“There’s nearly 175 years of history here, AJ, don’t mess this up!” That’s what I imagine AJ Fernandez thinking as he’s going into the blending session with Altadis’ Grupo de Maestros to create this cigar. He’s done some excellent versions of a few other storied brands: Hoyo de Monterrey Hoyo La Amistad, Monte by Montecristo AJ Fernandez, and Romeo y Julieta Crafted by A. J. Fernandez, but now this one… I mean if it was me, this is the one I would really, really want to get 100%. This is how AJ takes on one of the largest names in cigar history—
Available in three sizes—5″ x 52 Robusto, 6″ x 54 Toro, and 7″ x 54 Churchill—the lineup is relatively affordable, priced between $7.25 to $7.75 MSRP. With the recently released H. Upmann The Banker Ingot Rosé MSRP being nearly twice what this AJ variant is, you could make the case that this is a “value-priced” cigar. It’s not surprising, though, taking into account AJ’s reputation throughout the industry for crafting high-flavor / low-cost smoking experiences. The man seems able to, somehow, deliver quality to those of us who aren’t actually bankers.
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H. Upmann AJ Fernandez Toro Breakdown
- Wrapper: Ecuador Sumatra
- Binder: Corojo ‘99
- Filler: Criollo ‘98 | Piloto Cubano
- Factory: Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez (Nicaragua)
- Production: Regular Production
- Vitola: 6″ × 54 Toro
- Price: $7.50 (MSRP)
H. Upmann AJ Fernandez had a soft launch to select Altadis accounts in early May of this year, with a full-scale release later on that same month.
I know a great many cigar smokers who, with prejudice, tend to disregard releases by many of the larger, “non-boutique” cigar manufacturers. There is no doubt that Altadis produces a lot of cigars, but how do you sell the image of “cool” to the next generation of cigar smokers? Based on the company’s most recent cigar launches, it seems they’ve settled on a Fernandez-based formula. On the Cigar Dojo app, for example, one doesn’t see a day go by without Fernandez’s influence occupying a healthy percentage of the timeline. The same goes for nearly every social cigar platform and local B&M across the country. It seems there’s always some AJ smoke in the air.
One thing I did find interesting is that the Robusto size is thinner than both the Toro and the Churchill—which curiously share the same ring gauge (traditionally having 50 and 47 ring gauges, respectively). I’d have expected the Churchill to be the most narrrow and the Robusto the thickest of the three vitolas, but manufacturers have afforded themselves more and more freedom in the classic guidelines of cigar vitolas in recent times.
One of the first things you’ll about this cigar is the striking sky-blue, cream, and gold label. It’s a not-so-common color scheme among cigar labels and, honestly, one I find quite refreshing.
The cigar itself is a light brown, reminiscent of dusty, old, leather boots. The wrapper is satin-like to the touch, without much noticeable oil or tooth. Some samples showed large and obstructing veins across the wrapper, though these were roughly only medium-thick on average. Wrapper seams are nice and tight, barely noticeable at all. The Toro is evenly filled, showing a medium-firm bunch. The cigar appears to be double-capped, which is sloppily applied for nearly all samples tested for review.
The cigar smells of barnyard and leather, with a brighter toffee sweetness aroma from the foot. The pre-light draw is perfectly open, perhaps the slightest smidgen too open, and tastes of musty fall leaves and earth—warming the lips a bit with a hint of spiciness.
The first draw smacks me in the face with cotton candy sweetness. In contrast, the retrohale brings the sinus burn of hot Chinese mustard (or fresh wasabi), differing from the peppery spice usually found in a blend of this nature. It borders on harshness, but to me it’s the kind of punishment I enjoy and I find myself coming back for more. The contrast between the two sensations—sweet flavor and the burn—are a great balance to each other.
The flavors in the first inch are creamy, honey sweetness with a nice floral candy essence on the finish. The draw is easy and the burn line is razor sharp. When the cigar is allowed to rest for a few minutes between puffs, it resumes seamlessly without missing a step.
Within the first half-inch, the retrohale completely calms down, forcing the attention towards a creamy tobacco sweetness reminiscent of a sweet vanilla cavendish pipe tobacco. A pleasant green walnut bitterness balances the sweetness, giving a medium-plus body and medium strength. The sweetness then morphs to take on a juicy stone fruit quality. The creaminess develops into an umami and eggy, sweet rice pudding with some cinnamon and Jamaican allspice.
The second third of the cigar seems to pass too quickly as the Upmann really begins to settle into a very smooth experience. The body relaxes a bit into medium, allowing for a profile so smooth that the strength is hard to gauge—hovering roughly around the medium to medium-plus range. The midpoint of the cigar features a creamy buttermilk twang, cedar, and tangy honey sweetness. I start noticing some tart berry/cherry pie flavors near the end of the second third, complete with hints of flakey, buttery crust.
Tangy, sweet nuts and creamy cedar notes begin developing in the Upmann’s final third, with the former pie crust flavors morphing into a salty sourdough. Again, this is very smooth, with the retrohale being particularly enjoyable. Approaching the cigar’s last moments, there’s a return of some intensity with a some noticeable pepper spiciness on the retrohale. The profile welcomes in some lemon zest zing as well. I set the Toro down with about a half-inch to go as the nub started getting hot and a little spongy. Flavors remained enjoyable, lacking harshness or bitterness that you’ll often find in this territory.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
Considering I have nearly a half-box of these left, it’s pretty easy to say “yes”. In fact, I’ll assert that I will never not have a box of these on hand going forward. This is an exceptional cigar for the price. This cigar is good enough to be a special occasion cigar, yet priced to be an everyday smoke. Enjoy this in the morning with a cup of coffee, or in the evening with a sweet bourbon manhattan; or, considering the modest price, whenever you want with whatever you’ve got!
- Smoke Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
- Pairing Recommendation: Finca Alcatraz, Wilfredo Ule Vargas as roasted by Sightglass coffee, any Columbian with flavors of creamy honey sweetness
- Purchase Recommendation: Box(es)
- Near-perfect construction
- Smooth smoking texture
- Great value
- Slightly open draw
- Sloppy cap / appearance