Near the middle of September 2013, as the South Florida sunlight lapped across the rolling swells of the Atlantic Ocean, Robert Caldwell decided, once again, to reenter the premium cigar business. Caldwell, a former Miami commercial real estate developer, had begun his foray into the tobacco business with the establishment of The Hotel Humidor in 2008, providing humidors and a hand-picked selection of cigars to high-end hotels and restaurants. At its zenith, the company’s clients included The Four Seasons Hotel Group, W Hotels, The Kimpton Hotel Group and Michael Mina.
In the early winter months of 2012, Robert partnered with Christian Eiroa—the former president of Camacho Cigars—and opened The Wynwood Cigar Factory in the heart of one of Miami’s major art districts. Employing ten, highly-skilled torcedors, Wynwood produced an assortment of premium cigars using tobacco grown on Eiroa’s family farm, which was located in the Jamastran Valley of Honduras. However, the partnership between the two men did not prosper, and Caldwell left the company some ten months later. Almost immediately after his departure, Robert’s natural restlessness drove him to make the decision to start his own brand of cigars.
The Caldwell Collection was introduced to critical acclaim in the spring of 2014 and consisted of three distinctive lines of cigars, each using aged and hard-to-find, “Grade A” tobacco, grown in the Dominican Republic and rolled at Tabacalera William Ventura. Unique names and eye-catching artwork were used in debuting the collection—Long Live The King, The King Is Dead, and Eastern Standard. The latter consisted of a Connecticut Hybrid Ecuadorian wrapper, a Habana Dominican binder, and a combination of Ligero, Seco, and Viso filler leaves from Nicaraguan and the Dominican Republic.
At the recent 2016 IPCPR Trade Show in Las Vegas, in an artsy-looking booth littered with striking graphics and paintings, The Caldwell Collection formally unveiled a line-extension to the Eastern Standard—Midnight Express. According to Robert Caldwell, “Midnight Express is an Eastern Standard Maduro.”
Midnight Express Jockey Club Robusto Breakdown
- Wrapper: Ecudorian Aracon Maduro
- Binder: Dominican Habano
- Filler: Dominican Corojo | Dominican Criollo
- Factory: Tabacalera William Ventura (Dominican Republic)
- Production: Regular Production
- Vitola: 5″ × 50 Robusto
- Price: $11.20
The Midnight Express is a maduro-wrapped addition to Robert Caldwell’s highly-rated Eastern Standard collection of cigars. This line extension is offered in four sizes—Per Se Corona (5⅜” x 46, $10.00), Jockey Club Robusto (5” x 50, 11.20), Palais Royale Toro (6” x 52, $12.60), and the Outernationalist Piramide (6” x 50, $13.80). Each of the vitolas is shipped in twenty-count wooden boxes.
When the Eastern Standard line was initially released in 2014, Caldwell inserted two index-sized cards within each box of cigars. The first card contained a whimsical backstory concerning the brand—in 1916, a Finnish fisherman named Hans Nielsen Lahkso, who was working for the United Royal Finnish Herring Oil Company, invented dirt in Cuba after being shipwrecked and then raised by a school of fish. The second card contained detailed information concerning the construction of the cigar, including the exact percentages of the various tobacco used in the filler blend.
However, Robert Caldwell has elected not to provide an equivalent amount of information with the majority of his new releases. Gone are the exact percentages and vintages, listing a more general blending recipe for Midnight Express. The cigars use a similar Ecuadoran Arapiraca Maduro wrapper leaf found on the limited-edition последний царь—The Last Tsar—but at a lower priming.
The Eastern Standard Maduro Midnight Express Jockey Club Robusto is a striking cigar with a near-perfect pigtail cap that sits flush with the cigar’s crown. The primary band is a negative image of the one used on the original Eastern Standard cigars—the sketch of the bearded man drawn by Evocal, a Miami-based street artist, in brilliant gold against a black background. Flanking the image are the words “Eastern” and “Standard” along with the cigar’s motto of “Live East” and “Die Young.” At the foot, a cream-colored band with black type identifies the cigar as a Midnight Express.
The Aracon Maduro wrapper is fairly smooth, with a touch of tooth, some visible seams, a few large veins, and a bit of oily gloss. Beneath the main band, two small blotches of roller’s glue catch the rays from an autumn sun. The hue of the cigar is a half shade darker than the Crayloa Crayon color called “Smokey Topaz.” Firmly packed with just a tat of give at the foot of the cigar, the aroma of the maduro wrapper is a blend of aged tobaccos with just a touch of caramel sweetness, while the open foot smells of damp earth, hay, hardwoods, and barnyard feculence.
After the cap of the robusto is opened with a double guillotine cut—to ensure the maximum amount of taste from the wrapper, binder, and filler—the initial cold draw is fairly open with just a smidgen of resistance. The palate discerns nuances of natural tobacco, tilled soil, and inorganic minerals.
After toasting the foot and lighting the Eastern Standard Maduro Midnight Express Jockey Club Robusto with a double soft flame, the first puff produces an immediate blast of spice, followed by a smorgasbord of earthy qualities. As the cigar settles into the burn, the fermented Aracon Maduro wrapper begins to enhance the initial notes, filling every nook and cranny of the mouth with hearty and rich plumes of smoke. The draw is practically perfect—easy and open—producing a prodigious amount of smoke output. Flavors and aromas are redolent of powdered cocoa, freshly-roasted coffee beans, charcoal, earth, natural tobacco, and warm, lightly-salted walnuts. Red and white pepper with a smattering of anise is dominant on the retrohale. At this point in the smoking experience, the vitola is medium-full in body and medium-full in strength.
As the Jockey Club Robusto burns toward its second half, the aromas and flavors continue to build in intensity. The initial coffee bean flavor transitions to heavier ristretto shots of espresso, followed by a slight increase in saltiness. Notes of licorice, leather, suede, rawhide, and vanilla appear, adding to the overall complexity of the cigar. Room aroma created by the Midnight Express is reminiscent of porterhouse steaks grilled over a hardwood-fueled fire on a crisp October evening. The burn line is uneven and wavy, holding an inch of silver ash with bold stokes of gunmetal gray. After a touch-up, the ash plummets to the floor in a single clump. On the retrohale, the white and red pepper notes are augmented by aromas of freshly-milled black peppercorns and vanilla.
During the final half, the Jockey Club Robusto transitions into a full-bodied smoke in terms of both body and strength, while the flavors begin to meld toward four dominant notes—coffee, charcoal, terra firma, and roasted nuts. While the vitola experiences a loss of the complexity present in the first half, the draw continues to be open and nearly perfect, providing a lush and very pleasurable smoking experience. The cigar, however, requires two more touch-ups at roughly one-inch intervals as it burns toward the nub.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
The answer to that question is, “A few times a month.” While I was impressed with the look of the Midnight Express Jockey Club Robusto, along with its combination of complexity and intensity during the first fifty minutes of the smoking experience, the aromas and flavors seemed to stall a bit during the second half. There is a wheelbarrow load of excellent maduro cigars available in the $8.00 to $10.00 price range and while the Midnight Express is a very good cigar, it is also a bit expensive.
- Smoking Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
- Pairing Recommendations: coffee and espresso, stout beer, bourbon, and dark-whiskey cocktails
- Purchase Recommendation: 5-pack and/or box spilt.
- Initial complexity
- Mouth-filling flavor
- Frequent touch-ups
- High price point