Viaje Friends & Family Merci 2016 | Cigar Review

Wrapper: Nicaraguan
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan
Size: 5.5 x 54 “Robusto – Box Pressed”
Body: Medium/Full
Price: $15.60



Before I begin, I want to say I’m sorry about the last few days. I should have known better. I should have been a smarter boy. Again, my apologies.

Today we take a look at the Viaje Friends & Family Merci 2016.
Thanks to Johnny Piette for the cigar.
I could find absolutely no information on this cigar other than it follows in a line of Friends and Family cigars from Viaje.
This year’s price is the same as the 2015 edition…too much. Also the exact same size.
I think it very uncool not to disclose the leaf stats. But I found out anyway. A Nic puro.

I did discover that the Viaje Friends and Family line was made for Andre Farkas’ own personal pleasure. Generally speaking, all Viaje releases are limited editions. Retailers are lucky to get a couple boxes.
No explanation is given for why they are limited runs. The Viaje web site says nothing about cigars. Or the blends.

The wrapper is an oily chocolate/gingerbread color. The box press is so crisp that the footer band has sharp creases in when removed.
The triple cap is absolutely flawless. It has a closed foot. (I clip it away before lighting up so I don’t get little fireflies floating in the air.
The cigar band’s dual colors are my enemy. I can’t photograph silver and white to save my life.
And lastly, the Viaje Friends & Family Merci 2016 is packed to the gills with tobacco yet has a gentle give when pressed.

From the shaft, I smell spice, barnyard, citrus (grapefruit), cocoa, and a touch of cedar.
From the clipped cap and the clipped foot, I smell strong grapefruit citrus, spice, sweetness, spice, clove, allspice; which includes clove, cedar, cocoa, and coffee.
The cold draw presents flavors of spice, grapefruit, coffee, cedar, and allspice.

The cigar opens up with a big blast of red pepper.
The draw is perfect and has an abundance of white smoke that fills the the room. The cat runs for it. He has gotten used to my cigar smoking and in the evenings sits on my lap, in the man cave, and always demands to smell a cigar before I light it. Odd…but cute.

I have nothing but trouble with most box pressed cigars. They usually run for the border under my tutelage. So keeping an eye on the burn line initially is of utmost importance.

Clearly, the Viaje Friends & Family Merci 2016 had some impressive rollers because the char line is razor sharp.
The flavors: Spice, chocolate, malt, creaminess, citrus, coffee, nuts, cedar, and a rich earthiness.
Strength hits medium/full very quickly.


With only 1” gone, flavors juxtapose for position. Caramel is a new strong comer. So are the malts.
The complexity kicks in early. The finish is tasty.
I am hot and cold about Viaje. Sometimes Andre Farkas slips a little. Other times, he hits it out of the park. The Viaje Friends & Family Merci 2016 seems to be the latter.

I’m beginning to reconsider my position about the cigar being too expensive. As Tall Richard commented on another post; It won’t be long before we are used to paying $20 for a good cigar.

The burn line wavers a bit and requires attention. I use a big, cheap lighter that is just a single torch flame to correct a burn line because it gives me pin point accuracy. I don’t understand the need for a quad flame lighter. If you are trying to start a forest fire, sure. But for carefully lighting a cigar, it’s crazy. I’ve never been able to keep a four torch lighter from crawling up the outside of the wrapper. Nothing more attractive than a cigar that is black halfway up the cigar.

Slow smoking cigar.

As good as the Viaje Friends & Family Merci 2016 is, there aren’t any truly unusual flavors; especially since it is a Nic puro. Nic puros generally have the same flavor profiles with a tweak here and a tweak there.

Strength doesn’t change. Flavor profile is the same but maybe stronger and a bit more complex as I hit 1-1/2” gone.


Smoke time is 40 minutes.
I’m having consistent burn issues. Not bad ones but it started off so nicely and now it behaves like any other box pressed cigar.

More flavors: vanilla, floral notes, shortbread.
Strength seems to be steady at medium/full.
Finally. A decent photo:

Johnny didn’t say how much humidor time this cigar got. But it being a given that it probably got as much time as possible since the release as Johnny works for Prime Cigar in Brookfield, WI. An upscale suburb of Milwaukee.

It is just about the only cigar shop in Milwaukee that keeps up with the times with cutting edge brands.
Fortunately, Wisconsin’s cigar tax is low. 50¢ or less per cigar.
Halfway point.
Smoke time is one hour.
I’m disappointed with the burn line. It should have remained razor sharp but instead, it is consistently wavy.


