Although Aging Room was established a decade after the cigar boom in the 90s, I associate the company with older brands like Oliva, Plasencia, Ashton, etc which have become staples in the cigar world. With Maestro Rafael Nodal at the helm, Aging Room has become a brand recognized for its boldness and creating classic profiles like Quattro and Quattro Nicaragua.
This past year, Nodal embarked on another adventure with A.J Fernandez and laid the foundation for a new line of cigars under the Aging Room umbrella called Rare Collection. Per Nodal, this new project “intends to offer small runs based on the availability of rare and superbly well-aged tobacco.”
This release will be the first of several blends under the Rare Collection project. Just how rare or aged is the tobacco contained in this first blend? The wrapper leaf is a Cuban seed hybrid from La Lilia, A.J Fernandez’s flagship farm in Nicaragua. The filler tobacco consists of Pelo d’Oro, translating to “hair of gold,” also from a type of Cuban seed which is prized for its flavors but very difficult to grow and low yielding.
Cigar Reviewed: Aging Room Rare Collection
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Cuban seed Hybrid
Filler: Nicaraguan Cuban seed, including Pelo d’Oro
Size: 5.5″ x 55
Cigar Review: Aging Room Rare Collection
Appearance & Construction
Before picking up the cigar, I immediately notice the construction. The cigar is very sturdy both visually and with physical touch. The pigtail at the end of the cap has a twirl like a cinnamon bun from Auntie Anne’s. Upon closer inspection, I notice two visible veins that come across in a lighter tone than the milk chocolate wrapper. Additionally, I see several random miniature cracks in between the wrapper. However, after running my fingers across the surface, I’m guessing the light marks will not be an issue.
Flavor & Smoke Characteristics
The wrapper has a tart and sweet fruit scent. The fruity scent is more prominent by the foot with white pepper spice aroma. Since I’ve never attempted to twist and pull off the pigtail from the cap before, I decide now isn’t a good time to start, and opt for a straight cut. I take a few puffs of cold draw, getting stone fruits, cedarwood, attic funk, and red pepper spice.
I proceed to toast the foot and take my first puff. The flavors are very refreshing, with creamy oats, cedarwood, citrus, and mild white pepper spice that remains on the flat and side of my tongue indefinitely. On the retrohale, the white pepper spice is more noticeable along with roasted nuts, sweet fruity notes, and a smokiness that reminds me of burnt pizza crust. So far, the finish on this cigar is pretty long, with a mild sugary sweetness.
The construction of this cigar is flawless. The burn line is razor-sharp, the dark gray ash seems to be reinforced by cement, and the burn goes right over the minuscule cracks I noted earlier. The only negative experience I have had so far is that smoke production seems a bit lacking.
I make it to the second third before the ash detaches itself from the cigar. The refreshing finish of this cigar remains on the palate. The smoke is less creamy compared to the initial light, and flavors concentrate on earthy tones such as dry hay, tan leather, cedarwood, roasted nut, and white pepper spice. I take another puff to retrohale, and the flavors reflect what I get on my palate alongside a very satisfying amount of white pepper spice.
As I engage with the final third, the overall profile becomes buttery, but there aren’t many changes to the flavors. The retrohale is still satisfying and keeps me coming back for more until the cigar is too nubbed to smoke.
I enjoyed the Aging Room Rare Collection. The profile teeters from medium to medium-plus. The flavors were very balanced on the palate, and the retrohale compliments it even further. My biggest fear was the construction, which ended up being impeccable throughout. So far, everything I’ve experienced is positive. Nonetheless, it felt like a certain oomph was missing. It needed another element or profile to elevate the experience from an exceptional cigar a truly amazing one.
Editors Note: the following is the first in a series of articles focused on blenders, makers, and growers in the art and process of cigars.
This article is about legendary cigar blender Rafael Nodal, owner of Boutique Blends Cigars and currentl Head of Product Capability at Tabacalera USA. The article is written from two points of view: that of Stephen Tesher, a new lover of great cigars (The Newbie) and Andrew Perelson (The Enthusiast).
Andrew Perelson: The Enthusiast
One autumn day around six years ago on the train heading into Manhattan for a couple of client meetings, I realized I would have time (lots) between customer meetings. So I searched up the nearest decent cigar retailer on Wall Street which happened to be Barclay Rex (now moved to Pearl St). This particular NYC retailer is on par with the Davidoff experience. Truthfully, my budget is never much and I usually look to buy only what I will be smoking and, if I love it, a couple of more for the humidor.
