Wrapper: Ecuadorian Sumatra Maduro
Size: 5 x 44
Raise your hand if you are not an A.J. Fernandez fan. OK. Now go into the corner and spank yourself. This man cranks out great blends like Rocky Patel cranks out house cigars.
The difference being that AJ puts his heart and soul into each creation…except for a few early cigars that find themselves on CI and cigar.com and no longer have his name attached to them.
This is a ridiculously expensive cigar. My little 5 x 44 is $15. The larger 6.5 x 56 goes for $20.00. On the occasions I’ve smoked expensive cigars, I’ve always come to the conclusion that I can quickly name off 5 cigars at the $7 range that are as good or better.
Of course, the band on the Armada is very pretty. Even my wife went, “Oooh,” and then she smelled it and said it smelled like piss. She says that about all my cigars.
This is somewhat of a limited produced blend with 100,000 cigars made each year. But at these prices, that should be plenty.
Construction is excellent, as it should be. The exotic wrapper has a dark brown hue with a reddish tinge in the sunlight. A few veins permeate the stick. I cannot tell for sure, but for $15, it better have a triple cap. The stick is solid with the right amount of give. There is a nice oily sheen with a bit of toothiness.
I sniff it and detect baking spices, hay, sweet tobacco, cocoa, and nutmeg.
I clip it and light up.
I am immediately awash in flavor. A caramel sweetness. A rich and dark espresso, cocoa, red hot peppers, buttery smooth creaminess, and heavy nutmeg.
The spiciness is taking off like a North Korean missile. Holy shit! This has more of a kick than the typical Garcia pepper blast. It is strong!
The body is at once the classic medium in strength. I grab a bottle of water to tame the beast.
I have never….never….had a cigar take off with this much flavor, this quickly…EVER!
And I’ll bet you two bits that the behemoth version at 6.5 x 56 doesn’t do this no matter how much it is aged. I am currently in love with smaller cigars. I use to think that the bigger the stick, the better the value. Of course, in my old age, I’ve come to realize that that notion is poppycock. Which I got once while traveling in Thailand.
The ash begins perfectly but then wavers and I correct it so as not to worry about it any longer. The ash will remain perfect throughout the rest of the smoke.
I am only ¾” into the cigar and nothing has changed. All those lovely flavors are still there but expanding in their own definition of themselves. The pepper is still on full.
The draw is perfect. And smoke plumes spew forth. Vanilla is added to the mix which enhances the creaminess and hurries it along.
For such a small cigar, it is burning very slowly. I have burned 1-1/4” and it’s taken a good 20 minutes. The flavors are a bit muted now and the spiciness has put on its air brakes and is there, but tolerable.
I’m impressed that the cigar starts off with all of its flavor profile at once. But then so far, nothing has really changed after that. A little cedar seems to be present now, but that’s it.
I reach the halfway point and the flavors explode. The creaminess is especially impressive. The cocoa I was expecting was not as strong as I expected but I still grabbed my Diet Coke.
The char line has been dead nuts since my early correction.
As the cigar burns down, it has become a flavor jamboree. The body is now full in every way.
None of the flavor profile has changed but it is so complex that my miserable writing skills do not have the talent to really describe it. Plainly spoken, this is a great cigar.
I did not pay $15 for this stick. I got a 5 pack on a CI special and paid $4 each. Now that I’ve tasted it, I should have bought a lot more 5 packs, but what is done, is done. I shall keep my open for another chance. And so should you.
And now for something completely different:
Continuation of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer, Hal Blaine…
Hal did me so many solids; I can hardly remember them all. For some reason he took to me…no, he wasn’t gay. I could have been his son the way I was treated by him. A boyhood hero was treating me like his son. I sat and listened to the Mamas and Papas and Simon and Garfunkel…lying on my bed at home…with the LP label in my hands reading the name of the rhythm section: Hal Blaine on drums, Joe Osborne on bass, and Larry Knechtel on keys. I would fixate on those names as I drifted away with the music.
Hal is a nice Jewish boy like me. He came up through the ranks when changing your last name was a regular thing. His real name is Harold Simon Belsky.
