The very last interview we did before walking off the IPCPR trade show floor for the last time was with Nick Melillo of Foundation Cigars. And it’s a doozy- so buckle in, grab a drink and light up a cigar. A lot of people talk about having a busy show, but the Foundation booth was slammed every time I dropped by to see if Nick was available. The Foundation booth wasn’t just a hit with retailers, the IPCPR awarded it best in show for medium sized exhibitors for the third year in a row.
The first topic of conversation is Nick’s take on the FDA situation. His outlook is positive, and he’s been proactive about doing everything he knows to do to ready the brand for what’s coming, paying the taxes and fees, making the dates. He notes that the aspects of the cigar industry that set it apart from other tobacco businesses also make it challenging from a regulatory standpoint.
We also discuss the demand for Connecticut Broadleaf and difficulties it causes for manufacturers trying to get that tobacco. A lot of the Connecticut Shade crop has moved to Ecuador, allowing more of the fields in Connecticut to focus on Broadleaf. But even with the increased focus, there are shortages.
Then we move onto specific cigars. By this point in the trade show, Nick is completely out of Highclere Castle cigars to display on camera, but we do get a look at the shiny blue and gold box. He describes it as a “surreal project” that involves connections to the Queen of England and the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. Many will recognize Highclere Castle from the popular Downton Abbey TV show, Nick is producing this cigar for the real owner of the property, Lord Carnarvon (or George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon). The idea behind it was to reproduce the cigars his grandfather smoked while excavating the tomb of Tutankhamun. The blend features a Connecticut Shade wrapper, Brazilian Mata Fina binder, and Nicaraguan Ometepe, Nicadan (a special Corojo-Criollo hybrid), and Jalapa filler. The cigars will retail between $12 and $16, plus applicable taxes.
Next it’s The Wise Man Maduro. To prepare the tobacco for this cigar, Nick worked with growers in Mexico to adjust their priming and fermentation methods to ensure they produced the tobacco the way he wanted it done. The tobacco is send directly from the curing barns in Mexico to Nicaragua for selection and fermentation. Nick tells us this isn’t just a wrapper change from the original El Güegüense, the blend has been modified. That includes upping the amount of ligero. The cigars will retail between $9 and $12 plus applicable taxes.
Nick also shows us a special collectors box to commemorate the opening of the new office in Connecticut. The design of it is based on a Hoyo de Monterrey cigar box from the 1920’s. The inside of the lid features custom artwork and two lidded trays that fold out to the sides. All told, the box holds 30 coronas. The cigars contained will be blend that was in consideration to become Tabernacle. The cigars themselves will retail for $16 plus applicable taxes.