While it may seem like an easy gig to review tobacco, I assure you it is harder than it looks. Admittedly it’s no chore to enjoy a new blend on a regular basis. I would wager it’s an exceedingly low percentage of the PipesMagazine.com readership that limits themselves to a single tobacco to the exclusion of the panoply of concoctions available to us in our current golden age. Clearly there is no obstacle to finding another blend; the difficulty comes in making tobacco an essentially new experience, each and every time, to write about. With a limited variety of subject matter, finding and describing the unique nuances of flavor, particularly when wrapped in the familiar, can be a daunting proposition. Effectively, every new blend is a conversation to be had, a discovery to be made, and there is certainly art to this conversation. “If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested.” Carnegie was paraphrasing a maxim attributed to the Hellenistic quipster Publilius Syrus and it certainly holds true as an agit of wisdom that has stood the test of time. It is fortunate that tobacco somehow holds a never-ending fascination for me.
And so it is that I am continually (and pleasantly) surprised by the conversations I have had with the Ashton blends of late. They fly just a wee bit under the radar, eschewing the special editions and gimmickry that’s so common in the market now (not to imply those are bad things at all, mind you); a small stable of solid, everyday blends done well is a comfortable niche for them to occupy. It’s fitting for the marque, now manufactured by Kohlhase & Kopp, as the brand was built on genuine craftsmanship and refinement in flavor. In March we indulged our Guilty Pleasures, while this month’s installment will be a timely look at Gold Rush, a straight Virginia blend perfectly suited to warm weather smoking.
The tin, in a lovely orange-gold hue and sporting a halftone graphic of miners toiling away, natch, promises a medium-bodied, easy smoke, “accented by traces of lemon and honey”. High marks for truth in advertising there. Though the burn characteristics perhaps require a bit more attention than is alluded to in the label copy, the flavor and aroma notes are spot on. Particularly when opening the fresh tin and in the first several smokes, a bright lemony note tempered by a background of honey sweetness prevail. The casing is moderate and pitched perfectly to the tobacco—this is by no means in the aromatic category. The leaf inside, mainly ribbon with some broken flake mixed in, is soft and of a uniform cappuccino brown. With some airing out time, the aroma moves through a spectrum of Meyer lemon rinds to white grape must, settling after some time with clear overtones of milk chocolate-covered raisin—who doesn’t love Raisinets?—along with the brighter citrusy and lightly floral notes, despite the lack of burley in the mix. Noticeably absent, or at least relegated to faint background chatter, are many of the more typical Virginia notes: when it speaks of grass, it’s more lemongrass than fresh cut hay, and the leathery notes are equally subdued, more ‘leather-bound book’ than ‘fresh-oiled saddle’.
“It is one thing to speak much, another well.” Sophocles sure hit that nail on the head; it would make a fitting tagline for this blend. The tobacco and I found our common ground quickly and began gabbing away like old chums. While the top of the bowl is a faithful translation of the light and sweet tin note, once the ember is stoked and settled the conversation really picks up. In mid-bowl, the honeyed tones indicated on the tin come to the fore, and gentle waves of spice and green-wood campfire blend into the wildflower top notes deftly. The draft and mouthfeel are perfectly aligned and mild, with no bite unless carelessly overheated. It’s sober, restrained, light. There are no loud pronouncements from the tobacco, no argumentative constituents vying for center stage; but don’t mistake its simplicity of topic as boring or uninteresting. It’s a really good, straight-shooting Virginia flavor with shade, nuance, and turn of phrase, all while retaining a modest humility. Though it’s “just” a straight Virginia, it does this one thing oh, so well. In a literary callback to the last review, Gold Rush is much more Hemingway than Fitzgerald—simple thoughts stated simply, the profound import left to you.
Speaking of light and sweet, I highly recommend this as a morning coffee smoke. The daily return to conscious enterprise has never been a favorite process of mine. I simply don’t function until I’ve had the first pot of coffee, fine motor skills and other higher functions generally rejoin at some point toward the end of the second pot, and I usually don’t smoke until well after dinner time. Something about this blend, though, recommends itself to breaking the fast: the uncluttered flavors, the facile smoking, the light dose of nicotine to gently waken and invigorate the senses. To borrow a phrase from another Hellenistic writer, silence is indeed one of the great arts of conversation, and sitting with the morning brew and a pipe of Gold Rush qualifies that gracefully. It is in these moments of meditative silence that I find the tobacco speaks its volumes. My one disappointment with the blend is the rather dull aftertaste, another point in favor of coffee to wash the palate. The room note is likewise mild and not very indicative of how good the flavor is, though it dissipates quickly. All in all, I’m chalking this up as another win for the Ashton brand, and look forward to my next confabulation with the line.
Special thanks to Kevin at Davidoff’s midtown flagship location for the always-brilliant assistance, and conversation, about the blends.