Foundation Cigar Company proprietor Nick Melillo made his big debut into the premium cigar market in 2015, introducing the brand’s freshman release with the Nicaraguan-themed El Güegüense. The cigar may be one of the most difficult in the industry to pronounce… but Foundation had clearly struck a chord with craft enthusiasts—taking home multiple year-end cigar awards—including Cigar Dojo’s #3 Cigar of the Year.
Of course, this wasn’t actually Nick’s first foray into the world of premium cigars… not by a long shot. Here’s what we wrote on Nick’s backstory from our original review of the El Güegüense:
Nick entered the cigar industry in the ’90s, running a local brick & mortar in the New Haven, Connecticut area. Nick became well-acquainted with the newly-formed Drew Estate, selling the Drew Estate La Vieja Habana at the shop. Building a close relationship with Jonathan Drew over the years, Nick was offered the opportunity to be Jonathan’s right hand man in Nicaragua in 2003. He helped run the Drew Estate factory, setting standards for quality control and even began blending his own cigars in his spare time. Inspired from his roots in the Connecticut region, he began playing around with Connecticut Broadleaf—ultimately he crafted 10 blends to be tested by Steve Saka, the newly-appointed president of Drew Estate. These blends not only included the legendary Liga No. 9 blend, but UF-13, and JD4 as well. Nick’s portfolio eventually grew to include classic Drew Estate cigars such as Liga T52, L40, Dirty Rat, Feral Flying Pig, Nica Rustica, and one that holds special meaning to Cigar Dojo—Undercrown Dogma. Nick left Drew Estate in early 2014 to pursue his own projects, which have now been realized in the form of Foundation Cigar Company.
Understandably, when Nick debuted his own cigar project, he veered from his roots with Connecticut Broadleaf; not wanting to be pigeonholed into the dark and gritty maduros he had become known for with his time at Drew Estate. But now, a year later, Nick has given “maduro maniacs” what they’ve been waiting for with Foundation’s sophomore release: The Tabernacle.
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The Tabernacle Corona Breakdown
- Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf
- Binder: Mexican San Andrés
- Filler: Honduras (Jamastran Valley) | Nicaragua (Estelí & Jalapa Valley)
- Factory: Tabacalera Fernandez S.A. (Nicaragua)
- Production: Regular Production
- Vitola: 5¼” × 46 Corona
- Price: $9.00
The cigar’s name references the housing for the Ark of the Covenant, as described in the book of Exodus. The Tabernacle, a nomadic housing for the Ark, was eventually moved to King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem; estimated to be 300 years after its inception. The cigar’s packaging depicts Haile Selassie, the 225th King of Abyssinia—whose lineage traces directly to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (are you still with me?…).
The whole concept plays perfectly into brand owner Nick Melillo’s fascination with history and the Rastafari movement (another new project from Foundation focuses on Jamaican tobaccos and culture). Tying it all together, Haile Selassie, the man on the cigar’s box and bands, and former Emperor of Ethiopia, is regarded as a Jesus figure for the Rastafari Movement—which developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, following the coronation of Haile Selassie I as Emperor of Ethiopia.
The Tabernacle Blend
The Tabernacle takes on two backstories: one being the aforementioned tale of Biblical proportions – the other, as previously mentioned, the return of Nick Melillo, aka “The Chief of Broadleaf”, to the raw Connecticut Broadleaf maduro style he’s perfected over the past decade.
The wrapper, often regarded as cheap and ugly in the past, is now a favorite for fans of rich, earthy, and full-bodied maduro smoking experiences. But the leaf has long been a staple in Nick’s hometown of Connecticut.
Nick partnered with industry veteran AJ Fernandez for The Tabernacle. The cigars are being rolled at AJ’s factory and Nick has reportedly been given full access to AJ’s finest tobaccos from his own farms in Nicaragua. The blend is finished with a special Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, which was hand-selected over two years prior (before the introduction of Foundation) and fermented by AJ Fernandez and his meticulous standards.
Look / Feel
The Tabernacle features a similar look from Foundation’s last premium release (El Güegüense). The bands are primarily matte-finished, with highlights of gold foil woven into areas of the primarily black and white imagery of King Haile Selassie. The cigar’s wrapper is not “toothy”, as you may find on many Broadleaf cigars. Instead, it is dark, with a cloudy haze—like a lightly-dusted Chocolate Fudge Crinkle Cookie (look it up). This gives the texture a smooth and fuzzy, suede-like feel. The cigar is nicely rolled, having nearly invisible seams and a medium/firm bunch that gives it an overall solid feel in the hand. The Connecticut Broadleaf makes itself apparent with a bumpy/gnarled look—giving a slightly wavy shape from the head to foot.
The wrapper has light notes of cedar and something reminiscent of spent cap gun cartridges (nostalgia!); while the foot brings an aroma of hickory wood and an unexpected pork rinds note.
A small amount of toasting brings this 46 ring gauge Corona to life. The smoke is heavy off the get-go, bringing a punchy, black pepper spice in the retrohale and dessert-like chocolates and espresso on the palate. The draw is on the firmer side, but gives a medium smoke output—considering the more slender size, it feels appropriate and doesn’t require double puffs, etc. In fact, the flavors are at their best with smaller puffs; exhaling more through the mouth than the nostrils, as the retrohaled pepper tends to overpower otherwise. This style balances the smoke and also adds a nice, velvety texture.
The cigar is just under “full” on flavor, with a medium-full strength and overall full body. As the flavors develop, there are notes of bitter, dark chocolate, fresh-cut wood, and a biting sensation that creeps down the back of your throat.
The burn is surprisingly fantastic, as this style often requires a good amount of age before the thick wrapper can burn properly. Ash holds in two-inch chunks, having a light and flakey, pastry structure and a wavy burn that needs no touch-ups. Further progression adds an appreciated sweetness to the mix. The smoke’s heavy mouthfeel is like syrup—both in texture, and sweet, maple flavor. It’s chewy, bringing dense notes of hickory wood, chocolate fudge, earth, and sweet syrup with a touch of cinnamon.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
Absolutely. This is the perfect late-night stick! It’s like the dessert smoke for those that don’t want a cloying gaudiness. In other words, your Dark Chocolate Chipotle Fudge, your Spicy Chocolate Bark, your Tabasco-Smoked Chipotle Dark Chocolate Ice Cream… that kind of dessert.
- Dense flavors
- No relights
- Tastes luxurious for price point
- Slightly firm draw
- Spice in retro can dominate other flavors at cigar's start