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Drew Estate Undercrown Gran Toro

Today Punch and Draw review the Undercrown gran toro by Drew Estate, among chatter about cedar spills and retrohaling.Liga Undercrown Gran Toro cigar by Drew Estate

P: I’m coming to you live (well …as of the time of this writing) from the lounge at Big Sticks in Mesa, Arizona. I’m hanging out here to do our review tonight, after having dropped my son off where he works, nearby. Hey Draw, they’ve got some Gurkha’s on sale here for 40% off, so if there’s anything you’re interested in, I can try to pick some up.

D: Good to know, Punch-brother, as Churchill’s at Topeka is having a Gurkha event this Thursday, featuring the Seduction. Are there any of those on display?

P: I’ll ask the management.

You know, I really try not to be influenced by “reputation” when doing reviews, because I know how strong the power of suggestion can be, and I want to be objective in my observations, not feel like I’m perceiving it like I’m “supposed to”. The Drew Estate Undercrown is one of those cigars that would’ve been good for me to get “blind”, as it is so highly spoken of — this along with it’s older brother, the Liga Privada.

D: Sniffing the wrapper, I get a subtle lavender, floral scent. Sniffing the foot directly, I’m getting more coffee/bitter chocolate. It’s an exceptional looking smoke. I love this mottled colorado-maduro finish, but this puppy is almost double-maduro colored – if that’s a legitimate color label. Anyway, it’s beautiful. Firm construction without being brittle; no soft spots. No defects in the wrapper. This should be nice.

P: I’m getting plum. I’m also getting some floral notes. The guy at checkout asked me if I wanted any cedar. Thinking it would be nice to have for lining for my homemade humidors, I said, “sure”. So the clerk pulls out a couple of sheets of cedar, and begins breaking them up into large splinters for me. Therefore, I now have cedar spills to use when lighting, something I’m eager to try out because I’m ready for this cigar!

D: Dry draw yields brown bread; rye. Some earth. Maybe some chocolate; it’s a bread-sweet, not a sugar sweet. Toasting yields a little ginger. Hmmm…. let’s light this up. Awh, right away the outer cap is peeling. But it’s not appealing. –beat– I’m going to try to stick it back down. Flavors? It’s coming through as a color: burgundy. I’m going to say beef bourguignon. It has a strong flavor, but it’s in a flavor-battery that I’m not experienced at describing. The attack and middle are definitely different from the finish. More as this develops…

P: The initial flavor is… I don’t know… You are right. It is a hard-to-define mix. It is nice and rather complex… I can identify a very mild cedar among earthy leather. Oh, wait, is that the tobacco or a taint from lighting it with a spill?

D: Leather, that’s it. This is all leather. Different leathers; the attack is worn, trail leather. The middle is suede, and the finish is new leather – I think that means I’m tasting tannins. As for the stick, I’ve already had to pluck off both caps. I’m now consciously counter-spinning it as I pull it from my lips so I don’t start unwrapping it.

P: Wow. I don’t know what happened, but at about a quarter-inch in, the flavor just dropped off. It mellowed out. Maybe this is a good time to practice a retro-hale. I did some reading earlier, and…. okay, I’ve just successfully done a retro-hale. That does reveal quite a bit more flavor – more of the classic components of smoke – the burning wood type.

D: Okay, what’s the technique?

P: Well, just draw some smoke into your mouth, blow it back out as usual, but stop while some is still in your mouth. Then close your lips and push it toward the back of your mouth and slowly blow it out your nose. I do a kind of backwards puff of my cheeks to pressurize my mouth and push the smoke back and out as I exhale through the nose. It is an unnatural action which you have to train yourself for until you get used to it. It is kinda like how you made the “piggy” noise when you were a kid – only don’t feel like you need to make the noise when at the lounge.

D: I remember that. Mom took my cigars away because I made “piggy” noises at the table. Seriously, let’s see…. oh, I don’t like that at all. It triggers the same reflex that I get when avoiding hot liquids – not that I put those up my nose, either.

On a positive note, smoke production from the foot is ridiculous. It’s talking constantly, like an ex-girlfriend who is prattling on to you about her new man. Mouth-smoke is about average, and I appreciate the smell of the smoke. My ash is holding on well, but I notice it is flaking off a bit, leaving an ash trail on my keyboard and lap.

P: Nearing the end of the first third, my best overall description is “smooth”. There is some cane sugar on the attack and occasionally a mild, white cake sweetness with leather on the finish. In general the flavor has no single component that is jumping up and down yelling “hey notice me”. It is a nice, polite profile.

