There’s quite a few bits of information online about the story of the Artesano del Tobacco (ADT), but I’ll summarize a bit for you. Right around peak ’90s cigar boom, Billy and Gus Fakih (the founders of ADT)—along with a third brother not involved in the Artesanos del Tobacco brand—opened the popular Cigar Inn tobacconist locations in the NYC area, housing the only official Cigar Aficionado humidor and lounge. The Fakihs made it no secret that they were big fans of A.J. Fernández and, shortly after selling their shops in 2015 (both now are Casa de Montecristo locations), they began working with A.J. on the creation of the first ADT brand. Now, roughly four years later, the Viva la Vida cigar is available in five fairly chunky sizes, being sold at approximately 75 retailers nationwide. With prices similar to typical boutique offerings from $10.50–$14.50, they do tend to run a little higher than A.J.’s own brands. While Viva la Vida is not an A.J. brand itself, the box does say “AJ Fernandez” and, interestingly enough, lacks the prequalifying “crafted by” designation.
Viva la Vida Robusto Breakdown
- Wrapper: Habano Oscuro 2000 (Nicaragua)
- Binder: Corojo ’99 (Nicaragua)
- Filler: Criollo ’98 (Nicaragua)
- Factory: Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua (Nicaragua)
- Production: Regular Production
- Vitola: 5″ × 54 (Robusto)
- Price: $10.50 (MSRP)
Short and squat—this cigar looks like it wants to punch me in the face. It’s the girth that makes it look so intimidating. I’ve smoked plenty of 5″ x 54 robustos before, but this one just looks plus-sized. It’s got a very nice looking wrapper, visually blemish-free with an even tobacco-leaf-brown hue (nearly every cigar review ever has used every available shade of brown imaginable, with one exception. I am likely the first to ever dub a shade “tobacco-leaf brown”). There’s but a hint of an oily sheen to the wrapper—no giant binder veins pushing through to mar the uniformity of the leaf. I must say, it’s quite a nice looking leaf. There is a slight flat spot near the band, but otherwise it appears to be very solidly packed and perfectly round.
The band art seems pretty—well—inspired by cigar-band art… The black, red, white, and gold geometric patterns on the side frame a jester (or something reminiscent of a Mardi Gras costume). It really doesn’t strike me as something inspired by New Yorkers so much as that of a New Orleans-fueled fantasy. The box art is inscribed with “AJ Fernandez,” although there’s no mention of him on the band. The name of the company, Artesano del Tobacco, is printed in very small type at the bottom of the label, just below the cigar’s name.
While this cigar was simply sitting nearby, I was already getting the spice-sneezes. It just seemed to be oozing that sweet, pruney, funky A.J. pepper. The cold-draw impresses a completely different pepper experience, as the prominent flavor note is that of sweet, ripe, red bell peppers. From the foot I get a mixture of woody notes and caramel flavors—not a bad way to start.
The first puff features a predominant vegetable note (not quite as sweet as the cold-draw red bell) that disappears quickly, leaving something that is more familiar: that signature A.J. pepper. As a few more minutes tick by, the Viva la Vida starts to put itself together, and it’s not bad at all. The pepper is spicy, pungent, and powerful—a tingle that lingers after each draw. There’s something sweet to ride shotgun that reminds me a bit of dulce de leche (caramelized sweetened condensed milk). The earlier vegetable note transforms to some wood—I’m thinking mahogany. I get the feeling that this dense cigar is going to be a slow burner. This is due not only due to the solidness of the construction, but it seems somehow damp, which is odd, as the cigars smoked for review were stored at 65-percent humidity for well over two months. The smoke is plentiful and nearing full in body; it’s very flavorful, with a medium-plus strength. The burn has been flawless thus far, dispelling my concerns about dampness.
The second third is really bringing something interesting into the flavor mix. Here comes some cinnamon, butter, and yeasty sweetness (like coffee cake with a streusel topping)—all being about 50/50 with the pepper, as far as potency is concerned. There are notes of coffee available, as well as some mild earthiness. The burn is still good, with the smoke remaining cool and displaying none of the heat or bitterness that I had expected with the perceived dampness. At the end of the second third, the flavor and body remain a hair below full in power, with strength seeming to rise to the same level. At this point, I’m most impressed with how the flavors remain clean, as this sort of profile often tends to get kind of muddy by this point.
Moving in to the final third, the clean flavors start to show some mesquite/savory notes, more coffee, and Corn Pops. The lingering flavor on the lips reminds me of strong licorice and cola syrup. A couple of touchups are needed, with some occasional double-pumping required, yet the smoke remains cool. There’s some increasing cayenne spice through the retrohale, which has, surprisingly, been fairly mellow through this point. The flavors really ramp up to a nearly overpowering level (although with less complexity). The finish becomes a bit charry and bitter toward the end, so I finish before entering nub territory, clocking in at full in flavor and body and medium-full in strength.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
Sure! This cigar is pretty good—loads of flavor with a fair amount of complexity, particularly notable for this style of flavor profile (which can tend towards a long slog through the swamp of pepper/earth/wood). It performed well, and while it did get a little muddy at the end, I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, perhaps the only thing I could say against it is that it’s almost too predictable; it’s also a little on the pricey side.
- Viva la Vida cigars are not available online, as the brand is intended to be sold at brick & mortar locations exclusively.
- The cigar’s flavors were so big and bold that I couldn’t find a drink that added anything to the experience, so the below pairing recommendations are essentially reverse pairings. Think, “I’m adding to my beverage,” rather than, “I’m adding to my cigar.”
- Flavor: Full
- Strength: Medium-full
- Body: Full
- Woodsy earth
- Sweet baked goods
- Smoke Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
- Pairing Recommendation: Spicy pineapple mezcal cocktail | sweet ’n strong Cuban coffee | Mt. Angel Soda Company root beer
- Purchase Recommendation: a few should do the trick
- Familiar A.J. comfort zone
- Quality construction
- Power plus depth/complexity
- No surprises
- Pricier than other A.J. offerings