You can Google its founder, Robert Caldwell, if you need to know more about the man behind the brand. The short version is he has a relatively short background in the cigar industry but is acknowledged as a passionate albeit unique individual. After a failed partnership with former Camacho honcho Christian Eiroa, Caldwell has struck out on his own to create cigars made of small batch tobaccos that offer an exotic experience.
Yep, we're dealing with a hipster here, and all the bullshit that goes along with it. That means the cigars will have inexplicable names and packaging. Spotty distribution and availability, too. Cigars geeks lust after this kind of thing. Frankly, the only thing we care about is whether the cigars are good. And in this case, they are.
Caldwell's Eastern Standard line appears to be the lightest of the three brands currently available (the others being Long Live The King and The King Is Dead, because those roll right off there tongue). It features a Colorado-hued, 2006 Connecticut Shade wrapper grown in Ecuador. The binder is Dominican and supposedly from 2005, while the filler consists of a blend of Dominican and Nicaraguan leaves from 2006-2008. Though much about this company is vague, the blends are not, and you can read veritable recipe cards for each on the Caldwell website.
The cigars are a little veiny but surprisngly dark, even for Ecudaorian Conneticut which is typically darker and especially oilier than true Connecticut. It's a hue we're more accustomed to seeing on Cuban cigars. (It's bound to confuse a lot of American smokers, who seem to only know light, dark and maduro.) Construction is very good and there's a nice pigtail cap, a little flourish that we happen to like.
The packaging is half-awesome, half-irritating. We especially like the clean graphic design of the sticker on the front of the box that lists the details of the blend. We're less enamored of the old guy on the front of the box and the stupid story about who he supposedly is on a card included inside the box. Don't waste your time reading it; it's neither clever nor funny. Then again, at least this Caldwell guy is having fun and not taking himself too seriously.
The cigars though, they're serious. Upon opening the box, we were greeted by an aroma best described as distinguished. There was no ammonia or sharpness, no manure, no youthful pepper or spice, just the smell of the cedar box and mature tobaccos. It's the kind of experience we're used to when opening a cabinet of 50 aged Havanas, so naturally we were excited to get down to smoking. There was, however, more slight variations in wrapper color than we're used to seeing in mass produced cigars. Maybe that's an unavoidable consequence or dealing with small-batch wrapper leaf.
We were careful when cutting the cigar because it had what looks like a single cap beneath the pigtail. It covers enough of the head that you have leeway to decide how low to go, but regardless, we recommend something as sharp and precise as our beloved Palio. (Yes, you should go out and buy one right now. No, we didn't get paid a penny to tell you that.)
The burn was about perfect, and the draw just right. The result is a cigar that can be smoked as slowly as one wants, which is surely the way to go here. Certainly this is light and refreshing enough to be smoked mindlessly, but the real ticket is to choose a similarly light accompaniment (prosecco?) and kick back to enjoy some weirdness.
The immediate impression is of earth and black pepper, but that quickly gives way to a fresh cut wood dust balanced by notes of lemon butter and almond milk. The finish was round, woody, creamy and with a hint of—God help us, we swear—freshly diced mirepoix, perhaps more on the nose than the palate. This is a 60-minute smoke for us, and we noted with subsequent samples that it's nice and heavy in the hand.
What could the Euro Express be compared to? Not much, really. It's certainly mild, but a seasoned smoker would never mistake it for something like a Macanudo. It's also not quite as complex or rich as a lighter Havana like the Por Larranaga Petit Corona. We'd liken it to the Davidoff Grand Cru No. 2 which, though compartively simple, still has a sophisticated roundness befitting a smoke that costs a whopping $15. The Davidoff is also more like a 30- to 40-minute cigar, for those who factor that in.
Thumbs up then for the Caldwell Collection Euro Express, an excellent cigar—and for $11, it ought to be. Yep, we waited until the end to tell you the price because we were afraid you might stop reading! That would be a shame, because this is a unique cigar that offers flavor and character out of proportion to its mild to medium body. It's perfect any time of day. Compared to all other cigars without restriction, we'd call it very good. But compared with other light, Connecticut wrapped cigars, it's a standout. That being the case, we think it merits an excellent rating.
Let's face it, making anything in small quantities is expensive, and we don't get the impression that the markup here is egregious. Box worthy? You bet.
W: Ecuador Connecticut
B: Dominican Republic
F: Dominican, Nicaraguan
Silly packaging belies a serious cigar for the connoisseur. Refined pre-light aroma. Delicate and complex flavors. Everything a boutique blend should be.