Miami, FL, September 12, 2019– AJ Fernandez will not only manufacture Viva La Vida cigars, but also distribute the brand as well. Former New York City cigar retailers Billy and Gus Fakih released the brand in March and have now agreed to use AJ Fernandez’ sales force across the country. Billy and Gus will actively remain running daily operations which includes store visits, events and overall brand management.
Viva La Vida comes in five sizes, Robusto, Toro, Torpedo, Gran Toro and Diadema Fina. The cigars range in price from $10.50 to $14.50 before taxes.
“I have known Billy and Gus since I launched the San Lotano brand,” says A.J. Fernandez, “and they were one of the first and best supporters while operating the Cigar Inn in New York City. We maintained a great relationship since then, after they sold the store. I’m proud to not only call them business associates but great friends as well.”
Viva La Vida is draped by a silky smooth Habano Oscuro 2000 wrapper, which is accentuated by a Corojo 99 binder and Criollo 98 filler tobaccos, all from AJ’s farms in Nicaragua.
Billy Fakih thus explains “Our friendship with Abdel started from the early years of San Lotano cigars, when he visited our cigar shop ‘New York Cigar Inn’ in Manhattan back in 2010. The friendship grew throughout the years and it was based on a simple thing called trust. What attracted us to Abdel was not only the great cigars he blends and creates, but also how loyal, humble and disciplined he is which reflects in his cigars.
Gus Fakih adds “The relationship we created with AJ on a business and a personal level is special, and I’m so proud and excited to call AJ a real brother and a humble human, down to earth with a big heart, a great addition to our family.
Looking forward to growing our business relationship to much higher levels with one of the best in the industry.”
Through a fusion of inherited techniques and learned patience, AJ has developed proprietary tobacco grown from the most prized seeds harvested exclusively on his family farms. Perhaps the most essential quality of an AJ Fernandez cigar is not tangible. It is passion and discipline that motivates AJ to produce world renown premium cigars. The motivation that flows and radiates from AJ are contagious and palatable throughout all the artisans who hone their craft and skills under his hands-on tutelage throughout Nicaragua. All these attributes stem from humble beginnings in San Luis, Pinar del Rio, Cuba where the Fernandez family heritage began.
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If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Frank Santos at 786.800.5329 or email Frankie@AJFcigars.com.
In April, Wall St. Humidor joined the ranks of other uniquely New York lounges consigned to memory like Velvet Cigar Lounge in the East Village, Beekman Bar & Books in Midtown East, JR Cigars in Midtown, and Merchants NY Cigar Bar on the Upper East Side. If you didn’t hear about the closure, that’s because the only evidence of its closing is its sudden absence. The website is down, phone disconnected, and a ‘for sale’ sign hangs above the entrance.
In fact, if you’re a NYC cigar smoker and haven’t heard of Wall St. Humidor at all before, don’t beat yourself up. For most of the last ten years the two-story lounge was only known by a smaller inner-circle of cigar enthusiasts and FiDi workers, and one can only guess this was one of the factors that led to its closing.
The demise of Wall St Humidor is sad for a few reasons. First, the main floor, though a bit on the shabby side, was very large and had plenty of seating. And although the staff had a well-earned reputation of being inexplicably rude to newcomers (a reputation I had proved to me on two occasions), it was still a quiet refuge where cigar smokers could pick out a good smoke and take a quiet break.
For those that spent time at the place, what may be missed most of all is the downstairs lounge, which was, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful private lounges in the city, with a baby-grand piano, modern interior, private member lockers, and much more. Losing that room is sad for the entire city, because it marks the end of one of the few remaining rooms where everyday citizens can sit down, light up, and talk about issues that really matter.
We can hope that this is where the sad trend of cigar lounge closings ends, but with ever more stifling city ordinances around anything tobacco, and new federal laws (current and future), the list of closings will likely only grow in the next decade.
For the first time in the seven year history of this site, we are releasing a list of the 10 best cigars we smoked this year. We’ve refrained from doing it in the past largely because there are so many great blogs making these lists already. But this year in particular, there are some smokes that didn’t get the recognition that we think they deserve.
With that said, let’s get on to the Top 10.
Top 10 Cigars of 2017
10. Montecristo Grupo De Maestros Private Batch III
The Montecristo Grupo de Maestros Private Batch III didn’t receive a lot of love on social media or in the blogosphere, but it makes my top ten because, to me, this cigar represents one of the most ambitious (and successful) projects by Montecristo in recent years. The cigar is full bodied with a predominantly dry profile but with a surprisingly creamy finish. Tasting notes include dry cedar, floral, salt, white pepper, and hints of spice. If this sounds like an intense profile—it is. But well worth it (just make sure you have water or another drink on hand).
9. Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Mi Querida
Steve Saka and Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust quickly captured the attention and adulation of the cigar geek crowd —and for good reason. Not only is he famous on social media for his detailed posts about the minutiae of his cigar making process, every project he touches seems to turn to gold. Mi Querida (spanish for “my mistress”) features the signature Saka Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper and delivers a truly special smoking experience, generating thick plumes of extremely smooth smoke and flavors of earth, chocolate, coffee, oak and subtle pepper.
8. Drew Estate Undercrown Sun Grown
I have been and remain a sucker for cigars featuring Ecuadoran Sumatra wrappers. The Undercrown Sun Grown delivers volumes of spicy flavor, with a really unique, creamy smoke. It is true, the Undercrown Sun Grown doesn’t change and unfold as much as some other cigars deeper down on this list. But what impresses me so much with this blend is the ability Drew Estate has found to offer a brand new, extremely enjoyable flavor profile that is still clearly within the overall smoking experience that the company is known for.
7. La Hoja Signature Series 1962 Petite Corona
For many readers outside of New York City, La Hoja Cigars might be a relatively unknown brand. Those in the tri-state area who have had the opportunity to smoke La Hoja Cigars have experienced the tremendous attention to quality and detail that Willie Flores and Carlos Gomez put in to their work. The Signature Series 1962 Petite Corona is a really complex smoke which packs a lot of flavor and changes substantially throughout the course of the cigar. It’s also what I call a “sipping cigar,” so take your time when you smoke it. Expect notes of earth, fresh roasted espresso beans, and white pepper, with a zesty fruitiness entering at different times throughout the smoke.
6. Aging Room F55 Quattro Maduro
Lovers of the original Aging Room Quattro line can’t miss the F55 Quattro Maduro, which features a similar core of flavors, including cedar, spices, and touches of vanilla. What the Maduro adds, with its San Andreas Maduro wrapper, is bright touches of burnt toast and milk chocolate. Combined with flawless construction and an excellent price tag (~$10), the Aging Room Quattro F55 Maduro is an impressive addition to Aging Room’s offerings.
5. La Instructora Box Pressed
Don’t let the cryptic band or the $20 price tag fool you: this is a serious cigar (and one I approached very skeptically). The cigar opens with spices, espresso, light chocolate and salted peanuts. However, it is the second half of the cigar which shines brightest: a drastic increase in intensity, with finely ground black pepper, baking spices, and leather. It is the complexity of the cigar as it burns which makes this a Top 10 contender.
4. AJ Fernandez New World Puro Especial
2017 was, in some ways, the year of the AJ Fernandez cigar (I know, you could probably say that about 2016 as well). He’s created numerous blends for a number of brands including Montecristo and H Upmann. His New World Puro Especial Puro Especial is, to me, the crème de la crème of his work in 2017 (and the cigar industry at large): extremely smooth and balanced flavors of earth, cedar, cocoa, and cinnamon. The construction throughout the smoke is impeccable, and it sports a beautiful, solid white ash to boot.
3. Plasencia Alma Fuerte Generacion V
The Plasencia Alma Fuerte floored guests at the launch event we hosted with Plasencia at The Carnegie Club. The blending of the tobaccos in this cigar is enough to tell a complex story, but the tapered salamon size adds miles to the experience. The smoke morphs from deep, rich notes of chocolate, spices, and coffee to creamy smoke with hints of white pepper.
2. Drew Estate Pappy Van Winkle Tradition
Few brands in the cigar world can create the kind of instantaneous excitement and anticipation as Drew Estate. When you combine that with a name like Pappy Van Winkle, delivering on the promise is important. Drew Estate delivered. In particular, the Belicoso Fino is full bodied and features a pepper-forward profile, with notes of freshly ground black pepper, cedar, touches of floral and vanilla notes.
1. Davidoff Winston Churchill The Late Hour
The Davidoff Winston Churchill Late Hour is a tremendous addition to Davidoff’s core line, offering a unique take on the beloved Davidoff flavor profile. It is everything and more I was hoping to find in the Davidoff Nicaragua. Aged in former scotch casks, the Late Hour features traditional Davidoff notes (earth, musk, wood) along with subtle pepper, cocoa, and touches of malt from the cask aging. This cigar is an instant classic from Davidoff, as far as I am concerned.
So there you have it, our top cigar picks for cigars in 2017. If any of the other lists are any indication, there are a lot of great cigars that didn’t make the list. And that’s what makes selecting the top cigars so difficult: the market is simply full of great brands producing incredible new products.
We’ll be back next year with our 2018 picks. In the meantime, if you love a cigar that didn’t make it on this list, let us know in the comments, and check out our take on the best cigars to smoke in 2018.
When it comes to online cigar shops, consumers have a lot of options (ranked here!). But when it comes to cigar auction sites, there are two options: Cigar Bid and Cigar Auctioneer.
