Nicholas Melillo, owner of Foundation Cigar Co., has gone Old Testament with his new cigar line, The Tabernacle, which encompasses themes of King Solomon and the legendary Ark of the Covenant.
The Tabernacle is a dark, Connecticut broadleaf cigar made in Nicaragua at A.J. Fernandez's namesake factory Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua. Under the broadleaf wrapper is a Mexican San Andrés binder and filler tobaccos from Honduras and Nicaragua, most notably tobacco from La Soledad, a farm in Nicaragua owned by Fernandez.
"A.J. grows some of his tobacco on the farm, La Soledad, where I lived when I first moved to Estelí in 2003," Melillo said. "I know first hand that A.J.'s farm is blessed with the perfect location for growing filler tobaccos."
The tobacco is easy enough to understand, but you might have to brush up on your Bible studies and Babylonian history to fully appreciate what Melillo is doing. The packaging is emblazoned with an image of Haile Selassie, the 225th emperor of Ethiopia (and regarded as a deity by the Rastafari movement). Selassie is said to be a descendent of King Solomon. The Tabernacle was said to be a protective resting place for the Ark of the Covenant. What's the connection? According to the Old Testament, The Tabernacle was located in King Solomon's temple.
Though the existence of the Ark itself has never been verified outside of the Bible, there are many claims of possession, among them the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which boasts that it houses the Ark in the city of Axum.
Being a Connecticut native, it's no surprise that Melillo regards Connecticut broadleaf to be a sacrosanct plant.
"I want to show my love for Connecticut broadleaf," he said. "I was born in New Haven where, at the turn of the century, there were many cigar factories."
The Tabernacle comes in six sizes: Torpedo, at 4 1/2 inches by 52 ring gauge; Corona, 5 1/4 by 46; Robusto, 5 by 50; Toro, 6 by 52; Double Corona, 7 by 54; and Lancero, 7 by 40. All come in 24-count boxes, save for the Lancero, which comes in a box of 12. The cigars are slated to retail from $9 to $13 and will be shipping to a few select retailers at the end of next week before a formal debut at the IPCPR trade show.
"I started smoking cigars with my grandfather, and it was a time I always considered to be sacred," Melillo recalls. "I was able to learn valuable life lessons, and it all revolved around broadleaf cigars. My humidor became my tabernacle."
Melillo previously ran production at La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate in Nicaragua before he branched out on his own and started the Foundation Cigar Co. last year. His first brand, El Güegüense, which is made at Tabacos Valle de Jalapa (TABSA) in Nicaragua, was rated favorably in a January Cigar Insider vertical tasting, with two sizes scoring 91 points.