Cigar Buying Guides

The Essential Cigar Advisor Guide to AJ Fernandez Cigars


Editors/Reviewers: John Pullo, Gary Korb, Jared Gulick

The AJ Fernandez Cigars Back Story

If you walked into a cigar shop little more than a decade ago and started talking about AJ Fernandez, there weren’t many who would’ve known who you were talking about. Conversely, today there aren’t many who wouldn’t. Few cigar manufacturers have achieved such a meteoric rise in popularity, and even fewer in such a relatively brief timeline. To understand why cigar enthusiasts throughout North America have latched onto his blends so tightly, we must go back to 1992 when Abdel (AJ) Fernandez, then 13, would rush straight from school to a tobacco farm deep in the heart of Cuba’s Pinar del Rio growing region.

AJ Fernandez cigars guide AJ under tobacco shade
pic via

AJ was working for his father, Ismael at the time. Ismael worked for Cuba’s agricultural department, as most tobacco growers there did. Tobacco, post Cuban Revolution, has been very much a state-run business.

Armed with the knowledge passed down by his father and grandfather, Fernandez left Cuba in 2003 and settled in Nicaragua. He got his start, as many cigarmakers do, by taking on the workload of other companies. Both big-name cigar manufacturers and retailers alike trusted him to make their cigars.

Back then, he had a small team of six rollers working out of a factory that had seen better days. But the cigars they produced were starting to catch on. It wasn’t long before AJ was ready to stretch his wings and make a name for himself. In 2010, AJ revived his grandfather’s pre-revolution brand called San Lotano. It was this cigar line that turned him into the Tony Stark of the cigar industry. It was an overnight success and received a blistering 91 rating just a year after its release.

AJ Fernandez cigars guide AJ Fernandez in tobacco field
pic via AJ Fernandez Instagram

From that point, saying that AJ has been prolific is an understatement. He’s worked with just about everyone – names like Hoyo de Monterrey, H Upmann, Romeo y Julieta, Puncheven us here at Famous – and more. And that’s in addition to his solo brands like New World, Enclave, Dias de Gloria, and more.

AJ Fernandez cigars guide tobacco curing barn Nicaragua
pic via

His old-world approach and whiz-kid savvy in the blending room have made him one of the most sought-after manufacturers. Today, his company is one of Nicaragua’s largest premium cigar operations: over 100,000 cigars are rolled every day, by hand, between Tabacalera AJ Fernandez de Nicaragua, SA in Estelí and the San Lotano factory to the north in Totogalpa. That includes every cigar in this guide, except for one. AJ grows tobacco on his own farms in Condega, Jalapa, Esteli, Pueblo Nuevo, Quilali and Ometepe.

AJ Fernandez cigars guide AJ sampling tobacco
pic via AJ Fernandez Instagram

For this AJ Fernandez cigar guide, we’ve put every blend available at Famous to the test (that’s 19 so far). These reviews are designed to give you a basic idea of what to expect from each cigar if you decide to smoke it yourself. We encourage you to add your comments at the end and share your favorite AJ cigar experiences below.

New World Dorado Cigar Review

Size: 5”x52 box-pressed Robusto
Body: Medium-Plus
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano Sun Grown (Dorado farm, Estelí)
Binder: Nicaraguan Criollo ’98 (Dorado farm, Estelí)
Filler: Nicaraguan (Dorado farm with additional Estelí & Condega)

Construction: Textbook pressing; not too sharp. Wrapper is stunning with suede-like color and rather toothy. The triple seam cap is perfectly applied. Aroma off the wrapper is sweet barnyard.
Pre-light flavor: A bit herbal with some green apple tartness, wood and graham cracker.
Toasting & Light: Toasty with baking spices and light caramelized tobacco notes. The initial draws are a combination of spice and charred wood.
Base flavors: Charred wood, earth, pepper, baking spices, cinnamon, graham cracker
Retrohale: A mix of wood and pepper
Aroma: Refined with a rich, spicy tobacco scent
Burn & Ash Quality: Textbook burn with firm, nickel-stacked ashes.
Balance of flavors: Superb

Summary: Released in the latter half of 2022, the New World Dorado line has not only wowed AJ fans, but the 93-rated Robusto here landed in the Top 25 Cigars of 2022. The bulk of the tobaccos come from the first harvest of AJ’s Dorado farm in Estelí, which was about four years ago. That includes the sun-grown Habano wrapper, the Criollo ’98 binder, and the majority of the long fillers. The medium-plus smoke issues a creamy mix of charred wood, light pepper, baking spices, graham cracker, and more. As Cigar Advisor Managing Editor, John Pullo wrote in his Dorado panel review, “If you’re any fan of AJ’s blending from his early days, you’ll love this cigar unconditionally right down to the ragged, finger-burning nub.” That’s golden! – Gary

Viva La Vida Box Press Cigar Review

Size: 6”x52 Box-Pressed Toro
Body: Medium-plus
Wrapper: Proprietary Nicaraguan Habano 2000 Oscuro
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua

