By E. Roberts
It speaks highly of the blender’s art to offer two incarnations of essentially the same blend, with each displaying a distinctive character of its own. When JackKnife Plug was released in January 2011, it quite literally took the pipe world by storm—supplies were immediately sold out, not to be replenished for several weeks owing to a production delay exacerbated by severe winter weather. Released nearly a year after the plug, in November 2011, JackKnife Ready Rubbed offers the exact same leaf in the exact same amounts as its predecessor, though in a tumbled ribbon form that is a perhaps more approachable presentation. In Greg’s own words:
The blend is identical, with one small exception. The plug is constructed with a core of brights, and the darker tobaccos surrounding it. This allows the brights, theoretically, to express themselves with more purity in the blend. They’re not under as great an influence from the fire-cured and red tobaccos. Doing this with the [Ready Rubbed] wouldn’t work well, because of the way the tobacco clumps, so the blocks are not stratified in this way. The same tobaccos in the same measures are just layered and pressed for the same length of time, then the blocks are sliced and tumbled. It’s the same technique used for the Old London mixtures.
Tin: The sweet top note of the Virginia is in perfect balance with the leathery earthiness of the Kentucky leaf upon opening the tin. A rich, ripe fruit aroma—to this reviewer strongly reminiscent of canned pears—is perhaps more pronounced than with the plug form, which held back a muted sweetness of stewed prune and a more earthy, woody tin note. The two-millimeter thick ribbons also show a noticeably lighter overall color, displaying a lovely brindle in the tin. Considering that it began its life in nearly the same plug form, the cut is a perfectly tumbled flake for this blend, a process Greg revived from the annals of tobacciana for his Old London Series. It certainly allows the bright tobaccos plenty of room to assert themselves early in the blend, and carries delicate hints of cucumber, grass and honey.
Char: Certainly one of the great strengths of this presentation is that it is indeed ready to go, straight out of the tin, with minimal drying or preparation. It performs magnificently whether employing the Frank, the Bob, the vortex, or simply stuffed with the “geezer grab” method. As previously mentioned, the size of the cut is perfect to display the full character of the blend’s components. The first light announces the bright leaf, as is common with Virginias, and quickly develops to a full, round bouquet.
Top: Through the top of the bowl, Ready Rubbed shows itself perhaps a bit more integrated of flavor than the plug. The Virginia sweetness is quickly tempered by the Kentucky’s dark-fired nature as it releases some of its tannic character and woody notes. In the palate and room note one can find honey and lemon, lavender and fig, and aged apple cider, as well as the counterpoints of soy sauce and bell pepper, freshly cut oak, and roasting chestnut and pecan. There is also a certain dryness to it, not unlike a dry vermouth, which leaves the impression of old books and a wisp of wood glue in the aroma.
Mid: In the mid-bowl, the meaty character at the core of this blend really develops. The smoky Kentucky leaf here is the star, with ample support from the smooth red Virginia to fully express the deeper complexion of the mixture. It becomes indulgent and heady, with a voluminous accompaniment of vapors with which to practice one’s technique for blowing smoke rings. This is perhaps the most Balkan of non-English blends; that is to say that the overall flavor profile is very much akin to a strong English mixture, though obviously without the constituents of Latakia or Orientals. Greg’s professed love of the dark leaf plays well here, and he manages to convey all the best flavor profiles of the Oriental blends in this decidedly New World concoction. The Kentucky burley provides the perfect heavy smokiness and body, while the red Virginia balances and shades it with vegetal sweetness. The thick, buttery flavors are very stout, with prominent notes of oak and cedar, black pepper, well-done steak and even potatoes, always accentuating, never competing.
Finish: Ready Rubbed is as creamy and hearty a smoke as its antecedent, to be sure. Managed with few relights, it burns through to a fine ash and a generous nicotine buzz, not to mention a room-filling swath of its pungent haze. Among the departing notes, a buttery chocolate and walnut are prevalent, as well as more of a salted, meaty tang. One point worth mentioning is that the full-bodied nature of this tobacco is evident both on the palate and the instrument, for it leaves the tongue glazed with a most pleasant treacle, as well as coating a pipe from stem to stern with its oily residue. Repeated portions in the same pipe will demand a periodic run-through with a pipe cleaner, and perhaps would elect this as an excellent non-aromatic choice for coloring meerschaums.
Room Note: The room note with this is certainly reserved for tobacco lovers. It is as heady and piquant for the smoker as to those within several meters, of the same strength as a cigar or a Latakia-forward blend.
Overall: The JackKnives Plug and Ready Rubbed are certainly landmark blends, not just for Mr. Pease’s oeuvre, but for artisanal blending in general. Like all of Greg’s offerings, they are made with aging in mind, and it is with some time, perhaps a great deal of it, that a more pronounced difference in flavor will exhibit. With just a year on the first tins of JK Plug now, there is a wonderful marbling of sugar crystals and a silky smoothness developing that really displays the strengths of the Virginias. It will be a welcome discovery to see and taste the divergence of these twins in coming years.
To borrow a page from the rating of wine and cigars, this review will employ a 100-point scale to quantify this blend. However, it should be noted that by involving all these numbers it is in no way meant to detract from what is a very personal sensory experience; rather it is to more finely shade comparative strengths.
Of 15 points available for presentation, JKRR is a solid 14. While GLP’s tin art has always hit the mark with its simplicity of line and color, it loses a point for using the same photo as the plug version. The tobacco itself, however, is in perfect pitch with its size, cut and color. The tumbled ribbon could not be more appropriately applied here, and the tin aroma speaks well of the quality of the leaf.
Of 35 points allocated to the draw and burn, Ready Rubbed has a decided hand over Plug with 32. As stated before, it is very true to its name, and couldn’t be easier to load and go with a minimum of fuss. The plug presentation is not to be denigrated, of course, in that it offers such a variety of ways to be sliced, not to mention the tactile interaction of the ritual; what is lost with the plug, though, is gained with the facility of the newer version, which in general requires fewer relights and, obviously, far less preparation.
For flavor and aroma, it was difficult to settle on a score of 47 out of 50 points. A deceptively simple blend, JackKnife does so much with the flavors and delivers them in such adroit measure that it ultimately deserved a near-perfect score. This is a concoction for lovers of pure, strong tobacco taste, and the prospect of it aging magnificently is surely figured into this score. While not overly complex, this is actually where its strength lies—it does what it does exceedingly well, and never loses interest or flavor.
The final tally of 93 equates with a solid 4½ stars out of five, and if pressed could be simply rounded up to a full five—a must-have for any cellar.
Brand: G.L. Pease
Blend: JackKnife Ready Rubbed
Blender: Gregory L. Pease
Type: Virginia / Burley Country: USA
Cut: Tumbled Ribbon
Cure: Flue- & Fire-cured Tobaccos: Kentucky, Virginia
Room Note: Quite strong
Tin Size: 2 oz.
Tin Age: New—under 6 months
Tin Description: Dark-fired Kentucky leaf and ripe red Virginia tobaccos, with their deep, earthy flavors, are layered on a central core of golden flue-cured for a hint of bright sweetness, then pressed and matured in cakes before being sliced and tumbled to a ribbon form, ready for your smoking enjoyment.