The venerable Royal Yacht serves many a pipe-smoker as a staple, since it presents the ultimate rarity, a high-powered Virginia-based blend that also manages to be flavorful, smooth, and sweet. Famous for its unique topping — a combination of rum, Tawny Port, citrus, and possibly honey — this blend has delighted smokers since 1912 and proves to be the most divisive blend most will encounter.
You either love it, or hate it. Haters object to the topping and strength; somewhat predictably, fans like that as well, in addition to this being the rare Virginia that is neither breakfast cereal sweet (Orlik Golden Sliced) nor blackened twist that will set you on the floor (Brown Twist Sliced). Very few find themselves taking a middle ground, since this tobacco blend either ensnares you or leaves you backing away quickly not making eye contact.
With the collapse of Dunhill blends, and their takeover by Peterson, which is manufactured by the Scandinavian Tobacco Group, the new Royal Yacht appears with a number of statements: made by the same factory and a return of the Dunhill classics. However, no one has asserted that it is exactly the same, and this is fortunate.
The first clue to the changes comes from the appearance of the leaf, which is darker with less of the bright and orange Virginias and more of the brownish Virginias seen in other STG blends. The back cover promises: “A unique smoking experienced created by the beautiful blend of yellow and bronze Virginia.”
Next, lifting the lid and wafting the odor reveals a different topping. There is more of what smells like vanilla-scent rum, and less of the citrus and whatever fruity element — rumored to be the Tawny Port — was designed into the original to mimic the peppery date (dried fig) flavor of Perique, allowing the blend to capture an approximate flavor without the sometimes stomach-rumbling strength and odd fermented odor of Perique.
Firing up a bowl reveals much of the same Virginia flavor, but more on the side of roasted grain and cracked barley than the oatmeal, hay, and honey flavors of the original. Even more shocking, it seems to be less intense in strength, perhaps reflecting the desire of industry for the elusive (and illusionary) “all-day smoke” for the “average smoker” (also an illusion).
If given free rein, the pipe tobacco industry will aim to standardize all of its various blends to the same big winners, such as market leader 1-Q, and the vanilla overtones hint at that direction, much as the mellower Virginias suggest a desire to capture the breakfast cereal smoke market. Apparently blenders believe that the market is concentrating, and so near-clones will sell better than distinctive, storied blends, which makes sense when one considers that a generation is passing on and soon no one will remember the original.
While this still gets a thumbs-up, it is a less emphatic thumbs-up. Much as Peterson changed Irish Flake to be more like the sweeter flakes that sell more, and added more of the University Flake topping, creating in the end a tobacco blend that tastes suspiciously like the Dr Pepper family of quasi-amaretto flavorings, Peterson Royal Yacht tastes more like your everyday Virginias.