AJ Fernandez Bellas Artes | Cigar Reviews by the Katman

Wrapper: “Rojita” (Connecticut 8212, Corojo ’99 and Havana 2000)
Binder: Nicaraguan Quilalí Havana ’92
Filler: Nicaraguan (Estelí Condega and Jalapa), Brazilian (Mata Norte viso), Honduran
Size: 6 x 48 “Short Churchill”
Body: Medium/Full
Price: $8.25
Humidor Time: 3+ weeks
Number smoked prior to review: 1




Today we take a look at the Bellas Artes From A.J. Fernandez.
Many thanks to a reader for sending a couple of sticks.
Only one thing worries me. I have zero luck with box pressed cigars and their burn. Every single pressed cigar gives me nothing but trouble. My fingers are crossed that doesn’t happen here.

Debuted at the 2016 IPCPR trade show.
From Cigar Aficionado:
“The hybrid wrapper, which Fernandez refers to as “Rojita” is a cross between three strains of tobacco: Connecticut 8212, Corojo ’99 and Havana 2000.
The binder is a Havana ’92 varietal grown in Quilalí, a region of Nicaragua that has been producing black tobacco since the 1800s.
The Nicaragua-heavy filler consists of tobacco from Estelí, Condega and Jalapa, however Fernandez has added some Honduran leaf and a bit of Brazilian tobacco as well.
“There’s viso from the Mata Norte region of Brazil,” said Ricky Samoza of A.J. Fernandez. “It’s high in nicotine and sweetness.”
The viso classification refers to the filler tobacco leaves that grow on the upper-middle portion of the plant. Typically, ligero tobacco grows the highest on the stalk, followed by viso, which is less powerful than ligero, but stronger than seco (the next classification down).”

Short Churchill 6 x 48 $8.25
Robusto 5 x 52 $8.75 (The AJ web site says it is a 5” length. A lot of reviews claim it is 5.5”)
Toro 6 x 54 $9.50
Gordo 6.5 x 58 $10.50

The Bellas Artes is a nice looking stick. Smooth with a small amount of imperfections. A nice transition from the box press to a rounded triple cap. Seams are tight. Some veins that the wrapper could do without.
The color of the wrapper changes like the eyes of the Mona Lisa. Different light sources make a big change. Basically, it is a medium brown.
I love the double cigar bands. Beautiful artwork.

From the shaft, I can smell strong dark chocolate, spice, tropical fruit, sweetness, cedar, mocha java, an array of malts, and honey blossoms.
From the clipped cap and the foot, I smell all of the above plus an extra dose of very spicy peppers. I smell a meatiness, plus floral notes, and vanilla.
The cold draw presents flavors of pine, black pepper, a sour element, salt, honey, and apples.

Draw is excellent even though the stick is packed solid.
Out of the gate first is a combo of red and black pepper. Following that, there is an immediate creaminess, sweetness, that sour element, malts, honey, chocolate, nuts, cedar, and a touch of fruit.
The spiciness crawls down my throat like the snake-like thing did to one of the crew in the movie “Prometheus.”

Strength hits a strong medium.
A swig of water and my palate is awash in nice flavors.

The Bellas Artes doesn’t have the intensity from the start that yesterday’s Arandoza 5th Anniversary did but still; so far a nice blend. Not earth shattering but aligning perfectly with the thread of continuity of the AJ Fernandez line of blends.

AJ is pretty reliable for putting out very decent cigar blends. His core line is excellent but once he starts targeting the ancillary market, his style isn’t always successful. His Man O’ War line is hit or miss.

The char line has needed some minor touch ups and requires constant checking because once a box press burn line gets away from you, you’re screwed.

I’m ¾” in and transitions are minor, at best. I decide to take a look at other reviews and there are only a small handful. No one goes absolutely nuts over it. And I’m surprised that more of the Big Guys haven’t reviewed it. It came out in July, I believe; so there has been plenty of time for humidor rest.
The reviews I read were written less than a month after the cigar’s release. Plus, AJ blends usually take the same course of being ready to smoke in 3-4 weeks.

