“With a cigar for every palate, you can rest assured when you smoke an AJ Fernandez portfolio cigar, you too will be all about Passion, Discipline, and Great Tobacco!”
There are stogie success stories, and then there are boutique cigar shooting stars. Cigar makers so skilled, and so dedicated, that their emergence on the premium tobacco scene has altered the market permanently.
Take A.J. Fernandez Cigars, or AJF Cigars for short. This family-focused boutique cigar staple may be based in Miami, Florida, but it is the tropical mountains of Nicaragua where all of the magic happens.
Every cigar sold within AJF Cigars' portfolio boasts a premium cigar blend engineered from seed to silky cigar wrapper, formulated by A.J. himself.
But who is this stogie superstar, and how did he come to be one of the world’s most sought-after cigar master blenders and collaboration specialists? Well, it all starts with a small boy, and a family with tobacco roots that run deeper than the plant itself.
Swaddled in Tobacco Leaves and Nursed on Nicotine
Like most master blenders and tobacco growers, Abdel J. Fernandez led a very simple rural life as a small boy.
Born and raised amidst the sprawling tobacco farms of the San Luís area within Pinar del Río, AJ’s life since day one was clandestine to be that of a skilled cigar grower and blender. With his father, uncle, and grandfather all specializing in tobacco cultivation and cigar pre-production in some form or another, AJ’s early years were everything an aspiring cigar-making superstar needed and then some.
By the time he reached puberty, AJ was working the fields with family members and friends once his school lessons were complete. This was soon followed by mentorship from skilled artisans in the aging, curing, fermentation, and rolling aspects of the process.
The Ol’ Nicaraguan Swaparoo
Come 2003, AJ was ready to construct his own course and be free from Cuban government controls. So he relocated to Nicaragua, where the 24-year-old would soon find himself producing limited-run cigars for big-name clients like Rocky Patel and brands held by Cigars International.
What began with just a handful of employees in a funky little garage bay in Estelí in 2004 soon evolved into the rental of a plot of land in 2006, where Fernandez was given ample room to do what he does best: cultivate and care for tobacco.
Within no more than two tobacco growing seasons (and many long hours of hand-rolling), the young Cuban entrepreneur had the funds for his first farm. Unbeknownst at the time, AJ Fernandez had just set a series of events into motion that would alter the history of cigar making forever.
More Contract Work, Limited Releases, and New Cigar Brands
By the time AJ got his hands on his own parcel of land, his rise to stogie stardom was already well underway. The Cuban transplant and his small, yet highly skilled squad of “torcedor” cigar rollers were cranking away on Rocky Patel’s Summer Blend 2008.
A year later, in 2009, AJ Fernandez’s boutique premium cigar blend, “Man O’ War” took the United States by siege, thrusting his name directly into the spotlight. This was shortly followed by his formation of Diesel Cigars, the Ave Maria brand, and some ultra bespoke blending for none other than Gurkha.
AJF Cigars Today
Collaboration projects and contract work may have long been the bread and butter of AJF Cigars, but there’s way more to this operation than just an aging room loaded with choice Ligero primings and a slew of skilled torcedores.
Production takes place in one of the brand’s two Nicaraguan cigar factories, which when combined produce over 100,000 hand-rolled cigars per day. An array of tobacco from virtually every growing region Nicaragua has to offer come together to make the premium cigar blends AJF Cigars is known for as a manufacturer.
As one of the largest cigar producers in Nicaragua, AJ Fernandez has gone to great lengths to procure plots of land in a broad array of tobacco-growing regions. Some of these include Condega, Jalapa, Esteli, Pueblo Nuevo, Quilali, and even the island of Ometepe, with multiple expanded operations still in the works.
By cultivating and overseeing every stage of the tobacco growing process, AJ Fernandez Cigars has not only secured superior levels of quality control but has also opened the gate to all manner of crop cross-breeding and creative cigar creation. This explains the boutique cigar mastermind’s acute interest in acquiring agricultural real estate in a bevy of Nicaragua’s environments, as each offers its benefits and subsequent nuances to the tobacco crop itself.
Primed and Ready to Evolve
After each tobacco plant has been fostered from seed, transported out into the sun, and carefully cultivated all season long, the plant is either stripped of its leaves when the plant is ready for picking/priming. As with tradition, tobacco intended for Maduro cigar wrapper allocation is felled in a single swoop toward the end of the growing season.
Upon drying in a curing barn, the tobacco is transported to a fermentation area, where it is stacked in a pile, or pilon, wetted with fresh water and allowed to mature. While lighter cigar wrapper leaves tend to only require six months or so to mature, an average of two years or more is the norm for many of AJ’s more full-bodied premium cigar blend options.
This is followed by another round of sorting and baling, where the now dry, and heavily fermented tobacco is allowed to age in bales until deemed worthy of use by none other than AJ Fernandez himself.
