Nicknames are earned, not given, no matter what that guy back in high school insisted you call him (he still insists on being called “Rooster,” by the way…). So, when you earn the nickname “Nickragua,” there is definitely a reason. I’m of course talking about the man himself and his newest release: the Olmec by Foundation Cigar Company. For those of you that aren’t familiar with either the man or the brand, let me take you on a little detour before we get to the review itself.
Foundation Cigar Co. is a premium cigar manufacturer that has been making waves in the industry since its inception in 2015. The company, founded by Nicholas Melillo (who, by the way, got his aforementioned nickname by being so steeped in Nicaraguan tobacco that his blood type has been deemed “Nicaraguan positive”), has quickly earned a reputation for producing blends that appeal to cigar enthusiasts worldwide. Melillo’s passion for cigars began at a young age, working as an apprentice in a cigar shop in his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut. He went on to work for Drew Estate, where he played an instrumental role in developing some of the company’s most popular blends. After years of honing his craft, Melillo decided to strike out on his own and founded Foundation Cigar Co. Nick has become known for his hearty and flavorful blends, with some of his most popular cigars including The Tabernacle, El Güegüense, and Highclere Castle.
The latest line produced by Foundation is the Olmec, which was announced last July and went on to ship in September.
The backstory of the Olmec cigar is an interesting one. The Olmecs were ancient civilization that lived in what is now the Veracruz, Tabasco, and San Andrés Tuxtla regions of Mexico from 1400 to 400 BC. The civilization is known for its contributions to art, architecture, and agriculture. The Olmec people were also believed to be one of the first groups to cultivate tobacco, leading into the Olmec cigar’s narrative. This continues to the cigars’ ingredients, making use of a San Andrés Negro wrapper from the formerly Olmec-occupied region of San Andrés, Mexico. Two versions of the leaf were selected, with a light-hued San Andrés found on the Olmec Claro cigar, while a darker San Andrés maduro is used on the Olmec Maduro cigar.
Olmec Claro Toro Breakdown
Wrapper: Mexican San Andrés
Factory: Tabacalera A.J. Fernández Cigars de Nicaragua (Nicaragua)
Production: Regular Production
Vitola: 6? × 52 (Toro)
Price: $14.50 (MSRP)
On paper, each version of the Olmec line features the same core recipe of Nicaraguan binder/filler from the Estelí and Jalapa regions. These leaves are bale aged for three years prior to being rolled. The cigar’s signature ingredient is the San Andrés wrapper, which Foundation describes as “[being] fermented slowly at low temperatures to preserve the natural oils that give flavor.” The difference between the two is quite subtle, and the cigars’ bands don’t make the task any easier, forgoing the usual “Maduro” / “Claro” identifiers expected from such a project. Packaging and sizes are consistent between the two as well, with each line consisting of five sizes priced between $12.50 and $16 per cigar.
Corona Gorda: 5½” x 48 | $12.50 ($150 per 12-ct box)
Robusto: 5? x 50 | $13.50 ($162 per 12-ct box)
Toro: 6? x 52 | $14.50 ($174 per 12-ct box)
Grande: 6? x 60 | $15.50 ($186 per 12-ct box)
DB Corona: 7? x 54 | $16.00 ($192 per 12-ct box)
The distinctly sharp, rectangular box-press of the Olmec Claro is immediately noticed, with the prominent edges showing off the excellent roll of this cigar. The seams, while noticeable, are almost perfectly spaced, being tight with no lifting. Occasionally, such a firm box-press can cause the edges of the wrapper to lift off and wing slightly, so it is a testament to production quality when this doesn’t occur.
The wrapper itself has a very thick and durable feel—a common attribute to the notoriously hearty Mexican San Andrés tobacco. It has a good feel, like I could drop this stick and not instantly cringe that the wrapper was just destroyed (I didn’t test this theory, it’s just an observation). There is a paper bag texture to the wrapper, which is interesting, because that is almost the exact color of the wrapper as well.
Roasted peanuts, though faint, hit my sinuses as I deeply inhale with the cigar under my nose. A slight raw chocolate is in the background, but even less noticeable than the roasted peanuts. The foot of the Olmec Claro has a more pungent apple cider vinegar smell that mixes with a tangy and bright cedar note. Such contrasting aromas from wrapper to foot of the cigar leave me intrigued to set fire to the toro. As with almost all of my cigars, I give the Olmec Claro a clean clip with my Cigar Dojo teardrop double guillotine. The draw is a near-perfect 9/10. Similar to the wrapper, the cold draw notes are light as well, mirroring the aromas from the wrapper and foot with cedar, baking chocolate, and roasted nuts. These flavors are mixed with a dry black pepper that is potent enough that my tongue tingles with its effect.