Not all cigars do well with extensive aging. In the past, I’ve had readers send me cigars that were 1-3 years old and all the zip was gone; even from some very good blends.

The percentage of cigars that excel with a lot of humidor time is small. Most blends don’t do well if they are stored too long. Except, of course, if the cello is left on or still contained in their boxes.
AJ blends don’t do well with more than a year’s humidor time if you store your cigars like I do…that is, naked in the humidor. I never leave the cellos on. Slows down the ability to be smoked sooner rather than later.

The Bellas Artes is very tasty but I can think of a 100 good cigars that taste the same.

Maybe this blend was designed to break the mold of how AJ cigars react to extended humidor time. It very well might need more than 3 weeks to get the full benefit…as in a few months, at least.
As this is my only stick, I won’t be able to come back and check my hypothesis.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a quality blend but it doesn’t grab me by the balls. It is a slow roller. Doesn’t gut punch you from the start.

I ignored my own advice and took my eye off the ball. The char line is going south on me. I don’t know what it is about box pressed sticks that always give me the burn trouble.

Transitions are slow in coming. Not a lot of complexity. Nice, but not great.
Black licorice shows up. Takes over the flavor profile.
The chocolate is gone. The spiciness has pulled back. The honey is still strong. The sour element is gone too. Malts are strong.
A lemon zest component arrives that seems out of place with the other flavors.

Smoke time is 25 minutes.
I have no idea if I’m smoking the Bellas Artes too soon or whether or not this is this is all it has to give.
It may indeed blossom with time but I believe I’m getting the core flavors now. With time, it will probably become well-rounded and increase its current poor complexity level.


Malts increase exponentially from the first third. A crème brûlée flavor becomes more apparent than earlier. A more complex version of caramel.
The first third was a slow start and now it seems the blend is beginning to find itself. A portent of things to come with more humi time.

Nice and quiet this morning. Compared to yesterday’s cluster fuck of noise makes today seem like I’m living in a monastery.

The cable TV classic rock station is playing Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs.” One of the all-time worst songs in history. I went to a funeral of a man back in the mid 1980’s who was murdered in a home invasion. After the service, the pastor said he was going to play two of the man’s favorite songs. He sat down and clicked the boom box. The first song was an Elvis spiritual tune. Moments after it finished, on came “Hot Legs.” The pastor leaped up in horror and left the pulpit. We sat there stunned as we had to listen to the 6 minute live version of this dumb ass song. The man was murdered for chrissakes.

Allowing the cigar to rest a few minutes between puffs allows the palate to rest a bit and let in flavors that expire when puffing constantly.
I’m perplexed that the transitions are not what I expected. It seems to be on the same rail throughout the experience. Maybe there are not more reviews of the Bellas Artes because reviewers realized it needs a lot of rest. Or because they are tied to the hip of AJ and don’t want to write a review like mine.

No change in the flavor line up.
And the burn issues are frustrating.

Four flavors are the mainstay of this blend: Malts, black licorice, honey, and crème brûlée.
The black pepper has completely disappeared.
I must give this blend the benefit of the doubt and say that it absolutely needs more humidor time for that complex blend of tobaccos to become effective.
This makes all the published reviews null and void.
If I look at this as a precursor of good things to come then I feel better about the cigar.


Spice returns in the form of black pepper with a touch of red pepper.
The worm turns at this point. Complexity makes its first appearance.
Strength hits medium/full.

Flavors don’t change but they become more interesting. They possess a more fleshed out genus species.
Yesterday’s review of the Arandoza 5th Anniversary will become a cigar in my top 25 cigars of 2016. Any blend after that cigar is a hard act to follow. If I had reversed the order of these two reviews, I might have a different attitude about the Bellas Artes.

The Bellas Artes is a very nice cigar. But with so many great boutique blends out there right now, it sort of morphs into the crowd.

AJ is definitely a journeyman blender but has never made a cigar that has blown me out of my shorts. Which explains why I feel the way I do about the Bellas Artes.
Another major burn issue must be corrected.