Construction: The Oscuro wrapper has an attractive oily sheen and is perfectly pressed. The tobaccos were well packed; no sign of soft spots. The triple seam cap cuts cleanly, revealing an effortless draw. with just the right amount of pressure.
Pre-light flavor: Salty and leathery with a fig-like taste
Toasting & Light: The cigar lights-up easily offering opening notes of sweet tobacco and leather.
Base flavors: Leather, cedar, and sweet spices
Retrohale: White pepper
Aroma: Sweet and spicy
Burn & Ash Quality: Impressively even with firm, conical ashes.|
Balance of flavors: Excellent

Summary: Let’s say you own two of the hottest cigar stores in New York City. You and your brothers decide it’s time to put out your own super premium. Who do you turn to? AJ Fernandez, of course, who delivered an instant bestseller for Billy, Gus, and Bass Fakih of Cigar Inn in 2015. They called it Viva La Vida and never looked back. Then, several years ago the brothers approached Famous Smoke Shop and proposed an exclusive box-pressed Viva La Vida Toro. Famous jumped at the chance. Plus, the blend remains the same, too. Prime tobaccos from Nicaragua squared in a gleaming Nicaraguan Habano 2000 wrapper. Sweet, spicy, complex and perfectly balanced with a medium-full body, this cigar is simply sensational—
no joke! – Gary

Indomina by AJ Fernandez Cigar Review

Size: 6”x50 Toro
Body: Medium
Wrapper: Ecuador 2000 Hybrid
Binder: Mexico
Filler: Nicaragua

Construction: Superb. Toothy with smooth seams, and a well-fashioned triple seam cap.
Pre-light flavor: Light molasses, cocoa, and dried fruit.
Toasting & Light: Cigar takes well to flame issuing a hint of cedar and sweet tobacco.
Base flavors: Cedar, leather, earth, coffee bean, black pepper.
Retrohale: Bold black pepper
Aroma: Hearty with a nutty essence.
Burn & Ash Quality: Textbook burn reveals a firm, dark grey ash.
Balance of flavors: Excellent

Summary: From the Spanish adjective indómito, meaning “untamable,” “rebellious,” and “unruly,” comes this exclusive AJ Fernandez cigar selection. Although the name makes it sound like it’s gonna be a full-bodied powerplay, Indomina weighs-in at a very agreeable medium body. The blend starts with the star of this cigar—a plush Ecuador 2000 wrapper bred from a Cuban/Connecticut seed hybrid. Next comes a naturally sweet Mexican binder followed by a core of prime Nicaraguan fillers. All told, the smoke issues touches of cedar, leather, coffee bean, earth and black pepper underscored by a wealth of well-balanced spice. In addition to its more than reasonable price, Indomina makes a good introductory smoke for the new AJ Fernandez smoker. – Gary

Dias de Gloria Cigar Review

Size: Robusto (5 ½” x 52)Body: Full
Wrapper: Nicaragua Habano
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua

Construction: Fine tooth, neatly rolled, and a little veiny. Even brown coloring and a Cuban-style cap.
Draw: Slightly firm.
Pre-light flavor: Fig, raisin, and spices.
Toasting & Light: Had a meaty quality that reminded me a little bit of jerky.
Base flavors: Wood, sweet peppers, black pepper, earth, and salted peanuts.
Retrohale: Spicy, with hot peppers.
Aroma: Nutty and spicy.
Burn & Ash Quality: Salt and pepper color with a ‘stack of dimes’ appearance. Sturdy and holds up to the wind, as does the burn line.
Balance of flavors: A nice collection that have married well and will age even better.

Summary: Dias de Gloria means days of glory, symbolic of the pre-Castro Cuban era of cigars and tobacco. I’ve never had a cigar that old, but I can tell you that this cigar is pretty damn good. Next time Marty’s in town with the DeLorean, let me know and we’ll compare.

Unlike my session with Enclave, Dias de Gloria started out medium-bodied and slowly rose in intensity. There was so much going on with this little firecracker. It started off a little meaty. Then, it transitioned to wood, black pepper, salted peanuts, and a little bit of earth. It engaged my entire palate all at once without overpowering any part of it.

And that’s before you even retrohale it. Ever had those crushed hot peppers from a pizzeria? It’s kind of like that. Almost makes you sweat.