D: Well said. Nice pick-up of the sugar on the attack. I’m not getting so much cake on the finish as I am some almond sweetness. The aftertaste has a hint of green chile. But yes, very smooth overall. Checking in at the Drew Estate site, I was looking for the makeup of this Undercrown gran toro. They are using different terms: Capa for the cap, Capote for the binder, and Tripa to identify the filler. I learned the meaning of those from an article in Cigars Magazine.

P: Apparently the rollers who were making the Liga Privada liked it so much it was their smoke of choice. When they were having trouble meeting the demand for the Liga, management asked the rollers to stop smoking it so they’d have more to sell. When the bosses tried what the rollers had begun smoking instead, they liked it and added it to the production lineup. And, to tag all of that, just by chance, today I happen to be wearing my Drew Estate t‑shirt from the Rocky Mountain Cigar Festival this year!

D: What a coincidence! Speaking of the t‑shirt, I was called to help move furniture in the basement of my church last Saturday afternoon, after some flooding had been remediated. I was wearing my Drew Estate tee, and one of the women at the church commented on the artwork. I was a little embarrassed at first, but she shared that one of her sons was turning 18 next month, and he said that he wanted to smoke a cigar on his birthday. I’ll be gifting a cigar from my collection to him based on our reviews.

Entering the second third… it just went out. Recalling while I’m relighting, the flavor seems to mellow a bit, for me, from the stronger leathers, and letting in more sweetness overall. The flavor remains smooth, but not as strong as before. More almond in the middle, and more suede in the finish. I’m also getting a pervasive hint of pink grapefruit. For what it’s worth, it went out during a 30-second rain shower here – amazing how sensitive a cigar is to humidity.

P: I’m paring this smoke tonight with an unsweetened iced tea from Chik-fil‑a. And it is going real well.

D: And I’m trying my first Shock Top Belgian White. Going from the cigar to the beverage lifts the floral notes in the Belgian-style ale. Coming back to the cigar, the beer lifts the creaminess of the cigar throughout the draw-profile. It also lends a fruity-tone to the leathers, and elevates the grapefruit sweetness. I’d say they are a compatible pairing, but the beer does dominate the flavor here. I’d also note that Shock Top has a rather unique age-gate on their website.

P: Starting into the last third, it is time to remove the band. I’m having a dickens of a time (I wonder where that phrase came from) finding the band’s joint to peel it off. It turns out that the end is neatly hidden around the edge of the circular design on the back, and I was looking for a squared off edge. Some pepper is creeping in and I get some redwood in the retrohale.

D: I did just slip the band a moment ago: I was not able to find the seam of the band, either, so I slid it off the head, and that took the last remaining cap-leaf with it. That’s okay, though, as the rest of the wrapper is fully intact. Well, except where I’ve burned it, of course.

I’m down to about three fingers from the tip. The burn line has been good, self-adjusting with no touch-up needed. Ash has good hang-time; usually an inch-and-a-half. It remains a very flaky ash, so expect it to shed as you smoke it. The flavor has become more uniform, with old suede throughout. The almond is turning a little toward English walnut. Still no significant cedar or hot pepper, and still overall very smooth.

P: Yes, the flavors are still playing well together, even here near the end. I dare say I’m getting a butteriness at times, now, and only a very slight cedar

D: Oh, do dare! As I am working this thing down, I noticed that my slow, short drags were leaving the wrapper behind. When I relit it, the flavor from the Otapan Negro Ultimo Corte (a variety of Mexican San Andreas) seems to lend the overall creaminess and subtle sweetness. At somewhere between two and one fat finger to go, there’s just too much physical heat slipping through – and that’s a shame. If I had a pipe handy, I’d finish it all.

Burn it or Spurn it?

P: Get a cedar spill, match, lighter, acetylene torch – whatever you can find — and burn it! It was milder in the beginning than I expected, given how dark the wrapper is. It had a well balanced “natural” flavor — “natural” as in “log cabin in the woods” natural — flavor all the way through. The final third is where it began to really stand out from the crowd by maintaining that balanced, smooth, flavor — without degenerating into a few “hey, look at me” flavors — until the very nub where cedar just started to step forward. I found it to be medium-full bodied, and medium-full strength, as well. I had to pace myself to avoid having to finish it while lying down. I’d say this one lives up to its reputation. Nub it, if you can.

D: Fine, real fine. A pleasant smoke all the way. This is not a sweet treat, but a more refined, elegant…may I say “serious” stick? The Drew Estate Undercrown gran toro lives up to its reputation, and is a fine tribute to the under-sung makers in their fine blend. Strong enough, and flavorful enough, that you may want to rush it – but savor it instead. Yes, nub this! I recommend you make sure to keep the wrapper lit (if that’s a problem in your climate), as it really does contribute an important flavor. And I never really did get “cedar” – it was that good!

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