Shortly before the annual IPCPR trade show in 2017, Foundation Cigar Company announced an unusual partnership, teaming with the 8th Earl Carnarvon and the family’s historic Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England. Through this partnership, Foundation Cigar Co. owner Nicholas Melillo set out to recreate a smoking experience not unlike the cigars that were enjoyed at the castle during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Highclere Castle sits on a historic, 5,000 acre estate and is owned and maintained by George Carnarvon, the current 8th Earl Carnarvon. The castle has been the filming location for various television series and is well-known as the primary set for the award-winning drama Downton Abbey.
With Highclere Castle, the cigar marks the first release from the newly formed Highclere Castle Cigar Company, managed by CEO Adam von Gootkin. The cigars are distributed by Foundation Cigar Co. in the U.S. and are also available at the castle itself, which records 110,000 visitors annually.
Highclere Castle Toro Breakdown
- Wrapper: Connecticut Shade
- Binder: Brazilian Mata Fina
- Filler: Nicaragua (Criollo | Corojo | Nicadán hybrid)
- Factory: Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua (Nicaragua)
- Production: Small Batch
- Vitola: 6″ x 52 (Toro)
- Price: $15.00 (MSRP)
Since 1862, tradition at the Highclere Castle has been to retire to the castle’s library after dinner for a cigar and whisky. Recently, records of the castle’s cigar purchases throughout the early 1900s have been discovered, leading to the family’s desire to recreate a comparable smoking experience.
To accomplish this, Melillo has built a mellow profile, using a Connecticut Shade wrapper, a Brazilian Mata Fina binder, and Nicaraguan fillers from Jalapa and Ometepe. To give the cigar a distinct identity, an exclusive hybrid varietal dubbed Nicadán was also incorporated. Nick has teamed with A.J. Fernández’s factory in Estelí for the cigar’s small-batch production, the same factory used for Foundation’s Charter Oak and The Tabernacle cigars.
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As could be expected from the cigar’s background, Highclere Castle is positioned in the ultra-premium market, and the look follows suit. The cigar’s boxes show vibrant colors of royal blue, gold, and lacquered wood, bound in the Foundation Cigar Co. seal. An imag of the castle is depicted in gold foil on the box’s lid and engraved once more on the lid’s underside. The cigar’s band bears the company’s crest-like logo, designed in gold ink and embossing over a cream backdrop. The look is regal and fitting for a project of this caliber.
The toro shows an extremely uniform bronze hue across the wrapper, with well-placed seams and faint veins. The build is very study, having the rigid construction of papier-mâché. The wrapper leaf’s texture is papery (slightly softer than a brown paper bag) and shows no signs of oils.
The smell on the wrapper is of barnyard, tangy/sour musk, crackers, and freshly cut grass. On the foot there are notes of lemon grass and citrus. A pre-light draw shows a good resistance (6/10) and a clean, cool, refreshing sensation, with added notes of sawdust and hay.
Highclere Castle Toro lights up with a creamy mouthfeel, complete with strong notes of salted peanuts and complimentary flavors of butterscotch and mint. There is a sharp white pepper zing through the nostrils (more intense than anticipated), with sour/bitter sensations on the tongue. Finally, glimpses of citrus and nutmeg appear in the retrohale on the finish.
The smoke activates the front taste buds (sweet), as well as the front-sides (salty) and mid-back (bitter); the latter being indicative of the cigar’s Connecticut wrapper. As indicated from the pre-light, the smoking draw is about perfect, offering just a touch of resistance (around 6.5/10). This pulls a medium amount of smoke on each puff, giving a smooth, almost fluffy texture on the palate. The construction holds strong in the cigar’s beginnings, showing a straight burn line and holding two inches of dusty, medium-gray ash.
Moving into the meat of the cigar, it’s hard not to note the smooth texture and delicate flavors of butterscotch, butter, and wheat. This is balanced by salted nuts and white pepper, helping to keep the profile from becoming dull. The profile is then joined by a rock candy sweetness, marking the “sweet spot” (no pun intended) of the toro.
The smoke in the cigar’s latter portions is similar on the tongue, only gravitating the salty aspects to the tongue’s back sides (acidic). The overall profile is mild in strength, medium in flavor, and just under medium in body. Final perceptions are of a heavy, condensed hay, custard cream, and an overall dustiness.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
I would, but I’m not going out of my way. The cigars offer everything you’d expect from a refined Connecticut, as well as a standout construction (not a single touch-up). But at $15, I’d really like to see some deeper complexities, progression, and/or some uniqueness or “it factor.”
- Nick Melillo is listed as one of the company’s founder’s (with the title of Master Blender) on the Highlere Castle website.
- The rating score of “Floby-Mobly” is old British dialect, meaning, “the feeling of not being unwell, but still not quite feeling your best.”
- Highclere Castle began shipping to U.S. retailers in the last week of September 2017 and began selling the first week of October.
- Flavor: Medium
- Strength: Mild
- Body: Medium-Light
- Salted Nuts
- White Pepper
- Smoke Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
- Pairing Recommendation: Lagavulin Scotch, Wheatwine Ale, Wheated Bourbon, Heavily Creamed Black Tea
- Purchase Recommendation: Try One
- Solid construction
- Smooth mouthfeel
- Great draw
- Lacks complexity
- Flavors can become monotonous