As strong as it is, isn’t hard to smoke. It’s not harsh or uninviting – but I also wouldn’t call it smooth. There’s a reason that AJ set aside these tobaccos and let them age up to seven years…he knows what he’s doing. I’d put Dias de Gloria up against any of his other blends. If you want one of AJ’s finest – without compromising flavor for body – this is worth every last penny. – Jared

Bellas Artes Cigar Review

Size: Robusto (5½” x 52, box-pressed)
Strength: Med-Full
Wrapper: Proprietary hybrid Rojita
Binder: Nicaraguan Havana ’92
Filler: Nicaragua, Honduras, Brazil

Construction: Supreme. Seamlessly rolled and perfectly pressed resulting in relatively sharp edges. The cap is flawlessly applied with a triple seam. The tobaccos are solidly packed top to bottom, and the cigar has nice weight in the hand.
Draw: Excellent.
Pre-light flavor: Earth, leather, salt.
Toasting & Light: No problem. Tobaccos took evenly to flame.
Base flavors: Damp earth, wood, black pepper, raw cinnamon.
Aroma: Semi-sweet.
Burn & Ash Quality: Some slight angling early on, but the cigar evened-out within the first inch and stuck it.
Balance of flavors: Very good. Subtly complex, but some flavors were a bit muted at times.

Summary: There’s something about a reddish, box–pressed wrapper with a smooth, leathery texture that does it for me. Like a woman with great legs, I can’t help giving it a longer look. And with such a diverse tobacco blend, this lady has a few surprises. Medium-full in body and mostly earthy in flavor with a subtle complexity.

The smoke also reveals nuanced flavors of dark wood, black pepper and an outlying note of what tastes like raw cinnamon – the stick variety. The smoke is well-balanced, very smooth, and makes a satisfying “go to” for those who favor hearty, spicy cigars. – Gary

Bellas Artes Maduro Cigar Review

Size: Robusto (5½” x 52, box-pressed)
Strength: Full
Wrapper: Brazilian Mata Fina
Binder: Mexican San Andrés
Filler: Nicaragua

Construction: Excellent. Another great example of box-pressing expertise. Fully packed and well-rolled, the triple seam cap was just slightly off-center.
Draw: Excellent.
Pre-light flavor: Peppery spice, leather, wood.
Toasting & Light: No issues.
Base flavors: Leather, earth, cocoa, cedar, sweet and peppery spice.
Aroma: Sweet.
Burn & Ash Quality: Even all the way. Ash was solid grey and quite firm revealing a very thin carbon line.
Balance of flavors: Very good with a fair amount of complexity.

Summary: Solidly made and perfectly pressed inside a dark, toothy, and oily Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper. Start off peppery, as per, then followed by notes of leather and wood, this Robusto reveals a bit more complexity than its natural counterpart. Full-bodied throughout, flavors of leather earth, cocoa, and peppery spice prevail on a long, peppery finish.

I expected a little more sweetness from the Mata Fina wrapper than the occasional cameo. Every so often, especially in the second half, I picked up a tangy flavor on the order of orange peel. One of AJ’s most intriguing cigars that experienced palates will want to dive into for a savory swim. – Gary

Enclave by AJ Fernandez Cigar Review

Size: Churchill (7” x 52)Body: Medium-plus
Wrapper: Habano Rosado
Binder: Cameroon
Filler: Piloto Cubano and Nicaragua

Construction: Dark, reddish brown wrapper with a few prominent veins. Had a slight soft spot in the center, but otherwise, flawless.
Draw: Very smooth.
Pre-light flavor: Tingles on the lips. A little salty and very peppery.
Toasting & Light: A bit tangy, slightly bitter, and earthy. Lots of pepper.
Base flavors: Wood, earthy sweetness, spices, and pepper.
Retrohale: Spicy, but doesn’t burn out your nose.
Aroma: Peanut butter.
Burn & Ash Quality: Burns evenly with a marbled ash. Breaks every inch or so with a nice cone.
Balance of flavors: A good mix of salty and sweet flavors, and all of them play together nicely.

Summary: AJ Fernandez Enclave Churchill is not the strongest AJ smoke. But you might think it was from the first few puffs. If you’re not a big fan of the pepper, however, the brunt of it lasts about an inch. From there, the cigar evens out with an earthy sweetness, wood, and spices. A tanginess hung around in the background, too.

The two-inch mark was where things got interesting. I started finding nutty notes and the flavor turned a bit salty – and this jived really well with the existing wood and sweet earth. The pepper there and beyond was only evident through the nose when I would retrohale. There was also a bit of bite from the spice on the roof of my mouth with each draw.

From that point on, things stayed mostly the same, but certain things would pop in and fade away. Some nuttiness here, some tanginess there. This kept things interesting and it’s a characteristic I value highly in a premium cigar. Big points there.

Those of you who’ve smoked AJ’s fare know that he’s got a signature flavor – usually on the earthy and spicy side – and this cigar snugly fits that mold. If you like your sticks front-loaded, and settling into a medium-plus range, then Enclave is a prime candidate for your humidor. – Jared

Enclave Broadleaf Cigar Review

Size: Toro (6 ½” x 54)
Body: Full Plus
Wrapper: U.S. Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua

Construction: Indistinguishable rolling lines, neatly pressed veins, and an oily, dark appearance.
Draw: Very smooth.
Pre-light flavor: Lightly spicy.
Toasting & Light: Savory with hints of wood and tobacco sweetness.
Base flavors: Tangy wood, potato chip, coffee, leather, and lots of pepper.
Retrohale: Floral with big servings of pepper.
Aroma: Reminds me of cashews.
Burn & Ash Quality: Mostly white ash. Stuck like duct tape. Burns perfectly.
Balance of flavors: A good mix of salty and sweet flavors, and all of them play together nicely.

