Undercrown Shade Robusto

Undercrown Shade

Drew Estate has never been wary of innovative cigar blending and rolling. What other cigar manufacturer uses fire cured burley (usually reserved for pipe tobacco blends) and makes a shape called “The Egg”? Neither of these creative gestures appeals to me, mind you, but no one can say they’re not inventive.

So leave it to Drew Estate to shock us with the totally conventional — shade tobacco. I can’t think of another blend in the DE stable that uses it, aside from their econo short-filler La Vieja Habana line. There must be others… but at the moment I can’t think of one.

The original Undercrown was created to make up for a shortage of the Connecticut broadleaf that is used in their juggernaut Liga Privada series. Made with a San Andres maduro wrapper and a Connecticut binder, it’s sometimes described as an “inverse Liga” — it uses some of the same ingredients, but from different primings and in a different order.

The odd thing about Undercrown Shade is that it has almost nothing in common with the original Undercrown — where the original uses Brazilian and Nicaraguan habano fillers, Shade uses a blend of Dominican and Nicaraguan Criollo and Corojo. Where the original has a Connecticut binder, Shade utilizes Sumatra. And of course the wrapper: Ecuadorian Connecticut rather than Mexican maduro.

It’s like comparing the first season of True Detective with the second. There is a creative similarity, but there’s no real connection between them. Except one: Undercrown Shade and the original share the same production sizes:

  • Corona – 5 5/8 x 46
  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Gran Toro – 6 x 52
  • Belicoso – 6 x 52
  • Corona Doble – 7 x 54
  • Gordito – 6 x 60

Construction Notes

Shade wrapper is usually flawless in appearance, and with its creamy claro leaf the Undercrown is no exception. A tasteful white and gold band plays well off the tone of the wrapper, adding another touch of elegance. The cap is well executed and the cigar cuts cleanly. Beneath its smooth and evenly yellowish-brown exterior the roll is firm, resulting in a slow and even burn. It draws well and leaves a firm white ash.

Overall construction: Excellent

Undercrown Shade 2

Tasting Notes

The Undercrown Shade robusto starts out somewhat drily, but the tartness on the palate is balanced by a woody sweetness on the nose. The zing on the tongue is almost citric in character, and a dash of pepper adds a some unexpected seasoning. So far the cigar is mild in strength, but the smoke texture is thick and buttery.

The flavor continues to develop — another surprise for a Connecticut — adding roasted nuts and another couple grinds of the pepper mill. (This reminds me a little of Camacho’s Connecticut blend, but the Undercrown is better balanced and more complex.)

The biggest surprise here is the lack of a big fruity floral aroma, the hallmark of Connecticut Shade… until the end, which is perfect for a cigar inspired by an inversion.  It’s a really nice touch, though the floral aroma is soon overwhelmed by a dry earthy aftertaste that signals last call.

Conclusion

The best thing about Connecticuts is that they’re predictable, so you know what you’re getting; the worst thing about them is that they lack distinction. The Undercrown Shade is a departure from that general rule — this is a Connecticut Shade with some of the qualities you’d expect, like mildness and creamy smoke texture, but with some added attractions: a citric zing and a sweetness balanced with spice.

Undercrown Shade 3

Like the original Undercrown, the retail price is reasonable: the robustos run in the $6 range. Other than that, there isn’t much comparison between the two. For myself, I’d opt for the original maduro blend, but if you’re a mild cigar smoker desperate to get out of that Macanudo rut, I say check it out.

Final Score: 89

Ramon Allones & Bolivar by Foundry Tobacco

Ramon Allones and Bolivar are legacy brand names that were founded in Cuba well before the revolution. In the case of Ramon Allones, even before the American Civil War. They are still regular production Habanos, but one of the consequences of the American trade embargo was that several well-known brand names were liberated from the clutches of the Cuban tobacco monopoly, allowing non-Cuban blends to be sold under the Allones and Bolivar brands.

