Anniversaries tend to be fairly big deals in the cigar world, as evidenced by the large number of cigars commemorating company anniversaries, honoring retail store anniversaries, anniversaries celebrating the debut of specific cigar brands and even paying tribute to the founding of an entire city.

In May 2022, K by Karen Berger announced it would be releasing an anniversary cigar that was being produced at Abdel Fernández’s Tabacalera AJ Fernandez de Nicaragua S.A., in Estelí. That cigar is the K by Karen Berger 25th Anniversary by AJ Fernandez, meant to commemorate the more than 25 years that Karen Berger and her late husband, Henry “Kiki” Berger, have worked in the cigar business. Henry Berger was one of the first Americans to come to Estelí where he established not only a cigar-making operation—Tabacalera Estelí—but also a farm. He is also credited with helping many who came to Estelí to make cigars.

The K by Karen Berger 25th Anniversary by AJ Fernandez comes in a single 6 x 52 toro size made up of what the company has described as a Connecticut habano broadleaf wrapper covering a Mexican San Andrés binder and filler tobaccos sourced from Nicaragua. The MSRP for each cigar comes in at $16 and the release is limited to 1,500 boxes of 20 cigars.

  • Cigar Reviewed: K by Karen Berger 25th Anniversary by AJ Fernandez
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: Tabacalera AJ Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A.
  • Wrapper: U.S.A. (Connecticut Broadleaf Habano)
  • Binder: Mexico (San Andrés)
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Length: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 52
  • Vitola: Toro
  • MSRP: $16 (Box of 20, $320)
  • Release Date: July 2022
  • Number of Cigars Released: 1,500 Boxes of 20 Cigars (30,000 Total Cigars)
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The first thing that greets me as I pull the cigar out of its cellophane is a supple, box-pressed cigar with a dark espresso brown wrapper that features a noticeable amount of oil. All three cigars are firm when squeezed and while there are some veins present along the width of those cigars, they are almost totally flat. Aromas from the wrappers include fairly standard notes of leather, sweet earth, coffee beans, dark chocolate and barnyard. However, the feet feature various aromas, including strong black pepper, sourdough bread, generic nuttiness, earth, cinnamon and sweet raisins. Finally, after a v-cut the cold draws bring flavors of gritty earth, black pepper, nutmeg, toasted bread, almonds, hay, cocoa nibs and light raisin sweetness.

A combination of gritty earth and baker’s spices starts the K by Karen Berger off, and while the earth remains one of the top flavors in the profile, the latter note is quickly replaced by a distinct almond flavor that continues through the first third. Secondary flavors include cedar, toasted bread, charred meat, cinnamon, dry straw and a slight vegetal note, all of which are accented a bit by a noticeable amount of both black pepper on the finish and spice on my tongue, neither of which seem to be going anywhere any time soon. More black pepper combines with some light maple syrup sweetness on the retrohale, although the former is easily stronger than the latter, at least at this point in the profile. Flavor and body both start out just under medium, while the strength lags slightly behind a point just under medium. In terms of construction, the draws on all three cigars are excellent after shallow v-cuts and there is plenty of off-white smoke flowing from the foot, but one cigar’s burn does get into enough trouble that I decided to correct it quickly with my lighter.

As the burn moves into the second third of the K by Karen Berger 25th Anniversary, a couple of changes become noticeable. First, the amounts of black pepper on both the finish and the retrohale start to recede enough to allow new flavors to emerge, most notably a main flavor of charred meat that joins the earth note from the first third. Second, the strength begins to ramp up as well, reaching a point just over the medium mark—and still increasing—as the second third comes to an end. Additional flavors of bitter espresso, baker’s spices, cedar, hay and a slight tea leaves flavor flit in and out at various times, and while the spice that was so aggressive on my tongue during the first third has waned a bit, it is still very much present. In addition, there is less black pepper on the retrohale and the raisin sweetness from the first third has morphed into a bready, lightly sweet flavor that reminds me of Danish butter cookies. Flavor bumps up to just over medium, the body is at a solid medium and the strength is at slightly over medium and still rising. Thankfully, the draw and smoke production continue to impress on all three cigars, and while one cigar needs a correction, it is a minor issue that is easily rectified.

Charred meat and earth flavors continue to top the profile of the cigar during the final third, followed by espresso beans, hay, powdery cocoa nibs, cedar, buttered popcorn, licorice and a light vegetal flavor that makes a return from the first third. The amounts of black pepper on the finish and the retrohale continue to recede slightly—so does the amount of Danish butter cookie sweetness—although both never come close to disappearing completely. Flavor remains about the same at a point slightly north of medium, but both the body and strength increase to end the cigar at just over medium and medium-full respectively. Finally, the construction on all three cigars has not changed one iota compared to the second third: excellent draws and plenty of smoke production, while only one cigar’s burn runs into enough of an issue to need attention from my lighter before I put the nubs down with less than an inch remaining.

Final Notes

  • AJ Fernandez’s tobacco farm is a neighbor to the Berger farm, both of which are located in Estelí, Nicaragua.
  • K by Karen Berger 25th Anniversary by AJ Fernandez is easily one of the longest cigar names I have seen in quite a while. (Editor’s Note: Umm… — Charlie Minato.)
  • Connecticut broadleaf and habano are two different types of tobaccos, both grown in the Connecticut River Valley.
  • The sweetness on the retrohale in the second and final thirds reminded me of one of my guilty pleasures during the holidays: Royal Dansk Danish butter cookies.
  • Construction was quite good, with plenty of smoke and excellent draws for all three cigars. One cigar—the first one I smoked for this review—featured a somewhat wonky burn and did need minor touchups in each of the three thirds, but the other two cigars exhibited none of those issues.
  • The cigars smoked for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time averaged one hour and 57 minutes for all three cigars.
  • If you would like to purchase any of the K by Karen Berger 25th Anniversary by AJ Fernandez, site sponsor Corona Cigar Co. has it in stock on its website here.
86 Overall Score

I have smoked a number of blends from K by Karen Berger over the years, and this is easily one of the most aggressive in terms of strength and body that I can remember. The blend starts with a significant amount of both black pepper and spice, but after the halfway point the profile really picks up steam, as flavors of charred meat and earth combine with the reduced amount of black pepper and Danish butter cookie sweetness on the retrohale. Construction was very good in just about every aspect and while the strength did manage to hit medium-full by the very end of the cigar, it never became overwhelming. In the end, the K by Karen Berger 25th Anniversary by AJ Fernandez is a nice addition that fills a hole in the company’s portfolio for those looking for a punchier, more in-your-face blend.

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Brooks Whittington

I have been smoking cigars for over eight years. A documentary wedding photographer by trade, I spent seven years as a photojournalist for the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. I started the cigar blog SmokingStogie in 2008 after realizing that there was a need for a cigar blog with better photographs and more in-depth information about each release. SmokingStogie quickly became one of the more influential cigar blogs on the internet, known for reviewing preproduction, prerelease, rare, extremely hard-to-find and expensive cigars. I am a co-founder of halfwheel and now serve as an editor for halfwheel.