Summary: Enclave Broadleaf draws many parallels to its natural-clad cousin in terms of flavor, but they’re worlds apart when it comes to body. This cigar was the most intense of my samples, and I listed it as full plus in kind. In terms of flavor, she’s complex off the line with nuances of wood, potato chip, coffee, and leather that seem to come and go on a whim. And pepper…oh, there’s lots of that. Later, there was a wisp of sweetness that tasted a bit like cocoa powder. If I wanted to feel it even more, the retrohale had even bigger servings of pepper, along with fresh flowers for balance.

Enclave Broadleaf’s first major change comes just before the band. It starts to smooth out and become earthier, with less of an assault on the palate. But it’s also there that I started to really feel the nicotine. There were clearly some high-yield tobaccos at play. After smoking past the band, the cigar suddenly got quite sweet and much smoother, which was a nice way to wind down from the flavor bomb it had been. This was the strongest cigar I’ve had in some time and I’d recommend it to those with at least a few notches in their smoking belt. If you don’t and you’re feeling adventurous. I’d have a sugar packet handy just in case. All in all, an extreme cigar with excellent flavor. Worth smoking for a thrill every now and then. – Jared

Ramon Allones by AJ Fernandez Cigar Review

Size: Toro (6” x 52)Body: Medium
Wrapper: Nicaragua Medio Tiempo Habano
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua

Construction: Seamless, dark, and evenly colored. Has a hefty weight to it in the hand.
Draw: Tight, but allows enough smoke through.
Pre-light flavor: Lightly sweet, lightly spicy, and a bit of a lip tingle.
Toasting & Light: Lots of oak, light spices, and somewhat creamy.
Base flavors: Oak, veggie sweetness, earth, coffee, and baking spices.
Retrohale: Smoother than most of AJ’s fare, especially after the first inch or two.
Aroma: Reminded me a little of green peppers. Burn & Ash Quality: A darker ash with a burn that went slightly sideways (outside).
Balance of flavors: Superb.

Summary: Ramon Allones is one of Cuba’s oldest brands. It also happens to be one of AJ’s favorites. It’s for this reason he set out to reimagine it for the American market.

The cigar’s introductory flavors are oak, light spices (a lot less than most of AJ’s stuff), and cream. Soon after, the profile evolves to include a veggie sweetness, earth, leather, and green peppers. There was also a sweetened coffee note that came and went throughout the smoke.

The halfway mark added an almond-like flavor, and the smoke turned even sweeter. Even with a slightly off-kilter burn from being outside, it was never too hot, never bitter, and an absolute joy to smoke. That includes the tail end of the cigar, which got even creamier.

A little side note, Ramon Allones Toro has some chunkiness to it. Not in dimensions, but in weight and density. It feels good in the hand. Solid. Like how a metal pen is more satisfying to hold than cheap plastic designs.

I’ll leave you with this: I always say that AJ’s stuff is for seasoned palates, but once in a while, he creates a cigar like this that invites everyone to enjoy. Try it for yourself and let me know if you agree. – Jared

New World by AJ Fernandez Cigar Review

Size: Robusto (5½” x 55, box-pressed)
Strength: Full
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Hybrid Oscuro
Binder & Filler: Nicaragua

Construction: Superb. The box–pressing forms semi-sharp edges, flawless rolling, and an interesting looking cap that seems to come down a little lower than others. The cigar is also well-packed showing no sign of soft spots.
Draw: Excellent.
Pre-light flavor: Very salty and leathery.
Toasting & Light: Very good. My sample got off to a fairly quick start.
Base flavors: Leather, cedar, sweet spices, espresso, black and red pepper.
Aroma: Sweet.
Burn & Ash Quality: Excellent. The cigar had hardly any burn line at all, while the ash was firm and mostly grey with some black marbling.
Balance of flavors: Very good. All of the flavors were in play at any given point in the session.

Summary: Starting from its dark, toothy and perfectly-pressed hybrid wrapper, the New World Robusto is a spicy charmer. Of course, the signature peppery bite on the finish was there and the flavors were well balanced. But this wide ring Robusto was more like a tale of two cigars, and that made it particularly interesting for me. The first half exhibited a creamy cocktail of leather, sweet spice and cedar. The volume of smoke was excellent, and the flavors remained fairly consistent.

