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.


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

Macanudo Cafe & Maduro Gigantes

Macanudo is reportedly the best-selling premium cigar brand in the United States; it therefore needs no introduction. Just about everyone who has smoked a cigar has smoked a Mac — it’s a mild cigar with a classic Connecticut shade wrapper, and it’s a great one to give to a virgin smoker who is curious about the lure of the leaf.

There are well over two dozen frontmarks of the Cafe blend alone, not to mention the several other blends that fall under the Macanudo umbrella. Recent blends such as the Macanudo 1968 and the Vintage 1997 have surprised grizzled veterans with their flavor and strength, showing us that Macanudo is not always synonymous with mild.

These are the original mild-mannered cigars that so many know so well, but in a new format. (Yet another frontmark. It occurs to me that an average-sized cigar shop housing all of the Macanudo blends and sizes would have no room left for any other brand.) Super large ring gauges are finding followers and selling well, so it’s no surprise that General Cigar is responding to the demand with the new Gigante frontmark.

The Cafe blend is the classic Mac, possibly the most consistently made cigar on the planet — a Connecticut Shade wrapper, a Mexican binder from San Andres, and filler from the DR and Mexico. The Maduro substitutes a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper for the Shade.

Construction Notes

Both cigars are well made with rounded Cullman heads. (Edgar Cullman, Sr, who died last year at the age of 93, was the man who made Macanudo into the best-selling brand it is. He and some investors bought General Cigar in 1961, and a few years later they acquired a small Jamaican factory called Temple Hall where an unknown cigar called Macanudo was made. The rounded head on the Macanudo, and now many other cigars, is named for Mr. Cullman.)

The draw, burn, and consistency of the Macanudo Cafe and maduro brands is beyond reproach. If you’ve ever smoked one that didn’t burn well, leave a comment, because I have yet to hear from anyone of a construction defect in this cigar. It must have happened some time — it’s a hand made product, but it’s remarkably consistent.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The Macanudo Cafe is a mild cigar with flavors that are typical of Dominican and Mexican tobacco — the base flavor is nutty with a little bit of astringency, just enough to work the salivary glands a bit. The Maduro version is somewhat sweeter. The broadleaf wrapper disguises the tartness a little more effectively than the shade wrapper does.

There isn’t much transition from the beginning of this smoke to the end, but this is normal for very mild cigars. The Cafe does get a little more tart at the end, and the Maduro picks up some char, but mostly what you get out of this cigar is a mild-mannered vehicle for a couple of great wrapper leaves. The aroma is what makes this cigar noteworthy — the soft floral creaminess of the Cafe, and bittersweet chocolate from the Maduro.

Though I’m not a regular smoker of this brand, the Gigante appears to be a little more flavorful than the robusto size. I’m not a big fan of the chunkster cigar trend either, but the amplified flavors in these Mac biggies were a welcome surprise. (My thanks to General Cigar for the samples, by the way.)


These are the same Macanudos that a lot of us started on, just in bigger sizes. And because they are so mild, the bigger size seems to be less of an extravagance than it does in many other blends.  Mild cigar aficionados will definitely want to try these out, but don’t look for any big surprises. These are the same consistent smokes that they’ve been for many years now. MSRP is in the $6-7 USD range.

Final Score: 86

Jameson Red Label and Rockstone Coffee

The Jameson Cigar Company was founded in 2008 and the Red and Black Labels were the company’s  inaugural releases. The well-known (and well-reviewed) Declaration and Santos de Miami lines were soon to follow, but I like to think that the first blends from a cigar maker are what makes or breaks the brand’s reputation. So it’s about time that I got around to smoking a few of them.

The Red Label was initially released with a Sumatra wrapper, but the line was reblended in 2009 with an Ecuadorian Connecticut cover leaf.  A binder from Honduras and aged Dominican filler form the core of  Jameson’s mildest blend.

Five sizes are in production:

  • Corona – 5 x 44
  • Perfecto – 5 x 54
  • Torpedo – 6 x 54
  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Toro – 6 x 52

One of the flavors that I love to discover in a cigar is coffee — sometimes it presents itself as cocoa, or chocolate — but the bean is the thing that rings my bell. So coffee is a frequent companion to my daily cigar, and I know I’m not alone.

