Ashton Old Church Rhodesian
16 October, 2000
The pipe under scrutiny is an Old Church XX rhodesian. To be specific, a round shanked, 1/4 bent, tapered stemmed bulldog like affair. A real rhodesian, in my personal pipe taxonomy.
The outward appearance of this thing is magnificent. The cut is classic and beautiful, and the blast is, in true Ashton fashion, superb. Before smoking it, it was a medium tan hue, similar to Dunhill's Tanshell, but deeper in color. The beading around the bowl is deep and accurately done, and the stem is comfortable, and surprisingly well finished.
Sadly, the drilling leaves a bit to be desired. The draught hole was significantly higher in the bowl than the inlet to the stem, so getting a pipe cleaner all the way through was nigh on impossible. I predicted from this that it would be optimistic to get a dry smoke, free from gurgling, so a little polishing and porting was necessary. (See, mom? Building all those race motors *has* provided a useful skill or two!) After about 20 minutes with the Ryobi and some needle files, I managed to radius the airway sufficiently to allow fairly easy entry with a fluffy cleaner. A success for the smoking, I predicted, but does this make the smoking test unfair?
I filled the pipe with a favored old Virginia, a tobacco I know well and enjoy; Benson & Hedges OVF. Sadly, this flake is long "out of print." Upon first light, the flavors of the tobacco came through admirably, as would be expected from any new pipe, uncolored from previous smoking. But, within a few minutes, the oil curing began to make its statement, bringing a deep, dark richness and subtle black-walnut flavors to the smoke.
Despite my ministrations, or perhaps because of them, a little gurgling occurred half way through the bowl. But, fortunately, a close at hand pipe cleaner dispensed with the drop of liquid long before it found its way up the stem. All the way to the bottom, the smoke was rich and flavorful, and the oil-cured taste persisted, majestically augmenting the flavors of the fine tobaccos. There were no problems with the bottom smoke, and not even a HINT of woodiness one often finds in virgin briar. Definitely an excellent smoke.
For the second bowl, I decided on Renaissance. Wow! This pipe brought out all the nuances of the blend, perhaps amplifying slightly the earthier tones, while subtly turning down the sweetness knob. I wouldn't call the smoke clear or uncolored, but the coloration is one that I really enjoy, and a wonderful harmony was found between blend and briar in this case.
Again, a pipe cleaner was necessary about half way through the bowl. No big deal, really.
After two bowls, the pipe is already showing signs of becoming a favorite. I predict it will be dedicated to Latakia blends, since I prefer the sweetness of air-cured wood for Virginias. Some deepening of the color is already apparent, and I'm sure with time, this pipe will develop into a rich, lustrous red/brown with highlights of tan in the grain.
Cut - A+ This is really a beautiful example of a wonderful classic shape.
Finish - A+ I can't imagine a better blast, and the color is beautiful.
Comfort - A The stem is comfortable, but a tad thick, and the button is slightly chunky.
Engineering - C I know it's tough to get the airway right on this shape, but it shouldn't have been THAT far off.
Smoking quality - B+ The only thing keeping this from being a solid A is the wetness. Again, this could be my own damn fault for messing with it, but I suspect it would actually have been worse had I ignored it.
I've had quite a few Ashtons over the years, all but one being bought in pre-smoked condition. The one I bought in 1985 I smoked with very little attention, so, though it's a wonderful pipe now, I have little recollection of what it was like new. Overall, this is a great pipe, and I'd happily buy another. It's very Dunhill-like in many ways, which isn't surprising, at a somewhat more favorable price.
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