For the March 2023 Tobacco File, we have one from the cellar and one from the press. I figured it was a good time for a Latakia-forward blend, because knowing me, those won't be my preference in the warm months ahead. So, I pulled a tin of Mac Baren HH Latakia Flake from the cellar. As for our second March blend, well, I bought one of the Kershaw knives we have in the store. So, I had to feature a plug cut, you know? What better than JackKnife Plug from G. L. Pease
And finally, I enjoyed a smooth Connecticut shade with the featured cigar—Rock Patel White Label.
|The taste is complex with the Latakia as the main tobacco supported by bright Virginia and Oriental tobacco. Blended to perfection all tobaccos play their role in this unique smoking experience. This blend is a slow burning pipe tobacco with a smoky Latakia taste.
I believe this will be my first Tobacco File featuring a blend with some age on it, a few years worth at least. This tin of HH Latakia Flake was sealed in August 2018, roughly 4.5 years ago. I’ll of course keep this fact in mind as I familiarize myself with the mixture. The common wisdom around Latakia is that it mellows with age—an experience I’m beginning to relate to.
Lucky for me, some Latakia mellowing is welcomed. I know the true Latophiles would demur, but my favorite English blends are generally more to the Squadron Leader or Presbyterian side of things; a condimental Latakia presence.
All that said, the common wisdom—Latakia mellows with age—may be a bit simplistic. I recalled reading an article by G. L. Pease tackling the topic some time back, and revisited in anticipation of this Tobacco File. From Latakia Doesn’t Age Well—
Latakia does soften somewhat over time, for sure, and even a couple years in the tin can noticeably blunt some of its sharper edges, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In a greater sense, though, it’s not losing its flavor so much as its flavor is integrating more fully into an increasingly complex mélange created as the other tobaccos in the mix evolve. Virginias, for example, develop more rich and often more intense flavors as they age, as do most Orientals. If the same mixture is smoked young and well-aged side by side, the latakia might seem duller in the aged version, but some of that is simply that the other components are presenting more assertive notes. If a mixture is well crafted from the outset, it should keep its composure as these changes take place, and there’s no reason it can’t be enjoyed for decades.
I pop the tin to find three rows of tightly pressed flakes. Mostly dark, with some light brown mottled throughout. It crumbles down to a nice broken flake with ease.
Not too moist, not too dry, thankfully. There was a bit of corrosion around the side of the lid, stirring concern with how well the seal held. It’s said the round tins are more reliable in that regard, though I’ve had no misfortune so far with a square tin. HH Latakia is no exception.
I take the remaining flakes and move them to a Ball jar. Usually, I don't immediately jar a newly opened tin. There's often a honeymoon phase where I'm frequenting that blend. If that attention wanes before I go through the tin, I'll jar the remainder so it doesn't dry out. However, blends pulled from the cellar are exceptions. My understanding is the benefits accrued from age are best retained by storing in a sealed container.
As I move the flakes, I inspect them a bit closer just to make sure there are no signs of mold. Nothing in the appearance or smell elicited suspicion, but I make a point to be pedantic about these things. Doesn’t hurt to be cautious.
First smoke of HH Latakia Flake goes to the English dedicated Sasieni.
From the char light, the Latakia is forward, more to that smokey, meaty side than leathery. Orientals bring a zesty spice. Virginias seem to impart bread, tangy sweetness and—a bit later as I become acclimated—bright grass and citrus notes.
Latakia sits back in the profile as I’m roughly a third into the bowl—still prominent and leading, but the Oriental component is apparent.
The retrohale has a dry, floral, earthiness to it and accentuates the spice a bit. A nice presence in the sinus but innocuous; no pinch to speak of.
Admittedly, I made a note of the significant Red Virginia presence I was getting, but I read the tin description again and realized only Bright Virginias are mentioned. Maybe something imparted from the hot pressing gives me that impression—or maybe I’m just wealthier in imagination than gustatory sophistication.
One component I haven't noticed (or imagined) is Burley—at least in terms of flavor. There’s a certain weight to HH Latakia Flake and I could certainly see where the air-cured leaf may be contributing in those textural, sensory ways. Strength-wise however, I’d put it right between mild and medium.
I should say, I go through a bit of an English blend kick every now and then, but haven't recently, which I think makes me less sensitive to the subtleties when I come back around, especially for Latakia focused mixtures. As I get more familiar with Latakia Flake, I’ll make a note to throw a few other Lat-forward blends in rotation. I notice that this usually gives some context that helps open things up again.
I’ve gotten a much more fleshed out impression of HH Latakia Flake over the past 3+ weeks. There’s more complexity than I first found.
I've noticed that my experience with the blend is notably dependent on the state of my palate when I approach it. That may sound obvious—the nuance of any blend is going to be affected if your palate is burnt out or coated with chocolate. But with HH Latakia Flake in particular, the difference between good-but-familiar English and something more interesting and dynamic has has been coming to it fresh. But that has been my determining factor for otherwise consistently enjoyable smokes.
I usually feel mixes like this lend more to wider bowls but HH Latakia Flake hasn’t seemed to favor a certain bowl material or size or any of those factors.