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First light impressions catch me off guard. I am not normally one to be “wowed” by a cigar, but the initial few puffs are loaded with flavor. Sweet cinnamon and walnut blend together, creating a candied nut flavor. Red pepper flake and earthy baking spices linger on the palate between puffs. This cigar has my attention, and I have to force myself to maintain the pace at which I normally smoke. Flavor is medium/full, body is medium/full, and strength is medium-plus.
As I get past the first light and into the body of the cigar, I find that the toro seems to have a bit of a quick burn. An onslaught of flavor continues apace with easily distinguishable cinnamon bears and a prominent red pepper spice. The smoke has a very coating A Flavor Odyssey favorite—the mouth equivalent to #nosefeel, but isn’t oily or necessarily chewy. It hits my palate fully, and makes retrohaling a little too easy; I have to be sure to limit the amount of smoke I pass through my sinuses to avoid a smoke overload. On the retrohale, I pick up a lumberyard note. It’s not overly cedar laden; it’s more of a pine board aroma, like cutting 2x4s for a woodworking project. The draw is still a near-perfect 9/10, with the body, flavor, and strength now at a medium/full. The burn is slightly wavy, but that’s not unexpected with a box-pressed cigar.
The middle of the cigar has now arrived, and much to my chagrin, it has come quicker than I would have liked. The Olmec Claro is burning faster than most cigars of this quality, but the experience itself continues to be a positive one. A major transition has taken place. The cinnamon has backed off, and sweet cedar is pushing to the forefront. A savory, meaty cabinet spice is now in the mix, as well as a toasted bread note. This may sound weird, but I’m taken back to the French dip sandwich I used to get in my youth at the local sale barn. The toasted bread and seasoned meat—all mixing so harmoniously. It makes me smile. The ash finally falls in a solid chunk, impressive for a box press. Meanwhile, an earthy black peppercorn note is still in the retrohale and, though not as strong as before, it still zings the nostrils if I push too much smoke.
As I take the band off of the Olmec Claro, a bit of wrapper comes with it. It doesn’t appear to be over-glued, so it’s a little confusing that this happened. Thankfully, it doesn’t affect the smoking experience moving into the final section. The cinnamon that was so big and flavorful in the first half is a distant memory. Replacing it is a pleasant earth. I know the technical name is petrichor, but that reminds me of the name of a petrochemical company. I like to think of it as the smell of summer rains on corn fields: slightly vegetal, rich soil, and a damp wood. The finish is long and black pepper stays on the palate between puffs. The burn has gotten a little too wonky and a touchup is required. Body, flavor, and strength are all holding at a medium/full to close out the Olmec Claro.
The final puff of the Olmec Claro has a raw cinnamon note mixed with bitter oak. There is also a sourdough toast with butter and a red pepper that bites my taste buds on the finish. The end of this cigar is just as interesting as the start, a rarity in a lot of premium cigars today.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
Hands down I would, and I hope to soon. Nick Melillo rarely misses the mark for me when it comes to cigars (the only real deviation for my palate being his Upsetters series). The Olmec Claro really impressed me. Solid construction combined with great flavors and transitions really set the stage for a great smoking experience. When I first smoked the Olmec lineup I didn’t understand why color-sorted wrappers needed two separate cigar designations, but I do seem to get a little better flavors that suit my smoking preference with the Claro over the Maduro.
As of this writing, the Foundation Olmec Claro sits in 416th place on the Dojoverse rankings (the top nine percent), scored with a “100% Smokable” rating.
The Olmec Claro was awarded Cigar Dojo’s No. 2 Cigar of the Year for 2022.
Flavor: Medium / Full
Strength: Medium / Full
Body: Medium / Full
Sweet cinnamon / Cinnamon bears
Savory meat spices
Toasted sourdough bread
Smoke Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Pairing Recommendation: Rye old fashioned | Brown Ale | Cola soda
Purchase Recommendation: Buy a box—they’re worth it
Great flavors from first lightTons of bodyBalanced strength
Fast burnWavy burn requires occasional touchup
Originally posted on March 29, 2023 @ 6:17 am