Highclere Castle by Foundation Cigars | Cigar Reviews by the Katman

Wrapper: Connecticut Shade
Binder: Brazilian Mata Fina
Filler: Nicaragua (Jalapa Criollo & Ometepe Corojo)
Size: 5.5 x 46 Corona
Strength: Mild/Medium
Price: $13.00 MSRP ($11.75 online)

Today we take a look at the Highclere Castle by Foundation Cigars.
I’ve had this cigar for months and I have absolutely no idea how I got it…welcome to the Medicare Golden Years. So I’m going into this review blind with never having tried this stick…

Factory: Tabacalera AJ Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A.
Released: September, 2017.
Regular production.

From Foundation Cigars:
“Globally recognized as the iconic face of the award-winning television drama, Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle is now producing a cigar reminiscent of those enjoyed at Highclere Castle during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

“To create and produce the cigar, Highclere Castle Cigar Company has partnered with world-renowned cigar producer Nicholas Melillo, the former head of Drew Estate Nicaragua. Nicholas formed Foundation Cigar Company in 2015 to craft hand-made cigars in Estelí, Nicaragua, and this is the latest in Foundation’s exceptional line.

“George Carnarvon, the current 8th Earl of Carnarvon, owner of Highclere Castle and farmer of the 5,000 acre estate, is an active partner in the endeavor. “Having had the opportunity to visit Nicaragua and tour the tobacco fields and factories where our cigars are made, I’ve gained a deep appreciation for the passion and skill that goes into making a super-premium cigar. The cigar itself is an excellent representation of that, and I think my ancestors would be proud it bears the Highclere badge.”

“Highclere’s rich cigar history goes back to 1862, when cigars were first introduced to England. The tradition at Highclere Castle has always been to retire to the library after dinner for a cigar and whiskey. In 1922, the current Earl’s great-grandfather undoubtedly celebrated his and Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tut’s Tomb with a cigar in hand. Recently, Highclere Castle’s archivist discovered letters and personal account records of the Carnarvon’s cigar purchases in the early 1900s from dealers in London as well as the Ritz Hotel.

“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.” (Fireplace? I’ll be on the lookout for that. Nothing tastes better in an expensive cigar than soot).

Churchill 7 x 48 $16.00
Corona 5.5 x 46 $13.00
Petit Corona 5 x 42 $12.00
Robusto 5 x 50 $14.00
Toro 6 x 52 $15.00

The Connecticut wrapper is slightly oily and the color of Bambi’s mother. I feel a plug right behind the cigar band. Seams, for the most part are tight with a minimal amount of visible veins.
I can only detect a double cap instead of the usual triple cap. Odd for such an expensive cigar to go on the cheap with something as simple as the number of caps. The cigar band made me think this is some bundle cigar or something I haven’t seen from Gurkha.

From the shaft, I can smell strong floral notes, generic sweetness, creamy, cinnamon, nutty, cedar, and milk chocolate.

From the clipped cap and the foot, I can smell perfumey floral notes, chocolate, creamy, cedar, sweetness elements, cinnamon, some wood notes, nutty, and barnyard.

The cold draw presents flavors of cinnamon toothpicks, creamy, chocolate, cedar, nuts, and malt.


Yeah, there is a plug behind the cigar band. Two whooshes with my PerfecDraw cigar poker tool and it’s gone like the wind.

Big smoky cigar. Plumes of it that should set off my smoke detectors. Black pepper with a touch of red pepper makes a perfect combo. Nice.

And then flavors begin to flow….creaminess, cocoa, black coffee, cedar, a variety of nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts), big flavor notes of floral along with its delightful aroma that permeates the air around me.
The burn is absolutely flawless.

But the cigar is burning too quickly. It’s under filled.

I should mention the elephant in the room. This little corona is a $13 stick. A lot for a corona. The long history doesn’t impress me. If you enter the stage of cigar manufacturing for the first time and crank out a decent $8 cigar and then feel entitled to overcharge your new customers…well, that just ain’t right. You can quote all the historical changes in time immemorial but if you charge $13 for a corona and then don’t stand out like a mother fucker, you are just seen as another pirate of the Caribbean.

The cigar isn’t bad. For $13, I expected to be sucker punched in the palate from the get go. Now I’m a huge fan of coronas, corona Gordas, and robustos for their intense flavors; so this little sucker should be knocking my socks off. It tastes more like a big ol’ gran toro wishing it were a corona gorda.
This has turned into a disappointment. Not a lot of reviews out there. Halfwheel does a nice one and had a similar experience: Not impressed. I feel we are on the same page.