Ramon Allones Heritage

In the past, both of these “domestic” brands were marketed primarily to catalog customers, sometimes packaged in unique ways. An edition of Bolivar was released in the shape of a book, complete with raised bands and deckled edges. It was Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, if memory serves. I still have the Flor de A. Allones entry. But as much as I hate to say it, the boxes were more interesting than the cigars.

Allones box book

To spice things up a bit, General Cigar turned to their innovative Foundry Tobacco subsidiary. Both heritage brands received a makeover: the Ramon Allones is now a Nicaraguan blend with an oscuro Ecuador Sumatra wrapper, and Bolivar now hosts filler from Nicaragua, Honduras, and Mexico, held together by a Dominican binder, all topped with a dark Habano wrapper grown in Connecticut. Three sizes with are in production. See if you can guess how the frontmarks were derived:

  • 550 – 5 x 50
  • 652 – 6 x 52
  • 660 – 6 x 60

Both cigars pictured here have big ugly bands which have been justly criticized and subsequently updated. The best thing I can say about them is that they were easy to remove.

Bolivar Heritage

Bolivar Heritage 550

First impressions matter, which is the problem with the band. But hidden beneath this is a nice looking Connecticut Habano leaf — dark and oily, even if a bit bumpy. The pig-tail triple cap is a nice touch.  The foot is flagged and folded over, which makes a pre-light draw difficult, but it takes off after a quick blast from the torch. The cigar gets a tad soft, but it draws well and burns evenly.

Overall construction: Very good.

The 550 opens up with bittersweet chocolate accompanied by a cedary undertone. It’s medium-bodied, slightly dry, and after an inch or two it develops a pretty good bite. In the mid-section earthy flavors predominate on the palate as well as the aftertaste. The chocolate darkens into coffee, and the cedar wanes as the pepper grinder goes to work. In the last couple of inches the Bolivar Heritage becomes a medium-plus cigar with a full-bodied flavor profile.

Ramon Allones Heritage cap

Ramon Allones Heritage 550

The dimensions, pig-tail cap and unfinished foot are exactly the same as the Bolivar Heritage, but the wrapper is drier and lighter in appearance and the roll is tighter. One cigar was a bit too tight to smoke comfortably and the flavors were sharp and unbalanced. I discounted that one, but the line seems to run a bit tight in general, certainly more so than the Bolivar.

Overall construction: Fair to Good.

The RA 550 starts off with some fairly bland vegetal flavors but quickly finds the a more distinctive character: woody with a touch of cinnamon or nutmeg on the nose, while the tea-like zing typical of Nicaraguan tobacco hums along beneath.

Pointless Digression

About half-way through the Ramon Allones 550 I began to wonder if anyone has ever attempted to blend a curry flavored cigar… the RA is not it, Deo gratias, but the thought occurred to me…

I hasten to add: this is a horrible idea.

Ramon Allones 3

 

Conclusion

Both of these new Foundry blends are nice looking cigars that smoke well, but for me the Bolivar Heritage stands out. I really like the Bolivar’s balance of chocolate and cedar in the first half and the way it slides into pepper and earth in the second, and I’m betting that the bite will mellow with a few months in the humidor.

The Ramon Allones is an interesting smoke as well, but the cigar was hampered by a tight draw. I’d try it again in a few months and see if that wrinkle has been ironed out.

And I’ve saved the best news for last: each of these robustos are in the $4 USD range.

Bolivar Heritage Final Score: 90

Ramon Allones Heritage Final Score: 85

A special thanks to General Cigar for the review samples. 

 

Illusione *R* Rothchildes

Illusione Rothchildes A

According to Richard Hacker’s Ultimate Cigar Book, the first Rothschild cigar was produced by Hoyo de Monterrey in the late 19th century in response to a request from the London-based financier, Leopold de Rothschild. He wanted a short cigar with a large ring gauge that would smoke like a full-sized cigar, but in a shorter amount of time. Since then, many cigar makers have produced cigars in this size, though stumpy cigars have often been assigned the moniker “Robusto” instead. Nevertheless, the Rothschild persists — sometimes as Rothchild, or Rothchilde, or in the case of Illusione’s entry: Rothchildes.

