Since 2016, Foundation Cigar Company’s premiere offerings have all been contained under two brands: El Güegüense and The Tabernacle, with the former being rolled at the Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. (TABSA) factory in Estelí, and the latter being handled by the Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua factory (also based in Estelí). These two pillars of the Foundation portfolio are now linked, as the company launched the Menelik cigar at this summer’s IPCPR trade show.
The name is in reference to Menelik I, the first emperor of Ethiopia and establisher of the Solomonic dynasty, which held for an impressive 225 generations (roughly 3,000 years). This plays into Foundation’s El Güegüense concept, as Menelik (the man) is said to be the son of King Solomon (aka “Solomon the Wise”); with El Güegüense translating to The Wise Man, it becomes clear that Menelik (the cigar) is intended to be the “Son of the Wise Man.” But the conceptual depth continues, as Menelik I is also thought to have transported the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia—ergo, The Tabernacle.
- Wrapper: Mexican San Andrés
- Binder: Corojo ’99 (Jalapa, Nicaragua)
- Filler: Nicaraguan (Estelí | Condega | Jalapa)
- Factory: TABSA (Nicaragua)
- Production: Small Batch
- Vitola: 4½″ × 52 (Petit Robusto)
- Price: $13.00 (MSRP)
Menelik is considered the “Son of the Wise Man” in more ways than one, as the blend showcases similar characteristics to Foundation’s The Wise Man Maduro blend. This includes the use of a Mexican San Andrés maduro wrapper, Jalapa-grown Corojo ’99 binder, and Nicaraguan fillers grown in Condega, Estelí, and Jalapa. On paper, the two blends are identical.
Menelik’s band draws heavily from the Grand Cross of the Order of Menelik II—an Ethiopian military decoration honoring the memory of Emperor Menelik II. The band uses the same thick, matte-like paper seen on all of Foundation’s former premiere releases, having a regal look to it. Aside from the band, most will be drawn to the cigar’s culita cap. It’s a unique decoration that almost looks like a button stemming from the petit robusto’s head. Menelik is also subtly box-pressed—another attributed shared with The Wise Man Maduro. The cigar boasts what looks to be a stellar construction, including a triple cap, medium bunch, and invisible seams. The Mexican wrapper is fairly toothy and carries a Colorado-like shade that is somewhere between your conventional natural and maduro. All told, it’s a consistent, attractive look and feel from head to toe.
The cigar’s wrapper is surprisingly light on aroma, showing faint notes of musk. The foot opens up a bit more, with notes of brownie batter and earth. With a near-perfect resistance on the pre-light draw, there are added earthy characteristics—more along the lines of a freshly opened bag of gardening soil.
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Menelik kicks off with a mouthful of full-flavored smoke from the get-go. First impressions are that of black pepper and an underlying sweetness, with the pepper registering as more of a flavor, rather a spicy sensation in the nostrils. This profile holds true for the majority of the cigar’s first third, with the sweetness developing into a more precise pastry flavor, which is complimented nicely by a subtle addition of cinnamon. The profile is fairly full in flavor, being easygoing and easily approachable; although, a short finish and straightforward flavor profile leave something to be desired in terms of complexity.
With the smoking seeming to hit the back sides, front sides, and tip of the tongue, flavors tend to be mouthwatering, slightly salty, and slightly sweet. The black pepper component remains dominant, not stinging the nostrils unless double-puffed. The profile seems to be mostly fleshed out throughout the second third, settling primarily in the realm of earth-based flavors. There is a high level of minerality, joined by damp wood and soil (similar to the pre-light draw, like sifting your fingers through gardening soil). With all the flavor components combined, the profile is similar to the smell when walking through a heavily wooded area after a rainfall.
While the remainder of the smoking experience is largely unchanging, there are brief flashes of unique flavors. Big blasts of campfire flavor seem to completely take over for a quarter-inch—largely retreating as quickly as it arrived. The cinnamon component returns, adding brown sugar and toasted oats to come across like Cracklin’ Oat Bran cereal. Dark cocoa is occasionally boosted by nuances of malt, and a charred, heavily peppered steak flavor is enjoyable. Unfortunately, this characteristic is the final positive attribute, transforming into a dark and, essentially harsh, finale.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
Perhaps. In my experience, the cigar felt similar to The Wise Man Maduro (WMM), only it shifted more towards the smoky, peppery side; whereas the WMM has much more elements of sweetness to provide complexity and balance. Taking this, the price, and the more limited availability into account, I think you’ll see where I’m going… being that I’ll be more likely to purchase WMM cigars in virtually every scenario.
- While Menelik has technically been available since 2017—occasionally handed out by company owner, Nicholas Melillo, at events—it wasn’t until this year that consumers could purchase the blend.
- Menelik was originally un-banded and packaged in paper bundles of five cigars.
- Without knowing the Ethiopian background of the band, I’d have thought it had Irish inspiration, similar to a Celtic cross.
- Despite Foundation’s original press release only mentioning that the cigar is themed around Menelik I, it actually draws inspiration from Menelik I and Menelik II (the latter being the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1889 to his death in 1913).
- There is a “II” near the center of the cigar’s band that may initially go unnoticed, helping to signify Menelik II.
- Menelik I is said to be the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
- Menelik I is also known as Ibn al-Hakim, translating to Son of the Wise Man.
- Menelik cigars are slated to be rolled quarterly and offered to Foundation’s top retail accounts.
- There were some inconsistencies between smoking experiences, with some leaning much more towards sharp pepper; the final cigar used for the majority of this review was the most balanced (with three cigars smoked for review).
- Flavor: Medium
- Strength: Medium-plus
- Body: Medium-plus
- Black pepper
- Smoke Time: 1 hour
- Pairing Recommendation: Scotch | Chocolate stout | Maple-infused old fashioned cocktail
- Purchase Recommendation: 3-pack
- Full-flavored start
- Above-average smoke output
- Inconsistencies from cigar to cigar
- Can often be too sharp and pepper-focused through the retrohale
- Dark and harsh finale