There is something else. Reviewing good cigars every single day for 7 years has its downside. In a twisted sort of way. My palate has become so sophisticated that I am more discerning that if I had never become a reviewer. I am a cigar snob. I find no pleasure in smoking every day cigars. My palate is impatient. The reviewer’s curse.

Smoke time is now 50 minutes.
Slowly, the blend improves as it moves towards the sweet spot. And this is what makes the Bellas Artes a good, but not great cigar. Great cigars hit you in the puss with the sweet spot 3 minutes into the experience.

Gradually getting to the sweet spot is way too common.

Here are the flavors: Creaminess, malts, sweetness, crème brûlée, licorice, citrus, a bit of spice, nuts, nougat, cedar, and the mocha java returns.
Much better now.

Great cigars squeeze the kitchen sink of flavors out of the blend. Constantly transitioning and surprising you with what’s next. So far, the Bellas Artes is predictable.

Yesterday’s selection of music was great. Deep album cuts. Today it is all top 40 classic rock. Yawn.
If I have to listen to one more Eagles’ cut, I’m going to hang myself.

I predict, that in the next couple of months, you will be able to buy the Bellas Artes on Cbid for much less than the MSRP.
Strength remains at a steady medium/full body. With only a bit of nicotine nipping at my heels.


The cigar goes out. I relight and a rush of flavor hits my palate like a flash bang grenade. This is definitely the sweet spot of the Bellas Artes.
The blend is now fully complex. A modicum of transitions occurs.

My main criticism is that the cigar has a base core of flavors that don’t meander or surprise.
Would I buy this cigar? Not at its current price. The Bella Artes is everything an excellent $6 cigar provides.

Have you noticed that few big cigar makers put out my favorite size of the corona gorda? It seems only the boutique brands do that. I feel confident that if the Bella Artes came in this size, we would be looking at a whole different experience.
Am I disappointed? Maybe a little.

If you take a gander at “The Katman’s List of 168 Great Cigars in the $5.00-$8.00 Range” you will find cigars just as good as the Bellas Artes.

If I were you, I would snag a 5 pack and then let them sleep in your humidor for 3-4 months before lighting up.
The Bellas Artes finishes clean without harshness.
Final smoke time is about 90 minutes.


And now for something completely different:

We always started our tour of the European Continent in Amsterdam. Then we’d finish the tour back in England.
We took the ferry from Dover, England to the Hook of Holland…an overnight trip. While waiting to board the ship, all the core roadies for Led Zep showed up with their own 18 wheelers full of equipment. We chatted. We got stoned. We drank. We had dinner together. And said goodbye the next morning. Didn’t know our paths would cross again during our tours.

Our first gig was always the Paradiso Club in Amsterdam which was, conveniently, the place to buy hash. But we didn’t buy enough for the whole tour. And there was no other place on the Continent to safely buy it.

We were out of herb when we hit Aachen, Germany. No worse place to be out of smoke.

We played at some arena in Aachen not far from the border of Holland. We announced to the crowd that we needed advice on where to get some hash. Of course, lots of people handed us stuff after the concert but we threw it away. Never trust free dope. Too many horror stories about that. The German cops gave us the stink eye. They didn’t like Hippie musicians. The country was still pretty fascist even in 1974.

One audience member told us we could follow him to a hash club right across the border where we could buy enough stash for the rest of the tour. So our destination was Maastricht.

We finished playing around 11pm. We quickly changed. I wore a pair of patch suede leather pants on stage. After 2-1/2 hours on stage under hot lights, I entered the dressing room soaked to the bone. This night, I couldn’t get them off. They were glued to my legs so I just changed my shirt.


Darryl didn’t do drugs so a club meant he could drink himself stupid. We all grabbed our instruments.
The five of us got into the Lincoln town car driven by our road manager and we followed the bloke to Maastricht.
This club was massive and we were all duly impressed. Classy joint.