Due to their power and wealth, the Rothschild family has been the target of numerous conspiracy theories over the years, from currency manipulation to presidential assassination. And as we know, the Illusione mystique relies in part on the shadowy world of conspiracy theory. Therefore we should ask the question: why the misspelling? Why Rothchildes, and not Rothschilds? What is the significance of the missing S, and the added E? Is there a hidden meaning?

But we also know that the Illusione mystique does not rely on conspiracy theory alone; it also relies on premium quality Nicaraguan tobacco, specifically Aganorsa tobacco. This quality is apparent from the first puff on the *R* Rothchildes, and the flavor is quintessential Illusione. The binder and filler leaves are Aganorsa grown, and the wrapper is a nicely processed maduro leaf from the San Andres Valley of Mexico.

Illusione Rothchildes 2

Construction Notes

The Rothchildes are rustic in appearance with rough maduro wrappers and single caps slapped on heads that are sometimes a little uneven. The throw-back bands blend well with the rough appearance of the wrappers. The roll is solid, though the cigar feels a little light — perhaps it’s this desert winter air, the nemesis of my humidor. But any worries about underhumidification are dispelled by a draw that offers the right amount of resistance and an even, steady burn.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The first third of the cigar is marked by the clean crisp flavor that is Illusione’s stock in trade. Hardwood smoke with a cherry edge. If I didn’t know what this cigar was and had to guess, I might have to say La Riqueza.

A peppery spice builds as the cigar grows in complexity.  The flavor on the palate gradually loses its crispness and becomes earthier, and the cherry on the nose transitions to cocoa.

In the final stretch the cocoa loses its sweetness and the earth turns darker and sharper; the smoke bites a little, but doesn’t bitter.

Illusione Rothchildes 3

Conclusion

The Rothchildes bear more than a passing resemblance to the veteran blends in the Illusione family: the clean woody flavor of Aganorsa tobacco is prominent and distinguishing, and the subtle cherry flavor that appears in the first section is an unexpected bonus.

And while they’re not quite as complex as the pedigreed Original Documents, they have a particularly redeeming characteristic: a price tag under $5 USD.  A tall price is frequently an indicator of premium quality, but it’s not a requirement, as Illusione *R* Rothchildes ably demonstrate.

Final Score: 91

Latitude Zero

Latitude Zero

Latitude Zero is, yes, the Equator — and Ecuador is the Spanish word for Equator — so it’s no surprise that the cigar pictured here is a product of that South American country. The Oliva Tobacco Company is a prominent purveyor of Ecuadorian tobacco to many of the cigar industry’s primary manufacturers, and Latitude Zero celebrates this with a special Habano seed wrapper called R13E, or “Angel’s Cut.” (Named, presumably, for the patriarch of the family, Angel Oliva.)

The Oliva Tobacco Company grows tobacco not only in Ecuador, but also in Nicaragua and Honduras, and they supply tobacco to manufacturers from General Cigar to Fuente to Rocky Patel to Don Pepin Garcia. The one thing they don’t do is make cigars, but on occasion a blend pops up that is made entirely of Oliva Tobacco. Almost ten years ago the Angel 100 hit the market; that cigar was made by NATSA with OTC tobaccos, and by some small miracle I still have a few left. Maybe it’s time I cracked a box to see how they’re doing.

So far I haven’t been able to sniff out who is making Latitude Zero. In any case, it’s made just as well as the Angel 100, but it’s a much bolder blend. Beneath the Ecuadorian Habano is a Connecticut Broadleaf binder and filler leaf from Esteli, Nicaragua, and it is made in five traditional sizes:

  • Churchill – 7 x 50
  • Robusto – 5 x52
  • Toro – 6 x 50
  • Toro Gordo – 6 x 60
  • Torpedo – 6.5 x 52

Latitude Zero 2

Construction Notes

The band on this cigar is attractive, but oversized, so the first order of business is to remove it. Most of the time it comes off easily, but I’ve had to rip it off a couple times. Having accomplished this, the wrapper is revealed to be a smooth dark colorado maduro.

