Undercrown by Drew Estate

I’m not sure what an undercrown is exactly. Is it like a cardinal’s zucchetto? Or more like a football player’s do-rag?  When the pontiff comes home after a hard day and hangs up his mitre, does he look a little like Deion Sanders in his undercrown?  I’m guessing no.

Maybe the only true Undercrown is Drew Estate’s recent creation,  a version of their extremely popular Liga Privada No. 9 and T52 blends. But anyone who has ever set foot in a cigar lounge knows there has to be an “interesting story” to accompany the cigar’s genesis. And no, it isn’t the one about the newly discovered bale of Cuban leaf mysteriously concealed in the cellar for fifty years. The story is that the torcedors in the Drew Estate factory were smoking up too many Liga Privadas, thereby depleting the precious Connecticut wrapper and other choice cuts of leaf necessary for building that primo smoke. Plant supervisors ordered the rollers to stop smoking the damn product, but the torcedors were so distressed by this sensible business decision that they started rolling a different but very similar blend to smoke in place of Liga Privadas. Ha! That’ll show those meddling supervisors.

Stories aside, the Undercrown is evidently designed to be a less exclusive blend that still bears some similarity to the Liga No. 9. Instead of the Connecticut broadleaf that torcedors love beyond all measure, a Mexican San Andres wrapper is employed, and a different priming of the same Connecticut broadleaf is used as binder. The filler is a blend of Brazilian Mata Fina and Nicaraguan Habano seed.

Sounds good to me. I prefer San Andres to Connecticut anyway.

Five chunky sizes are currently in production:

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

Construction Notes

The wrapper on the Undercrown Robusto is perfectly even in hue and much smoother than most Connecticut broadleaf. It’s an oily dark maduro that in some cases might arouse suspicion because it’s so even and consistent. But the roll is almost as perfect — firm and even as a dowel rod but with an excellent draw. The head of the cigar is simple, just a single cap that needs no fancy winding because the edges of the cap are almost seamless.

The burn is remarkably even for a maduro-wrapped cigar, and the burn line is extremely sharp. It burns slowly, perhaps due to the robust ring gauge, and the solid ash is smooth and light gray in tone. It doesn’t really act like a maduro — it’s far too civilized. But its civility only goes so far.

Overall construction excellent.

Tasting Notes

The trademark characteristic of the Undercrown is an immense amount of resting smoke. The room scent is very powerful and it starts up almost immediately, so if you want to clear the room of non-smokers light up an Undercrown and watch them fly.

The initial flavors are smooth and somewhat dry with just the right amount of pepper on the palate. The main flavors are typical of maduro style cigars — cocoa and chocolate, but there is a note of cedar buried under all this. The smoke texture is so full in body that it is almost palpable on the tongue. The volume of smoke this cigar produces is  astounding, but the taste is not overwhelming at all. This is another example of a cigar with a full-bodied texture that is not a nicotine shillelagh.

The taste of this cigar is quite concentrated, but the flavors are not terribly complex. The smoke is almost too rich to carry a whole lot of subtlety, but in the last third I detected some raisins and increasing spiciness swirled in with the chocolate and cocoa-based flavors. It’s certainly complex enough to keep my attention, and probably more complex than most maduros.

Conclusion

Anyone who appreciates a good maduro will get a kick out of this cigar. Those looking for a high octane thrill may need to look elsewhere, but if rich, thick, chocolatey smoke with a pinch of spice — all in a moderate strength package — strikes your fancy, you’ll want to check this one out.  Prices are in the $7-8 USD range, which falls outside my everyday smoke zone, but I could fit this guy in once or twice a week easily.

Final Score: 91

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Chateau Real Lord Tennyson

ChateauReal

Once upon a time I smoked an ACID Cigar called “Extraordinary Larry,” and that was the beginning and the end of my dangerous liaison with Drew Estate cigars. It wasn’t such a bad cigar, for what it was, but I knew immediately that “infused” cigars were definitely not for me.

