Our Manufacturer Spotlight feature was created as a direct line between the consumer and a cigar’s creator. We want our customers to know the people responsible for making their favorite smokes, and to understand the inspirations, creative processes, and histories that led those creators to where they are today, and to inspire a much higher appreciation of the product. On a personal note, this is one of my favorite Spotlights yet because, over the last year or so, I have become a big fan of today’s subject and his work. So, let’s look into the life of the king of broadleaf, Nick Melillo.
Nick was born and raised in Connecticut, the great state that would make a profound impact on his career; as many cigar smokers know, Connecticut is home to one of the world’s finest strains of tobacco. Nick recalls that his grandfather, who worked for a prestigious gun manufacturer, loved lighting up a smooth Connecticut-wrapped cigar. The aroma, the heritage, the flavor, and the culture intrigued the young Nick, who began his journey toward cigar stardom at a small brick-and-mortar store in 1996.
After showing much dedication and ingenuity, Nick was offered the chance of a lifetime by Jonathan Drew, who hired him to run the Drew Estate factory in 2003. Placed in charge of the company’s large stock of tobacco, Nick was active in purchasing the various strains used to concoct innovative and enticing blends. From there, he took a more active role in blending, an area in which he really began to shine.
By combining his extensive tobacco knowledge with his dedication and passion for his home state, Nick began to utilize the famous Connecticut broadleaf tobacco that played a key role in developing one of the world’s most legendary and popular cigars, the Liga Privada. He continued to astonish the world with his blends, including the limited Dirty Rat, which he’d originally crafted just for himself to smoke in the factory.
After nine years with Drew Estate, Nick felt it was his time to strike out on his own; in 2014, he built a consulting firm to assist various factories (including Drew Estate) in the purchasing and storage of tobacco. Then, in 2015, he announced reentry into the cigar-manufacturing world with the creation of his company, Foundation Cigars.
For the last two years, Foundation has offered cigar fans some of the highest rated and most beloved cigars in the industry. His first outing was the deliciously zesty El Güegüense. This bold smoke’s name translates to “wiseman” and garnered Nick a place on Cigar Aficionado’s 2016 top-25 list after earning quite a few impressive marks from various other cigar publications, including Cigars & Leisure, Cigar Snob, and Cigar Insider. He followed up El Güegüense with one of the greatest broadleaf cigars of all time, The Tabernacle. Working hand in hand with A.J. Fernandez, The Tabernacle has set a very high standard for all maduro cigars.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Nick released two more lines by 2017. Charter Oak is not only a value-based smoke but also a love letter to his home state. Mellow yet flavorful, this cigar comes in both a Connecticut shade wrapper and a Connecticut broadleaf. Recently, Melillo entered the infused-cigar world with his Jamaica-themed line, The Upsetters. What I find intriguing about the Upsetters is that it was created with a rare and limited tobacco known as “cow tongue,” which Nick found while wandering around Jamaica.
He never ceases to amaze people with his creativity and ingenuity. In only two years since the creation of Foundation, he has positioned himself as a premier blender, not just in Nicaragua but around the world. And like many cigar nerds, I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to see what he comes out with next.