Rolling It All Together
As of this moment, AJS Cigars’s rolling operations are continuing to grow in scale and skill. While the strategically positioned Tabacalera AJ Fernandez de Nicaragua, SA location remains housed along the northern fringes of the bustling cigar-centric capital of Estelí, Nicaragua, it is not the only spot where the world’s best stogies are hand-rolled.
Further north, the San Lotano factory in Totogalpa produces a massive amount of the cigar flavor profiles many have come to know and love. Together, these two factories roll out over 100,000 sticks per day, all of which are cigars crafted by hand the old-fashioned way.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Be sure to check out the photo gallery portion of the AJ Fernandez website, as it offers detailed, vibrantly shot images of the entire production process.
The AJF Cigars Portfolio
Since it would take up entirely too much space and time to list all of the spin-offs, collaborative projects, and contracted cigar brand offshoots produced by this brilliant boutique cigar manufacturer, we will stick with discussing the standard seven cigars housed within the AJ Fernandez portfolio.
All of these are available in a variety of sizes/shapes (a.k.a. vitolas), cigar flavor profile features, and cigar wrapper options. And while many of these premium cigar blends are a bit on the potent end, there is no denying the smoothness and balance that is simultaneously associated with each one of the following cigars.
DÍAS DE GLORIA
According to the official statement on AJ Fernandez’s website, this cigar “...honors a time he believes were the glory days of Cuban tobacco.” The ultra vintage tobacco that formulates a Dias De Gloria cigar hails from four of AJ’s oldest Nicaraguan farms and offers a traditional approach to premium cigar blends.
Tapped as the ideal master blender for the resurrection of the classic Cuban cigar brand, the Ramon Allones brand is just as flavorful as it is intense. Behind a dark and brooding AJ Fernandez farmed Medio-Tiempo cigar wrapper, comes a score of Nicaraguan puro tobaccos all grown and cared for post-harvest by AJS Cigars. These strains include Corojo ’99, Criollo ’98, and a hybridized tobacco variant that AJ himself concocted years ago.
Named after the Bellas Artes museum in Cuba, this line of cigars comes clad in either a Habano outer leaf or a lush Maduro cigar wrapper. As with all of his premium cigar blends, AJ prefers to lean heavily upon what he can grow in-house down in Nicaragua.
The hybrid wrapper that Fernandez uses in this particular boutique cigar blend is something he calls: "Rojita." According to reports, this tobacco is the result of cross-breeding Connecticut 8212 with both Corojo '99 and Havana 2000 strains. And while AJ’s own Havana '92 binder holds this cigar’s long-filler Nicaraguan leaves in place, you will find trace amounts of Honduran and Brazilian tobacco bunched up as well.
Smoking options abound when shopping the San Lotano line. From Dominican cigar wrapper selections and bold “Bull” Ecuador Sumatran blends to the Habano, Connecticut, and Maduro “Requiem” offshoot, there’s a cigar flavor profile for everyone here.
Utilizing the knowledge provided by his most trusted fellow tobacco blender, AJ’s father, Ismael offers his spin on cigar manufacturing via the Enclave line. Flavorful, yet not nearly as strong as some of AJ’s other cigars in the AJ Fernandez portfolio, the two options bearing this cigar band are both of outstanding quality.
The Habano version is an Ecuadorian wrapped smoke, with a Cameroon binder, and Nicaraguan filler from AJ Fernandez farms. As for the Broadleaf Maduro variant, a classic Connecticut sun-grown wrapper encapsulates an all Nicaraguan core.
Another collaboration project between father and son, this obvious homage to tobacco’s discovery by Europeans, focuses more on the Nicaraguan puro portion of the tobacco blending puzzle.
Available in a super dark Oscuro, a crisp Connecticut wrapped option filled with Brazilian and Mexican tobaccos, and a creamy Cameroon for a more medium-strength cigar smoking experience.
While the tobacco nerd note below handles the backstory on this stout smoke, the fact that the Habano version of this smoke sports a Habano Rosado Ecuadorian cigar wrapper is what makes this stogie so sensational. As for the Maduro version, an obscure Pennsylvania Broadleaf variety is utilized on the exterior, with AJ’s proprietary blend of Nicaraguan binder and filler adding intensity to the cigar flavor profile.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Last Call by AJ Fernandez was first formulated as a freebie. A cigar that was intended to be handed out to those who attended a tour of AJ’s facilities and farms. But demand for this fun smoke soon became all too apparent, and a vast variety of vitolas in both a Habano and a Maduro wrapper were soon made a permanent part of the portfolio.
There is no understating the significance of AJ Fernandez and his devotion to the craft of creating premium tobacco blends and overseeing everything from soil to cigar humidor.
Together, with the help of his father and family, AJ owns and operates one of Nicaragua’s largest cigar operations, and is considered by many to be one of the greatest minds in the business.