge, Sales and Marketing Manager, that Wind River is going to grow pretty fast. They both have a great attitude (can't hurt to live and work in Jackson Hole, Wyoming) and a lot of experience, especially Brad, who himself has been in the tobacco business for over a quarter of a century. Their Bison brand cigarettes are among the best tasting packaged cigarettes I have seen in a very long time and while the focus of this publication is MYO/RYO, companies like Wind River and American Spirit that take the time to produce a worthy packaged smoke need to be applauded. The Bison in the can is very similar in quality to American Spirit's US Grown, which is by far our favorite Santa Fe product. Wind River also has a Kit available that includes their various Teton tobaccos as well as the fine line of Gizeh product accessories (tubes, injector, and case) in the bundle. The injector is a hand model but still good enough to get one started on the road to the MYO experience. While fully compliant with MSA in all states, Wind River's Bison Cigarettes, in Regular and Light versions, are available in only a few markets (states) at this time specifically, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and Virginia.
Next to my favorite packaged cigarette, Export A, the Bison would be an equal pick if packaged cigarettes were desired. Their taste is as close to an MYO stick as anything I have seen. While Wind River's Bison Cigarettes will become available in more states as the company expands, their Bison and Teton rolling tobacco lines are of utmost interest to us and are already available everywhere in the US. Definitely a recommended try, most especially the additive free Bison line which, by the way, is professionally and beautifully packaged both in tins and in packaged smokes. And they have a beautiful web site to boot. Again www.wrtco.com.
Speaking of the highly rated (by us and many of our readers) American Spirit US Grown, there is a new pouch now available for this fine tobacco, which until now, was available only in a can. The pouch approach is a very valuable addition as its smaller size allows the potential customer to try this outstanding blend with less investment and, even better, handy for those on the go. Those who are used to the original American Spirit rolling tobaccos are often quite surprised at the quality of the US Grown. It is world class tobacco, much milder and less harsh than the original (yellow pouch). Spirit, now owned by RJ Reynolds, has maintained its autonomy and continues to adhere to their philosophy of additive-free products. They have also changed and are changing others of their packaging schemes including colors and once we get samples we will show you the new look. If you haven't tried the AMS US Grown especially, you really owe it to yourself to do so. It is an entirely different level of cut, flavor, and smoothness compared to the other AMS blends. So now it is possible to get this fine tobacco in both tins and pouches, and who knows, the AMS US Grown may even one day show up in their packaged cigarette format. As long as some folks are determined to smoke packaged, it is nice to know that two such quality brands as Bison and American Spirit are available as alternatives to a superior MYO experience.
Pride Tobacco is another new entry we ran into recently. Distributed by Governors Distributors, LLC. of Miami, this new blend is a moderate priced, medium cut and fairly mild alternative. Vaguely similar in flavor to Nationwide's (Sixty-One) North, but a bit more like Bugler, this primarily US leaf tobacco had what first appeared to be a Javanese component/aroma that those who like a little of the exotic would find very satisfying. However, after living with this blend a while and speaking again with the company, we find that Pride, while a little different than most American blends, has no Pacific Rim leaf in it at all. We thought it possible that some of the aroma we first experienced came from storing it in proximity to other blends but have since located the source of the aroma. It is the adhesive that is used on the pouch itself to keep it closed. Tobacco absorbs flavor as fast as baking soda and one must be careful to make sure distinctive blends are kept isolated from one another and from all other aromatic sources, - unless, of course, you actually want the added flavor. To simulate this taste that we initially perceived and for your reference, simply take a new roll of scotch tape, start the roll and smell the adhesive side. A similar aroma will be found. Most pouches are secured with a single thin strip of this kind of tape. American Spirit has gone to a "zip-locked" closure which prevents any unwanted odor reaching the tobacco. Pride used a horizontal adhesive strip, as wide as the pouch and which exposed the tobacco to a much larger amount of adhesive odor. It is fragrant and doesn't hurt the tobacco but may linger a day or two unless taken out of the pouch and stored in a new baggie or a tobacco jar. This we normally do anyway.