Construction quality varies a bit between the two sizes I smoked: the torpedo with its larger veins and drier appearance is more rustic than the robusto. The tip of the torpedo is clean and symmetrical, while the robusto sports an almost seamless single cap. The torpedo’s draw is a little too easy. By contrast the robusto offers the perfect level of resistance. Both sizes burn slowly and evenly. The ash is flaky, but holds.

Overall construction: Very good.

Latitude Zero 3

Tasting Notes

The theme of Latitude Zero is bittersweet baker’s chocolate — a nice balance of sugar and cocoa. It opens with a dash of pepper on the palate and an earthy aftertaste that lasts for the duration of the cigar. The pepper dissipates after a half an inch or so.

The smoke texture is medium to full in body, with a strength to match. (The torpedo is especially potent in the last third.) Both sizes produce a pleasant aroma, equal parts musk and cedar. As the cigar burns into the second and third stages the aroma seems to get a bit sweeter while remaining woody. The sweetness blends well with the chocolate that persists throughout, and the tannins on the tongue are a nice contrast.

127_001

Conclusion

Construction quality seems to be higher for the Latitude Zero robustos than the torpedos, but both sizes are pretty similar otherwise. The “Angel’s Cut” wrapper is quite fine, both in appearance and aroma. I would pick up another blend that features this wrapper regardless of who manufactures it. And since this is Oliva tobacco, that could be anybody.

At 6 bucks a pop for the robusto and 7 for the torpedo (or less if you have the patience to bid for them) these are a decent deal. If OTC’s latest blend ages as well as the Angel 100’s I have put away, I believe I will be stocking up.

Final Score: 88

dunhill motorities

Dunhill Heritage Robusto

Dunhill Heritage

Dunhill Tobacco of London has a rich and storied past, beginning with the establishment of Alfred Dunhill’s original tobacco shop on Duke Street in 1907. Dunhill inherited his father’s horse harness manufacturing business, but he was at heart an inventor. With the advent of the automobile he modified the family concern from harnesses to motorcar accessories, and he invented the “windshield pipe,” which allowed motorists to happily puff along in the wind. This led to his involvement in the tobacco trade, which began with pipes and custom blended pipe tobaccos. Eventually he was appointed official tobacconist to Edward, Prince of Wales, and after Alfred’s retirement the shop would be the acknowledged purveyor (and protector) of cigars to Winston Churchill.

So Dunhill as a brand has historically been associated with pipes (and cigarettes) more than cigars. They did have exclusive distribution rights for several blends and brands of Cuban cigars before the revolution, but the Dunhill brand of cigars did not appear until the mid 1980’s, and it lasted only a few years. They entered the market in competition with Davidoff Cigars, and they lost that match decisively.

But those were Cuban cigars competing in the European market. Dunhill is now owned by British American Tobacco and they are making inroads once again. They have released several non-Cuban blends that have done well, such as the Signed Range and the 1907, Dominican cigars that are on the mild to medium side. With the Dunhill Heritage line they are branching out with heavier fare: the Heritage is a more robust blend made in Honduras with an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, a binder from Nicaragua’s Jalapa Valley, and aged fillers from Nicaragua (Ometepe and Esteli) and Honduras (Jamastran). Four sizes are in production:

  • Gigante – 6 x 60
  • Churchill – 7 1/2 x 50
  • Toro – 6 x 50
  • Robusto – 5 x 50

Dunhill Heritage 2

Construction Notes

The Dunhill Heritage Robusto is a square pressed cigar with a dark colorado maduro wrapper. The band is classic and understated, very much like the bands on the Don Candido and Don Alfredo lines distributed by Dunhill in the 1960’s and 70’s. The leaf is ruddy, smooth, and attractively oily. Some fine veins provide contrast to the uniform shade of the leaf. The head is well formed, and while the cap is not picture perfect it shears away cleanly. It draws with the perfect amount of resistance, and this appears to be consistent over the three samples I smoked. The burn line wavers a bit, but it burns slowly, and a strong solid ash provides the finishing touch.

Overal construction: excellent.