Of course, the question then is: which is better? The short answer is that Cigar Auctioneer is currently the better choice by far. Though both websites have great selection and similar shipping rates, Cigar Bid has had serious issues delivering cigars that are properly humidified. Their customer service as well is quite lacking, with many users reporting that after receiving incorrect orders or damaged cigars, the Cigar Bid team was nearly impossible to reach and unresponsive.
With that being said, below is a more exhaustive breakdown of the differences in features, quality, shipping, and more of the two major cigar auction websites. I look at a few factors:
Customer service rating
Features – too close to call
First, let’s go over the most basic differences. Cigar Auctioneer has three types of auctions: one item/one winner, multiple items/multiple winners, and multiple items/one winner.
Cigar Bid has those categories as well, and also has “Quick Buy” and “Freefall.” Freefall lots are displayed with prices decreasing, live—I am actually not sure how much value these provide. Quick Buy lots are discounted packs of cigars that can be purchased for a slightly higher—though still highly discounted—rate on the spot.
One advantage I see with Cigar Auctioneer on the features side is the lot history function, which allows you to see the past, present and future lots for a particular brand—perfect if you know exactly what you want and have the patience to wait and be notified. This is a big plus for me. So on this category, the two websites tie.
Selection – Cigar Auctioneer
There’s no quick answer here. Both have good selection, though I think Cigar Auctioneer has more mainstream brands than Cigar Bid does. As a fan of Davidoff cigars, I did notice that Cigar Auctioneer has more from that brand, but from what I’ve seen both sites have different product on display at different times. Cigar Auctioneer wins on this category.
Prices – Cigar Auctioneer
Prices on Cigar Bid, though good, tend to be a bit higher simply because it seems to be the leader in auctions by volume. It’s pretty simple: if more people are bidding, the bids will go higher, as some have reported. On the other hand, Cigar Auctioneer sets a higher minimum bid price.
Product Quality – Cigar Auctioneer
This is one area where Cigar Bid quite unfortunately falls behind. In the probably half dozen orders I’ve received from Cigar Bid, I’ve often had cigars that were underhumidified or cracked. It’s one thing to get a great deal on cigars and get what you ordered. It’s something else entirely to order cigars for cheap and then find out later they might have been cheap because they were improperly handled!
I’ve never had this issue with Cigar Auctioneer. They win the product quality category easily.
Shipping – Tie
Cigar Bid and Cigar Auctioneer are fairly close here. Regardless of what website you are using, it is important to get multiple items shipped in the same box to save on shipping costs.
User Experience – Cigar Bid
I’ve got to say, as much as I like Cigar Auctioneer in terms of quality and selection, I really hate the look and feel of their website. Cigar Bid does a great job of advertising the great deals that they have, and their daily newsletter does a good job of describing new products that go on sale. Cigar Bid wins this category easily.
Customer Service Rating – Cigar Auctioneer
Cigar Bid has had issues selling cigars that they don’t have—where the user wins the auction and is later notified that the cigar isn’t available (this happened to me twice). It’s a frustrating situation, and has been documented by other users.
In fact, Cigars International (the parent company for Cigar Bid), has had a truly awful couple of years. With technology issues and customers receiving incorrect orders and then not having the order corrected, they’ve really dug themselves into a hole that they will have a hard time getting out of. Cigar Auctioneer on the other hand has great ratings with users and I can’t find any consistent negative reviews online.
At the end of the day, Cigar Auctioneer is the site I recommend to use for cigar auctions. They carry more of the brands that I enjoy, and make it easier for me to track when my favorite brands come on sale. I also know that the quality of the product will be consistently great, and that if I have an issue, I’ll have Famous Smoke Shop‘s customer service there if I have any issues.
Only note to the Cigar Auctioneer team: at least make those product photos bigger… please!
Ah, the mystical Island of Cuba. For the U.S. it’s the forbidden country that secured the embargo on September 7th 1962 when John Fitzgerald Kennedy re-instated the Trading With The Enemy act of 1917. Since then U.S. citizens have only be able to travel to Cuba for very strict diplomatic or humanitarian reasons and return with no goods from the country… until now. Last year President Obama repealed the travel ban on Cuba creating more broad allowances for U.S. citizens to travel there. Better still the former president lifted restrictions on bringing back goods from Cuba to the United States. For beloved cigar smokers this was fantastic news. Having traveled around the world smoking Cuban cigars, finally being able to visit the country and farms where the famed tobacco is grown is a cigar aficionados dream come true. In this first report I will touch upon the ease of travel to Cuba and the state of cigars I found in Havana. Also included is a list of the best places to purchase cigars and where I found some older vintages lying around.
