Viva La Vida by AJ Fernandez Exclusive | Cigar Reviews by the Katman

Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano Oscuro 2000

Binder: Nicaraguan

Filler: Nicaraguan

Size: 6 x 56 Box Pressed

Strength: Full

Price: $12.00

Today we take a look at the Viva La Vida by AJ Fernandez Exclusive.

Bought these sticks from Atlantic Cigar 4 months ago.


From Atlantic Cigar:

“Made for Artesano Del Tobacco, the Viva La Vida by AJ Fernandez is a boutique brand the exemplifies the finest quality tobacco one can purchase. Rolled in a Habano Oscuro 2000 wrapper this cigar has a noticeable ‘toothyness’ that only comes from high quality wrapper grade tobacco. This Nicaraguan puro has Corojo 99 and Criollo 98 binders and fillers. The Viva La Vida by AJ Fernandez is a full-bodied experience with notes of chocolate, black pepper, and leather. The Viva La Vida by AJ Fernandez Atlantic Cigar Exclusive Limited Edition is a special one-time run done exclusively in a 6×56 box-pressed format.”

NOTE: As of early October, AJ Fernandez announced that the Viva La Vida cigars will go into full production. What wasn’t made clear is which blend will be available. Both blends are Nic puros. I’ve not smoked the original blend, so this review will give me a hint of which it might be.


This is a handsome stick. The lines are clean. The wrapper, even in room light, gives off a lovely reddish hue highlighted by bits of burnt umber and black coffee. The cap is rounded beautifully on the sides. I see no lines demarking the triple cap. Nicely done.

The stick weighs heavy in the hand. It feels nice when squeezed…a goodly amount of resistance but has the right amount of give. Nothing hard or spongy about it. (If I had a dime for every chick that said that to me while I was single, I could own my own cigar lounge).

Seams are barely visible and tight. Some veinage dots the landscape. And the double cigar band is classy and the perfect color for offsetting the natural hue of the wrapper…which is baby smooth.


Big notes of cinnamon and red pepper start the journey. In queue behind them is dark chocolate, vanilla creaminess, some floral notes, cedar, malt, some cherries and raisins give the aroma a nice sweetness…some espresso at play, a touch of caramel, and earth, wind, and leather.

Pretty much the aromas I expect from a Nic puro.

The cold draw presents flavors of hot cinnamon toothpicks, dark chocolate, red pepper, cream, malt, the fruit combo, and espresso.


The draw is spot on. I put my PerfecDraw draw adjustment tool away for the next cigar.

I smoked one stick a month in and was not impressed. It is now months later…fingers crossed.

It’s a smoke churner. Messing up my freshly washed do.

Early flavors are a jumble of indistinguishable elements. Though, black pepper is on a frontal assault to the back of my throat…pretty much overwhelming any subtleties that might be waiting in the wings.

The cinnamon won’t be held back and takes a bow. I taste hot wings. (Must be my diet…I’m hungry).

Strength is medium/full from the get go.

The burn is nicely on point and the ash is nearly snow white.

There is a sweetness in the mix but I’m not sure at this early point what it is…fruity? Candy? Edible panties?

Ever try those with your sweetie? I did over 40 years ago. The shit melts all over your face and pubic hairs (not yours) end up stuck to your face til you look like Fozzie the Bear. Interesting experience…gave the rest of the unused package to the kids next store.

There is zero complexity. Transitions are stilted due to the onslaught of black pepper. The finish is the same. After nearly 4 months, I should be tasting something a little more exciting. To be honest, it tastes like any one of the AJ catalog brands. Just one more Nic puro to throw on the pile of 10,000 other Nic puros on the market. Bummer.

I will say that the construction is immaculate. Now if the pepper would just calm the fuck down, we’d see what the cigar has to offer. Any really good cigar would have shown some complexity from nearly the start. Snake eyes…

I found a bunch of video reviews for this cigar. I only found one bona fide reviewer using the written word as a conveyor of ideas and they loved it. High score…but the gentlemen complained pretty much of its one trick pony approach. Just the usual bland flavors described but yet they loved it. Maybe I’m just too early into the cigar. By the way, they allowed their review cigar to rest for 4 months so we should be copacetic.

The flavor profile is muddled and indistinct. Nothing shines with a bright light. Plenty of spiciness.

I am nearing the second third after only 20 minutes of smoke time.

A $12 stick with this amount of naked humi time should be much better.

Now, it’s not bad…just not anything to clap your hands over while doing the Macarena.

It’s very ordinary…for a spice bomb.


I should have taken the hint, by the lack of reviews, that something was wrong.

Still medium/full.

Sip of water…let’s see if that helps…

Nope. I taste water.

Some Atlantic exclusive releases have been very good…but just as many have been unimpressive.

Atlantic’s own PR description mentions three flavors: chocolate, black pepper, and leather. That, too, should have scared me off. If that’s the best they can do…Yikes.

On the upside, it burns quickly.

The spiciness is burning a hole in my esophagus.