While the Viaje Friends & Family Merci 2016 is an excellent cigar, it ain’t worth almost $16.
There are so many brands/blends in the $8-$9 range just as good. But the supply and demand metric gives the cigar a mystique that makes us lemmings run to the online store or our local B & M’s buying as many as we can afford.
I expect the last third to make its play.

Smoke time is one hour 15 minutes.
My palate raises the flag of surrender. It’s being pelted with so much flavor that it is in overload. So many Viaje limited editions have done nothing for me but this baby makes one understand why Farkas chose this as his personal blend.

While I enjoy the complexity and character of the cigar, I think the movement to the $15.00 norm is abhorrent.
The once expensive $9 cigar is now becoming a thing of the past.


Here they are one last time: Creaminess, caramel, chocolate, coffee, malts, nutty, vanilla, floral notes, shortbread, and cedar. None of these flavors are foreign to a Nic puro. In fact, it is what we expect.
It is the combination and amounts of flavor notes, the mile long finish, the incredible smoothness, and character boldness that makes this an excellent cigar.

Strength hits full body. Nicotine hits comes to party.

Cinnamon, almonds, apples, and citrus enter the middle of the flavor profile list. The citrus disappeared at the end of the first third. Now it’s back. The fact that the citrus is grapefruit makes it more interesting.

I verified that this is, indeed, the 2016 version. Usually, the big guys will wait til the blend is ready to smoke. But that time has come. There should be dozens of reviews. Or maybe it hasn’t been officially released. Or the fact that it is so limited that other reviewers didn’t think it was necessary to review a cigar that would disappear off the shelves so quickly.

I really don’t know if small boutique online stores will carry it. I doubt it. What is more likely is that you will have to cross your fingers that your local B & M might be lucky enough to get those couple of boxes doled out by Farkas.

Do I recommend buying one or two? With state taxes, the Viaje Friends & Family Merci 2016 is going to be well over $16.00.
The char line didn’t behave the way a $16 cigar should. But it was very flavorful and full of character.
If you have the dough, go for it. But once you smoke it, you will realize you’ve smoked similar blends that are much cheaper.



And now for something completely different:
We had decided to record our album in a high falutin’ recording studio: Sunset Gower in Hollywood. $250 an hour in 1981. Ouch.
Rick Tunstall, our band leader, composer, singer, and guitarist had managed to get hold of world famous, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer, Hal Blaine.


I had worshiped this man since I was 16. As a teen, in fact all teens, were fascinated by the liner notes on all albums.
Hal was part of the rhythm team (L.A. Wrecking Crew) that played on all the Simon & Garfunkel albums, all of the Mamas & Papas albums, the Beach Boys, and just about everyone in the music business. Hal is a brilliant drummer. If you look at a photo of Hal’s drum kit, it is the exact same as Ringo’s kit. Ringo copied Hal’s set up…and in fact, Hal played on quite a few Beatles songs. Hal is loyal to a fault. I was never able to get him to tell me which Beatles songs he played on. But it was widely known in the music biz that he did do this.




So, Rick and I were already at the studio. The cartage company had arrived with Hal’s drum set. They worked like clockwork to assemble it properly….and then The Man showed up.

I had been in contact with all of my rock n roll heroes while I played in the English band, Curved Air in the mid 70’s so I knew how to keep my cool..but with Hal, this was different.

The man was not very tall and had a slim build. He is Jewish so I let him know I was, as well….what was I thinking? That he would fall in love with me?

We kibitzed for a while and we explained the tunes we would be recording. The recording area was huge! Like a gymnasium.
Hal sat at his kit fine tuning the kit after being moved. He reached into his stick bag, hanging from the snare, and pulled out some sheet music. He motioned me over and showed it to me.

It was drum sheet music written by hand. By Paul Simon’s hand. It was “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” I was in shock. Hal let me hold it. I stared at it like it was the Holy Grail.

We rehearsed our first song one time and Hal had it. Just before we hit the “record” button, Hal said to me, “Phil, you’re a pretty good bassist. Have you done session work?”
I gurgled something that basically meant no. Even though that wasn’t true. But not big time session work.
“I can get you some work if you want?”
I exploded with: #%^&&@D^@&(@!!!!!!
I think it meant, “Would I? Hell, yes”

We spent a month recording an album’s worth of material. And Hal was there for about 2 weeks to do the rhythm tracks.
Here I was, playing bass against Hal Blaine’s licks. Surreal doesn’t begin to explain the situation. I was sweating like crazy.

I gave Hal some suggestions and he gave me his suggestions. We worked as a team. And he “always” had great ideas to make things work better.

