For the third consecutive year, Viaje has shipped some of its retailers one of its most-guaraded releases, Friends and Family. The line actually made its first appearance at the 2011 IPCPR Convention & Trade Show, when Viaje owner Andre Farkas passed the cigar out to select retailers.
It was described at the time as his Cohiba. A reference to the famed Cuban marca which was originally reserved for Cuban leader Fidel Castro and his friends. For nearly two decades, the cigar was reserved for Castro, his guest and guests of the state. Much like Cohiba, which was first offered to the public in the early 1980s, the Viaje Friends and Family was eventually offered for sale, with the first release taking place in 2012.
As part of the company’s August shipment, Viaje released Bel Air, a 6 x 50 box-pressed toro priced at $15.33. Like the two previous releases, Bel Air shipped in 15-count boxes and featured silver on white bands on both the top portion of the cigar and the foot.
- Viaje Friends and Family La Cadeau (7 x 48) — 2012 — $15.33 (Boxes of 15, $230)
- Viaje Friends and Family Le Joueur (5 x 52) — 2013 — $14.50 (Boxes of 15, $217.50)
- Viaje Friends and Family Bel Air (6 x 50) — 2014 — $15.33 (Boxes of 15, $230)
- Cigar Reviewed: Viaje Friends and Family Bel Air
- Country of Origin: n/a
- Factory: n/a
- Wrapper: n/a
- Binder: n/a
- Filler: n/a
- Size: 6 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 50
- Vitola: Toro
- MSRP: $15.33 (Boxes of 15, $230)
- Release Date: Aug. 27, 2014
- Number of Cigars Released: n/a
- Number of Cigars Smoked for Review: 3
While the seams occasionally get lost in a gritty-looking wrapper, the veins are easy to spot on the dull mud cover leaf. As for the texture, it’s actually quite smooth with a soft rectangular box-press and each sample gave what I would consider an ideal amount of resistance when squeezed. I pick up some oiled leather and gingerbread from the wrapper, but it’s been over a month since the cigars were last in the box and the lack of cellophane and box storage sees the aroma reduced. The foot is much more intriguing with sweet flora notes, oatmeal cookie and a touch of red pepper. All three samples remind me of older Viaje Fifty Fifty Red cold draws, which is a good thing in my book; oatmeal cookie, toasty notes, cinnamon and black pepper.
My mouth fires as the Bel Air starts, which is somewhat shocking. Cedar is the overwhelming flavor alongside some coffee and the oatmeal cookie note returns for the finish. It takes a few puffs before the smoke production hits its stride, but eventually smoke is pouring out. Flavor-wise, things are dominated by cedar with a vanilla creaminess underneath that really changes things quite a bit. In addition, I pick up an artificial raspberry note that cuts through and meatiness towards the transition. There’s zero pepper on the medium cigar, although I find a touch of harshness on what is otherwise an extremely smooth cigar, both in flavor and body.
There was nothing to complain about construction-wise in the first third, which is why the uneven burn of the second third is so perplexing. One sample avoids this problem, but the other two need touching-up. As for the flavor, An orange zest note is now accompanying the cedar, making it a much brighter flavor. There’s semi-sweet dark chocolate in the Viaje while a lemon note freshness the retrohales. Meatiness remains on the finish with a toastiness returning. It honestly tastes like the condition my mouth would be in after a big plate of brisket more than it would after a cigar. Strength is medium-plus, although there’s strong indications the Bel Air is going to creep on me.
The citrus notes combine to become more linear, which creates an interesting flavor upfront. A fading cedar makes way for toastiness and meatiness, which has left the finish. As for the finish, there’s touches of fresh cut grass, but it’s dominated by a huge almond flavor that lasts well over a minute after each puff. The construction on all three samples was much like the first third, no complaints, at least until the inch mark when the smoke heats up quite a bit. I would be willing to bet money at the mid-point of each Bel Air that strength was going to increase, but it never does, receding back to medium.
- Bel Air shipped alongside the 2014 release of V.O.R. and V.P.R., as well as WLP PL TB#7.
- While it was nearly impossible to once get the original Friends and Family, a part of me would advocate for the series going back to that approach. At one point, the only way to obtain this cigar was from Andre Farkas and it was only given to his friends, and presumably family. Now, this probably caused issues with some of Farkas’s friends or acquaintances not getting the cigar and then questioning their friendship, but it was at least fitting for the name.
- I’m not sure if Viaje or Farkas has anything against the & symbol, but it does not appear on either this series or Skull and Bones.
- This is far and away the smoothest Viaje I’ve had to-date, that includes four and five-year-old cigars.
- In one sample, I witnessed the most bizarre ash I’ve seen to date. I had to touch things up and I guess it didn’t go well. Fortunately, it fell off quite easy.
- For those confused by the naming scheme, specifically the fact the first two cigars were both French and this release seems like it references a neighborhood in Los Angeles. It actually is French, something I didn’t realize. Bel-Air is the name of a Paris train station. Bel actually translates into beautiful, while air can mean a variety of things including air or appearance.
- The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
- Final smoking time was one hour and 40 minutes.
I have found that when Viaje decides to make milder cigars, whether they are mild (Late Harvest), or medium (Fifty Fifty Red), they tend to be some of the better cigars in the company’s portfolio. Friends and Family has been the exception, three very different cigars I would all peg around medium, and Bel Air is my favorite so far. It’s the only one I would purchase after smoking once, and it wouldn’t be too much of a problem to put these in a regular rotation, or at least as regular as Viaje’s production limits will allow. While the public chorus regarding Viaje, including from Farkas himself, is that they oftentimes perform better with rest, with Bel Air, I just don’t feel like that’s going to happen.