The blend is very happy living in stasis. No forward momentum. No transitions whatsoever. Damn. I was truly looking forward to this being a great blend. I love AJ and thought this would be a true winner. I chalked up the lack of reviews due to the limited edition status of the cigar…maybe not. The guys who have Atlantic as a sponsor certainly did not review it.

A new flavors lands…mustiness. Yippie Ki Yay mother fucker.

As quickly as it appears, it disappears.

Then something odd happens…Complexity arrives in small doses. Fuck you. A decent $12 blend would have been doing the ballet within a few minutes of its start.

This time, a sip of water amplifies the spiciness. Fucking great.

The halfway point is upon me. No significant improvement. Just keeps chooglin’ in its mediocre lifestyle.

Fucking WordPress, my site platform, completely changed its style as far as the layout once I copy and paste this review from Word. No warning. No instructions. And nothing is the same…strictly trial and error. I have no idea how this review is going to appear. When I posted the Stolen Throne contest, I thought the drastic change was due to being hacked. It is being touted as a great step forward in modern technology. Sure. Spring this on a 70 year old man who needs help programming the toaster.

My brain is acknowledging some sort of improvement in the complexity. But the goddam black pepper is just out of control…with the added booby prize of red hot pepper on the tip of my tongue.

And now to make things perfect…Nicotine. Yeah baby.

Instead of reviewing this cigar, I could be on Porn Hub. I only need two minutes and it would be done…this review takes hours. And no discernible spooge.

Speaking of which, Sammy the cat has a new bad habit. He constantly is humping my left leg. Even when I’m walking around. It is throwing my hips off.

If I were smoking this cigar for pleasure, I’d have tossed it by now. But I need to finish it for the review because I am a professional…except for the way I write and the inappropriate things I say.

I’m not going to bother with any more photos. Who needs the aggravation?


Once again, I don’t expect a Xmas card from the folks at Atlantic Cigar.

I pull out my calculator and slide rule. Yep, the flavor profile is linear.

Strength hits full tilt. So has my patience with this cigar.

It feels like the cigar is on the cusp of wanting to improve but it has no road map on how to get there.

My eyes are now watering incessantly. Sammy is a Maine Coon, so I use his mop-like body to wipe my tears.

Just as the cigar seems to engage, the abyss opens wide and swallows the attempt.

4 months of humi time should, at the very least, provide a hint of the blender’s intent. But this blend is so muddled that I couldn’t tell you what that is with a new crystal ball and a hypnotist.

Man, what a disappointment.

I have to try the regular version of this cigar and compare.

It’s almost like Atlantic got the seconds of the original.

There is no improvement on the horizon. I see no reason to continue.

Sorry. I should have been smarter about reviewing this dud.


And now for something completely different:

I thought I’d go back to the story that I published a long time ago about how I became a member of the English progressive band Curved Air in 1974.

“Would you like to come to Europe with us this summer?” asked Skip and Debbie.
“Huh?” I replied with exact articulation.

“We are going to buy one-way tickets and go. We thought that we would form a trio of you, me and Travis and head for Greece. And live off of our music. Whatcha’ think?”

My head spun. What a nutty idea. But I was 23 and naive. I had a steady girlfriend, 3 years younger than me, and she had a 2-year-old daughter. I called her and told her of my plans. And then asked if she wanted to come with me? She said yes. Oh God. In retrospect, that was a huge mistake. If they weren’t with me, I wouldn’t have felt the need to come home after I was fired from Curved Air and left England broke. But I loved her; my decision made no sense for my career.

We left America and landed in Amsterdam with our one-way tickets. And not enough cash on us to turn around and fly back. It was make it or break it time.

We figured we’d be motivated if were stuck and penniless. A really stupid plan.

After 6 weeks in Europe, we were broke. We figured the dough we brought with us would last for months. Man, were we wrong.

With what little dough we had left, we decided that if we were to be poor, and on the streets, better we were in a country that spoke English. So, we took the ferry from Calais, France to Dover, England….everyone puking the whole way. The English Channel is one of the roughest waterways in the world.

After a few weeks of spinning our wheels and checking “Melody Maker’s” musician Want Ads every day, we were really, really broke. The girls found gigs as maids in a hotel. So, we were able, at least, to eat. We lived in a 200-year-old dungeon flat on the west side of London.

I called the phone number in Melody Maker for a roadie gig, but it was also the phone number for a bassist wanted gig. I was dying for any job.
The voice on the other end suggested that I try out for the band and if I didn’t make it, I could look at the roadie gig. So, an audition was set.

There was trepidation from my friends. We had come as a group…sort of. Prior to leaving for Europe, Travis got drunk and wrapped his bike around a tree, a block from our house one late night, and splattered his leg into a million pieces. He spent months in a VA hospital and our plans got all fucked up. But the tickets were paid for and we decided not to scrap the plan.

I had 5£ left on me. I spent half of it getting to the audition in St. John’s Wood. The home of Miles Copeland III. It was a block away from Abbey Road (EMI) Studio.