As I entered, I saw a well-dressed gentleman fronting several beautiful looking boxes of smokes. He greeted me saying, “My name is Rafael and I have a small brand called Aging Room. Would you like to try some of my cigars?” After measuring me up like a good tailor with some questions about preferences he suggested his Aging Room Quattro F-55. I looked around and realized I was one of only two customers in the premises; the other was in the lounge yacking away loudly on a cell phone (probably selling his Myspace shares).
The first thing about Rafael Nodal you notice is he smokes a cigar like most people drink an extremely fine wine or whisky. He keeps it lit perfectly and the most persnickety person could not ever think of telling him to put it out. I am pretty sure he could smoke a cigar with no interruption on the Capitol Veranda or in the lobby of the St. Regis without anyone blinking.
As we all know, a great cigar stirs great thoughts. I told him I had been sitting on many questions about the industry, and asked if he would mind discussing some of them. He listened graciously and provided the level of detail only rivaled by a passionate professor. For my questions, I started slow, asking where he sourced his tobacco and where he made his cigars. Then I moved into his “who’s who” of who he works with and how those relationships improve his product. I also asked about how a cigar goes to market. The conversation lasted two cigars (for me…his just kept going).
This conversation introduced me to a level of product excellence that I didn’t know existed. I knew he could continue answering questions, but I had enough to chew on and some notes I would research when I hit my home office.
Beyond his expertise, I learned we had in common a love of great music and the ability to play (he classically and me rock/punk), as well as personal rule of putting family first. He is not political, but he is a patriot. He told me how he came to this country on a flotilla from Cuba as a young man and how he wakes up each day knowing the opportunities this country provides are the stuff of dreams. He spends those moments when he is not “preaching” just relaxing with family, looking at the ocean, or visiting the opera. It’s clear to me now that my passion for cigars and everything behind them was launched by a desire to be a Rafael Nodal superfan.
Before I left, I went to the desk and counted all my cash and bought several more cigars not knowing when I would find more. Right before I walked out the door to my next appointment, I asked Rafael if I could friend him on Facebook. To my surprise, he said yes. This is how we have kept in touch for these years. I realized he had a hobby of living a great life while working on the road and preaching. I am amazed at what he can squeeze into a day in Dallas, Madrid, or Lyndhurst. In one of our many meet ups over the years we had snacks and drinks with a couple of lobbyists and Christian Eiroa in DC and after, I found out that the cigar he gave me was the very first Romeo by Aging Room released into the wild. This cigar remains my all-time favorite anywhere.
As Rafael’s leadership at Altadis USA grows, I have told him about my desire to again crank up my learning by digging into the Grupo de Maestros from Tabacalero Garcia. I’d also like to understand his strategy for raising an already high bar for the Altadis brands inclusive of H. Upmann, Montecristo, and Romeo y Julieta. One of the things that is clear to me is that the Altadis brands with the Grupo de Maestros of Tabacalero Garcia (and Flor de Copan) are in the process of performing a transformation led by Rafael and special guests.
Stephen Tesher: The Newbie
On a hot and humid New York summer evening, Andrew and I walk into The Carnegie Club for a cigar event hosted by Matthias Clock and Fine Tobacco NYC. As soon as we enter, it’s like we’ve crossed through time, back to a day when smoking indoors was not only accepted, it was encouraged. The Carnegie Club is a true New York establishment. The greatest Jazz musicians and performers played here, and the place holds on to a time-gone-by, protecting it, preciously and joyously.
Immediately upon entering a stout man plucked an Aging Room Pura Cepa cigar from an open box, snipped the cap with a straight cut, and stuck it in my hands. Without pause, he lights a torch lighter, properly toasts the end of my cigar, and gets the thing going. With one puff I enter 1950’s New York. A smoke-filled joint. A jazz band, playing classic standards. A woman’s sultry singing. I’m looking for Sinatra, and Jackie Gleason somewhere in the room. Sadly, they’re not there. But Rafael Nodal is, and I’m smoking his cigar.
I could feel the legacy of great cigar lovers of yesterday, like Babe Ruth, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With plenty of couches and arm chairs, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The place was full. Mostly with men and a couple of ladies. Guys in suits, or business casual. Some in a t-shirt, but most dressed respectably. This is where a sophisticated working man comes to relax, have a drink, maybe meet a girl who like cigars, too.
Andrew’s filled me in on Rafael Nodal. Andrew has a talent for painting people as larger than life figures. He is truly fascinated by people and sees the best in them. It’s a gift that makes him a great salesman, and a great friend. In this case, Rafael met the description. He was generous and warm. Hanging with the cigar-smoking men of New York City is not my comfort zone, but Rafael eased me in, and made me feel part of the greater cigar-lovers family.
