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This year, Foundation Cigar Co. and Highclere Castle Cigar Co. did what many companies do, release a maduro version of a cigar. In this case, it was the Highclere Castle, the cigar named for a well-known English castle in Highclere, Hampshire.

The Highclere Castle Victorian keeps the top-level basics of the original’s blend, but only the Brazilian mata fina binder is the same. The wrapper goes to a higher priming Ecuadorian habano maduro leaf that not only gives the cigar a darker color but also, according to the companies, a stronger flavor. The filler comes from Nicaragua.

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The original Highclere Castle line debuted in the summer of 2017, the result of an idea to create a 1900s style of cigar was brought to fruition by Foundation Cigar Co. and Highclere Castle. The specific cigar was designed to be one that would have been enjoyed by the ancestors of George Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon and current owner of Highclere Castle and its surrounding campus.

The Highclere Castle Victorian is available in the same five sizes and price points as the original:

  • Highclere Castle Victorian Petit Corona (5 x 42) — $12 (Boxes of 20, $240)
  • Highclere Castle Victorian Robusto (5 x 50) — $14 (Boxes of 20, $280)
  • Highclere Castle Victorian Corona (5 1/2 x 46) — $13 (Boxes of 20, $260)
  • Highclere Castle Victorian Toro (6 x 52) — $15 (Boxes of 20, $300)
  • Highclere Castle Victorian Churchill (7 x 48) — $16 (Boxes of 20, $320)
The cigars are made at Tabacalera AJ Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A. in Estelí.
  • Cigar Reviewed: Highclere Castle Victorian Toro
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: Tabacalera AJ Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A.
  • Wrapper: Ecuador (Habano)
  • Binder: Brazil (Mata Fina)
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Length: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 52
  • Vitola: Toro
  • MSRP: $15 (Box of 20, $300)
  • Release Date: August 2019
  • Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The Highclere Castle Victorian Toro is one of those cigars that looks imposing at first glance, though in an era of 60 ring gauge gordos, it’s a bit less so. Still, the wrapper has a meaty reddish-brown hue with a fair amount of oily sheen and tooth, which gives the cigar the bulk of its texture and aforementioned imposing stature. There’s enough color variance to see the seams without issue, while some veins add visual texture. The roll has a bit of give, and some spots are softer than I would expect. The foot of the cigar has a very mild and sweet aroma, though pepper makes an appearance after a bit of a delay. The cold draw is a touch firm, specifically as it feels like the head of the cigar is well-packed. Flavors are again on the mild side, with a bit of sweetly glazed beef jerky the first thing to stand out, though some samples offer a bit of a chocolate milk sweetness as a companion flavor.

There’s a lot more pepper to be found in the first puffs of the Highclere Castle Victorian Toro, particularly on a retrohale just about a minute after the cigar was fully toasted. It’s punchy, tingling and lingering, a combination that I don’t find in a lot of cigars. While the flavor isn’t irritating, it is robust—earthy and peppery enough—to ever so gently scratch the back of the throat. By just about a half-an-inch into the cigar, the profile is showing itself to be pepper-forward both on the palate and in the nose, with occasional puffs getting a bit of char. I tap the ash off at just over an inch long as the cigar starts approaching the second third, with pepper still the dominant part of the profile and making for a very enjoyable retrohale. By the first third, the realization that this is much more a ramped up habano than a typical maduro with sweetness is becoming increasingly clear, as it is a punchy but very well balanced smoke, never trying to do much but just doing what it is meant to do.

Heading into its second third, the Highclere Castle Victorian Toro continues to put off impressive amounts of smoke, something I generally only mention when it’s notable, which it feels like in this case. The cigar hasn’t changed a ton since the first third, sticking with pepper and earth, but it does feel like a bit of sweetness is beginning to work itself into the profile. That said though, this is really a habano-forward profile, with flavors of pepper and wood big but tightly focused something that is not easy to achieve but proves to be incredibly enjoyable and rewarding. The draw, burn and smoke production are all very good, with ash holding on well if not disturbed but breaking off cleanly when the time feels right.

It is with the wood flavors of the Highclere Castle Victorian Toro that I find the most changes at the final third of the cigar, turning a bit more towards maple with a bit of sweetness coming along with it. The net result is a profile that is a bit more rounded, if at the seeming expense of the brightness of the overall profile. Pepper is still a prominent part of the Highclere Castle Victorian Toro, tingling the tongue with each puff, even after the smoke has been blown out of the mouth. Retrohales are a bit sharper than in the previous two thirds, not by the pepper’s doing but by the addition of minerals and even a touch of metals. The pepper takes a big step forward as the burn line passed where the band had been, and the cigar is now sitting at full flavor, and getting close to the same mark in terms of strength. It’s a profile that fills the nose with peppery smoke and my first encounter with it nearly stops me in my tracks. At this point, when to put it down is a matter of personal preference, as you might not want to keep going with the pepper but you almost certainly won’t be disappointed or feeling like you left the best part of the cigar in the ashtray.

Final Notes

  • Highclere Castle and its surrounding campus is the setting of the television show Downton Abbey, which I have never watched.
  • It has also appeared in a number of other productions, including Eyes Wide Shut and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, among others.
  • For as much flavor as the Highclere Castle Victorian Toro offers, I can’t say I got a ton of strength from it. It seems to do all of its work above the neck, which I certainly appreciate after having smoked a number of cigars that seemed more interested in giving me a gut punch than any semblance of flavor.
  • Construction on all three samples was fantastic.
  • I have yet to smoke the other sizes, but I am certainly intrigued to do so. I do wonder if the smaller ring gauges might produce a profile that isn’t as in balance as this size, as it feels like the thicker ring gauge gives the blend enough room to breath and fully express the flavors contained within.
  • The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time was one hour and 50 minutes on average.
  • Site sponsors Atlantic Cigar Co., Cigar Hustler, Famous Smoke Shop and JR Cigar carry the Highclere Castle Victorian Toro.
92 Overall Score

As we've noted before, the reviewer doesn't know what the score will be when submitting a review, but my guess is that this will be pretty high and it will be well-deserved. First and foremost, this is not what I was expecting from what had been dubbed the maduro version of the Highclere Castle; rather, it is the best flavors of that cigar amped up and served up with fantastic balance and impressive complexity. What it lacks—if you want to use that word—in traditional maduro sweetness, it more than makes up for in nearly perfect habano flavors, with the Brazilian mata fina binder contributing just the right amount of accent flavors and the Nicaraguan filler providing a fantastic base off of which to build. The construction is also nearly flawless, making for a truly special cigar. Highly recommended for those looking for a cigar with a big, pronounced flavor that seemingly never hits an off-note.

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Patrick Lagreid
About the author

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.

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