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.

Conclusion

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.

http://www.rockstonecoffee.com/

https://www.jamesoncigars.com/

Final Score: 88

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Santos de Miami by Jameson

Not many American cigar lovers found it an occasion to celebrate, but last week marked the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s Proclamation 3447 and the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba. Since February 7, 1962, Americans have either had to seek out Non-Cuban substitutes for their inimitable Cuban favorites or to skirt the law and risk possible legal sanctions. Many of us — and I won’t say who — have done both.

Whatever your political viewpoint — and there are as many points for as there are against the embargo — a positive consequence of the ban has been the development of cigar industries in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua that now rival that of Cuba’s. And this has been a huge boon for cigar lovers everywhere.

The “forbidden fruit” factor has always been an element at play in the blending and marketing of cigars to Americans, but to a certain extent this has faded with the introduction of super premiums from Fuente, Padron, Tatuaje, Davidoff, and many others. But the elusive flavor of Cuban tobacco is never far from our minds. And every once in a while a cigar comes along that gets very close to that flavor. I think Jameson has done that with Santos de Miami.

Santos de Miami is a Dominican puro with a Havana corojo wrapper, Criollo 98 binder, and a blend of criollo and corojo filler leaves. Only two sizes are made: a corona size called Alma (5 x 46) and a toro sized Haven (6 x 56). The cigars feature a box press so extreme that the sticks resemble wafers. They are presented in 10-count boxes of Spanish cedar that preserve the press. (Similar to La Flor Dominicana’s Factory Press line.)

Construction

Jameson’s Santos de Miami cigar is already distinctive with its box press and art deco band — add a pig tail cap and the distinction is complete. The claro wrapper shows some fine veins, but is otherwise clean. The draw is excellent, and the burn is only a little off kilter. This seems to be standard with box-pressed cigars, but in this case the uneven burn was a minor issue and corrected itself over time. The ash was solid, smooth, and delightfully quadrilateral.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Haven and the Alma sizes smoke like very different cigars, though they share the same musky, earthy and Cubanesque aroma. The corona-sized Alma is a sharper, somewhat bolder smoke. It fires up with a pinch of cayenne pepper in the sinuses and then quickly evens out to a smoother but still full-flavored profile of cedar and musk. The Alma burns with a little more passion, but is also less complex than the larger vitola.

The toro-sized Haven is much less peppery and leans on the musk and cedar more heavily than the smaller cigar. The smoke texture is just as creamy smooth though, and it seems to have an additional bass note that the Alma lacks. The middle section is earthy with a sweet cedar edge, and the final third rests on its woody foundation while the earthy flavors take a back seat.

What both sizes have in common is an earthy and musky scent with a cedar note. I’m certainly no expert when it comes to Cuban cigars, but this aroma is really close to what I’ve found in many standard line Habanos. The scent is not quite as delicate, but I find it to be very similar. In any case the aroma complements the sharper character of the Alma just as well as the more complex flavors of the Haven.

Conclusion

Santos de Miami is not an easy cigar to find, but truly “boutique” cigars generally aren’t. This is one worth seeking out if your tastes run to earthy and medium-bodied Cuban-style smokes. At least you won’t have to get them from a guy who knows a guy and end up with cigars of mysterious provenance.

The retail price for the Alma is around 7 USD and the Haven sells for 8. They are available from a few online outlets, but you might as well go straight to the source at Jamesoncigars.com. Pick up a pound of Rockstone coffee while you’re at it and let me know how it is.

Final Score: 91

Declaration by Jameson

For my wild Irish friends and relatives the name Jameson has always been associated with one thing and one thing only: uisce beatha. That’s whiskey with an “e.” Fine Irish wine.

But not anymore. A couple years ago Jameson cigars arrived, thereby providing the perfect match for the perfect drink, a combination which by Winston Churchill’s example can be enjoyed even at breakfast. I’m not about to follow that example, but I’m not about to argue with a man who leads his forces to victory behind a bottle of Johnny Walker Black.

Indeed, cigar smokers can look to Churchill as a model of defiance as we fight the powers that would like to snuff us out. It is in that same spirit that Jameson’s new cigar is called Declaration. It is a blend designed to inspire personal liberty, or as the promotional material advises,  “Smoke to be Free.”

The Declaration is a Dominican puro featuring a Habano 98 wrapper and a Criollo 98 binder. They are manufactured by Tabacalera LTC (La Tradicion Cubana) in Santiago, and are available in boxes of 21. There is only one size: the 5.5 x 50 “Iniquity.”

I confess some confusion about the meaning of the name Iniquity, which means something like licentiousness or sin.  I could give in to the urge to discuss the distinctions between liberty and license, and how these might apply to the legislation of morality, but I think I’d rather smoke this cigar instead.

Construction Notes

This cigar is built like a tank but it performs with finesse. The wrapper is a dark and rustic looking colorado maduro. Some sections of the wrapper are more oily than others, which is a little strange, but aesthetic appeal is not this cigar’s forte anyway. The head is formed well with firm shoulders. The cap is pasted on rather than wound.

The roll is solid and the draw is firm without being tight. At times the ash can be a little flaky at the perimeter but when it’s ready to drop it falls like a stone without crumbling. The burn is even and effortless.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The Declaration Iniquity starts up with a flavor of hard wood and a sweet note of maple syrup.  After an inch or so some peppery spice kicks in and the flavors develop more complexity. This cigar seems leathery or meaty on the palate, but it has a sweet and woody aroma that blends well with the other flavors. It’s smooth, but the varied flavors and subdued punch keep it interesting.

The mid section gets a little spicier on the tongue and the finish lengthens. The aroma is still sweet though, woody with a touch of graham cracker.

There are no dramatic changes in the last third, just a deepening meaty spice. The syrupy note transitions to caramel. The aftertaste gets a little charred in the last lap, but aside from that it smokes well to the nub.

Conclusion

Jameson’s Declaration cigar is a tasty and finely rolled medium-bodied smoke that I think almost anyone would enjoy.  The sweet aroma is quite distinct from the palate flavors, lending the smoke a complexity that will interest veterans, but at the same time it’s smooth enough that it won’t frighten off the novices. Overall it’s a very well balanced cigar.

The Declaration Iniquity retails for around $6.00 per stick, which is excellent for any cigar, but for a Dominican puro it’s outstanding.

Final Score: 90

Contest

I want to thank Jameson for offering samples of their Declaration cigar for this review by sharing their generosity with a lucky reader. Just leave a comment about Jameson or La Tradicion Cubana cigars below and I will pick one entry at random to receive a few of these fine smokes for their own enjoyment.  Contest ends January 31, 2010. U.S. residents only please.

And don’t forget to enter the Jameson Humidor contest! All you have to do is sign up for their newsletter and you’re eligible to win a very sweet Vanderburgh Forteleza Humidor stocked with Declaration cigars.