It was at the midsection where the cigar took a sharp turn toward a much earthier and spicier smoke. Red and black pepper began to emerge while other areas were colored-in with notes of espresso. The sweeter elements had faded leaving a very bold, earthy and peppery smoke. Definitely tailored for smokers with longer resumés, this may be one of AJ’s most defining moments. – Gary

New World Connecticut Cigar Review

Size: Robusto (5” x 50)
Strength: Medium-plus
Wrapper: U.S. Connecticut Shade
Binder: Mexican San Andrés
Filler: Nicaragua, Brazil

Construction: Excellent. Masterfully rolled, neatly packed, and finished with a handsome triple seam.
Draw: Perfect.
Pre-light flavor: Lightly salty and earthy.
Toasting & Light: Effortless.
Base flavors: Damp earth, leather, burnt wood, black and red pepper.
Aroma: Sharp.
Burn & Ash Quality: Excellent. A fine carbon line sits behind a firm, grey and black stippled ash. The burn was even from the get-go to the nub.
Balance of flavors: Very good. Though some flavors were slightly obscured at times, the balance dealt them out fairly.

Summary: One thing I’ll say for Señor Fernandez, he sure knows how to pick gorgeous wrapper. The buttery-looking U.S. Connecticut Shade wrapper on this Robusto is another example. Here’s another thing I’ve noticed: I’ve seen so many 52 and higher ring Robustos, these days a 50 ring tends to look more like a 44 to me.

Starting out very woody and earthy on a peppery finish, the cigar rounds out to a medium bodied and fairly spicy encounter. Layers of burnt wood, leather, and both black and red pepper prevail making this a straight down the line Nicaraguan forward blend. The cigar is easy to smoke and ripped with dark Nicaraguan flavor. It’s the milder wrapper, however, that takes just enough off edge to make it very accessible to “younger” palates. – Gary

New World Puro Especial Cigar Review

Size: Toro (6 ½” x 52)Body: Medium Plus
Wrapper: Nicaragua Criollo ‘98
Binder: Nicaragua Habano
Filler: Nicaragua

Construction: Sandpaper look with thick tooth, mottled brown coloring, and a lengthy cap that allows for deeper cuts.
Draw: Excellent.
Pre-light flavor: Dried fruit.
Toasting & Light: Tangy – almost metallic.
Base flavors: Earth, grass, spices, and sourdough bread.
Retrohale: Peppery and slightly floral.
Aroma: Nutty and sweet.
Burn & Ash Quality: Good balance of color. Holds firmly and burns straight.
Balance of flavors: Light on the sweetness, but otherwise hits every part of your palate.

Summary: Aptly named Puro Especial, this cigar takes you on a tour of AJ’s farms via well-aged tobaccos. Including a criminally underused Criollo ’98 on top. Criollo is leaf you’ll usually find in the filler. But in the right hands through curing and aging, it can be one of the finest cigar wrappers you’ll ever taste.

Puro Especial’s first few puffs are tangy, with an almost metallic sensation on the palate. From there, the first third of the cigar turns nutty, sweet, and very earthy (sometimes even grassy). Each draw is smooth, and while it isn’t very peppery, there’s quite a bit of spice.

The second third began with a flavor that reminded me of sourdough bread. There was a pinch of salt, too. Some of the grassiness made a comeback, and it subtly gave way to the final third which was where I found most of the pepper. Especially through the nose. The cigar ended on a sweeter note and didn’t become bitter or hot, even at the nub.

AJ fans are going to love this cigar, but I’d recommend this as a first-time AJ for anyone who hasn’t sampled his brand yet. It’s an experienced smoker’s dream, but even somewhat newer smokers will find a lot to love without being burned out. – Jared

New World Cameroon Selection Cigar Review

Size: Gordo (6” x 60, box-pressed)
Body: Medium
Wrapper: African Cameroon
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua

Construction: Even in color, well-constructed, but missing a small chunk of wrapper, and a crack on the seam. Didn’t affect flavor.
Pre-light flavor: A hint of berry with wood and spice.
Toasting & Light: Cedar, spices, citrus, and some of the pre-light berry peeking through.
Base flavors: Wood, coffee, cedar, and cocoa.
Retrohale: Very smooth.
Aroma: Sweet.
Burn & Ash Quality: A little flaky and grey. Burns great despite the wrapper crack and only needed one touch-up once it caught up.
Balance of flavors: Excellent blend of sweet and savory flavors.

Summary: I’ve talked a few times in previous articles about how I’m not very big into Cameroon. It’s like craft beer. You like it or you don’t. But there’s something different about New World Cameroon. It doesn’t play on the palate like a Fuente or any other cigar I’ve smoked with an African wrapper.

First, there is cedar, spice, citrus, and a quick rush of berry I wished had stuck around longer. It’s very sweet. Not long after toasting, coffee and cocoa start to flow into the fray. The cigar is ultra-smooth thanks in part to its 60-gauge. With the box-pressing, it doesn’t feel that big. I like large gauges even less than Cameroon wrappers, but the box-pressed shape tricks the brain into thinking it is smaller.