Rockstone "Good Day Sunshine"

It makes sense for this reason that Brad Mayo, the founder of Jameson Cigars, is now also in the coffee business. Rockstone Coffee was established in 2009 as an adjunct to the cigar side of Mayo’s business, and he was kind enough to send along some samples for me to taste. (The Red Label robustos were on my own dime.)

Construction Notes

The shade wrapper on the Jameson Red Label robusto is so light it’s almost amarillo — it’s the color of freshly baked bread, and it has the soft texture typical of Connecticut seed shade leaf. The roll is firm but draws well, and the cap is finely executed with a triple wrap and a flat head.

Most cigars with shade wrappers produce an ash with a very consistent color, usually a smooth light gray. The Red Label, on the other hand, produces a light-colored ash with striations of darker gray and black. The ash is solid, but more importantly, the cigar burns evenly.

Overall construction: excellent.

Tasting Notes

I like a mild smoke every once in a while, and Connecticut Shade, whether the genuine article or grown elsewhere, is a deliciously aromatic leaf. But take the band off the cigar and one mild shade stick usually tastes just like any other. Not so with Jameson’s Red Label.

A tannic tartness lets the smoker know up front that this cigar is going to be a little bit different. The qualities typical of mild shade cigars are also there — a creamy texture (though not as buttery as some), a sweetly floral aroma, and a subtle aftertaste that starts the cigar off gently. There is a woody undertone to the flavor in the first half, and a tiny pinch of pepper on the retrohale.

The second half of the cigar becomes increasingly earthy, and the aroma seems more caramelized than floral. What is surprising at this point is the spice on the palate. The strength of the cigar remains fairly mild, but the flavor is on full. The tannic notes that initially characterize the smoke become increasingly difficult to detect through the earth and pepper.

Rockstone Coffee

Rockstone Guatemala Candelaria

The “Good Day Sunshine” Blend is quite mild, tasty, and easy to drink. The dark-roasted flavors that are so popular with mainstream java junkies are in attendance, but the beans are not over-roasted, which is the problem with the mainstream stuff. The roasty flavors are really well balanced here.

Both of the Rockstone coffee blends work well with the Red Label, and they’re both nice roasts, but I preferred the Guatemalan. There is an acidic spring to this coffee that pairs with the tannin in the cigar as if they were made for each other. The roast is light, maybe a city-plus at most, and this allows the region character to express itself freely. It’s a bold, bright cup with a nice body. The notes of lemon would make me think it was an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe rather than Guatemalan, but then I would be wrong. In that case I would be happy to be wrong as long as I could still grind up a handful of these beans for my breakfast brew.


Pairing the Jameson Red Label with Rockstone coffee was a most enjoyable experiment for me, and my taste buds are still thanking me. (I wasn’t expecting such a long finish on a mild cigar…) And my wallet isn’t complaining too loudly either: the Red Label robusto sells for around $4-5, and the coffee runs around $16 per pound. Both the cigar and the coffee have more character than others in their class, and both are definitely worth tracking down.



Final Score: 88

Alec Bradley American Classic Robusto

A few months ago I had the opportunity to review La Gloria Cubana’s new “Artesanos Retro” cigar, and what I liked most about it was the Honduran Connecticut seed wrapper.  It’s a tasty leaf, so it’s easy to see why Alec Bradley has gone the same route with the American Classic Blend.

Alec Bradley has some experience with Honduran tobacco. Their big hits in the past couple of years (including an impressive No. 1 for the Prensado in Cigar Aficionado’s 2011 lineup) have been from the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras, so it’s not a huge surprise to see an unusual Honduran strain on the American Classic.

This blend was reportedly designed to mimic the style and evoke the flavors of cigars favored by Americans in the early part of the 20th century, when Tampa was King and cigars with double claro or candela wrappers were labeled “American Market Selection.” Wrapper shades darker than this were called “English Market Selection,” and the darkest cigars were called “Spanish Market Selection.” World markets and the tastes of smokers worldwide have obviously changed, but the American Classic Blend takes a step back in time.