After spending a lot of time recording with him at my studio on other people’s projects, he offered me a gig. Wow. It was a Chevy TV commercial. There would be a full orchestra and rock rhythm section and I could play bass on it. It would be for scale which I think was around $750 back then. And every time it played on TV, I got zippo. I signed away my player’s rights. Hal encouraged me to do so until the band leaders and the management team got to know me.
I remember going to Hal’s yacht docked at Marina Del Rey where he would drive us in his Rolls to the gig at Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood. I was shitting bricks even though my experience level was more than sufficient for the challenge. Hal was revered by all and there would be whispers of who is this kid with him. I should add that this kid was in his early 30’s.
I was introduced to the BIG GUY and we shook hands. He asked me a little of my background and was thoroughly impressed with the Curved Air and Stewart Copeland connection. Remember, at this time, The Police were peaking.
He handed me the charts which seemed the size of a telephone book. I went off to a corner to study them. Hal was schmoozing with everyone and didn’t miss me.
I made notes and highlighted passages. It was a 75 second song. And pure pap. But with a rock feel. And OMG! Heavy on the bass line. I brought my Schecter fretless with me. When the band leader saw that he immediately became worried and told me so. He was worried that I might hit some clams. With frets, there is never the chance you might be off by an eighth of a note. Merely rocking one’s finger could put you out of tune but I was good on this thing and didn’t worry.
We did a rehearsal and the band leader spent most of his time listening to me. At the end of the tune, he gave me a big thumbs up and everyone clapped. Whew! Hal looked at me and beamed. Like his son had done good.
It took 4 hours to complete the task at hand. And as a result of Hal’s generosity, I continued to do commercial session work for several years.
This is a list of the #1 songs that Hal played on:
“Can’t Help Falling in Love” – Elvis Presley (12/18/61)
“He’s a Rebel” – The Crystals (10/06/62)
“Surf City” – Jan & Dean (06/22/63)
“Everybody Loves Somebody” – Dean Martin (07/11/64)
“Ringo” – Lorne Greene (11/07/64)
“This Diamond Ring” – Gary Lewis & the Playboys (01/23/65)
“Help Me, Rhonda” – The Beach Boys (05/01/65)
“Mr Tambourine Man” – The Byrds (06/05/65)
“I Got You Babe” -Sonny & Cher (07/31/65)  
“Eve of Destruction” – Barry McGuire (08/28/65)
“My Love” – Petula Clark (01/15/66)
“These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” – Nancy Sinatra (02/05/66)
“Monday Monday” – The Mamas & the Papas (04/16/66)
“Strangers in the Night” – Frank Sinatra (07/02/66)
“Poor Side of Town” – Johnny Rivers (10/08/66)
“Good Vibrations” – The Beach Boys (10/29/66)
“Somethin’ Stupid” – Frank & Nancy Sinatra (03/25/67)
“The Happening” – The Supremes (04/15/67) 
“Windy” – The Association (06/03/67)
“Mrs. Robinson” – Simon & Garfunkel (05/04/68)
“Dizzy” – Tommy Roe (03/15/69)
“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” – The 5th Dimension (04/12/69)
“Love Theme – Romeo & Juliet” – Henry Mancini (05/24/69)
“Wedding Bell Blues” – The 5th Dimension (10/04/69)
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Simon & Garfunkel (02/14/70)
“(They Long to Be) Close to You” – The Carpenters (06/27/70)
“Cracklin’ Rosie” – Neil Diamond (08/29/70)
“Indian Reservation” – Paul Revere & the Raiders (05/29/71)
“I Think I Love You” – The Partridge Family (10/31/71)
“Song Sung Blue” – Neil Diamond (05/13/72)
“Half Breed” – Cher (09/01/73)
“Annie’s Song” – John Denver (06/15/74)
“Top of the World” – The Carpenters (10/20/74)
“The Way We Were” – Barbra Streisand (12/22/74)
“Thank God I’m a Country Boy” – John Denver (04/05/75)
“Love Will Keep Us Together” – Captain & Tennille (05/24/75)
“I’m Sorry”/”Calypso” – John Denver (08/30/75)
“Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” – Diana Ross (01/22/76