Travel: Traveling to Cuba was as easy as booking a flight with Delta straight to Havana. You can pay with your credit card through Delta however you can’t use any U.S. credit cards when you are in Cuba. Cuba is strictly cash for Americans and you can exchange U.S. dollars for Cuba’s CUC’s at the airport or any bank in Havana. Be aware that U.S. dollar incurs a 10% transfer fee when exchanging to CUC’s. You will also need a travel visa along with one of the twelve reasons you are traveling to Cuba. Most visitors will fall under the “People To People Educational Act” so long as you visit a cigar factory, farm, rum distillery or art museum. Touring a cigar farm, a rum distillery or viewing art is a pleasure in Cuba and the culture is what you are looking for. You will need to purchase a travel visa as well as book a hotel in advance. I suggest using a third party travel site which takes care of all those things for you. You can pay in advance which leaves you only having to bring money to spend on your trip. I recommend the Educational Adventures Company as they were excellent in making those arrangements as well as getting you into any factories or farm tours. They will also set you up with a translator and driver if you desire. The prices were very reasonable and their service fantastic. http://www.theeducationaladventurescompany.com/ If you wish to book on your own you need to contact the U.S. Office of Treasury and request a visa for purchase. In booking a hotel you would need to book online.
Arriving in Havana I grabbed my taxi and headed to the Casa Particulares I was staying at. The first order of business was to relax on their rooftop have a mojito and view the city as a whole during the early afternoon. Havana is as you see it in pictures; a run down third world country with half built structures, renovated 50’s American classic cars and beautiful French/Spanish architecture from the days when those countries ruled the island. The people are friendly and eager to please in what is now a boom in American tourism. In speaking with the Casa owner he said since Obama repealed travel restrictions they saw a rise in visitors from the U.S. to a million last year and near two million this year. The fear the Cubans have is keeping up with the demand. Before hitting the Casa Del Habanos which are the authorized Cuban cigar dealers and the ONLY place you should be buying cigars, I hit a Paladar which is a restaurant run by the locals and not the government. Stay away from any government run establishments as the food and service are mediocre at best. I had some of the best octopus of my life at a local Paladar and was handed a cigar to smoke with my meal. This was a local farm cigar and the flavors of earth and fresh tobacco where present. It was more of a one dimensional smoke but the earthiness hit the spot with the perfectly cooked slightly smoked octopus.
Smoked octopus with semi sweet glaze:
With some hearty fare and a cigar to match it was time to hit the La Casa del Habano. As I said before these are the only official stores that carry authentic Cuban brands. In Havana you will be solicited to buy Cuban cigars on the street for an even cheaper price than the stores. Do not do this unless you want to smoke fakes. If someone tells you their brother’s cousins friend works at the Partagas Factory and gets cigars from there they are lying. At best you’ll get a cigar blended with fresh farm tobacco which will taste nothing like the brands you know. At worst it can be short filler or scraps from a rolling table floor. Don’t waste your money or time on these “faux” sticks. Go to the the La Casa’s and spend your money on an authentic selection of smokes as these will be the best prices you’ve seen as a consumer anywhere in the world. My advice is to flip over boxes and dig deep into their inventory. You may find some boxes with several years of age on them and it is worth the hunt. The proprietors do not mind you rummaging through their stock and will often help you. I was fortunate enough to find boxes with as much as seven years of age on them.
A box of Montecristo Open Juniors from ’10
Montecristo #5’s from ’13
Partgas Super Partagas from ’14
They were fully stocked with most brands from 2016 although there were no Cohiba Behikes or Esplendidos to be found at the places I looked. I stayed away from most 2016 vintages as the past crops in Cuba haven’t been great. I did pick up some boxes of ’16 Trinidad Reyes and current Vegueros Tapados which smoked well despite being young and will most certainty benefit from age. I feel the 2016 vintages are hit or miss from what I’ve smoked so be cautious or pick up single sticks to sample yourself. Most La Casa del Habanos carry single sticks although the selections vary. Below is a list of three La Casa del Habanos you should definitely visit.
La Casa del Habano
5th and 16 Av. 5 y Calle 16, Miramar
This is where I found the oldest vintages of Cuban cigars and the staff were most helpful.
2. La Casa del Habano, Club Habana
Av. 5, entre 188 y 192, Miramar, Playa
The place to enjoy a custom rolled “Monsdale” cigar which was created by the late Enrique Mons. It’s a thicker lonsdale with a pigtail cap. Flavors of caramel, butterscotch and toast in this unique blend.
3. La Casa del Habano, Hotel Habana Libre
Calle L entre 23 y 25, Vedado
The largest selection of boxes of cigars in all sizes. If you enjoy the hunt this is the spot for you.
End of Day One:
Loaded with cigars and satiated from delicious Cuban fare it was time to watch the sunset with a mojito and cigar reflecting on the first day in Havana. In Part Two I travel to the tobacco fields and the famed Robaina Farm. Stay Tuned!