The Aging Room brand and its parent Boutique Blends are Rafael’s creation and his stewardship is noticeable in each release under Altadis distribution. Moreover, the Pura Cepa was made by his colleague and friend Nestor Plasencia for Boutique Blends.
As an apprentice of the art of cigar appreciation, I found this blend to be magnificent. Its flavor and intensity remained consistent and complex from end to end. It’s a smooth smoke, less peppery than most of similar strength; velvety by intent, but not thick on the palette. I can tell you it paired wonderfully with the house Ginger Ale and a bottle of Pelegrino.
What’s What and Who’s Who with Rafael Nodal
His Company: Boutique Brands
His Distribution and Partnership: Tabacalera USA and their Altadis division
His personal brands: Aging Room, La Boheme, Swag, Oliveros plus the Altadis brands as he is integral to their direction
His makers: Tabacalera Palma, Tabacalera de Garcia in Dominican Republic, and Plasencia S.A., and A.J. Fernandez in Nicaragua
Hobbies: Road Warrior, Cuban Coffee, Cooking, and Music
His people: His awesome wife Alina, sons Carlos and Rafael A. Nodal, Abdel Yousef Fernandez, Grupo De Maestros de Garcia, Jochy Blanco, Nestor Plasencia, and EPC (Ernesto Carillo)
About the Authors
Andrew Perelson has been creating innovation and concepts for technically focused businesses for 25 years. He also has some easily identified passions like his wife, kids, and family. In the summer he splits time between Metropolitan New York and the Adirondacks where he gets to pursue a boat that runs, great cigars, and a campfire.
Stephen Tesher is a writer and educator. He writes plays, screenplays and novels. He writes a column for ProFootballTalkLine.com and maintains a blog called Teshtalk.com. Tesher is currently co-authoring a book about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for EdTechTeam due out in early 2019. As an educator, he would like to tear apart the entire system and start over, making education meaningful in the lives of students and teachers. Until that happens, he creates real-world learning opportunities that make a positive effect in the lives of his students. As far as cigars are concerned, Stephen Tesher blames Andrew Perelson for introducing him to the world of fine tobaccos.
On Thursday, September 27th, 80+ NYC cigar and whiskey enthusiasts converged on The Carnegie Club for the New York launch of the Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua, the newest extension in Aging Room’s expanding lineup. The Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua is all Nicaraguan and produced at A.J. Fernandez’s factory in Nicaragua. Our spirits pairing for the evening featured two standout ryes from WhistlePig: WhistlePig 10 Year Old and WhistlePig 15 Year Vermont Oak Estate Rye.
Both the cigars and whiskies received positive receptions. A big thank you to everyone who came out for the event, and to The Carnegie Club for graciously hosting! Photos below, courtesy of John DeMato.
Join us at our next event featuring Oliva Cigars & Port Charlotte Scotch at The Carnegie Club. Click here for more info.
2018 has been a big year for Rafael Nodal and Aging Room Cigars. First, 2018 was Nodal’s first full year as Head of Product Capability for Tabacalera USA, which owns Altadis, JR Cigar, and Casa de Montecristo cigars. Second, Aging Room has rebranded their famous Quattro line, introduced the Quattro Nicaragua (which we’re debuting for New York on Sept. 27th at The Carnegie Club), and also introduced the Aging Room Pura Cepa (“Pure Bred”), which features a Nicaraguan Maduro wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos.
We were lucky enough to debut the Aging Room Pura Cepa in New York City with Rafael Nodal at The Carnegie Club, with the event being picked up by Cigar Aficionado. At the event, I heard great feedback about the Pura Cepa, but didn’t have the chance myself to really sit down and experience the cigar. Thankfully, Nodal provided me with a few for review, and I’ve had the chance to sit down in quiet time to evaluate the cigar. See below the Final Score for photos from our event (courtesy of John DeMato photography).
The Aging Room Pura Cepa features solid, sturdy construction. It’s packed fairly tightly and the pack seems consistent down the length of the cigar. The branding on the cigar is nice, but the Aging room logo doesn’t really pop at all which won’t help it stand out on the shelves. What does stand out is the outer maduro wrapper, which has a leathery feel.
After cutting the cigar using a straight cut, I test the draw. It’s decently restrictive, probably about a 7.5/10 in terms of amount of restrictiveness. The cold draw is wood forward, with some natural tobacco, caramel, light spice and leather as supporting characters. The smell off of the foot is quite unique. It has a variation on dry wood that I’ve never smelled before and light sweetness.
Flavor and Smoke Characteristics
First light and I can already tell… this is gonna be a good one.