Smoke time is 16 minutes. Bummer. This stick is going to end its life jumping off the Bay Bridge after only 40 minutes.

Strength is mild/medium. Not exactly my favorite strength in a cigar. I want some oomph. This cigar delivers the missionary position. Bummer.

The brains behind this first outing for Highclere Castle by Foundation Cigars should have been exuberant and exciting and willing to kick your ass to the floor. Instead, they come up with a bland outing on their first attempt to get your attention. Remember…this blend is coming from Foundation Cigars. A brilliant blending machine. And they are made at AJ Fernandez’s factory. So, what’s wrong with this picture? Total fuck up and misplaced judgment. Sure, plenty of smokers prefer mild strength cigars but they are usually seen in line at their B&M’s buying Quorums.

I’m into this cigar long enough to expect some spectacular complexity. There ain’t none, my friends. Transitions are minimal. The finish is short.

Creaminess seems to be the biggest focal point of this blend. Followed by bits of cocoa, coffee, floral, nuts, molasses, cedar, and a lot of hay.

Now Foundation Cigars are not Old School blenders. I rank them highly in the world of boutique brands. Oops on them.

There is zero spiciness. Nada. Nothing. The cigar lays there like my first wife on our honeymoon. No pizazz. No character. No balance except for the mediocre factor. And zero complexity.

The halfway point wastes no time in getting here. A total of 23 minutes. It seems that this big collaboration has uncovered the secrets of making a $13 yard ‘gar.

Peter Frampton. Does anyone get this guy? If I have to hear that damn ditty, “Show Me The Way” one more time, I’m going on a rampage.

Smoke time is 28 minutes.
The last third seems to perk up. Flavors spread out instead of hovering over your body as you look down at it from the ceiling.
Some complexity finally arrives. Not much but anything is better than the first two thirds.

Some spiciness returns with bits of red and black pepper. No new flavors. This Highclere Castle by Foundation Cigars is pretty much a one trick pony. The only difference at this point is that the flavors have smartened up. A little brighter. Transitions finally show some momentum. And the finish isn’t caught dead in a bear trap the moment you stop puffing.
The gentle sweetness disappears completely. This takes its toll on the blend.

I have to admit I was pulled in by all the PR crap about this cigar. I figured it is going to be a blend with a lot of passion put into its design. Instead, it is just another $4 catalog brand. You could slip this into the Torano catalog and no one would notice.

Do not buy this cigar. I might have a different mindset if the price point is reasonable. But with 5 sizes ranging from $13-$16, there is no way I want you to waste your hard earned dough. Save it for something you like.
And of course, the final dénouement…the stick finds some bitterness that puts a real damper on its latter improvements.
Final smoke time is 38 minutes.

For chrissakes, for the dough you pay for these yellow warning wands, you can purchase a great and passionately blended Bespoke cigar….any of which are 100 times better than the Hi Claire!


And now for something completely different:
Early 1980’s.

Remember Punk?
Remember L.A. Punk?
I do.
Remember the band “FEAR?”
The lead singer’s name was Lee Ving.

I had a couple of friends that were big radio DJ’s in L.A.
They used to drag me with them when they interviewed rock stars for their shows.
One day, Stephen Snyder asked me to drive him to Hollywood to interview Lee Ving. We picked him up at the corner of Hollywood & Vine.
He got into my 1971 Datsun station wagon.

I asked Steve, “Now where?”
Lee Ving said to just drive around and we’ll do the interview in the car.
So Steve and Lee Ving sat in the back of my little station wagon. Steve turned the tape recorder on and the interview began.
We drove around Hollywood for two full hours.
Now FEAR had a scary rep. They were the kings of L.A. Punk. They were insane on stage.
Lee Ving was their lead singer. And he was twice as crazy as the rest of the band.

I was afraid he’d start tearing apart the inside of my car. I was sweatin’ it.
Now it turned out this guy was the funniest guy I had ever met. His stage persona was just that.

Steve had to keep telling me to shut up while they recorded the interview because I was laughing so hard.
This guy was as normal as apple pie and it was all an act. I tried to entice Lee Ving to check out my recording studio in Long Beach. That would be a feather in my cap but it never happened.

From there, we went to John Doe’s and Exene Cervenka’s house. They were the leaders of the band “X.”
We entered their house. It stunk to high heaven. They were major pigs.
Plates of two week old food were just lying around everywhere. Everything in the house was in disarray.

