When the self-proclaimed chief of the broadleaf launched his own cigar company last year, the first cigar contained exactly zero broadleaf.

One year later—and that has changed, twice.

Nicholas Melillo is best known for his role at Drew Estate where he served as vp of international operations focusing on overseeing the company’s cigar production from tobacco procurement, production and blending. Since Melillo and Steve Saka—two former Drew Estate executives—left much has been made about who blended what at Drew Estate. Regardless of the debate that exists now, there was little debate when Melillo was at the company—he was one of, if not the most important person when it came to what cigars tasted like.

His first cigar was a tribute to Nicaragua, a Nicaraguan puro. It was somewhat of an odd announcement given that Melillo was best known for his work with heavy Connecticut wrappers, namely Liga Privada.

There are now two Connecticut broadleaf-wrapped cigars in the portfolio of Melillo’s Foundation Cigar Co. The Tabernacle is the higher-priced of the pair and the one that has garnered the most attention to date. It is being produced at Tabacalera AJ Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A., a factory better known for working with Pennsylvania broadleaf instead of broadleaf from Connecticut.

Underneath the Connecticut broadleaf wrapper is a Mexican San Andrés binder and a blend of filler tobaccos from Honduras and Nicaragua, including some from Fernandez’s La Soledad farm.

Interestingly, Melillo said he lived near the La Soledad farm when he first moved to Nicaragua in 2003.

It is offered in six sizes.

  • The Tabernacle Corona (5 1/4 x 46) — $9 (Boxes of 24, $216)
  • The Tabernacle Robusto (5 x 50) — $10.50 (Boxes of 24, $252)
  • The Tabernacle Torpedo (4 1/4 x 52) — $10.50 (Boxes of 24, $252)
  • The Tabernacle Toro (6 x 52) — $11.50 (Boxes of 24, $276)
  • The Tabernacle Doble Corona (7 x 54) — $12 (Boxes of 24, $288)
  • The Tabernacle Lancero (7 x 40) — $12.50 (Boxes of 13, $162.50)


  • Cigar Reviewed: The Tabernacle Corona
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: Tabacalera AJ Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A.
  • Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf
  • Binder: Mexican San Andrés
  • Filler: Honduras & Nicaragua
  • Length: 5 1/4 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 46
  • Vitola: Corona Extra
  • MSRP: $9 (Boxes of 24, $216)
  • Release Date: July 2016
  • Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

One thing I notice on all three cigars is that it’s not the greatest attempt at a perfect cylinder in the roll. There are some notable bumps along the thick wrapper and all cigars aren’t exactly straight. As for the aroma, there’s not much from The Tabernacle, which ships without cellophane, just some barnyard. The foot has barnyard along with some sweet raspberry candies. The cold draw is a bit more familiar as far as broadleaf-wrapped Nicaraguan cigars go: sweet cocoa, some barnyard and a sharp green pepper. In every aspect, things are quietly mild, which is not what I typically find on this wrapper and filler combination.

The Tabernacle starts dry and smooth. There’s a dark chocolate overtone that sits on top of a very earthy flavor with touches of hickory and peanut butter before some toastiness enters on the finish. My second sample starts to immediately go out by puff number four, which leads to a quick touch-up. Unfortunately, the burn issues aren’t limited to just that cigar as another sample sees one half of the cigar not wanting to burn. Dominating the flavor is creaminess and earthiness—similar to wet leaves and burning woods—neither one seems restricted to just the tongue or the retrohale with both jumping around quite a bit for the first two inches. In addition, there’s cocoa, peanut butter and a mild meatiness. All three cigars are somewhere between medium-plus and medium-full with none of them consistently staying in what category. What is consistent is that the finish is stronger than the initial flavors with the earthiness combining with some numbed nuttiness, almost like what I imagine trying to eat 24-ounces of mixed nuts is like.


It’s still got much of the sweetness from the first third, though it seems to have moved more towards the bottom of the flavor profile. There’s an added oatmeal, which plays nicely with the sweetness, and it’s joined by a lot more woody flavors. Midway through and the sweetness has given way to a emerging campfire toastiness which transitions very smoothly from the earlier woody mixture. Elsewhere, I still struggle with the burn, although it’s almost solely due to the need to keep The Tabernacle lit. Joining my list of concerns is the draw, which has tightened a bit and isn’t helping the combustion flavor.


The sweetness dissipates quite a bit in the final third. It’s still very earthy with the toastiness taking a big part of the cigar. There’s some mild pepper in the middle of tongue, but it really makes itself known in the form of a pretty big black pepper towards the back of the throat. As for the construction, it remains an annoyance with relights needed to keep The Tabernacle burning properly and a draw that could be a bit looser for more liking.


Final Notes

  • For those wondering, Charter Oak is the other broadleaf-wrapped line from Foundation. Both cigars debuted at the 2016 IPCPR Convention & Trade Show in July.
  • There certainly is a temptation both when I review cigars from Nicholas and Saka, and also when people ask questions and informally talk about the cigars from Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust and Foundation Cigar Co. to compare the cigars to Drew Estate products, namely Liga Privada. In addition, many seem to want to compare—is El Güegüense better than Sobremesa; how does The Tabernacle and Mi Querida compare to Liga Privada. In one sense, I think it says a lot about just how successful the two were while at Drew Estate. In other sense, I imagine both of them are sick of it.
  • I know that for some, people wouldn’t mind a puff by puff play by play of how The Tabernacle compares to Mi Querida and Liga Privada—unfortunately, that’s not really fair to anyone.
  • On that same note, it was an accident that we reviewed Mi Querida yesterday and now The Tabernacle today. I screwed up and the Mi Querida review didn’t make it out on Tuesday.
  • The second sample I smoked, i.e. the one that nearly went out almost immediately after lighting, was substantially worse than the other two.
  • The first sample had its own issues, here’s how it started.


  • Burn issues have become a far too common thing of late and I’ve begun to wonder if Nicaragua’s traditional rainy season—which has taken place for the last few months—is the culprit behind this. I know a lot of cigar companies in Nicaragua are wary of shipping products between August-October and I can’t hep but wonder if we are seeing some of the effects of this in our reviews.
  • When The Tabernacle is burning correctly, there’s a plethora of smoke.
  • The flavors transition extremely well from start to finish. This certainly is more of a harmonious story rather than dramatic changes and I would be tough to tell when one third started and another ended if I was smoking this blindfolded.
  • Strength is medium-plus and body is medium-full. I smoked the Toro, which was definitely stronger in just about every regard.
  • Both A.J. Fernández and Foundation Cigar Co. advertise on halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time was one hour and 45 minutes on average.
88 Overall Score

It’s rare that I smoke another size of a cigar before I review it, but I did here. That one experience with the Tabernacle Toro was better than what I found in the Corona, but for better or worse, I reviewed the latter. While it isn’t mild, it is milder than most of the Connecticut broadleaf with Nicaraguan filler combinations on the market. Still, it’s extremely flavorful, but I certainly wished for a bit more vibrancy with the flavors. Between that and the construction issues, my advice—something I plan on following—is to try some of the other sizes before making any long-term commitments to the Corona.

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Charlie Minato

I am an editor and co-founder of halfwheel.com/Rueda Media, LLC. I previously co-founded and published TheCigarFeed, one of the two predecessors of halfwheel. I have written about the cigar industry for more than a decade, covering everything from product launches to regulation to M&A. In addition, I handle a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff here at halfwheel. I enjoy playing tennis, watching boxing, falling asleep to the Le Mans 24, wearing sweatshirts year-round and eating gyros. echte liebe.