Bellas Artes Maduro by AJ Fernandez | Cigar Reviews by the Katman

Wrapper: Brazilian Mata Fina
Binder: Mexican San Andrés
Filler: Nicaraguan Estelí
Size: 6 x 48 Short Churchill ~ Box Pressed
Strength: Medium/Full
Price: $8.80 (Paid $6 each on Cigar Page)

Today we take a look at the Bellas Artes Maduro by AJ Fernandez.
Bought a fiver over 2 months ago.

Released: July 2018
Regular production
Factory: Tabacalera AJ Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A.
From (9-16-2018):
“Two years ago, A.J. Fernandez released a cigar that invokes the latter’s name, specifically, fine arts. The original Bellas Artes debuted at the 2016 IPCPR Convention & Trade Show; a four-vitola line that features a Nicaraguan hybrid wrapper that Fernandez called rojita, a cross between Connecticut 8212, corojo 99 and Havana 2000 seeds. Underneath that is a Nicaraguan Havana 92 binder and fillers from Brazil, Honduras and Nicaragua.

“The line is said to be inspired by Abdel Fernández’s visits to Cuba’s national art museum in Havana, the Museo National de Bellas Artes de la Habana.

“For the follow-up maduro version that was released at this year’s trade show, Fernandez selected a Brazilian mata fina wrapper, Mexican San Andrés binder and fillers from his farms in Estelí, Nicaragua. As Charlie Minato noted in his coverage of the company’s booth, the combination of a Brazilian mata fina maduro leaf with a Mexican San Andrés leaf is not one seen much in the cigar industry, which sets the cigar up for a profile that many smokers probably weren’t immediately familiar with.”
Bellas Artes is Spanish for beautiful arts or fine arts.

Short Churchill 6 x 48 $8.80
Robusto 5.5 x 52 $9.30
Toro 6 x 54 $10.00
Gordo 6.5 x 58 $11.00

This is not a beautiful cigar. The wrapper is an oily, toothy, espresso brown.
The construction is OK; but not close to being stunning. Seams are visible but tight. Lots of small veins. Lots of bumps and lumps. Looks like haphazard rolling. Each triple cap looks different…no consistency.
The stick is hard with little resistance. But the cigar band is absolutely stunning. Beautiful artwork and choice of complementary colors.

First up is a deluge of dark chocolate…then followed by copious amounts of black pepper that curls my grey moustache. In addition, we have malt, strong gingerbread aromas, cedar, barnyard, strong espresso, black licorice, creaminess, and butterscotch.

The stick is non-smokable as presented. I grab my PerfecDraw draw adjustment tool and plunge it into the guts of the cigar. Normally, all one needs to do is get just past the cigar band area to clear the problem. Not this time. The plug descends to the lower intestines of the cigar; but after a couple minutes, I get the damn thing clear and I’m good to go.

The cold draw presents flavors of strong black pepper, dark chocolate, malt, licorice, black coffee, a harsh note, and nothing really sweet emerges.

I turn on some music and I am greeted by “Misty Mountain Hop.” Already a good review in the making.

Yes, I am the last reviewer on the planet to review this cigar. They have been around for a year and a half. “Life is like a box of Quorums. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Nice start. Immediate dash of complexity. A big dollop of black pepper. Some sweetened coffee. Malt, of course. Creamy the way I like it. Strong. It seems to have hit medium/full strength right from the get-go.

It’s a dark and rich blend. The Brazilian wrapper in concert with the Mexican binder go to work. And the Nic filler begins to kick in.

The resistance is still a little more than I like but I can live with it. I smoked two sticks prior to review and had the same issues. I believe AJ skimped on the construction on this baby. I may have to ream it once again at some point.

Nice thing about most AJ blends is that they are ready to go full tilt in about 2 months to get his blender’s intent. Unfortunately, I don’t find his mid-range blends to have lasting power if left alone naked in my humidor for too long.

The tobacco is packed to the hilt and the cigar smokes oh so slowly.

Of the four sizes, the 6 x 48 is my favorite. I feel strongly that anything in the Corona Gorda arena gets better results in the flavor department.

Transitions haven’t kicked in. The finish is spicy and chocolaty. I’m praying to the Cosmic Muffin that the spiciness calms way the fuck down soon.

I check how I felt about the original Bella Artes in a review I wrote in September of 2016. I gave it an 89.

Based on what I’ve researched, most reviewers feel this baby is in the 90-rating category. This means it’s good but not great.

The cigar is over packed. I’m barely making a dent. And hence, the movement of the blend is slow. If I’m patient, I hope to be pleasantly surprised in the second half. But right now, a little more than an inch in, it’s just OK.

The blend could actually fill in for a dozen different AJ blends already on the market. Maybe this cigar does need extended humidor time. Maybe 2 months doesn’t really show off its potential. No idea.