The second act is much more coffee-forward. It’s the most prominent note at that point, but it hasn’t washed the others away. Interestingly, I found very little pepper – even in the retrohale throughout the sample. It’s a steady, pleasant experience from start to finish.

Smokers who are looking for a top cigar experience without being overwhelmed will likely embrace New World Cameroon the most. It’s ridiculously approachable and it’s offered at a reasonable price. Just about everyone I’ve asked told me they love it. I’m sure you will too! – Jared

Shadow King by AJ Fernandez Cigar Review

Size: Size: Churchill (7″ x 50)
Body: Full
Wrapper: Ecuador Sumatra Oscuro
Binder: Mexico
Filler: Nicaragua, Honduras, Dominican Republic

Construction: Dark and slightly oily, though I’d say more Maduro than Oscuro. Rolled firm with well-seated seams.
Draw: Very clear; good thick rips of smoke come off deep draws.
Pre-light flavor: Smell of spice and leather; taste of earth and sweet grass.
Toasting & Light: Charred wood, black pepper all concentrated on the middle and tip of the tongue. Spice makes the lips tingle.
Base flavors: Earth, black coffee, leather.
Retrohale: Wood, with a spice that zaps the inside of the nose.
Aroma: Smells like a pepper rub.
Burn & Ash Quality: Burn mostly straight with a grey-black ash. Stacks neatly, but doesn’t hold for long.

Summary: Even before I light this, I can smell the spice…and the cold draw get my lips tingling; that’s usually a sign of a pretty robust smoke. Lighting up proves it, as Shadow King is frontloaded for sure.

Our panel covered this Famous exclusive cigar in 2017. The taste this time around holds mostly true to my previous review: the peaty taste is still there, so is earth and coffee. By the end of the first third, the taste trims back on the spice but never lets it go away. It’s not unpleasant – but it will keep you from smoking too fast. More changeups follow than you might expect; that’s the Sumatra wrapper’s handiwork, as I’ve been told blenders use this leaf to add complexity to their recipes.

The Shadow King Churchill is pretty full bodied; if it’s sweeter taste you’re after, I’d say go up to a bigger size. But if a sturdy (and affordable), Nicaraguan-forward cigar is what you’re after, don’t skip the King.

Last Call Cigar Review

Size: Pequeñas (5” x 46 Corona)
Strength: Med-Full
Wrapper: Ecuadorian Rosado Habano
Binder & Filler: Nicaragua

Construction: Excellent. No soft spots. Seamlessly rolled with a closed foot at one end and a slightly funky-looking, off-color cap on my sample.
Draw: Perfect.
Pre-light flavor: Earthy and leathery.
Toasting & Light: No problem.
Base flavors: Damp earth, wood, leather, sweet tobacco, white pepper.
Aroma: Sharp.
Burn & Ash Quality: Excellent. The closed foot helps get it going. Overall, the burn was even, while the light grey ash had a very fine burn line, a tight granular appearance, and held on well.
Balance of flavors: Very good. No surprises, but the flavors were pretty evenly defined.

Summary: A handsome-looking cigar with a blushing Rosado Habano wrapper that’s rolled to perfection. A little more complex than its Maduro counterpart, this Last Call is also a bit sweeter and woodier with a medium-plus body. Damp earth bolstered by flavors of cedar, leather, sweet spices, and a peppery finish make this Corona a welcome and savory treat. An excellent and affordably priced selection for newbs who want to dip their toes in the AJ Fernandez pool. – Gary

Last Call Maduro Cigar Review

Size: Pequeñas (5” x 46 Corona)
Strength: Med-Full
Wrapper: Pennsylvania Broadleaf
Binder & Filler: Nicaragua

Construction: Excellent. Well packed with an attractive cap that’s well-applied and cuts easily. The rolling is also spot on.
Draw: Excellent.
Pre-light flavor: Leathery.
Toasting & Light: Easy.
Base flavors: Earth, charry wood, bittersweet chocolate, pepper.
Aroma: Sharp.
Burn & Ash Quality: Excellent. The burn was even, revealing a firm grey ash that forms a thin burn line and a well-shaped cone.
Balance of flavors: Very good. Mostly dark in nature, too.

Summary: A well-made Corona that gets its zesty edge from its Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper. The wrapper is thick, oily, and dark with an almost black onyx color and a closed foot. Look closely and you’ll find that it also has plenty of tooth as well.

Very earthy with notable notes of charred wood and black pepper. A flourish of bittersweet chocolate ekes out occasionally for a slight diversion. Overall, a rich and peppery, yet very smooth smoke with a medium to full body and a spicy finish. For those who like a dark, spicy smoke in a smaller ring gauge, this Last Call Pequeña is golden. – Gary

San Lotano Dominicano Cigar Review

Country of Origin/Factory: Tabacalera Palma (Jochy Blanco) – Santiago, Dominican Republic
Size: Robusto (5″ x 50)
Strength: Medium
Wrapper: Cuban-seed Brazilian Habano
Binder: Dominican Republic
Filler: Nicaragua and Dominican Republic

Construction: The mottled, tawny wrapper looks like leather – shows some veins, too, but no seams. This Robusto has some heft to it.
Draw: A bit of resistance.
Pre-light flavor: Dry spice, dried fruit.
Toasting & Light: Unsalted peanuts, fermented tobacco, mild pepper.
Base flavors: Earth, wood.
Retrohale: Very peppery.
Aroma: Cocoa and wood.
Burn & Ash Quality: White, even ash reveals some wrapper tooth you might not have noticed. Ash is flaky.