The Aging Room PuraCepa opens with medium bodied, complex smoke. Seriously, there’s a lot going on. The cigar is hitting all sorts of flavor categories, notably sweet, bitter, salty, and savory. That’s the definition of a complex flavor profile. On the palate, a smoked wood is dominant. An array of secondary flavors augments it well, including light chocolate, creaminess, floral, leather, and something salty akin to pinto beans. The retrohale is full but not overly aggressive, with lots of spice, sweet grass, and some earth. Thankfully, smoke production is generous, and the draw almost immediately opens up a bit.
At about half an inch into the cigar, the profile shifts dramatically, with the wood moving to back seat, letting cream, sweet chocolate, and slight white pepper take the fore. Body and strength are now settled just below medium. Not quite as much complexity as the kickoff, but delicious nonetheless, with a nice, full pepper on the retro. One quick side note: just beautiful construction on this cigar. It’s got a nice, solid white ash that holds for over an inch and a half.
The PuraCepa remains mostly unchanged until about halfway, when a few additional flavors edge their way into the profile. It’s still mostly sweet, but adds an intreresting mushroom and cafe au lait note. Strength is now in mild territory, though body remains at medium, providing for a smoking experience that is opulent but not overwhelming at all.
The final third sees the flavor profile from the beginning come roaring back, with dry wood and spice at the fore. What makes the ending great though is that the subtleties from the middle thirds remain, bringing the whole smoke together. A great ending.
The Aging Room PuraCepa smokes a bit like the Pelo de Oro (one of my favorites from Aging Room) but with a bit more finesse and elegance. It has solid complexity and the flavors interweave expertly. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Aging Room fan or not, this is a smoke to pursue. As a side note, I’ve found PuraCepa pairs quite well with rum – I’d suggest either Diplomatico or John Drew Dove Tale Florida Rum.
Final Score: 91
And as promised, some photos from the New York launch of Aging Room Pura Cepa which we were lucky enough to host with Mr. Nodal.
Up for review today is the Aging Room Pelo de Oro. Besides its gorgeous branding, the Pelo de Oro is notable for its filler tobacco. Pelo de Oro (which translated means “golden hair” in spanish) is a difficult to grow leaf, with high susceptibility to disease and low yields.
At the time of purchase, I didn’t know that Rafael Nodal produced the cigar with AJ Fernandez. If I had known, I would have purchased this cigar and reviewed it much sooner after its release in 2016, because Fernandez + Nodal is a dynamite combination.
Cigar Reviewed: Aging Room Pelo de Oro
Wrapper: Cuban seed Nicaraguan
Filler: Pelo de Oro (Nicaraguan)
Size: 5 1/2 x 55 (Scherzo)
Appearance & Construction
Lots of aroma off of the foot, a good sign. Some pepper, cedar, leather, and earth. The wrapper is a dark, marbled brown, with a few water spots and holes in the leaf (fairly surprising to find these imperfections). When squeezed, the cigar has very little give, and is this way consistently down the cigar. The pre light draw has optimal restrictiveness and gives aromas of sweet hay, earth, and coffee.
The branding itself of the cigar is great, definitely my favorite among any of Aging Rooms cigars. Both bands, though different, have classic and complementary looks. This really is how I think every Aging Room should be presented, but that will be up to Rafael going forward.
Flavor & Smoke Characteristics
The Pelo de Oro opens with rich, albeit dry, medium to full bodied smoke, and it’s hard to tell immediately what flavors are present. I pick up lots of spiciness, some black pepper on the retrohale, and additional notes of toasted bread, mild and dark chocolate, burnt espresso, a tin flavor, and hints of vanilla on the finish.
At an inch in, the white ash is solid and quite impressive, with little splitting or fraying. The tin flavor has thankfully dissipated as well. The cigar produces a decent amount of smoke though I’d prefer a bit more.
Moving into the second third, the chocolate note gains dominance, along with an apricot note that is unique and complements the chocolate well. Smoke production has also increased nicely. At about halfway, the burn deviates a bit but quickly corrects itself. The strength also dials down a bit, bringing a sweeter profile to the fore, with cinnamon toast, nuts, cocoa, and a bit of molasses.
In the final third, the strength decreases again, though less than in the second third. Overall the profile is moderately sweet, with great complexity and harmony of flavors. The black pepper that was initially so dominant I think has found its rightful place as a supporting character.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Pelo de Oro. The balance between chocolate, apricot, nuts, cocoa and molasses was really special. From a construction standpoint, the cigar is nearly flawless, with the exception of trouble with smoke production at times. At around $15, Pelo de Oro isn’t cheap, but it’s a cigar I’ll be having again soon and recommend.