Cigar Review: Highclere Castle by Foundation Cigar Company

  • Highclere_straightVitola: Corona
  • 5.5” x 46 ring gauge 
  • $13.99
  • Purchased at Burns Tobacconist

Background

Highclere Castle was originally built in the 12th or 13th century in Hampshire, England, though there are records of people living on the land as early as 749 A.D. In the mid to late 1800s the home was transformed into the palace people know from movies and TV shows, most notably of late, Downton Abbey.

George Carnarvon is the 8th Earl Carnarvon and owner of Highclere Castle. He wanted to produce a cigar “reminiscent of those enjoyed at Highclere…during the 19th and early 20th centuries,” so he turned to Nick Melillo, founder of Foundation Cigar Company.

Melillo subsequently crafted a cigar that reflects that historic flavor profile and smoking style. The Highclere Castle Cigar is hand rolled in Estelí, Nicaragua, using a Connecticut Shade wrapper, and both Criollo and Corojo from the volcanic soils of Jalapa and the island of Ometepe. The binder is made from Mata Fina, a dark tobacco from Brazil. The blend is finalized with an exclusive hybrid seed the company has named Nicadán. The resulting smoke is exceptionally creamy and elegant, with notes of pepper, citrus, leather and fireplace.

We recently got Highclere Castle in at Burns Tobacconist as part of expanding our Foundation offerings. I smoked one when they first showed up and was very impressed by it. I bought this review cigar at Burns Tobacconist and it is about my third one.

Highclere_boxPrelight

The box for Highclere Castle is attractive, with a royal blue background and plenty of gold foil. An image of the castle is in gold foil on the outside, and burned into the wood of the inside of the box. The band of the cigar isn’t quite as impressive. I had someone suggest that it makes them think of a bundle brand by appearance. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but the emblem (“Highclere badge”?) on the front is a bit confusing in design and “Highclere Castle” itself is small enough as to be very difficult to read. Maybe not a horrible design, but I really feel like it could have been better.

The wrapper leaf was a brilliant golden color and really flawless in the evenness of color, texture and overall appearance. It had a clean grassy aroma to it, along with touches of earth and cedar. The foot of the cigar a richer, sweeter earthiness with lesser hints of coffee, cocoa powder and cedar.

The cold draw was good, but the prelight flavors didn’t really make much impact on me. I got grassy notes mostly with a touch of cedar.

Flavor

That unimpressive pre-light flavor, though, was followed by a bold opening for the Highclere Castle. I got a deep earthiness mixed with semi-sweet chocolate up front, followed by fiery pepper spice and solid cedar, and finished with the milder grassier notes of the Shade wrapper. The smoke was medium-plus in body right from the start and complex enough to easily justify the elevated price point. The retrohale was nutty and peppery. As I got close to the end of the first third, the flavors of earth, cedar and grass had merged into a creamy, but still-full-bodied and peppery, melange that was very nice.

Highclere_wrapperDuring the second third, the pepper backed off a bit and opened up the way for more sweetness to come through. There were additional semi-sweet chocolate notes, as well as a touch of citrus and vanilla. All the while grassy and earthy notes backed these up with a slight cedar note hold on in the finish.

The last third had the grassy notes take on a more sweet hay flavor with punctuating citrus flavor. Earth and cedar remained as supporting flavors and the pepper spice was relegated to the finish.

Highclere_bandConstruction

Build quality has been great on all the samples I’ve smoked of Highclere Castle.

Value

These are not cheap, even by the price standard Foundation set with Gueguense and Tabernacle. But I believe the experience they deliver justifies the price.

Conclusions

If you are a fan of the Padron Damaso or the Davidoff Millennium Blend, I predict you will enjoy Highclere Castle. It plays in the same medium-bodied ballpark while delivering a unique experience with more spice and more sweetness in the overall mix. The complexity of this cigar is fantastic, with enough change and enough flavor in each puff to keep me interested from beginning to end. Faced with the tough proposition of following up El Guegense and The Tabernacle, Nick Melillo has done a fantastic job of creating a higher-end milder Nicaraguan blend that is one of the best cigars of the year. The only “ding” against it is the banding, which could be improved with some minor alterations, but that doesn’t stop it from being a contender for my Cigar of the Year pick.

By-The-Numbers

Prelight: 2/2
Construction: 2/2
Flavor: 5/5
Value: 1/1
Total: 10/10

David Jones

David has been smoking premium cigars since 2001. He is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Leaf Enthusiast. He is a full-time retail tobacconist, working for Burns Tobacconist in Chattanooga, where he has also organized the Chattanooga Tweet-Up for the last four years. He is also an independent graphic designer and typesetter. Twitter: @dmjones1009

You may also like...