Creamy notes make their move to the forefront giving the blend some oomph. The spiciness relents a tad. It releases flavors into the wild like the chocolate and maltiness. But at this point, the cigar is 80% savory and 20% sweet. The balance is off kilter. But it’s still early. Still, great cigars hit you in the solar plexus of your palate almost immediately.

I’m beginning to become disappointed about the lack of complexity. Transitions are non-existent. The finish is strictly black pepper.
Strength remains at medium/full but quickly ascending to full tilt.

I had hoped, by now, that the Bellas Artes Maduro by AJ Fernandez would be singing a siren’s song to me. Instead, it is ambling along with no particular punch.

I don’t understand. The big reviewers had all sorts of nice things to say about the same subjects I’m not impressed over. They report lots of complexity and balance. Go figure.

Flavors reported by others, I’m just not tasting. Although, there is a common thread among them…they report the strength of the spiciness and that it is mainly a cigar compiled of one flavor: chocolate.

Others find small deviations in the flavor profile, but the palate is a wondrous thing and we all don’t taste the same thing in our cigars.

And then just like that, the Bellas Artes Maduro by AJ Fernandez shifts gears for the betterment of mankind.
The spiciness calms down. Complexity finally decides to join the party. Transitions, that were absent til now, kick in with elements of creaminess, chocolate, malt, chocolate covered cherries, a scoche of citrus, a minor note of floral, and some coffee mousse.
The journey finally begins.

I should probably eat some of my words about the construction. I’ve had zero burn issues…and with my inherent bad luck with burns on a box pressed cigar, this is a baby Jesus miracle for me.

The blend has now improved immensely.
While the complexity is in its early stages, the balance is beginning to impress.

Transitions aren’t bad. But the finish is stagnant. I take my first sip of water in order to kick start the finish…nada.

Fernandez is a major force in the cigar industry. No one wants to piss him off. He has a rep for being a man killer. You don’t want to cross the man. He can be ruthless. A gem to his friends but he takes no prisoners. I consider myself a cigar smoker with an excellent palate…but I’m just not getting the power of an AJ blend in this smoke. It ain’t bad; but it is a $10 smoke…even though I only paid $6. Isabela Cigars put out a bevy of $10 smokes that are brilliant. This baby ain’t brilliant.

And Casdagli cigar blends, at twice the price, are 5 times as good as this blend. Perspective is everything.
Man, I’ve got my fingers crossed for the second half.
Some mustiness appears. Drat.

I really want to be on board with my esteemed fellow cigar reviewers about this cigar, but I don’t see how I’m going to get there.

As I approach the second half, my determination is that the Bellas Artes Maduro by AJ Fernandez is merely an OK cigar blend.
Earlier, hope arose but didn’t come to fruition.

If I had blind taste tested this cigar, I honestly wouldn’t have been able to distinguish this cigar from many other AJ blends. Now AJ does joint ventures with lots of other brands and always makes them better. And you know how closely he works with Southern Draw…and you know how that relationship has worked out…some of AJ’s best work.

There are glints of AJ’s brilliance here and there but nothing consistent.

The cigar is truly packed like a kielbasa and hence; it is a really slow smoke…which would be great if I was truly enjoying the blend…but I’m not. I’m enduring it…so time is standing still.

Over an hour in, and I hit the halfway point. Seems like days.

The balance remains off kilter. I need balance. I need a touch of sweetness. And while it does show hints of it, the sweetness disappears too often.
I am going to puff on it a while and see if there is life awaiting me.

My favorite cigars show a broad spectrum of flavors and complexity. I guess I’m a snob. Most reviewers are. When that path narrows to a linear frontal assault, the cigar either needs a lot of humidor aging or is just another catalog brand amongst thousands.

Charlotte just returned from getting an EEG. They looked into her brain and found nothing. I guess we are ready to move to Idaho and start a dental floss ranch.

The frustrating thing about this cigar is that it shows glints of being a lovely cigar…and then retreats to its cave and hibernates.

The burn has been one of the best I’ve encountered in a box press. No complaints.
Now that I have only 2” to go, I feel letdown. I thought I’d feel the same way as all the other semi-rave reviews. I don’t.

As a $6 stick, it is perfectly OK. For $10, I have a list of cigars, as long as my arm, I’d rather smoke.

There has been a serious lack of forward progress.
The blend is merely peppery, chocolaty, and creamy. But desperately lacking the counterbalance of some intricate sweetness.

Oh lord. “Free Bird” is playing. The bane of all musicians who play out in clubs. Every single gig I’ve ever played, some buffoon will yell out FREE BIRD!!! I guess it could be worse and they yell out “Do Ya’ Think I’m Sexy?”

The cigar goes out. I believe it committed suicide.
More water. Nothing. LMAO. Oy.
All I can say is that I’m glad I didn’t pay retail.