Underneath the Honduran grown, Connecticut-seed wrapper lies a binder from Nicaragua and Nicaraguan filler leaves from both Esteli and Condega. Six sizes are in production:

  • Corona: 5 1/2 x 42
  • Robusto: 5 x 50
  • Toro: 6 x 50
  • Churchill: 7 x 48
  • Torpedo: 6 1/8 x 52
  • Gordo: 6 x 60

Construction Notes

The wrapper on the American Classic is somewhat dry and papery. It’s darker and more weathered in appearance than Connecticut Shade, and it seems a bit thinner. The rough texture of the binder shows through, giving the stick a slightly bumpy appearance. The cigar is finished in Cuban flat-head style with a triple wrapped cap.

Staring down the business end of this cigar I notice that the bunch appears to be partially booked. The draw was fine, however, and the cigar burned perfectly, so perhaps the evils of booked filler leaves are exaggerated. And like many other cigars using Connecticut Shade, this one left a solid light gray ash.

Overall construction excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Alec Bradley American Classic starts up with a toasty flavor common to many mild-to-medium bodied cigars, but the spice on the nose sets this one apart from run-of-the-mill Connecticut Shade smokes. It has the perfume of Connecticut Shade, but it’s sharper and less flowery. It blends extremely well with the toasty and woody foundation flavors.

The mid-section brings a bready note as the spice on the nose dies down. The sweet spot here is almost exactly at the half-way point of the cigar, where the  cedar and bread flavors are delicately balanced and the result is delectable. Unfortunately these flavors dissipate around the two-thirds point and the smoke becomes a bit hot and burnt tasting. Maybe in my zeal for that bready note I was pulling a little too hard, but I deliberately slowed my pace while smoking the second cigar and had the same experience.


The American Classic has the mild and floral sweetness of a high quality Connecticut Shade cigar, but an added complexity that I found quite enjoyable. The combination of toast and bread and soft spicy cedar make it a great smoke to pair with a morning cup of coffee.

Most of us weren’t around for the days of “classic” American cigars, the days of Thomas Riley Marshall’s “good five cent cigar.”  (I shudder to think about what my grandfather would say about  a 15 dollar stogie.)  At around $4 USD this one is a bit pricier than Marshall’s budget smoke, but by today’s standards it is still a relatively good value. Give it a shot one of these sunny spring mornings.

Final Score: 87

Pinar del Rio Clasico Robusto


I had planned on reviewing the Pinar del Rio Oscuro Robusto this time around, but I must have pulled from a bad box because both of the cigars I had were underfilled and wouldn’t burn right. I’ve smoked this cigar before and I know this is a better cigar than that, so I decided to shelve the Oscuro review for now.

But I have really been enjoying the Habano Sun Grown robustos that I reviewed a few weeks back, so I was bound and determined to try another PDR this weekend. The Habano Sun Grown and the Oscuro are the flagship blends for PDR, but they have recently released a Connecticut wrapped stick called Clasico. It turned out that I had one of these Clasicos left from some sampler boxes I purchased a few months back. I opened the humidor, and I had the Clasico in my sights.

The Clasico gets no love (or even a mention) on the PDR website, but a recent review in Smoke Magazine offers the following anatomical description:

  • Wrapper: CT
  • Binder: Dom Rep
  • Filler: Dom Rep & Nicaragua

NewHavanaCigars.com lists the binder as Habano, so maybe we can guess that this is piloto cubano. There’s some pepper in this cigar and that may be where it’s coming from.


Construction Notes

Just about perfect all the way around. The roll is solid, and looking down the business end of this stick it looks like it’s filled quite nicely. The wrapper is typical of shade grown leaf — pretty, with minimal veins and a nice creamy complexion. The head of the cigar is flat in the cuban style, and the seams of the cap are almost invisible. Pre-light this cigar has a dusty, hay-like scent with a touch of cedar.

Once lit, this stogie burns with steady precision — in addition to the creamy and floral qualities of Connecticut Shade, that is one of the nice things about this wrapper. It burns beautifully and builds a solid light gray ash. My only complaint here is that it seems to burn very quickly. I had to stretch this one out to make it last thirty minutes.