A few years passed and I saw an ad in one of the cigar mags for Drew Estate’s new “Natural” blend. But when I saw the Drew Estate  logo I had a strange kind of synesthetic reaction and could taste the ACID welling up in my mouth. For relief, I turned the page.

And then I received the Summer issue of Cigar Magazine in the mail the other day. I was sitting in the smallest room of my house, where I am wont to read cigar magazines and such, and discovered a nicely written article about Jonathan Drew and the other folks who run Drew Estate. I passed over it, whistling past the graveyard, and read a couple other things. But something caught my eye. A sidebar page had a really interesting story about a bonchero in the Drew Estate factory whose arms were blown off in a pyrotechnics accident. Sad to say, this is what drew me in (so to speak) to the rest of the article, and then I remembered that I was given a Chateau Real cigar a few months ago. I thought it might  be time to try it.

For the history of Drew Estate, I recommend giving the Cigar Magazine article a once over. In brief: Jonathan Drew and Marvin Samel started selling cigars from a 16 square foot cart in the World Trade Center in 1995, in the middle of the cigar boom. It wasn’t easy to acquire quality cigars during the boom, so they started selling a house brand made by a local Dominican roller, calling it La Vieja Habana. Eventually the boom went bust and the company withered. Drew moved to Nicaragua and remade the company from scratch, inventing ACID cigars along the way. By 2007, Steve Saka was on board as company president and a new 96,000 square foot factory was open for business in Esteli. Around the same time, the company was about to introduce two new blends that would get plenty of attention: the Liga Privada No. 9 and the Chateau Real.

ChateauReal2

Construction Notes

This 7 x 50 double corona is called “Lord Tennyson” for reasons I cannot divine. Maybe it’s the Tennyson quote about there not being any good cigars in Venice and his having to leave in disgust? That would not be an auspicious way to name a cigar, but I can’t think of any other likely reason.

The wrapper on this cigar is a smooth even colored claro. Apparently the first run of this line turned out blotchy because the Mexican binder was showing through the Ecuadorian Connecticut — they fixed it by choosing a slightly darker shade of wrapper.  (And on the subject of Mexican leaf… it’s interesting that this detail is often left out in the promo material. The reality is that Mexican leaf has a place in cigar blending, but its reputation is wanting. Unfortunately the result has been a wholesale discounting of the entire country’s tobacco production.) The filler is a Nicaraguan and Dominican blend.

The single cap is clean and attractive. The roll is solid, but the cigar feels light in the hand. The draw has more resistance than I like, but it isn’t problematic, and the burn is slow and almost perfectly even. The ash is firm and holds well.  Overall this cigar has excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The pre-light flavor is grassy and hay-like, but once lit the Lord Tennyson offers plenty of traditional Connecticut Shade appeal: the first third is toasty with a touch of roasted nuts. The gently floral aroma is in balance with the flavors on the palate. The only unusual characteristic is a smattering of black pepper on the back of the tongue. ChateauReal3

The middle section is earthier and tastes a little sweeter than the first third. The smoke texture takes on a little more body and builds to about a medium, but remains creamy smooth and light in nicotine. This would be a morning or mid-day cigar for most smokers.

The last third presents some citric notes and gets a little dusty (that would be earthy and dry) but is otherwise still mild and smooth. Some very light tannins show up at the end, but not enough to ever get bitter.

Conclusion

The Chateau Real Lord Tennyson is a stately smoke that most fans of mild Connecticut Shade will enjoy. (Macanudo lovers take note.) There are no dramatic transitions and not much complexity, but those are hard to come by in mild bodied cigars anyway. The construction is damn near perfect, allowing the smoker to puff away and sip his or her latte with the Woe Street Journal worry-free.  The price is not bad either: around 6 or 7 US greenbacks per stick.

Final Score: 85

~cigarfan