Between tracks, Hal and I would sit in the booth and kibitz. He told me stories as if he was Uncle Remus. He could drop names like no one I had ever met. I’ve always loved stories about rock. I’ve met numerous musicians that when you tell them stories, they become jealous and just turn you off. Not me. Anyone I meet that has stories to tell, I’m all in.

He told me inside stories that had me in rapture. Meanwhile, my partner Rick, took me into the lounge and proceeded to scream at me…”Do you know that the 15 minute story that Hal told cost us $85?”
I bowed my head in shame but I really didn’t care. If paying $250 an hour to listen to Hal was the price, it was well worth it.

Hal was true to his word getting me big session work in L.A. He later went on to become my mentor doing all sorts of things for me at my own recording studio in Long Beach. We became good friends. He took scale money from me for recordings that made me a big shot in my customer’s eyes. All of the Long Beach musician community found out that at Sound Sorcery Recording Studio, Hal Blaine was available to play on their songs. I was treated like the Godfather.

More About Hal Blaine:
Hal was a special man to me. Hal was part of the L.A. Wrecking Crew. A group of musicians that were hired for their expertise and cohesion in the studio. I really don’t know if they ever played out together, but they did create magic in the studio. The bassist, Carol Kaye, was my bass teacher when I was 19. She and Hal played on most of the Beach Boys songs.

The list of Top 10 songs Hal played on is endless. He worked a lot with Phil Spector. Hal was my mentor and friend. I was 32 at the time. He played with everyone; literally. He could tell stories about my heroes like no one else. I loved to hear him talk. And he was a bona fide story teller.

He told me he was at Sinatra’s house when Tommy Sands met Nancy Sinatra and he could see them fell in love immediately. Jesus Alou!

Hal lived the typical rich musician life. Lots of wives and kids and during the time I was close to him, he lived on his yacht which was docked in Marina Del Rey, CA.

At the time, I had a TV show with a local DJ on a major rock station in L.A. Marshall Thomas interviewed 1960’s musical acts and I wrote and produced and directed.
We were lucky enough to get Hal to agree to be on one of our shows. And we also got Darlene Love of The Blossoms fame. You might remember her as Danny Glover’s wife in the “Lethal Weapon” movie series.


As fate would have it, both of them did an Ed Sullivan Special together in 1968. It was Nancy Sinatra in Vegas for the whole show. Darlene and her Blossoms did the backup vocals and Hal was on drums.

Hal bought a 1968 Sony video recorder/player so he could watch the show afterwards. He told me it cost $3200 in 1968.

This thing was like a boat anchor. It was reel to reel. And I had the chore of getting the reel of the TV show converted to regular TV ¾” format. I had to borrow the video recorder from Hal to take it to the transfer studio in Hollywood.

So off I went to his boat with no idea how heavy this thing would be. And it was a long walk. I was on the light side back then. And this thing must have weighed 50lbs. He also gave me the black and white monitor that came with the recorder. Now this sucker must have weighed another 50lbs.

I sat with Hal, on his boat, and we kibitzed for a while and then I left. To this day, my right arm is one foot longer than the left because of carrying that recorder and monitor to my car.

I went through the motions and accomplished getting the video transferred to ¾”.

Then I reluctantly dragged the thing back to the yacht. When I got there, Hal asked me to please hold on to it for a while because he had no room for it on his boat. WTF!!!???

I screeched: “Hal! Look at me! I weigh 150lbs and this thing is making me a hunch back!”
Hal laughed. And shook his head. I told him that he must make me lunch to gain the strength to lug this thing back to my car. He did. Lox and bagels. Ummmm. I went downstairs to the belly of the yacht and the kitchen is something I had never seen before. He had that thing stocked with the finest foods.

So, I lugged the damn thing back.

Long story, short….The show was a rousing success. We had wonderful shots of Darlene and Hal playing while Nancy did “These Boots are Made for Walking.” And they were completely at home in front of the camera.

Every now and again, I would mention to Hal that I would be happy to bring his recorder back. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Hang on to it a little longer, boychik.”

So now, 33 years later, the recorder is in my living room. I use it for a bomb shelter.


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2 replies

  1. You should take that recorder and provenance to the gold add silver pawn shop in vegas…Lol the one that’s on history Channel

  2. I’ve rid myself of 99% of my musical memorabilia to pay medical bills. On eBay of course. I have almost nothing left.
    Hal Blaine was my hero. He was my mentor for a short time.
    There is no way I will part with it…for what? A couple hundred bucks?
    Don’t think so.

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