Buried deep are hints of what the cigar should have been screaming to the heavens from the start.
Maybe it needs 6 months of humidor time…which means the real aging is left to AJ’s customers.

Strength reaches full tilt. Along with that power comes some harshness.
Luckily, the introduction of massive quantities of nicotine is held at bay.

A totally linear experience. No real improvement from the first third.

My advice to those that purchase the Bellas Artes Maduro by AJ Fernandez…put them away and forget about them for half a year. I will try again in 4 months and report back.
This is the last time I do peyote before a review.



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14 replies

  1. Wouldn’t expect much from anything out of Cigar Page – they take terrible care of their stock, if the Padrones I bought from them were any indication.

  2. I’ve been a customer of Cigar Page for years and never had an issue with their cigars.
    I’ve reviewed countless cigars that were just fine after purchasing the sticks from CP.
    You seem to have had some bad luck with them. I have not.
    I hope you returned your cigars for a refund.

  3. Perhaps I should have. Instead I came across others online with similar experiences, & concluded that that was why they were so deeply discounted. (re: 5-pk Padron churchill mad, so dry as to be virtually crumbly, 40% off or maybe 50% – it’s been a few years).

  4. If you look at the return address, CigarPage ships out of the same location as CI. Yes, it’s supposed to be independent, but the address isn’t.

  5. Can’t believe I just now found your cigar review blog. Best. Reviews. Ever. Your writing style is unique and really gives me insights to cigars I hadn’t even thought of. Fuck CA, it’s your reviews from now on.

    Look forward to reading and learning more from your blog. Thank you.

  6. Wow Mark…you’re now in my will.
    Thank you so much for your kind words. I’d be blushing if I had any blood in my head.
    I’m so happy that you found me and I found you.
    I wish you all the best, brother…

  7. I’ve smoked a few of these that were quite good. Deep, dark coffee flavor, very salty, lots of pepper, cream, and a tangy, sourdough bread flavor that I also get from the natural wrapper Bellas Artes. It is not sweet, but it is savory. These tend to be packed very tightly, but the one I’m smoking right now didn’t need any tooling to open up the draw. I’m betting you’ll have a different experience in a few more months. This one has been sitting at one of my local B&Ms for quite a while. My guess is yours need to dry out a little.

  8. I reviewed the original in 2016 and liked it. Gave it an 89.
    I smoked a couple Maduros prior to the review and it just didn’t ring my bell.

  9. Great to hear that you will be regaling cigar smokers with tales from the road in the cigar lounge. Would love to come by and hear a few. Can you share where you’re working?
    Thx-Dave in Milwaukee

  10. Hi Dave,
    Prime Cigars in Brookfield.
    I start with a regular schedule in March. I will post my hours and days when I know them.
    Look forward to seeing you,

  11. That’s like having Jimmy Page at the local guitar shop 🙂

  12. Been reading and enjoying your reviews for years. I place your opinion above Halfwheel, CA, Cigar Dojo…However, I vehemently disagree with your thoughts on the Bellas Artes. I find it to be a unique full-bodied smoking experience. On a positive note, I rarely disagree with your ratings – although maybe you got carried away awarding a 100 to SD Rose of Sharon.

  13. Hi Allen,
    I hear ya.
    I write this all the time…each palate is as different as a fingerprint.
    I always write contemporaneously. I smoke as I write. I never smoke 3 cigars prior to review and then take notes and compile them into a review days later. I need to do it in the moment.
    And that moment is no later than 8-9am on an empty stomach.
    I also use that opportunity to focus like I never would any other time of the day to convey every bit of character I can find in the review blend of the day.
    If I put that much concentration on the rest of my day’s cigars, I’d have Tourette’s.
    Every reviewer is very subjective. It is just one man’s opinion. I have never thought that my palate is better than anyone else or the only one that can be trusted. I’m always fascinated by other reviews. Although, there are a lot of reviewers out there that really don’t have an exceptional palate and probably shouldn’t write cigar reviews for anyone besides their family and friends.

    I can’t help that I’m a Southern Draw fanboy. Robert Holt’s blends just hit all my buttons. Everyone has their own favorite brand. SD is mine.
    I also allow the cigar to have a minimum of 3-6 months naked humidor time before I review a cigar. Sometimes, that is the magic window for a blend and I can capture lightning in a bottle.
    I’m not making excuses but trying to explain that everyone is due their opinion and I totally respect yours. With thousands of reviews on the books, I get a lot of comments, that no other readers see, unless they look up a specific cigar I’ve written over the last 10 years. Smokers disagree with me all the time. Others agree with me. I love hearing differing opinions. It helps me grow.
    I’m human and heavily flawed. I do my best to be honest about what I experience in a review. Otherwise, what is the point?
    And I love using the platform to be silly and be a story teller. Hence, the excessive rambling in this reply to your comment.
    Thanks for writing Allen…stay in touch.

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