Recent testing of this blend (taken out of the pouch and kept at proper moisture in a new plastic bag) is showing much less to none of the initial fragrance we at first noticed. We're told this blend is comprised solely of US grown tobaccos mixed with a small Turkish (oriental) component. We can't taste the Turkish part, but there are many hundreds of strains of Turkish, most of which do not have that distinctive Turkish taste we find in, for instance, D&R's Ramback tobacco. To restate, we are beginning to notice much less of the "unusual" taste we first noticed and while this blend does still have a certain exotic nature to the smoke, we are finding it to be more in line with traditional American blends than we first thought. Whatever the reasons for our initial impression, we found it worthy then, and as our sample blend stabilizes, we like it even more now. It could potentially attract a wide base of customers. Very nice packaging and a line of good quality rolling papers, packaged with each pouch and available individually or in boxes. A nice first offering from Governors, who also must have some experience/connections in the cigar industry, as they sent me several personally rolled cigars which were very, very good indeed. They are definitely committed to this market and certainly know how to get my attention.
One additional thing we noticed, and it is similar to something that occurred sometime ago with a North tobacco sample when that brand was first introduced by Nationwide. They initially packaged the rolling papers in the plastic jars amidst the tobacco itself. With North we found this to be contributing a damp, paper-like taste to the tobacco and the papers were leaching moisture from the tobacco, causing the leaf in a freshly opened jar to be surprisingly dry and the papers a bit damp feeling. Damp rolling paper and booklet cardboard can have, as you well know, an odor of their own and can share that odor with the tobacco. Most companies, when they bundle papers with tobacco, put the papers either in cello wrap (in the case of cans) or in the outer sleeve of the pouch to avoid direct contact with the tobacco itself. Often the adhesive on papers has a sweetener and can be aromatic as well. No doubt this and the fragrant packaging adhesive contributed greatly to what we at first observed with Pride's offering although, again, we did like the tobacco even then and it is important to note again that this fragrance was sweet and not unpleasant and led to our first impression of an exotic natured blend. Our recommendation, however, would be to place the papers outside the tobacco chamber in the future and if it is not cost effective to do so, then the consumer should get the papers out of there immediately and if the pouch adhesive aroma is undesired, put the tobacco in a new plastic baggie, preferably a ziplock or secured with a single piece of tape. It may sound like a bit of trouble but we think this tobacco is worth the effort. Pride will likely address these issues in the future. They are proactively committed to doing everything right and part of our job is to help providers of quality products to maximize the experience their products provide our readers. So NO, definitively, Pride has no Javanese component but others do and we think it is an interesting trend. Here's why:
Javanese tobacco has a rather unusual flavor and is a bit on the fragrant side but, done properly, it can be quite elegant. It is clearly distinctive though, and few sit on the fence with this style of tobacco. Most either love it or hate it. I like it on occasion as it leaves one with a refreshened palette which is then left ready to return to more traditional and favored blends.
Java, Philippines, and Indonesia all share relatively the same geographic area and have a pretty rich volcanic element to their soils. Hence, much of the tobacco from this region has the Java flavor. And if you want the full treatment, a new company we met at the recent RTDA show may have an interesting blend series for you to try. Indo Shag and its Butterfly brand siblings are about as exotic as you can get. All three blends, from National Honey Almond, are cut like a halfzware with the Indo being the most American-like in flavor though it has the notation Amsterdam on the package. The other blends that bear the Butterfly name and logo are true halfzwares with a combo of the European and Java taste, one regular and one a deliciously edgy mild version. The Butterfly blends shown at right on either side of the Green packaged Indo are really quite tasty and the leaf is quite beautifully presented. With a great price point and current availability in the US (HJ Bailey distributes this line currently), by contacting their website www.hjbailey.com, one can find retailers who handle it. After a few puffs of a hand rolled stick, I dried the blend a bit (it comes pretty moist) and injected it into a Vera Cruz tube. The resulting smoking sensation was outstanding with the richness of the VC tube mellowing the fragrant nature of this kind of tobacco. This smoke really did have a very interesting ambience that I still enjoy today. Some who have tried this blend are convinced it could be their everyday smoke. Many who like flavored tobaccos will find this to be a mild alternative with plenty of aroma but less of the flavorings present in the taste of most "flavored" tobaccos. "Fair Wind to Java" time.
