Back in 2017, Altadis U.S.A. made an announcement that it would be working with none other than cigar industry superstar AJ Fernandez on a line of spin-off collab stogies. What began with the Gispert cigar brand getting a stiffer Nicaraguan backbone quickly culminated with a secondary rendition, this time with none other than cigar box inventor H. Upmann up to bat.
Much like Gispert, and a handful of other classics within the Altadis portfolio, H. Upmann was in dire need of a shot of adrenaline at the time. Sales over the past two decades had been steady, but with loads of new brands gracing cigar ashtrays across the globe, there wasn’t a lot of hype surrounding the H. Upmann name.
Years later, this collaborative effort has paid off nicely for all parties involved, and that creating a “refreshed” look for the classic H. Upmann line was indeed a wise move. Not only did these cigars cause a bit of a stir upon their release, but they also provided us with something that H. Upmann has never been known for: Raw Nicaraguan strength.
During a camping get-together a couple of weeks back, I was introduced to the H. Upmann by AJ Fernandez, a first encounter for the two of us. During the 1.5-hour smoke session that night, I jotted down a few notes while sitting around the campfire, and boy am I glad that I did. This is what it felt like to experience this potent Churchill for the first time…
Wrapped in a Sumatra seed varietal that was grown down in Ecuador, the English Market Selection (EMS) colored cigar wrapper on this smoke is a dark brown mahogany-colored beauty. Virtually seamless, oil-rich, and extremely aromatic, the wrapper on the Churchill version of this collaborative project seems to stretch on forever before being finished by a broad parejo cap.
Double-banded in gold, light khaki, and aquamarine, and rolled tight in a 7 x 54 configuration, the Churchill size of this cigar provides a classic, yet vibrant appeal to the stoic H. Upmann brand.
A blend of potent tobaccos fill the foot of this cigar with smells of sweet spice, as the Nicaraguan intensity that is AJ Fernandez causes you to take another whiff. Cap and head severed by a double-guillotine cigar cutter, and stogie protruding from my piehole, I puff on the unlit Central American specimen.
Mouth awash in flavors of dried cranberry, sweet cordial, strong tobacco, and cedar, I stand back and assess what’s in my hand.
Well, butter my biscuits. You are one firecracker of a Churchill, aren’t you? This collab cigar type is already living up to the hype, and I haven’t even lit the damn thing yet.
Foot on fire, and smoke surrounding my skull, I sit back to relax and puff on the plant-based adult luxury item, unsure of what to expect next.
Boatloads of cedar have stormed to the forefront, and there’s that notable Nicaraguan kick that people either appreciate or avoid. There’s a lot going on here, including a fair amount of spice that is more of the black pepper variety than the hot chili kind. Toasted oak and that tart craisin flavor from when the cigar had yet to be lit cascades in waves over the senses and fills the thick blanket of smoke with flavor.
Oh, and did I mention nicotine? Ah yes… there’s plenty of that in abundance within the H. Upmann by AJ Fernandez as well. Not in a “make you forget what planet you are on” sort of nicotine kick. Just a notable buzz that simultaneously tingles both the palate and the brain.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Like all other Nicaraguan-bred H. Upmann brands, the H. Upmann by AJ Fernandez is a collaboration between both Fernandez and master blender Rafael Nodal. For years, Nodal has served as the head of product capability for Altadis U.S.A. and is one of the most influential men within the cigar market today. You will recognize the blending skills this man possesses when you try a Quattro F55 Maestro from Aging Room, which in our eyes is the epitome of a modern masterpiece.
The Second Half
Both the first third and the foot turned to ash, I tap the Churchill to free it of its incendiary remnants, and prepare for the following leg of my maiden voyage aboard the “SS AJ Fernandez H. Upmann Pleasure Cruise.”
The spice has faded quite a bit by this point, and as the halfway mark is reached, the falvor of the cigar shifts from cedary, fruity, and slightly tart, to a toffee-ish taste. It’s not a very sweet smack of toffee either, but more of a dry note that hits the back of the throat with a fair amount of intensity.
While some may find this dry-bodied, roasted toffee taste pleasing, others will be immediately turned off by its emergence. This is further compounded by the strength of the Nicaraguan and Dominican filler rolled-up inside this premium cigar blend.
Personally, I enjoyed this transition in the cigar flavor profile. It felt like AJ himself had left me a little hint about what was to follow, and I couldn’t have been any more thrilled. There’s a reason why toffee and coffee both rhyme and complement one another so nicely, and the H. Upmann by AJ Fernandez is one hell of a master barista.
As the Ecuadorian Sumatra cigar wrapper continued to combust cleanly down the length of the Churchill-sized cigar’s barrel, I tried to determine what that Nicaraguan-grown Corojo 99 binder and blend of Dominican and Nicaraguan fillers were up to.
Were they the ones responsible for all of that cedar, toasted oak, cashew nuttiness, and fruit flavor from earlier? Or were they the ones ushering in all of the medium roast coffee and tobacco spice?
I was beginning to get the feeling that it was the latter of the two when I suddenly got a friendly reminder that “Old Man Nicotine” was still alive and kicking, causing me to reach for my beverage once again. A Churchill cigar’s length can cause quite the smorgasbord of juices to form within the fermented tobacco toward the end of a smoking session, so be ready for a colossal climax with this one.
In retrospect, I feel that AJ Fernandez’s take on an H. Upmann is potent, but by no means is it something I would label as an ass-kicker. But that said, this cigar isn’t intended for the faint of heart either.
Perhaps it's best to consider the H. Upmann by AJ Fernandez as a bit of a tuning rod for cigar smokers. A full-bodied friendly reminder that this premium cigar blend is also available in a smaller robusto size, a much more manageable length for when you are trying a stronger stogie on for the first time.
As for me, I’ll give this Churchill cigar size another shot down the line, but only after I make sure that I am in the mood for something so big, bold, and brazenly unapologetic.
Wrapper: Ecuador Sumatran
Wrapper Shade: English Market Selection (EMS)
Filler: Dominican Republic/Nicaragua
Ring Gauge: 54
Smoke Time: 90-minutes