Tasting Notes

The Pinar del Rio Clasico opens up with an oaky flavor accented with black pepper on the tongue. The aroma is earthy with a touch of vanilla and the smoke coats the mouth. It’s fairly mild in strength but the smoke itself has a heavier texture, more of a medium body I’d say.  The aroma is not as floral as some Connecticut wrapped cigars — while still soft and creamy the smoke is toasty, like charred oak barrels. As the cigar progresses I don’t notice many new flavors in transition — it sticks to its opening theme for the most part, though the finish grows and becomes a little drier. By the band the aftertaste is predominately earthy with a light peppery seasoning.

The combination of Connecticut creaminess with black pepper had me thinking that this could be a much lighter variation on the 601 Black Label, or maybe La Aurora’s 1495 Connecticut. It’s a mild to medium bodied cigar, but one with lots of flavor. A great morning cigar, or given how quickly it burns, maybe even a nice lunchtime smoke at work.

The robusto rings up at around 4 USD per stick when buying by the box, which is a great price for a quality smoke.  Currently available from New Havana Cigars or you can buy singles from Silo for a few cents more.

Final Score: 87


Ashton Cabinet Belicoso


Long ago and far away, in a distant decade called the Eighties, there was an upstart cigar brand called Ashton. Robert Levin, who had been running Holt’s Cigar Company, decided to get into the cigar manufacturing business and borrowed the Ashton name from the respected line of English pipes. The very first Ashtons were produced in the Dominican Republic by Henke Kelner of Davidoff fame, but within a few years Levin began to work with his old friends the Fuentes.

Levin and Carlos Fuente Jr. began developing the Ashton Cabinet blend in the late eighties. The story goes that Levin asked the Fuentes if they could make a Hemingway cigar with a Connecticut Shade wrapper. Carlito Fuente said they could, and after working the blend for a couple years the final result was the Ashton Cabinet cigar. The original release comprised three shaped sizes; today there are ten, including four perfectos.

Levin remarked in an interview for Cigar Aficionado that at the time of release, the Ashton Cabinet was the highest priced cigar on the market. He doesn’t say what that price was, but the original Ashton Churchill at the time sold for $2.50. My, how times have changed.

The Ashton Cabinet was developed right around the time that Tabacalera A. Fuente took over Ashton production from Tabadom. The blend includes “no less than six different tobaccos” and features a golden Connecticut Shade wrapper. The binder and filler are Dominican, and the belicoso in the line is a short torpedo at 5 1/4 inches long by a 52 ring gauge.

This little belicoso is a handsome cigar — with its finely formed head and firm roll it balances nicely in the hand. The wrapper is a smooth colorado claro typical of quality shade leaf, but I noticed in one sample that the color varied within the leaf. The section toward the foot was a slightly tawnier shade than the upper half. A little distracting, but not a serious defect.

This cigar starts up with a dry flavor that some have described as bitter, but I wouldn’t go that far. This astringency dissipates after half an inch or so, within a few pulls at most, and is replaced by a mild nutty flavor. The smoke becomes increasingly creamy, and then the distinguishing element of the Ashton Cabinet comes to light: a deliciously sweet aroma that in a strange way reminds me of bubblegum. Not as cloying as a big wad of Bazooka, but to me there is something very confectionary about it.

Into the second half the flavor gets nuttier and the creamy texture of the smoke approaches a medium body. At times a dash of pepper touches the palate and throat, but the overall impresson is smooth and sweet with some light kitchen spice.

The burn tends to be a bit erratic but is mostly self-correcting, and the draw is just about perfect. Aside from the wavery burn this stick earns good marks for appearance and construction.

The Ashton Cabinet Beli is a tad pricey at around 8 USD, and I can think of cigars that are comparable in quality that are more affordable (La Tradition Cubana comes to mind) but this is indeed a high quality premium cigar. If price isn’t a determining factor, this is certainly a cigar to try if you’re after a light to medium bodied cigar with that creamy spice one often finds with Connecticut Shade.