We saw some really interesting pipe tobaccos at the RTDA show from the likes of Stokkebye, Lane, LTD and when we returned from Nashville, Music City Marketing had some new treats for us as well. Stokkebye has a new Toasted Cavendish (PS-5) that is really tasty and a Sweet Vanilla that smells about as good as any pipe tobacco we can remember. Both are available in bulk and you will often find these bulk blends in tobacco shops with the shop's own name on them. So ask specifically what their blends are made from (some shops combine tobaccos as well for a more custom blend approach). Though not as delightfully impactive to the palette as their Skandinavik Vanilla Cavendish (my favorite), these new Stokkebye products both have aromas that are impressively irresistible.
Lane, LTD had some truly interesting new blends as well as a line of traditional blends we were partially unfamiliar with. Their newest item in the pipe tobacco category is an incredible Strawberry flavored bulk pipe tobacco with much of the same palette stimulation effect that Peter Stokkebye's Scandinavia Vanilla Cavendish has. This makes the Strawberry Blend nearly unique and to say the least, it is really delicious both in aroma and on the tongue. Lane's more traditional favorites were from the Dunhill collection which Lane is now the licensed distributor for. Such old time favorites like Dunhill 965, one of the most popular pipe tobaccos of all time, is in the collection. This lightly Latakia blended masterpiece winds up, to some degree, in nearly every custom blend you will find from a good tobacco shop. By itself, it is incredible if you like Latakia, but can be a bit too dramatic for those not ready for this dark, uniquely flavored pipe tobacco element. Their other mixtures shown above were all equally interesting. In fact, I found none I didn't like, even the very sweet Aperitif. Nightcap was a wonderfully soothing mix!
We somehow missed the Music City Marketing (MCM) booth while at the RTDA. They may not have been there. The venue was so large that one needed more than the mere three days allotted to see everything and we often were sidetracked (enjoyably so) by attending folks there who read RYO Magazine. We also spent a lot of time with the manufacturers who are directly and proactively addressing the MYO market, so we simply couldn't see everyone. Well, when we returned, JT Thompson from MCM was one of the first phone calls I received. Not only did we talk of their new line of pipe tobaccos, but he insisted on sending me some of their new Big Ben and Butz-Choquin pipe designs. The tobacco was a group of Petersen & Sorensen Blends that I still have sitting on my desk. These beautiful tins (at right) are filled with some of the nicest pipe tobaccos one could hope for. The English blend has a very mild Latakia component that is just about perfect for my palette. Similar to Stokkebye's import, My Own Blend #7000 from Paul Olsen, this is the kind of blend everyone who wants to try Latakia-based formulas should start with. The Latakia just sort of sails around the room without overpowering the aromatics of the other components. It is delicious and gets a lot of compliments from my cohorts who don't smoke pipes but appreciate the ambience of a good pipe.
