Herrera Esteli TAA Exclusive

Herrera Esteli TAA

Several Drew Estate blends have put the spotlight on Connecticut Broadleaf, most notably the Liga Privada No. 9, but the Herrera Esteli TAA is the first cigar blended by Willy Herrera for Drew Estate to use a broadleaf wrapper.  (The original Herrera Esteli utilizes Ecuadorian Habano and the Norteño uses San Andres maduro.)

Before joining Drew Estate in 2011, Herrera was known for his work at El Titan de Bronze in  Miami, but he has also created blends for Ernesto Padilla, Nestor Miranda, La Palina, and others.

The TAA was designed as an exclusive to members of the Tobacconists’ Association of America and was released at the TAA convention in April of this year.

Beneath the broadleaf wrapper is a Brazilian Mata Fina binder and the filler is a blend of the usual Nicaraguan suspects — Esteli (surprise!), Jalapa, and Condega. Only one size is in production, a 6 x 52 toro, and the cigar is sold in 12-count boxes. The cigar is made at the Drew Estate factory in Nicaragua.

Construction Notes

The broadleaf wrapper is a little rough but it oozes oil and has every appearance of richness. The head of the cigar is rounded, perfectly symmetrical, and the cap is almost seamless. The roll is solid and the draw is firm but easy. The cigar burns evenly and leaves a solid, light gray ash. The rollers in La Gran Fabrica have clearly taken extra care with this one.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Herrera Esteli TAA 2

Tasting Notes

The TAA Exclusive takes broadleaf seriously, and it takes full advantage of the woody sweetness of this stellar leaf from the first puff. This is a very smooth smoking toro; it develops a little bit of spice in the last third, but up to that point it really focuses on the strengths of its broadleaf wrapper.

The cigar is earthy on the palate, but the aftertaste is quite mild. The mouthfeel is somewhat waxy — the earthiness on the tongue, sweet woody char on the nose, and the waxy texture combine to create an effect that reminds me of a freshly extinguished candle.

The cigar develops a little more body and picks up some spice and some coffee notes in the last third. It isn’t a particularly complex cigar and the flavor transitions are not dramatic; the flavors are focused and tend not to stray too much from the ones that it opens with.

Herrera esteli 3

Conclusion

The Herrera Esteli TAA Exclusive is a broadleaf lover’s classic. It isn’t as bold as the Liga Privada No. 9, but it’s far more elegant than Nica Rustica. It’s rich, perfectly constructed, and easy to smoke. My kind of cigar, actually. On the other hand, if you find smooth billows of humus, sweet wet wood, freshly ground coffee, and a smattering of pepper at the finale a little too tedious, you’ll be saving yourself $12 USD per stick by leaving this one at the shop.

Final Score: 90

 

 

 

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Nica Rustica by Drew Estate

Nica Rustica was released originally in 2013 in one size only — the “Brujito” — a corona gorda with a pig-tail cap and a flagged foot. Additional sizes followed, including a large belicoso called “Belly” (after the 1998 crime film starring rap icons Nas and DMX), and a 4.5 x 50 short robusto.

Nica Rustica

As befitting its name, the cigar celebrates Nicaragua, and Esteli in particular. The little figure of the “brujito” which adorns boxes and bands of Nica Rustica is a symbol of the city taken from a nearby petroglyph. I was lucky enough to find a descriptive anatomy of the brujito, which I at first took to be a child’s representation of Jonathan Drew. (I was of course relieved to learn that Jonathan does not have a cola de diablo.)

Also befitting its name, Nica Rustica is not a rico suave kind of stick. Rustic is the word. The Connecticut broadleaf wrapper is a rich and oily colorado maduro with veins that stand out like cellular structures in a stained microscope slide. Beneath this is a San Andres binder, and the beating heart of the cigar is, naturally, Nicaraguan filler, from both Esteli and Jalapa. The parejo sizes have pig-tail caps.

I have smoked this blend in the Belly and Short Robusto sizes, and while they are similar in style and substance, I much prefer the little guy when the thermometer is pushing 110. A subtle smoke this is not.

Construction Notes

One aspect of this cigar that is not rustic is the construction. The roll is solid — no rifts and valleys as I expected — and the draw is excellent. It burns slowly and generates billowing clouds of smoke. The ash is solid but a little bit flaky.

Overall construction: Excellent

Nica Rustica 2

Tasting Notes

The flavors here are rich and tasty, but not subtle or complex. The smoke is slightly sweet and the aroma initially reminds me of a freshly extinguished candle: a bit waxy, with an earthy or sulfuric edge. Cocoa eventually comes to the fore, vying with black pepper on the palate. The spiciness gives way after an inch or two and makes room for a pleasantly meaty flavor that takes the cigar the distance.

Conclusion

Nica Rustica is not overwhelming in terms of power, but it is quite rich and at times a bit harsh. While it might benefit from some aging, this seems in line with the character of the blend, so I wouldn’t wait too long. Don’t expect Danny Trejo to age into Andy Garcia, no matter how long you put him away. (And don’t try to put Danny away or…well, just don’t.)

Ranging from the $4-5 range for the short robusto to about $7 for the belicoso, Nica Rustica is an affordable cigar, especially from a manufacturer whose prices are increasing with demand.

Nica Rustica 3

Final Score: 86

 

 

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