The inspirations for cigars are seemingly as numerous as the number of cigars on the shelves of the biggest retailer. People, music, places and experiences all have led to the creation of numerous cigar lines both past and present.
In 2016, Abdel Fernández released a cigar that got its inspiration from his visits to Cuba’s national art museum, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de la Habana in Habana Vieja, or old town Havana. The building—which I have been fortunate enough to visit—is home to Cuban artwork that spans the history of the island, from the colonial era to contemporary times, as well as artworks from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and beyond and a collection of ancient art.
Two years after the release of A.J. Fernandez’s Bellas Artes, the company released a maduro version with a blend featuring a Brazilian mata fina maduro wrapper, Mexican San Andrés binder, and fillers grown by Fernández on his farms in Estelí, Nicaragua. As noted at the time, the wrapper and binder combination was one not commonly seen in the cigar industry at the time, and one that set the stage for what could be described as a new and unfamiliar cigar smoking experience.
The line was released in four sizes, each offered in 20-count boxes:
- Bellas Artes Maduro Short Churchill (6 x 48)
- Bellas Artes Maduro Robusto (5 1/2 x 52)
- Bellas Artes Maduro Toro (6 x 54)
- Bellas Artes Maduro Gordo (6 1/2 x 58)
A fifth size, a 7 x 40 lancero, would be added in the summer of 2019, though it would be a limited edition with just 2,000 boxes of 10 cigars produced.
The robusto vitola would go on to place 10th in halfwheel’s Top 25 Cigars of 2018, earning praise for its distinctive and unique flavor profile as well as near flawless construction.
Here’s what I said about the Bellas Artes Maduro Robusto when I reviewed it in September 2018:
While I’m always looking for high quality tobacco and a complex blend in the cigars that I smoke, there is something quite appealing and satisfying about being presented with a new flavor profile that is different from what could be considered some of the norms on the market today. That is exactly what the Bellas Artes Maduro Robusto does, and while it doesn’t always reach the same high points, it does perform quite consistently, hitting the same notes and repeating the same flavor and strength trajectory. Tack on near flawless construction and you have a cigar worth trying, particularly if you can spend some time focusing on the flavors and experiencing a combination of tobaccos not commonly found among current offerings.
- Cigar Reviewed: Bellas Artes Maduro Robusto
- Country of Origin: Nicaragua
- Factory: Tabacalera AJ Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A.
- Wrapper: Brazil (Mata Fina)
- Binder: Mexico (San Andrés)
- Filler: Nicaragua (Estelí)
- Length: 5 1/2 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 52
- Vitola: Robusto
- MSRP: $9.30 (Boxes of 20, $186)
- Release Date: July 2018
- Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
- Number of Cigars Smoked For Redux: 1
While I wouldn’t say the Bellas Artes Maduro Robusto is darker than I remember it, it certainly is a dark cigar, with its deep brown wrapper holding onto a few of its oils and offering just a bit of sheen. The texture is dominated by tooth though, conveying a fine grit to the fingers that negates any sense of oiliness on the fingers. The cigar has held its press quite well, with sharply angled corners giving it that candy bar appearance so commonly used to describe such vitolas. There’s just a bit of give when squeezed front to back, while it’s firmer side to side, and there are no soft spots or inconsistencies to be found. Aroma off of the foot is mellow but offers a bit of sweet earth and damp coffee grounds, with the faintest of bit of pepper tagging along at the very end of the aroma. The cold draw is easy, lush and rich, with the texture of a chocolate cupcake but the chocolate flavor fairly muted.
The first puffs of the Bellas Artes Maduro Robusto add a bit of pepper and earth to the chocolate cupcake flavor, but the latter is still dominant amongst the trio. It’s not long before the black pepper and earth begin to jostle the chocolate for lead flavor, winning the two-on-one battle by the time the burn line is at the one-inch mark but not completely pushing it completely off stage, at least for a bit. After that first clump of ash drops, the two sides seem to find balance, with the earth and pepper scaling back just a touch and some of the richer chocolate notes allowed to develop. It has shifted into a darker chocolate note as well, with just a touch more of a cacao note but hardly bitter, though still flirts with a warmed chocolate syrup flavor. Retrohales deliver plenty of black pepper that quickly tip the scales, potent but not overpowering in their impact. The draw, burn and smoke production have all been very good throughout the first half.
The second half of the Bellas Artes Maduro Robusto sees the pepper pick up just a bit through the retrohale, but that little amount takes it into full territory, at least through the nose. The profile has dried out just a touch, losing some of the richness that the chocolate provided but still staying full and engaging on the palate. Strength begins to develop in what would be the start of the final third, which comes along as the flavor turns a bit more robust thanks to a drier earth and a changing pepper that has what I would call youthfulness, even though the cigar easily has more than two years on it considering the processing period, resting period at the factory and time since its release. The flavor gets a bit more robust in the final inch, finishing a bit rough but still very enjoyable thanks to a bit of grape sweetness coming into the equation. The cigar is still producing plentiful amounts of smoke and burning with an even burn line and smooth draw after just about two hours of smoking time.
If there was one thing I remember about the Bellas Artes Maduro Robusto when I smoked it some 18 months ago, it was the distinctive mix of flavors, which I described as a mix of the spice of a Thai or Szechuan dish with earth, chocolate, and pepper. Whether it be just this one sample or the effect of some extended rest, some of that distinct spiciness seems to have left the cigar, leaving a profile that is much more reflective of the binder and filler than the wrapper. It is still very good and very enjoyable, but it just doesn't seem to be what it once was, which is a bit of a shame given that it was not only flavorful but also unique. While I'd love to smoke a few more to see if the rest repeats the effect, this is one example where I think the younger version is the better option.