Summary: Our panel reviewed this cigar when it landed in August 2019…a year later I’ve found the San Lotano Dominicano to be very consistent with that previous review, but now with a little less edge, and a little more sweetness. Still plenty of body, though, and more than its fair share of complexity. For instance: there’s a point at which a cookie-like sweetness develops; so does a lump in my throat. Then a woodier taste takes over, but the profile gets a little juicier – not drier. How do you describe that in 3 or 4 words?

Something else about the San Lotano Dominicano I noted then: “…the cigar experience is more like AJ versus Jochy – as you smoke it, it’s like a tug-of-war. For instance, you would think that the strength that usually goes with an AJ Fernandez cigar would bulldoze Jochy’s more Dominican tendencies…but it actually strikes somewhat of a balance – the strength stays medium throughout the cigar until the very end, when the flavors get very peppery, charred and peaty – and full – so it’s AJ that gets the parting shot. But it’s his name (San Lotano) on the cigar, after all.”

A year later, AJ is still winning the tug of war. And rather than point you to a specific set of flavors that define the taste, I’ll tell you it’s the fact that flavors come and go is what defines the taste. – John

San Lotano Requiem Habano Cigar Review

Size: Robusto (5” x 54)
Strength: Full
Wrapper: Brazilian Habano (Cuban-seed Ligero)
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua, Honduras, Dominican Republic

Construction: A pudgy Robusto with an oily, toothy and veiny Ligero wrapper the color of a sticky bun. Firm, well packed.
Draw: Effortless.
Pre-light flavor: Smells like leather. Subtle sweetness of (I think) black cherry, plus a tingle on the lips.
Toasting & Light: Liqueur sweetness, oak, cinnamon.
Base flavors: Long-finishing sweetness with an almost tannic quality, plus nuts and leather.
Retrohale: Spice, charred oak.
Aroma: Woody-sweet.
Burn & Ash Quality: Burn reveals neat white stacks of ash; the burn isn’t perfect, but it’s straight enough.

Summary: So, a couple of interesting points here with the Requiem Habano…first, the wrapper: it’s a thick, slow-burning Ligero from Brazil. That’s the powerful, flavorful leaf atop the tobacco plant, and it’s loaded with super fine tooth, like 600 grit sandpaper. Ligero is – usually – very potent. And while this Requiem has serious body, it’s not a killer in terms of strength.

The other story is the sweetness – not only was it unexpected, it was such a unique taste. I can’t quite put my finger on it but 2 weeks from now I’ll taste it again and sit straight up and say, “that’s what it is.” Until then…

As far as the flavors, what I’ve listed is pretty much it: sweet on the palate and tingly on the lips. This Habano is not complex, but it is incredibly well-balanced, with those 3 equal points in a very pleasing proportion to each other. – John

San Lotano Requiem Connecticut Cigar Review

Size: Toro (6” x 52)
Strength: Mellow
Wrapper: Ecuador Connecticut
Binder: Honduras
Filler: Nicaragua, Dominican Republic

Construction: A very smooth, velvety Connecticut wrapper with consistent dark blonde color.
Draw: Clear with productive rips of smoke.
Pre-light flavor: Leather and hay with a touch of coffee. Semi sweet, almost buttery.
Toasting & Light: Smoky and toasted/charred grains, plus earth and cedar.
Base flavors: Cedar, slightly creamy with an underlying earthy sweetness.
Retrohale: Toasty; pepper is pretty vivid.
Aroma: Toasted nuts and hay.
Burn & Ash Quality: Nice stacks, mostly grey, and super straight. Zero burn issues.

Summary: Here is proof that AJ can make a real nice, mellow cigar. And this is probably the most excited I’ve been about a Connecticut cigar in quite a while.

The Requiem’s smoke has some body for sure – and while it’s not huge on flavor changes, there’s enough going on here to capture the attention: leather and hay, among others, as well as some unique flavors like cold brew coffee and toasted Italian bread.

Now about this sweet taste…it’s more in the mode of a baked good-pie crust than chocolate or fruit – think vanilla and honey- but it burns off by the last third.