And speaking of pipes, the ones JT Thompson from MCM sent me were a big hit as well. We were somewhat experienced with MCM's line of pipes from our experiment with the tobacco store. The BC's (Butz-Choquin) were especially popular there and we sold quite a few to the college professor crowd, and some pretty sophisticated grad students as well. The new ones we received were very stylish, our favorite being the one on the left in the photo above from the new UFO Series. This fairly large diameter bowl sits in the mouth with extreme comfort, due in part to its generously wide bit. I like wider bits as they reduce jaw and mouth fatigue and stay put when moving around. Butz-Choquin has really pushed the envelope with some of its new designs like the new "Duck" series at right and we predict their unusual appearance will attract a lot of new customers to the pipe smoking pastime. Remember that Music City is the US distributor of the Tattoo line of small pipes we raved about in our October/December 2001 review of Rolling Papers. The Big Ben "Invention Series" at center in the photo above left is likewise a new design and is perhaps the nicest smoking pipe I have had except for my prized Peter Stokkebye Original, given to me a couple of years ago by Peter himself. A couple of Stokkebye's yearly supply of 50 pipes that he distributes at selected tobaccos shows routinely show up on E-Bay at prices that well exceed $600. While the pipes shown above from MCM are not in this category, they do have brands that approach this kind of opulence. However, for the new pipe smoker, or those who just don't get all that excited about spending big bucks for their pipes, MCM (www.musiccitymarketing.com) has an incredible line of quality pipes for just about everyone. Those above range from $35 to about $100 or more retail and are all world class mediums for enjoying great pipe and cigarette tobaccos.
Music City Marketing is a large distributor of all sorts of smoking accessories and tobaccos but until recently, they have not had their own personal blend of cigarette tobacco. This changed recently and JT was kind enough to send me a couple of bags of their new Home Run blend. Now for those of you who are old enough to remember the Home Run Brand of cigarettes (it had a cameo of Babe Ruth with a bat on the pack), you probably are likewise aware that this particular brand was perhaps the strongest cigarette ever produced. I saw my dad with a pack of Home Runs on occasion (he normally smoked Camel unfiltered) and the effect these cigarettes had on him was, to say the least, powerful. He would smoke one only occasionally while fishing, but never while driving. They were STRROOONG!
Music City Marketing has now re-introduced the name in a rolling tobacco but it is not the devastatingly powerful smoke that the original cigarettes were. It is, nonetheless, robust to say the least, and is packaged in a one pound pouch that looks like a bag of peanuts you would get at the ball park. Really cool design and the tobacco is first rate and tasty. The price is very good and there is no doubt this blend will find an audience. It comes in a Regular and Light (thankfully). I really enjoyed the taste of both, but must admit the Light was more to my liking. I had a number of conversations with friends and associates around the globe about this one and the few who remembered the cigarettes were fascinated. The ones who had not heard of the historic cigarettes were impressed with the packaging. I only received a couple of bags of the blend (I am not complaining) so I have been pretty selfish with spreading this around too much. Those who have tried it have been impressed. It is a really fun design and very good tobacco. Wear your seatbelts though. It is not yo' mama's Virginia Slim tobacco. This, like D&R's CockStrong and Arango's Jason, will definitely not only float your boat, but will lift it completely out of the water as well. MCM (www.musiccitymarketing.com) hit it out of the park with this one.
And finally, there is, in the future, going to be some fantastic new tobacco blends directly from CTC (Clinton Tube). Though several months away from launch, we have already tried some of the samples they are working on and these blends are fantastic. CTC will probably label them in accordance with their other product line identities, such as Premier, Supermatic, Escort, Rayo, etc. Not very seductive names but well recognized nonetheless. No matter the name, the tobaccos we have seen that will be part of their new stable are truly world class. We will keep our readers updated on the progression of these blends to market and be the first to let you know when they are available. CTC continues to be the leader in MYO specific product development and it seems only natural that they should enter the tobacco arena as well. We have covered a lot of new tobacco blends in this issue which should demonstrate the proactive stance the industry is taking as market share increases. The tobacco consumer may have a bit harder time deciding which are their favorite blends but the adventure should be a lot of fun.
Well that pretty much does it for this time, but I would like to re-emphasize that new custom blends are going to be showing up from the likes of D&R, RYO Tobacco, H&R, HBI, People's Pride, Wind River, Santa Fe and others, including even more entries from some major manufacturers. This can only be viewed as great news as these custom blends will rival the quality and diversity of many of the world's most well known tobacco's and will likely cost significantly less. This industry is more exciting than ever, and its growth depends on innovation. There seems to be no shortage of this vital ingredient.
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 because it is cheap. There is GOOD cheap tobacco. 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. - 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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