A band was playing. Hundreds and hundreds of people. It had a really nice stage and sound system. And the acoustics were brilliant.

The good fellow from the concert showed us where the dealer was. The dealer had set up a little station for selling hash. He sat in a big overstuffed chair with a big chalk board standing behind him. There were the names of different types of hash and the prices.
The dealer wouldn’t take our money but we foisted it upon him because we needed a lot. It had to last an 8 week tour.

Then we took the stage. We didn’t ask if we could play. We were Curved Air. The crowd went nuts. The band that was playing was thrilled we would be using their equipment and they had a good sound guy.
Sometimes it’s good to be the king.

Stewart, Mick, Sonja and I lit up a big bowl of hash a couple minutes before jumping on the stage.
Within minutes, it hit us. Holy shit the stuff was strong. And because we hadn’t had any in several days, we were gluttons. I had smoked hash in America but it was nothing like the quality of European hash. Or as cheap.

We stumbled on to the stage and giggled the whole time. Darryl downed an English pint (20oz) in two minutes to catch up with us.
We tried to play but couldn’t stop laughing. The crowd knew what was going on and they began to laugh. Must have been 400 of them.

We broke into playing and Sonja nudged me. Standing next to the stage was Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. I just about shit myself. It was a star crossed moment. Apparently, this club was the place to hang.


The heavens had aligned perfectly. I grew up a huge fan of Zep. And the best band I ever played with, prior to CA, was named Homegrown. Subtle, huh?
We had a singer and guitarist that could perfectly mimic those two guys in Zep. So we were damn near a tribute band. So, of course, we got booked constantly.

After a few songs, Plant and Page got on stage with us. Curved Air was a progressive band with their roots in classical music. Darryl and Sonja had not an ounce of blues in their background. Luckily, our guitarist Mick, Stew the drummer, and I had paid some dues on that front.

Page started with a slow 1-4-5 blues. Plant made lyrics up as he went. We followed.
Sonja just weaved back and forth banging her tambourine. Darryl was embarrassing with his classically trained violin chops.

I asked if we could play some Zep music. Page asked what I would like to play and I said, “Dazed and Confused.” Plant smiled as I began that iconic bass line that started the song. Darryl freaked and left the stage as he clearly couldn’t keep up.
Page had his famous Les Paul with him. I damn near fainted.

Mick sort of stayed in the background but since Zep was basically a musical trio, all they needed was for me to know the songs. And I DID!

Word got out and the audience swelled by two hundred more people. No one could move in that place. 600 people in a large bar were still a lot of people.
I got to be John Paul Jones.

We played 3 more songs: “Whole Lotta Love,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Rock and Roll.”
Page and Plant shook hands with the band and gave me a big bear hug. I could barely speak. All I could utter was a meek “Thanks.”

And you ain’t going to believe this. Clapton was in the audience the whole time. Plant went to where he was standing and they talked for a few minutes. Next thing I knew, Clapton was on stage.


Page got back on the stage. They had decided to do some Yardbirds songs. Both Plant and Clapton were in that band. Different times of course.
None of Curved Air was left on the stage except for me and Copeland; the drummer. The rest of CA chickened out.

We started with “Over Under Sideways Down.” Then “Heart Full of Soul” and finished with “For Your Love.”

It was 5am and the bar closed an hour before but the bar owner would have been lynched if he tried to shoo everyone out.
We got back to the hotel around 6am. Couldn’t sleep because I was so jacked up. I used the hotel phone to call some friends at home to tell them what happened. I later got into trouble with management for spending the dough on the phone calls. I think a 10 minute call cost around $50. A lot of dough for 1974.

But we made the cover of Melody Maker in the following issue. Management eased up on me when they saw that. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. So a couple hundred English pounds was a small price to pay…and it was forgiven. Otherwise, the management assholes would have made me pay for them.

I just realized by finding this story, as my memory fades, that this is why my daughter and wife insisted I claimed I played with Clapton. Katie was in grade school and always bragged to her teachers about this. So I got a lot of attention on parent’s night about this. I would sheepishly have to deny this ever occurred.