Coffee is always great with a Connecticut cigar, but I bet you could sneak a little Jameson’s into the picture for a pairing that really hums. – John

San Lotano Requiem Maduro Cigar Review

Size: Toro (6” x 52, box-pressed)
Strength: Medium
Wrapper: Mexican San Andres
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua, Honduras

Construction: A delightful box–pressed number, the Maduro is not the most consistent color- but it’s mostly deep chocolate brown. Fine toothy texture, and the box–press is quite sharp.
Draw: Good airflow – but not too open.
Pre-light flavor: Smells like a hay bale; the taste is straight cedar, some toffee, and a faint cool, crisp mint sweetness.
Toasting & Light: Baker’s chocolate, a little bit of jalapeno bite, cedar.
Base flavors: Spice, wood, coffee.
Retrohale: Earth and slight chocolate.
Aroma: Subtle woodiness; if you like the smell of cigars, you’ll like this.
Burn & Ash Quality: Grey with decent stacks, some wonk in the burn but not unworkable.

Summary: I can see why some say the box-press shape isn’t easy to smoke – a sharper, thinner box–pressing isn’t the most comfortable burn. But if you’re used to the shape, it’ll be no problem for you. The smoke is relatively productive: not too thick, a little creamy, and with a growing spice.

This AJ Requiem Maduro has very definitive aroma and pre-light smells; your olfactory senses will be working overtime. But I’ve never found AJ Fernandez’ Maduros to be particularly “sweet” – some people talk about so much flavor: “so sweet, it’s like a licorice bomb” – it’s really not, at least to my taste buds.

Instead, this Requiem Maduro smokes like a tall pint of Guinness drinks: thick body and stark flavors settle in on the palate for a long finish – and whatever sweetness shows up, that’s when it happens. And that’s really the best part. – John

Iron Horse Connecticut by AJ Fernandez Cigar Review

Size: Toro (6” x 50)
Strength: Mellow-Medium
Wrapper: Ecuador Connecticut
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua

Construction: Smooth, golden blonde Connecticut wrapper has barely seen seams. Average feel and weight, firm to the pinch.
Draw: Pretty clear, ample production of cool, crisp smoke.
Pre-light flavor: Strong coffee, cedar.
Toasting & Light: Coffee from the prelight persists – add to it pepper and “Connecticut bitters.”
Base flavors: Earth, charred wood, leather. Short, peppery finish.
Retrohale: A brief sting of spice.
Aroma: Toasty and warm.
Burn & Ash Quality: Salt and pepper ash stacks fine; there’s some wonk, but no touch ups are needed.

Summary: A budget-friendly Connecticut that’s exclusive to Famous, the story here is less about price (which is very good, btw) than it is about expectations.

There are, admittedly, some rough edges at the start – it almost feels like this Iron Horse wants to be creamy, sweet and maybe just a bit more mellow, but the tobaccos Fernandez is using there won’t allow for it. By 1/3, the profile finally develops a bit of creaminess to temper the oaky bite; the last 1/3 is AJ being AJ, and being spicy.

The points in between are where the unexpected happens: out of nowhere, AJ takes the cigar flavor wheel and gives it a spin like he’s running the Big Six wheel at a church bazaar. It’s a whole different cigar with hints of citrus zest and cream with a charred wood finish. A little leathery, too. Whether or not that’s what you want in a cigar is up to you; I’m just saying it happened.

Pairing the Iron Horse Connecticut with coffee does this cigar a lot of justice, but I bet I could smoke this with Crown and achieve a similar level of satisfaction (I am a man of simple pleasures). – John

Iron Horse by AJ Fernandez Cigar Review

Size: Robusto (5” x 50)
Strength: Medium
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Maduro
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua

Construction: The Maduro wrapper’s subtle oils catch the light to reveal very, very fine tooth, plus chestnut-like coloring. Solid build all around.
Draw: More resistance than I’d like – but decided to forego a drawpoker. Airflow resolved in short order, producing reasonably sized rips of gritty smoke.
Pre-light flavor: Smell is sweet and campfire-y; taste has earth and cedar plus a slight chocolate sensation.
Toasting & Light: Bittersweet chocolate and earth.
Base flavors: Fermented tobacco, earth, coffee and cedar.
Retrohale: Toasty – and it lasts up in your nose.
Aroma: Nutty, and slightly sweet.
Burn & Ash Quality: Mostly white ash – burn is not great, but serviceable without touching it up.

Summary: As with anything – if you set your expectations low, it’s easy to exceed them. But even as a sub-$5 smoke, this is AJ Fernandez, and Iron Horse is a time-honored Famous brand (and a favorite of my friend Rich P), so I had to set the bar up an extra notch or two at least.

That bittersweet chocolate start was more bitter than sweet, but most of the rough edges get smoothed over in relatively short order. What surprised me most was the lack of spice or pepper in the beginning – that took some time to develop, along with dialing up some straightforward cedar taste.

This is not the sweetest Maduro you’ll smoke – what I found of it was mostly on the finish, so what you’ll find will stick with you. But for your money, Iron Horse is the Labrador retriever of cigars: rugged and faithful, also kind of shiny. Your faithful servant and its semi-sweet flavors do not stray. – John