Tasting Notes

I smoke so many Nicaraguan cigars that my palate almost expects the flavors of wood, earth, and pepper, and anything else comes as a surprise. Dunhill’s Heritage blend is a little different from what I’m accustomed to: this is a meaty, leathery cigar from beginning to end.

Leather dominates the nose in the first third of this cigar. The flavor on the palate is clean and mostly herbal, with a couple turns of the pepper mill for seasoning. The pepper wears off a bit in the mid section of the cigar, revealing a soft note of cedar and some caramel-like sweetness. The smoke texture is medium to full, and the strength of the cigar grows to full by the time the ash reaches the band.

Conclusion

Dunhill’s Heritage Robusto reminds me of a good old pot roast. Satisfying, but not too sophisticated. Smooth and well balanced, It’s a full-bodied, full-strength, well seasoned smoke. Excellent construction gives it a boost.

MSRP was around $10 per stick when it was first released this summer, but it looks like that price has dropped to a more reasonable $6. At that price it’s definitely worth a test drive, perhaps literally, in your motorcar.

Final Score: 89

Dunhill Road Clearers

1502 Nicaragua Robusto

1502 Nicaragua Robusto

1502 Cigars are named for the year that Columbus “discovered” Nicaragua, so it’s perfectly fitting that a Nicaraguan puro has been added to the line. The 1502 Nicaragua fills out the quartet that includes the 1502 Ruby (previously reviewed here), the 1502 Emerald, and the 1502 Black Gold. The Nicaragua is a blend of tobaccos from Esteli, Jalapa, Condega, and the volcanic island of Ometepe which sits nestled in Lake Nicaragua.

The cigar is produced at the Placencia factory in Esteli, Nicaragua, for Global Premium Cigars, and apparently only two sizes are in regular production, a 7 x 48 Churchill, and a 5 x 50 Robusto.

Construction Notes

The 1502 Nicaragua Robusto arrives box pressed, with a semi-flagged foot. The colorado claro wrapper leaf is somewhat veiny but smooth. The head is slightly flattened, the cap is solid, and the draw is excellent. It lights easily, perhaps aided by the flags. It burns slowly, but unevenly, requiring a touchup or two. The ash is solid.

Overall construction: Very good.

1502 Nicaragua 2

Tasting Notes

I smoked two robustos for this evaluation, separated by about a week, and had two rather different experiences. The first cigar seemed quite sharp and the flavors focused on cedar; the second cigar wasn’t as spicy and centered on musk. I briefly considered abandoning the review due to inconclusive or conflicting evidence, but whenever this happens I have to remind myself that matters of taste are always subjective. As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus says: “No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.”  With that in mind, here are my notes on the river of the 1502 Nicaragua, with notes from the second cigar in green:

The robusto opens with cedar and a dose of white pepper; in addition to the cedar there is a distinctly musky note. Cedar spice on the nose continues into the middle third of the cigar. Dry tannins on the palate combine nicely with spice and a touch of sulfur or gunpowder on the nose. This is a medium bodied cigar — smooth but not creamy — that builds from medium in strength to nearly full at the conclusion. The spice on the nose and musky aroma continue into the final third of the cigar, which waves farewell with an earthy note and a flinty aftertaste.

Conclusion

I enjoyed both samples of the 1502 Nicaragua, even though they seemed to me to have somewhat different qualities. I will attribute this difference to my own subjectivity rather than the cigar; I will simply have to smoke more of them to arrive at a more satisfactory conclusion. In any case, this is a fine smoke, and I will happily assume the burden of further examination.

Both sticks exhibited a balanced cedary spice, a tannic element that develops into an earthy base flavor, and a smooth medium-bodied disposition. It’s not a powerhouse Nicaraguan, but it does exhibit some of the characteristics typical of great Nicaraguan smokes. Singles of the robusto run around USD $6.50, which is pretty reasonable for a premium boutique cigar of this caliber.

