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Cigar Review: Charter Oak CT Shade Grande

1 Jul 2019

If you’ve ever met Nicholas Melillo, popularly known as “Nick R. Agua” on Facebook and Twitter, you know he is Connecticut through and through. I can recall talking with him about college hoops when I was in Estelí for a Drew Estate Cigar Safari (this was years ago, long before Melillo left Drew Estate to found the Connecticut-based Foundation Cigar Co.). He was boasting of the success of UConn. A few years later, while I wasn’t with him at the time but, I’m sure he was smiling extra wide when both the UConn men and women won NCAA national titles in the same year (2014).

Melillo, who got his start at a cigar shop near New Haven, Connecticut, established Foundation Cigar Co. in 2015. His portfolio of cigar brands now includes El Güegüense, The Wise Man Maduro, Tabernacle, Tabernacle Havana Seed, The Upsetters, Highclere Castle, and Charter Oak.

The latter, like Melillo, has its roots firmly in the Nutmeg State. It is named for The Charter Oak, an “unusually large white oak tree growing on Wyllys Hyll in Hartford, Connecticut… from around the 12th or 13th century until it fell during a storm in 1856,” reads a Wikipedia article. “According to tradition, Connecticut’s Royal Charter of 1662 was hidden within the hollow of the tree to thwart its confiscation by the English governor-general. The oak became a symbol of American independence and is commemorated on the Connecticut State Quarter.”

The Foundation Cigar Co. website provides more color: “Charter Oak cigars hail from the same fertile valley in Connecticut that native son and master blender… Nick Melillo was born and raised. [They] feature some of the most prized and sought-after Cuban-seed leaf varieties from the exquisite Estelí and Jalapa regions of Nicaragua.”

The filler may be Nicaraguan, and the binder Sumatran, but the centerpiece of the blend—the wrapper—is a golden Connecticut Shade leaf (Charter Oak is also available in a dark Connecticut Broadleaf variety that swaps the Sumatra binder for a Habano binder from Nicaragua). Five sizes are available, all made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua: Toro (6 x 52), Grande (6 x 60), Lonsdale (6.25 x 46), Petit Corona (4.25 x 42), and Rothschild (4.25 x 50).

The Grande retails for about $6, which makes it highly affordable. Off the bat, there are a couple signs that might lead you to believe this is not a terribly expensive smoke. For one, the band—while pleasant in color and design—has no raised lettering and a minimalist approach. Second, one of the three samples I examined for this review had a prominent “frog eye” on the front of the cigar. This discoloration is harmless and typically indicates the presence of a water droplet during the fermentation process. That said, I suspect a more expensive cigar with a similar discoloration might have been caught in its quality control process and never made it to shipment, instead being labeled a “segundo.”

Despite a closed foot, the cold draw is easy once the cap is clipped. The pre-light notes are delicate and reminiscent of sweet hay and almond—classic Connecticut Shade aromas.

Once lit, the moderately spongy Grande emits a mild- to medium-bodied profile of cream, white pepper, peanut, and café au lait. It’s pleasant, albeit straightforward. And that’s essentially what this cigar has to offer, light to nub.

Construction is solid throughout the long smoke—including a straight burn line, smooth draw, solid ash, and generous smoke production. But the unchanging, unpretentious taste tends to overstay its welcome, especially when you consider the Grande’s large format.

Normally, I wouldn’t reach for a cigar of this girth. But my retailer only had Charter Oak CT Shade in this format, and I wanted to give it a try. After three Grandes, I’m anxious to try the blend in a different, thinner vitola. I suspect it would score better.

Charter Oak CT is Melillo’s attempt at an affordably priced, everyday cigar for any time of day. In my opinion, it’s best suited as a golf course smoke. It changes very little throughout, and does not require your full attention. That’s ultimately why I’m settling on a rating of three stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

3 Responses to “Cigar Review: Charter Oak CT Shade Grande”

  1. Ken S Tuesday, July 2, 2019 at 11:22 pm #

    I’m not a fan of the large ring gauge cigars either. But I’ve had the Rothschild and the Toro and both are great everyday budget sticks. Well made with a solid flavor profile, although don’t expect any changes during the smoke. A great straight shooter, so to speak.

    • Patrick A Wednesday, July 3, 2019 at 8:21 am #

      I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I find the thinner, smaller vitolas more appetizing. I’ll give them a try and report back.

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