I’m coming to the heel of a fine smoke in my Rossi Piccolo 313 now. This is one of my smaller pipes; a dainty prince if you will. But the complexity is not lost. There’re dark, woody, smoky flavors fully on display with the sweet compliments, but they aren’t vying for space. Perhaps the melding of the hot pressing is behind it, but also could very well be the years of age allowing the Virginias to mature and the Latakia to disperse.
I’d say, this is my favorite smoke of HH Latakia Flake so far (I always like when that happens while writing an entry). Sweetness alights pleasingly beneath and at the tip of the tongue; earth, wood, and floral notes make for a complex core; and the smoke and spice in the sinus—engaging the whole palate.
For fans of...
G. L. Pease JackKnife (Plug)
|Dark-fired Kentucky lead and ripe red Virginia tobaccos, with their deep, earthy flavors, are layered on a central core of gulden flue-cured for a hint of bright sweetness, then pressed and matured in cakes, and finally cut into 2oz blocks. Slice it thick and rub it out for a ribbon cut, thin for a shag, or chop it into cubes. The choice is yours.
I believe this is the second proper plug cut that I have featured in a Tobacco File, the first being Cornell & Diehl’s Dreams of Kadath. This is one of those terms that gets applied vaguely, often interchangeable with crumble cake, but traditionally is understood to be a densely pressed cake of whole leaves. Since the leaf isn’t pre-cut, you can’t break off a piece to rub out, you need to slice against the “grain” with a knife.
Popping the tin reveals the pristine brick. The top and bottom show dark whole leaf, but looking from the side reveals the light-brown, golden Virginia at the center layered between a mixture of Red Virginia and Dark-Fired Kentucky.
The tin note offers a dark smokiness—robust but not permeating the air, as if it’s heavy set in the tin.
I used my handy Kershaw Gadsden knife and sliced down, the flakes rubbing out to a somewhat broad cut. I take another slice off the side, this time a bit thinner for variety. Moisture content seems just right, and I pack it in my newest pipe—a Chacom Reverse Calabash that’s brought me several fine smokes so far.
After a char light, JackKnife takes to an easy smolder with no protest. Citrus, herbal tea, wood, and spice are the first things I notice. There’s a sweetness, though subtle. There’s a floral incense note which nicely seems to bridge the foundational flavor with the spice in the sinus. That spice isn’t timid but not too imposing.
The Kentucky offers a light smokiness, but its woody, floral attributes seem to offer the primary flavor. The Reds bolster and impart sweetness, which the high notes of the Bright Virginia contrast, bringing dimension to the profile.
As I keep smoking, the dark, woody side seems to become more forward, but never usurping the fruity, grassy, floral aspects which remain on display.
The burn is exceptional throughout. As I wrote in the HH Latakia Flake section, I generally keep a blend in the tin for a bit after opening, but eventually jar to avoid over-drying. However, I may jar JackKnife sooner than later to keep it at this moisture level. Although the plug will hold moisture longer than ribbon would, the hydration is currently perfect.
I gotta say, the spice and overall weight of JackKnife is more intense than I seemed to get from that initial smoke.
The layered bright citrus and rustic earth of this blend is remarkably well balanced. Currently, I'm enjoying a smoke in my Bruno Nuttens' Heritage Bing.
Despite my last entry, I haven't jarred JackKnife, but it's still offering an amiable burn.
I'm taken with the fruit aspect of the blend—orange peel comes to mind. Yeah, that’s the part of the orange we throw away, but its the best way I’ve thought to describe a particular trait I appreciate in mixtures like this. Something in the intersection of the dark fruit, tart citrus, and dry woodiness.
In a wider bowl, JackKnife seems to lean more to those darker characteristics. Here are some notes from the other day, smoked in my Schoenleber Prince (a recent estate clean up), now one of my wider chambers—
Bold, dark woodiness from the Kentucky in this one. Plenty of floral, a lot of spice, less of the dark fruit from past smokes. Doesn’t take long for that stoutness to develop. Not a bad idea to have some water with this one and of course not approach it with an empty stomach.
This seems to agree with other wide chamber smokes of JackKnife. I could see it being favorable to the premium cigar aficionado’s taste in pipe tobacco.
I don’t imagine it’s easy to balance a blend that features one of the spice varietals such as Kentucky so prominently without it eclipsing, but here we have that bold Kentucky on display with much else to sift through. Maybe it’s to do with the layering of the ingredients; we usually talk about the “melding” of a blend appreciatively, but with JackKnife, I get the impression it’s that contrast from the Bright Virginias that brings out the complexity.
I’m just yapping from the arm-chair. Whatever the explanation, JackKnife speaks to Pease’s reputation for creativity and originality.
Rocky Patel White Label Robusto
Wrapper - Connecticut
Binder - Nicaraguan
Filler - Nicaraguan, Honduran
Size - 5 X 50
The White Label is wrapped with genuine Connecticut—not so common these days. Cedar, almond, hay, and citrus were definitive flavors, with a thick smoke and easy draw throughout. A bit more of a toasty, bready side develops with a very light pepper. Very smooth, and while quite straightforward, more eventful than what I expected.
Until next time...
April's Tobacco File may come a little early or a little late. It's a busy month that I'll be closing out at the Chicago Pipe Show. This will be my first time attending and am beyond excited. Hope to meet some of you there!
As always; feedback, advice, requests, corrections, friendly hellos?—firstname.lastname@example.org.