1502 Nicaragua 3

Final Score: 89

Some Newish Gran Habanos

There are a few catalog cigars that have become staples in my humidor. When I see them at a good price, I snap them up because I always need good everyday smokes. Among those are the Gran Habano No. 5 and the 3 SLS (formerly 3 Siglos.) There is an earthy character to a lot of Gran Habano cigars — the SLS in particular — that appeals to me in a certain mood, when the weather is cool and I want to wallow in the terroir.  So when some samples from GH appeared unexpectedly in my mailbox a couple months ago I was not displeased.

Some short reflections on those samples:

Gran Habano Corojo Maduro 2011

First, my favorite of the lot: the Gran Habano Corojo No. 5 Maduro 2011.

Made in Honduras with a Corojo Maduro wrapper from Nicaragua, an Habano binder, and filler from Costa Rica and Nicaragua’s Jalapa valley, the company calls this cigar “the strongest blend in the Gran Habano profile.”  I did not find this 6 x 54 Gran Rubusto to be overly strong, but it was well built and quite tasty. It is rough in appearance and the cap is a little slipshod, but that’s the nature of maduro leaf. More importantly, the draw is excellent and it burns like it has all day.

The flavors are initially a bit outside the standard maduro spectrum: piney with a syrupy sweetness. After an inch the more conventional cocoa/coffee flavors kick in, and then that trademark Gran Habano earth appears on the palate. It’s a nice balance of flavors with more complexity than your average maduro cigar. The rich pine taste in the first inch is a great complement to the traditional maduro flavors.

Gran Habano Reserva No. 5 2011

The Gran Habano Gran Reserva No. 5 appears to have the same internal anatomy as the Corojo No. 5 Maduro, with a natural corojo wrapper swapped out for the maduro. Beneath the cedar sheath, the wrapper is in fact only slightly lighter than the one on the Maduro blend, but the flavor is quite different. Unfortunately this particular sample seemed to be either underfilled or rolled too loosely, resulting in a hot and airy draw.

The flavors are similar to the No. 5 that I’m familiar with, but a little more complex. The earthy, slightly musty flavor appears in the middle of the cigar, but before that is an interesting prelude of licorice and cherry, followed by a sweet barbecue char. It’s a meaty cigar, and assuming that the construction flaw is simply a fluke I’ll be picking this one up as a nice companion by the grill.

Of the four sticks in this sampler the George Rico S.T.K. Miami Zulu Zulu Mas Paz Edition wins in two categories: longest name and most unique packaging. The Zulu Zulu arrives in a decorated paper sheath that veils the cigar from top to bottom. This touch of the artist comes courtesy Rico’s friend, “Mas Paz,” who also contributed the box art. The cigar itself is made in Miami at the G.R. Tabacaleras factory and comes in either an Ecuadorian Connecticut or a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper. Based on taste and appearance I’m going to guess this was the Ecuadorian CT.

George Rico Zulu Zulu

The Zulu Zulu is a beautifully rolled cigar: the perfectly triple wound head topped with a pigtail cap is right in step with the blend’s other aesthetic considerations. (So naturally I botched the cut and cracked the wrapper at the head.) The natural claro wrapper is smooth with widely spaced veins. The burn and draw are excellent, as is the construction in general. It opens with floral aromatics and an earthy dry taste on the palate. The tannins ease up as the cigar burns, and the floral element turns to cedar, with a little leather or musk in the background. There is a yeasty-malty aspect to this cigar in the transition from middle to last third that is reminiscent of many medium-bodied Habanos. (S.A., that is.)

G.A.R. Red

The last contender is from Gran Habano’s econo line: G.A.R. Red by George Rico. It’s a smooth cigar, though this sample was slightly marred by a loose draw. The flavor is mild and grassy and the aroma is light, sweet, and woody. It burned a bit hot, but for a bargain/bundle smoke it’s not bad at all.

Conclusion

Gran Habano’s Corojo No. 5 Maduro 2011 is an exceptional maduro, and the S.T.K. Miami Zulu Zulu is just a sweetheart of a cigar. If you put both in front of me and made me choose, it wouldn’t be an easy decision, but I’d probably fall for the No. 5 2011 Maduro.