Tucked into the Foundation Cigar Co.’s booth during the 2017 IPCPR Convention & Trade Show was a unique project that brought together Foundation owner Nicholas Melilla and Sir George Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon and current owner of Highclere Castle.

If you have heard of Highclere Castle, you are probably a fan of the historical drama Downton Abbey, which is filmed at the 5,000-acre estate located in Hampshire, England. In addition, the estate was a used for the British comedy series Jeeves and Wooste.

The resulting collaboration cigar is appropriately named Highclere Castle, a five vitola line that is composed of a Connecticut shade wrapper covering a Brazilian Mata Fina binder and filler tobaccos hailing from the Jalapa and Ometepe regions of Nicaragua, including criollo, corojo, and a hybrid seed called Nicadán. The new brand is being rolled at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua factory and are being distributed by Foundation Cigar Co.

The Highclere Castle website gives a bit of background on the blend and process:

Highclere Castle Cigar was meticulously crafted by master blender, Nicholas Melillo, inspired by the style and flavor profile of cigars imported by the earlier Earls of Carnarvon to Highclere Castle at the turn of the 19th century. We control each step of the production process starting with carefully selecting the tobacco, monitoring the weather and growths year to year, and managing the rolling process.  Even our boxes are hand made from sustainably grown cedar logs grown on Nicaragua’s east coast at our friend Pedro’s family business, also located in Esteli.

Highclere Castle debuted in five different vitolas.

  • Highclere Castle Churchill (7 x 48) — $16 (Boxes of 20, $320)
  • Highclere Castle Corona (5 1/2 x 46) — $13 (Boxes of 20, $260)
  • Highclere Castle Petit Corona (5 x 42) — $12 (Boxes of 20, $240)
  • Highclere Castle Robusto (5 x 50) — $14 (Boxes of 20, $280)
  • Highclere Castle Toro (6 x 52) — $15 (Boxes of 20, $300)

  • Cigar Reviewed: Highclere Castle Toro
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: Tabacalera AJ Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A.
  • Wrapper: Connecticut Shade
  • Binder: Brazilian Mata Fina
  • Filler: Nicaragua (Jalapa & Ometepe)
  • Length: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 52
  • Vitola: Toro
  • MSRP: $15 (Boxes of 20, $300)
  • Release Date: September 2017
  • Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The Highclere Castle Toro is extremely attractive on the outside, with a pale golden brown wrapper that is so smooth to the touch I would almost describe it as slick. In addition, although there are very few veins present, there are a number of bumps running up and down its length, and I can see the slightest hint of a box-press. Aroma from the wrapper is combination of strong barnyard, cinnamon, aromatic cedar, leather and salt, while the cold draw brings flavors of pistachios, baker’s spices, cedar, earth and white chocolate sweetness.

The flavors in the Highclere Castle Toro become obvious immediately after I toast the foot: creamy pistachios, rich espresso, leather, dark chocolate and cedar, along with a slight floral sweetness on the finish that seems to be getting stronger as the first third burns down. In addition, I am tasting an interesting—albeit generic—citrus tartness on the retrohale that combines nicely with the small amount of white pepper that is present as well. While the draw is excellent, the burn is becomes problematic enough that I have to touch it up right after lighting it, though the smoke production is quite copious. Strength-wise, the toro hits a point between mild and medium pretty early on, but it does seem to be continuing to increase as the first third comes to an end.

I begin to notice a nice amount of salt on my lips as the second third of the Highclere Castle Toro begins, which only adds to the complexity of the other flavors in the profile, including strong hay, creamy pistachios, cedar, fresh ground coffee, leather and a touch of bread. The floral sweetness from the first third has become a bit stronger, although still not close to reaching the dominant spot. There is still some white pepper on the retrohale, but the generic citrus note is long gone by the halfway point, and I don’t see it returning. Construction-wise, the Highclere Castle still features a fairly wavy burn that does not seem to want to even up, but the draw is still excellent. As expected, the strength does increase, but the cigar still fails to reach the medium mark by the time the second third comes to a close.

The final third of the Highclere Castle Toro is features the same overt creaminess in the profile as the previous thirds, along with the same pistachio note that it has had from the beginning. Additional flavors include strong hay, freshly brewed coffee, creamy cedar, leather, earth and a touch of both white pepper and bitter espresso on the finish. While I am still tasting the saltiness on my lips every once in a while, it is much diminished from its high point near the halfway point. Although noticeably reduced in strength, the floral sweetness is also still hanging around, while the smoke production continues to be well above average. Finally, the burn has evened up nicely and the draw continues to impress, while the strength finally reaches the medium point close to the end of the cigar before I put the nub down with a little less than an inch to go.

Final Notes

  • One sample was noticeably inferior compared to the other two in every way: not nearly as complex, not as well constructed and significantly stronger, which in turn threw off the balance.
  • The Highclere Castle features a really nice band, especially considering the background of the cigar: regal without being ostentatious, and the white and gold colors work very well with the pale gold wrapper of the cigar.
  • Although I had to touch up a couple of the samples—both in the first third—construction was quite good overall.
  • Foundation Cigar Co. advertises on halfwheel.
  • The cigars smoke for this review were given to halfwheel by Highclare Castle Cigar Co.
  • The final smoking time for all three samples averaged one hour and 49 minutes.
86 Overall Score

Nicholas Melillo knows what he is doing with tobacco, and so when I first heard of this venture I was intrigued. The result of the collaboration is a balanced, enjoyable cigar that features a dominant pistachio note and quite a bit of floral sweetness. The blend gets better as it burns down and really takes a great turn flavor-wise right around the halfway point, becoming significantly more complex and enjoyable. Yes, the price is a bit high and one sample was obviously inferior to the other two, but if you are a fan of Connecticut-wrapped blends, don’t let that dissuade you from tracking it down to try for yourself.

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Brooks Whittington

I have been smoking cigars for over eight years. A documentary wedding photographer by trade, I spent seven years as a photojournalist for the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. I started the cigar blog SmokingStogie in 2008 after realizing that there was a need for a cigar blog with better photographs and more in-depth information about each release. SmokingStogie quickly became one of the more influential cigar blogs on the internet, known for reviewing preproduction, prerelease, rare, extremely hard-to-find and expensive cigars. I am a co-founder of halfwheel and now serve as an editor for halfwheel.