Growing up in Connecticut, Nick Melillo, owner and founder of Foundation Cigar Company, has long been known for his fondness for the tobaccos of the famed Connecticut River Valley growing region. He got his first job in the industry at the Calabash Shoppe in Hamden. His grandfather once worked at the Winchester factory in New Haven. And his company is currently headquartered in Windsor.

It was then no surprise that when he and Foundation Cigar debuted their value-priced Charter Oak CT brand in 2016 that it centered around the Connecticut region:

“I wanted to choose a name that represents the greatest symbol of my home state of Connecticut, the Charter Oak. Historians estimate that this unusually large Oak tree began growing sometime during the 12th century on a plot located on what is now downtown Hartford. Native Americans, who by the way cultivated tobacco nearby long before settlers, held councils beneath its massive branches. The tree is actually mentioned in Dutch Explorer, Adrian Block’s journey guidebook in 1608. By the mid 1600’s the plot was parceled and a farm was built with the agreement that the local tribe could share this sacred tree. In 1662 King Charles II issued a Royal Charter to the Connecticut Colony granting an unusual degree of autonomy. However, when his successor, James II appointed an English Governor-General to reclaim the Charter, it was hidden in what became known as Charter Oak, one of our countries greatest symbols of American Independence.”

Charter Oak CT originally consisted of two versions: Charter Oak CT Broadleaf and Charter Oak CT Shade. The cigars featured different interior recipes, being wrapped in either a Connecticut Broadleaf maduro leaf or a Connecticut Shade variety, respectively. In September, the company announced the third blend in the series: Charter Oak CT Habano, bridging the gap between the dark and light-shade wrappers of the original two blends with a new Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped experience.

Charter Oak CT Habano Lonsdale Breakdown

  • Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
  • Binder: Nicaraguan
  • Filler: Nicaraguan
  • Factory: Tabacalera A.J. Fernández Cigars de Nicaragua (Nicaragua)
  • Production: Regular Production
  • Vitola: 6¼″ × 46 Lonsdale
  • Price: $6.00 (MSRP)

Charter Oak CT Habano features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper over all-Nicaraguan fillers. Like the original two cigars, the Habano is rolled at A.J. Fernández’s prominent factory in Estelí. To maintain the value-priced spirit of the series, the Habano forgoes the use of Connecticut-grown Havana seed (which Foundation uses on The Tabernacle Havana Seed CT No. 142)—a thick and oily leaf that must be fermented for roughly three years and was therefore unfeasible for this project.

Charter Oak CT Habano shipped to retailers on Sep. 30th in six sizes:

  • Petite Corona: 5¼” x 42 | $5.50
  • Rothschild: 4½” x 50 | $5.70
  • Lonsdale: 6¼” x 46 | $6.00
  • Toro: 6″ x 52 | $6.20
  • Grande: 6″ x 60 | $6.50
  • Torpedo: 6″ x 52 | $7.00
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Appearance

It’s the same look smokers are familiar with—a simplistic, non-embossed band showing the Charter Oak imagery. It’s a nice, classic look considering the cigar’s modest price. The cigar itself has a pale brown hue that is lighter than expected. There are plenty of fine and medium-thick veins across the leaf, leading down to a partially covered foot. The cigar’s exterior is rigid, which may to be due to the binder rather the filler, seemingly having a medium bunch density from the cigar’s appearance and weight. It’s really an impressive cigar from the outset, considering the price point.

On the nose, a twangy musk is the dominant attribute, which is backed by generic barnyard. The foot shows cedar and more pungent barnyard. A straight cut gives way to a slightly firm pre-light draw and subtle flavors of cedar, white pepper, and basil.

Click images below for full resolution

Smoking Experience

The cigar lights up quickly and draws in a dry, rough smoke onto the palate. The first noticeable flavors are red pepper and burning brush, seeming a bit hot out of the gate. But the smoke settles not long after, having hints of caramel sweetness through the finish. It’s a zesty profile that feels very expected for the Habano wrapper, offering primarily cabinet spice-like flavors with a hint of sweetness just below the surface.

Charter Oak Habano Lonsdale cigar smoking

While the burn line is fairly tight, it must be noted that multiple samples (sourced from different retailers/humidors) experienced wrapper unravelling. In the case of this specific cigar, it was fairly substantial, with the leaf pulling away from the binder and only catching back up with the remainder of the blend in the final third. Despite this, the ash stacks nicely, building in two-inch chunks. The draw has a nice resistance to it, being essentially ideal for the lonsdale size, though giving off a wispy smoke output with each puff. The interior tobaccos crackle along audibly as the embers heat, with the dry-textured smoke hitting the tongue first on the bitter receptors, followed by salt and a touch of sweetness. It’s a medium profile through and through.

Despite construction issues, the flavor profile chugs along at a steady pace, being zesty in the retrohale with a mustard-like heat. Flavors range from toasted bread, to nutmeg, to nougat sweetness through the finish. In the final portion of the smoke, flavors darken, bringing out dark spices of clove, nutmeg, black pepper, and anise. The smoke is somewhat harsh in the final moments and the cigar is left to extinguish.

Charter Oak Habano Lonsdale cigar ash

Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?

At the moment, I’m not planning on it. I’ve tried the cigar in the Toro and Lonsdale formats—three out of five samples cracked and/or unravelled throughout the experience. As mentioned, this takes into account cigars purchased from different retailers. This will be tough to come back from for me.


Profile
  • Flavor: Medium
  • Strength: Medium
  • Body: Medium
Core Flavors
  • Red pepper
  • Toasted bread
  • Burning brush
  • Caramel
Tips
  • Smoke Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
  • Pairing Recommendation: 90-proof bourbon | Medium-roast coffee | Brown ale
  • Purchase Recommendation: Try one

Charter Oak Habano Lonsdale cigar nub finished

Charter Oak CT Habano Lonsdale
I've always been a fan of this series, tying nicely into the Connecticut region and highlighting Melillo's background with both his hometown and his skill with the region's tobaccos. So I'll admit, I was a little bummed when learning that the third cigar in the series didn't adhere to the Connecticut theme previously established. Of course, it simply wouldn't be possible to use a Havana wrapper from Connecticut and maintain the line's value-conscious theme, but it would've been nice to see some Broadleaf used in the filler or binder. I've always found the Lonsdale sizes for the other two blends to be the best representations of each cigar, and this holds true here as well (although I haven't tried every size). This makes for a nicely concentrated smoke, offering a straightforward Habano experience of zesty cabinet spices and a subtle sweetness through the finish. Unfortunately, construction issues plagued this smoke, even when taking into account different vitolas and humidor situations.
Appearance90%
Burn/Construction69%
Draw90%
Flavor89%
Complexity77%
Price/Value91%
Pros
  • Affordable
  • Classic Habano balance of zesty spice and subtle sweetness
Cons
  • Dry smoke texture
  • Inconsistencies / wrapper issues
  • Harsh finale
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