Steve interviewed Exene and John while I sat and listened. They had played the night before and had major hangovers from the after-gig party.

Even Lee Ving couldn’t stand it and said, “Phil. Let’s go outside and smoke a joint.”
We sat on the stoop and lit up. Lee just got funnier. And then I brought out some coke. Lee’s eyes lit up. We did some. I found myself actually rolling on the steps in front of the house from laughing. I couldn’t breathe.
Lee Ving loved me for “getting him.”

We sat there for an hour til Steve came out.
We then drove to the Whisky A’ Go Go. Lee knew the owner and we were allowed in. We sat at the bar. Just the three of us. We smoked. We drank. We tooted.
The next day, I woke up with my sides bruised from laughing so hard.

I never reported this story. I watched a special on the Hollywood recording studio “Sound City” a while ago and they showed FEAR recording. This jogged my memory banks.

I wish I had a photo of Punk’s biggest star driving around in the back seat of my shitty old Datsun while I chauffeured him and Steve.

My band, The Attitude, who had a hit with a remake of “Hound Dog,” and the single made it onto the CD “The Godfathers of L.A. Punk.” You can still buy this CD from most online stores. Funny thing was that we were not a punk band but we shared management with the other bands…a French man named Philippe Moganne who was Iggy Pop’s first manager.
The skinny good looking guy playing bass is me.
The early 80’s was a lot of fun. “Blow.”


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10 replies

  1. I agree that the price is too high on these. However, I respectfully disagree that it is a bland let-down. I prefer full bodied cigars such as the Southern Draw Jacobs Ladder, Enclave Broadleaf and Foundation’s Tabernacle – so usually Connecticuts just don’t do it for me. However, this is one of the tastier offerings. I agree with the flavors you got but I guess I just enjoyed them more. However, I haven’t had this stick in probably a year so I’m just going by memory. Also, I appreciate the in depth descriptions of flavors. I don’t know what the cranky blogger was smokin’ when he ranted about that – but those descriptions help novice smokers like me to understand what flavors we’re getting when we can’t figure it out. I appreciate your work and everything you share. By the way – you were so right about the PerfecDraw! I got it based on your recommendation and it has saved so many sticks for me. It paid for itself in 2 days.

  2. Love that you posted a story about John Doe, Exene and Lee Ving. Since I grew up in Cali and was a teen in the late 70s and 80s, I VERY MUCH remember LA Punk. I saw both X and Fear several times at little local punk shows that cost $3.75 to get into. “Let’s Have a War” by Fear was one of the best punk songs of the era, and Under a Big Black Sun and Los Angeles by X are STILL great albums. I also saw X open for Bowie, so… yeah. Thanks for the “memory lane” trip.

  3. As far as the Highclere goes (oh yeah, the cigar!) I see that a little Corona is $13, and the bigger sizes are pushing $20. Those prices for a Connecticut, even a good Connecticut…


    If I get the rare urge to smoke a Connie, a Rose of Sharon for under $10 will work. I don’t see that I am missing much since Connecticuts aren’t my thing anyway.

  4. Why waste the dough on a crappy cigar.
    I regularly keep 2 connies in my humidor, the ROS & the Matilde Serena. I’ll be sure to miss this one.
    Oh, by the way, Happy Birthday to the grandson.

    • Thank you Todd…
      Tomorrow, the 4th of July marks my only grandchild’s first birthday. My daughter is planning a party like it’s a presidential inauguration. It’s going to be all cops at the party. So I plan to get baked in front of them.
      I agree. There are only a handful of Connies that I believe are truly great cigars.

    • I need to try the Matilde Serena. I’ve had the other 3 Matilde lines and enjoyed them immensely. They’re pretty good?

  5. Fear was one of the first punk bands I remember getting into. I wasn’t around in their prime, but I did see them in Sacramento in the late 90’s. I remember it was during our war in Kosovo and they had some American troops held hostage. I remember Lee Ving yelling something like, “Slob-a-don (Milosevic), you’re going to give us our boys back.” It was funny.

    I was prejudiced against the cigar from the beginning due to the high price and TV show tie-in jive. And the PR about re-creating the flavor profile of the cigars smoked a hundred plus years ago at the castle? Please. Even if it were possible, and there was a way of even knowing what those cigars tasted like, it would surely involve using Cuban tobacco, right? But then they’d be unable to sell them (legally) to the largest collection of cigar consumers in the world.