In March 2013, we reported on the third installment of one of the most secretive releases from Viaje, the Friends and Family, which began showing up on invoices and at retailers’ doors with a new shape, new price and new name.

The Viaje Friends and Family La Cadeau was not to be seen this year (as of yet, at least), replaced by Le Joueur, which means the player. This new vitola measured 5 x 52, down from the 7 x 48 Churchill vitola of La Cadeau, and with a slightly reduced price tag: $14.50 per cigar instead of $15.00. The Viaje Friends and Family Le Joueur was shipped with the company’s other first quarter releases, the WLP St. Patrick’s and the second release of the Honey & Hand Grenades.

Here are the two sizes of Friends and Family releases:

Viaje Friends and Family La Cadeau Le Joueur

Taking secrecy about his cigars to a new level with the Friends and Family, Viaje’s owner, Andre Farkas, acknowledges only the cigar’s existence and nothing else. The first appearance of the line was at IPCPR 2011, with the first shipments arriving in February and December of 2012. Also different in this third release was that at least one retailer noted being invoiced for more Le Joueurs than La Cadeaus, as the former had been limited to one box per retailer.

Viaje Friends and Family Le Joueur 1

  • Cigar Reviewed: Viaje Friends and Family Le Joueur
  • Country of Origin: n/a
  • Factory: n/a
  • Wrapper: n/a
  • Binder: n/a
  • Filler: n/a
  • Size: 5 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 52
  • Vitola: Box-pressed Robusto
  • MSRP: $14.50 (Boxes of 15, $217.50)
  • Date Released: March 2013 
  • Number of Cigars Released: n/a
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 1

The Viaje Friends and Family Le Joueur is a solid specimen with hardly any give when squeezed. The wrapper is an oily dark brown with dark veins, almost reminiscent of dark brown shoe polish. The tobacco-covered foot offers some subtle notes of tree bark and earth, backed by just the faintest touch of grape jam sweetness and spice that offers just the slightest tingle in the nose. There’s no challenge with air movement on the cold draw, with a slightly spicier taste that is backed by a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar.

The wrapper-covered foot wastes no time attracting the flame from the match as it starts to combust and put off a blue-gray smoke. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of pepper in the early goings of the first third of the Viaje Friends and Family Le Joueur, but there is no shortage of flavors, albeit some hard to pin down ones other than with generic terms of earth. The retrohale has some painful sharpness to it, making it hard to enjoy, but shows the building pepper note that the palate is starting to pick up. About half an inch in, the aroma of the smoke starts to take on a fuller, rounder note, carrying notes of leather and steak. There is a definite warmth to the flavors, though the pepper hasn’t quite taken off. With that warmth comes a caveat though – puff too quickly and they turn too harsh to be enjoyable.

Viaje Friends and Family Le Joueur 2

While the Viaje Friends and Family Le Joueur is burning well, the burn line heading into the second third isn’t very sharp, though it hasn’t raced up one side or the other; if anything, it’s a bit wavy. Combustion is good, though at times it seems like a challenge to get the smoke production going, and while the dark gray ash has held on well, it warrants being tapped off as it feels more like an impediment. Indeed, once gone the air moves much easier and the increased smoke production fills the surrounding still air with notes of warm leather, dark spice, earth and a hint of cloves. The flavor starts to become a bit less rounded once it crosses the midpoint, with some back-of-the-throat harshness coming out, though it’s still not terribly peppery or spicy.

Viaje Friends and Family Le Joueur 3

Heading into the final third, the Viaje Friends and Family Le Joueur has a few spots where smoke production slows significantly before returning to its earlier levels. The flavors have picked up an almost Jamaican jerk note, though they are far from saucy. The shift begins a quick building of the intensity into a mouthful of flavor that is almost too much to process as the clove note has returned while a strong espresso note has been added. There are points where I feel compelled to cleanse my palate with water just to keep it from being overwhelmed. There’s a slight mellowing of the strength but the flavor stays big and bold in the final inches, making it almost too much to be enjoyable. While the cigar is delivering its most powerful flavors, it has trouble staying lit and the task of constantly relighting it loses its appeal.

Viaje Friends and Family Le Joueur 4

Final Notes:

  • I’m not a fan of the name “The Player” for this cigar. “The Gift” was a much more appropriate name for a cigar in this project; this makes me wonder if I’m being played.
  • While I love cigars with lots of flavor, there are also times when you get too much of a good thing, and this is one of them. While Viaje has been known for delivering some real spice bombs, this is a flavor bomb.
  • That said, I’d be interested to see how this tastes in a year or so when its had a chance to mellow a bit. This seems like a prime candidate for some aging.
  • I had a retailer recently tell me that he missed out on this year’s Friends and Family because he refused the shipment they came in, saying that he still hadn’t sold last year’s spring releases. He didn’t seem too disappointed, however, saying, “if I can’t sell the ones I already have from last year, why do I need another shipment?”
  • As mentioned above, the Friends and Family project is the ultimate example of how secretive Viaje gets about their releases. They have become increasingly quiet about the rest of their releases as well, including the recently announced Zombie Supershot.
  • I thought I might make it all the way through this cigar without a burn issue, but alas I was wrong, as the final third needed several relights.
  • The cigar for this review was purchased by halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time falls just under two hours.
84 Overall Score

Right now, this cigar is just too young and too much for my palate – not by means of strength, but by means of flavor. I had to keep a full glass of water nearby just to keep my palate from feeling totally overwhelmed, especially in the final third. That being said, this seems to have some potential to benefit from some aging, and could be as flavorful after six months or a year as many cigars are when they come off the roller's table. For the Viaje fans, you either probably have one or more of these or are disappointed you missed out. For the rest of us, stick with the stuff that I see readily available, such as the Viaje Platino, which remains a favorite.

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Patrick Lagreid

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and previously the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for Major League Baseball, plus I'm a voice over artist. Prior to joining halfwheel, I covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.