Stewart Copeland lived a couple doors down in a flat. And we would sit on the stoop and watch tourists trying to get that famous Beatles’ crosswalk photo….but it was a busy street and English drivers made it a point to run down tourists.

I was ushered downstairs to the practice room. It was encased in glass and I saw the band playing with another bassist. As I entered the lounge, my heart sank. There had to be at least 20 other bassists waiting their turn. As I sat and listened to the same songs being played over and over again to test the bass players, I played my own versions in my head. Time dragged on unmercifully.

I could hear the whispers of the other bassists as they discussed who was sitting, and waiting, with us. Apparently, players of note had arrived, and the other players felt it was becoming a waste of time. So, did I. So, I got up, grabbed my bass, and left.

I got as far as halfway down the driveway when Stewart Copeland came after me.
“Hey douche bag! Where do you think you’re going?”
I told him I didn’t do cattle call auditions. He insulted me again and grabbed my arm and pulled me back downstairs. He told me: “Sit down and shut the fuck up.”

My turn finally arrived.

With the words, “You know, we’ve been playing the same shit all day. Why don’t you give us something to play?” The color and blood drained from my body.
So I tied my balls to the hitching post and played something in jazz fusion style…really funky…Billy Cobham style. They joined in and we went to town.

At the time, every bassist in England sounded like Chris Squire of Yes. Very technical, but no soul. I on the other hand, had been playing like the players on the CTI label in America. Funky and jazzy. Very Stanley Clarke-ish, Ron Carter, James Jamerson, and others.

They went nuts over me. We kept playing and I played my ass off in the time allotted.
When we were done, I was introduced to everyone. The keyboard player was Darryl Way. A very famous violinist with the group Curved Air.

I had no idea who that band was. That’s because, while Curved Air, was huge in Europe, they had bombed in America. They sounded like a cross between “Jefferson Airplane” and “It’s a Beautiful Day.” Both bands had chick singers and were considered progressive rock.

I was so naïve that the guys really liked my self-deprecating manner. They asked who I’d played with in the States? I told them no one you’ve ever heard of. Doubt they knew who Chill Wills was.

Then…I actually said to this renowned classically trained violinist…”Gee, I wish you had brought your violin along. I would have loved to hear you play.”

Everyone laughed. What did I know.

I was told that they were going to bring back the best bassists on Sunday and finish the audition. I got back to my bedsitter across from Marble Arch.

The pay phone next to our room rang, I picked up. It was Darryl, He told me how much he liked my playing. But then asked the famous Spinal Tap question: “Do you really have to play so many notes?” I had a quick response: “I tried to show you 10 years of playing in 10 minutes.”

Darryl said that made sense.

A few minutes later, the phone rang again. It was Stew. The same gushing of appreciation ensued. I thought nothing of it and went on with my day.

I went back on Sunday…I was the only bassist there. Damn.

Right place, right time, with the right chops. Never know when opportunity will strike.

But this was not Curved Air. Curved Air had folded two years earlier. Miles grabbed Darryl from Darryl’s own band, “Wolf,” and said he’d build a great band around him. The band was formed and a singer was the last member needed. We became “Stark Naked and the Car Thieves.” We played out a couple times for a pittance in small clubs.

One day, Darryl comes to rehearsal and says we have to put the band on hold for a couple of months because Curved Air had a record deal that had to be completed with Decca… so they figured the easiest approach was to do a live album. Go on tour as Curved Air with the original members, record a couple of gigs and voila! An album.

“Kohn. You’re going to be the bassist.”

To be continued…


10 replies

  1. Thanks for the AJ review. I have a sneaking suspicion where the story is going to end, though, and those are the highlights (lowlights?) of your reviews, always. Excelsior!

  2. Phil, thanks for another brutally honest review! I have a question for you regarding “spongy” cigars. I keep my sticks naked in the humidor with 69% Bovida packs. Lately I’ve noticed by the last 3rd many of them are soft and spongy…should I be dry boxing these suckers a few days before smoking?

    • I always dry box my cigars from 2-4 days depending on the condition of the cigar.
      It could be a coincidence that the last thirds are spongy. Or it could mean the cigar’s construction isn’t consistent.
      If the cigars are still spongy after a few days of dry boxing…the cigars are underfilled.
      Bummer, dude,

  3. Phil, you had gone to college before going to Europe, correct? Just trying to get the timeline down.

  4. Hi Phil,

    Whenever a new review comes up on your blog I smile. Not just because of the new content but also because it means you are still at it and still firing on all cylinders.

    I recently discovered Casdagli cigars and ordered a shit load of them. Imagine my face when I remembered, and re-read, your reviews. I’m f*cking stoked.

    Please, never stop writing Phil.



    • Hi Ed,
      A shit load of Casdagli cigars is the exact right amount to order. I recommended to SBC that they have a category of “Shit Load,” but they never responded.
      Thank you for the kind words.
      All the best,

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