They mistakenly thought I played in a band with him. I never did. But at some point in the past, I must have mentioned this story. End of mystery.

I can’t play anymore but no matter what, no one can take away from me those wonderful memories. I was just a kid from Long Beach, California living the dream a 16 year old had many years before lying on his bed at home listening to British rock.

What a giant stroke of luck.

“I don’t know if Momma was right or if, if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I…think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”


Last Bit:
I was watching an old Robert Klein HBO comedy special and something he talked about reminded of the following…
He talked about Johnny Pumping growing up in NYC. It’s where you jump over a fire hydrant which of course is extremely dangerous in maintaining the good condition of your scrotum.

Here are two incidents, hand to God, both are true.
Back in junior high, a bunch of us were hanging out at the park. Just futzing around doing nothing specific…just glad not to be home.
And a couple of guys start doing the Johnny Pump on the only fire hydrant in the park.
Sure as shit, one buddy slipped and landed on that massive nut with his ball sack.

The look in his eyes was something from a horror movie.
For a few seconds, he just sat there…not breathing…not blinking…not thinking.
He then fell off backwards and began to projectile vomit. This went on for 30 minutes.
A couple kids ran home and an ambulance was called.
None of us ever considered doing that ever again.

The other story occurred during high school.
Again, at the very nice El Dorado Lake and Golf Course in Long Beach, Ca.
I lived two blocks away and we would hang out and smoke pot. First, we’d buy a couple cheap loaves of bread, smoke the doob, and then feed the ducks and geese. Soon after, it was one slice for a duck and one slice for us…and so forth.

We moseyed over to the big children’s playground.
Back in the 60’s, playgrounds were pits of hell. Where children went to die. In 5th grade, I was on a jungle gym at school and slipped and banged my head so hard I spent the night in the hospital with a concussion.

Back to matters at hand…One of my buddies got on a swing. Simply a wood board being held up by two chains.
In those days, you could raise and lower the seat using these nasty looking metal hooks on the chain about 9” apart…higher and higher it went.

So my buddy gets on the swing standing and really lets loose. He is trying to go head over heels over the swing set. Just as he neared the top, he slipped and one of those nasty iron hooks caught him by the balls.
He hung upside down, screaming, totally suspended by his nut sack.
No cell phones. No 911. Just kids screaming for help.

None of the adults could extricate his balls from the hook. He was trapped like a big balled rat.
The fire department showed up and just before they cut the chain, that’s right….he tore his balls in two and fell to the ground.

He bled like a stuck pig.
He was rushed to the hospital with his balls in a beer cooler.

1960’s reattachment procedures weren’t quite as sophisticated as today’s.
So….he became a living “Ken” doll.
I knew him as an adult. We kept in touch.
Never had kids.
Maybe by now, he has pretend balls made out of carbon fiber.

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8 replies

  1. Good review sir, now I can bypass. It just feels hard to blend a decent medium strength cigar. But this year AJ also contracts The Tabernacle and Pelo del Oro, let’s see how it goes

  2. Enjoyed your review as always Phil. Appreciate that you aren’t afraid to be honest when a cigar is not that great. Seems like A J is pushing out so many new cigars, his and the ones he is producing for others, it is hard to keep track of them all. We have been enjoying the Enclave among AJ’s recent releases.

  3. Perhaps you have forgotten a personal favorite MAYIMBE! -john,cigar passionado

    Sent from my iPad


  4. Very cool to see you reviewing again. I have 10 of those Bella Artes resting in the humidor. After reading your review I’m in no hurry to fire one up.

  5. It’s just my opinion. Others may completely disagree.

  6. Glad to see you’re feeling better! I’ve smoked a couple of these. I think it proves that if you hybridize 3 wrappers, you get something that tastes a little like everything. That said, I think it makes a nice Sunday afternoon cigar with some good coffee.

    PS I have hazy memories of playing Metamorphosis over and over back in the day,

  7. Hazy memories? We must be joined at the hip.

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