Supercilious connoisseurs cringe, beginners beam, and old-school puffers keep coming back. Whatever their preference, every pipe smoker finds himself back at the drugstore for another pouch. Grocers' tobacco selections aren't what they used to be, but there are still some diamonds in the rough. In some circles, drugstore tobaccos are reputed to be the drive-thru fare of pipe smoking. This bias is only partially deserved. As with any group of tobaccos, some shine while others suck.
Maybe I should pay my respects to the revered Captain Black, but I won't. I've never been compelled to buy a pouch, which costs nearly double that of other drugstore blends. Reviewers have given Captain Black White fairly high marks, but take care to mention its heavenly room note. The Captain does smell great, but I've never judged a tobacco on its merits as an air freshener.
I once knew a pipe smoker of some 30 years who puffed nothing but Captain Black White all day long. A hint of propylene glycol and a somewhat substandard leaf quality are the primary complaints, while many reviewers call White a good, well rounded aromatic. I gather this one's worth a try, but I've had my fill of sweet casing and black Cavendish.
Dream Castle Super Value Black Cavendish was my first tobacco, purchased by the 12-ounce bag from Albertson's. As a beginner, Super Value delighted me. Now, I'm repulsed by the memories of this syrupy blend. The taste of additives is accompanied by a muddy heel with tongue bite as afterplay. The Super Value line includes cherry and vanilla blends, which simply taste cheap. Top Value Whiskey is a horrid 12-ounce failure with all the appeal of burning garbage.
Half & Half is a unique blend, featuring a recently improved cut. The thicker ribbon cut of this old-school burley and bright mixture makes packing significantly easier. The rich flavor is nutty, tangy, sharp and medium-bodied. The bright half really makes this a distinctive smoke. For those misguided souls who smoke to please, the repugnance of its room note rivals that of a supermarket cigar. Every smoker should try Half & Half — in a corncob, as the bright leaves a strong flavor in a pipe for several smokes to come.
Sir Walter Raleigh: a fairly decent burley that doesn't quite live up to its name. Although it needs more re-lights than I care to bother with, there's nothing wrong with Raleigh other than a dash of mediocrity. Truly, this is a smooth, solid smoke. Rewarding flavor notwithstanding, I find it a bit too smooth, verging on blandness. The Aromatic version is simply fast-burning boredom.
I'm a burley lover, and I always keep a pouch of Carter Hall. This straightforward burley has a rich, nutty taste with flashes of cigar flavor emerging at times. Some dimwits liken Carter Hall to cigarette tobacco, a foolish misrepresentation that should be ignored. This is truly a pipe blend, a satisfying smoke with nothing to taste but good tobacco. It burns evenly with no bite whatsoever, making it an ideal all-day smoke. Best smoked from a cob, it pairs quite well with coffee and somewhat well with beer. For an extra kick, clean the cob with bourbon.
Reportedly, Kentucky Club is quite similar to Carter Hall, only with more nicotine and a somewhat more robust flavor. The average rating for Kentucky Club on the pipe smokers' website Tobaccoreviews.com is three out of four stars. Sadly, it is not sold in my locale so I cannot comment from experience.
The famous Prince Albert is mellow and nutty, yet flat and dull as it produces billows of blue smoke. Prince Albert is far from distasteful, but hardly satisfying. The only reason I kept the remainder of my first and only pouch is that I threw it left-handed and missed the trash can.
Lane Limited's Rum & Maple tastes like neither rum nor maple, but something like sorghum. It is a burley and Virginia blend that tastes more like lightly sweetened burley than anything. Rum & Maple is a pleasant smoke which unfortunately tends to burn hot and bite unless puffed judiciously. Being that the sweetness is on the modest side, this is a good aromatic for smokers who are less than thrilled with aromatics.
In comparison to bulk tobaccos, drugstore blends aren't actually that cheap. Convenience is hardly a good reason to buy from a drugstore: that rationale is what made McDonald's an international icon. Consider the enjoyable blends that have stood the test of time. It makes sense to consider drugstores a viable tobacco source. Odds are, you'll find just as many loser blends at the smokeshop as you would at Walgreens. Beyond the ambiance of a smokeshop and the boutique blends therein is the common drugstore, offering the practical simplicity of a real smoke.