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Relic by AJ Fernandez

Steve R

Don’t ask how the sausage is made, son, just feast.

Relic hit us by surprise. As strong as our relationship is with AJ Fernandez, he somehow kept this beauty out from under our nosey noses. Probably a good thing, otherwise we surely would have bought every Relic cigar produced on the spot. It’s just that good. So yes, I will be giving this cigar a very strong rating. And yes, this review will be glowing. I refuse to make you wait for the end result. It’s a ’96.’ Boom. Read on if you want to. Go and buy a 5-pack if you’d rather not waste time. Ninety Six. Period.

So the brand is Relic. And, as I’ve already said, it hails from AJ Fernandez and his impressive Tabacalera Fernandez factory of Esteli, Nicaragua. This place is a veritable fortress, churning out delicious boutique handmades with power, including Man O’ War, San Lotano, Diesel, and so much more. As for AJ, he’s a mastermind at every point in a tobacco leaf’s life cycle: from seed to smoke. For two decades he worked alongside Cuban legend Alejandro Robaina in Cuba’s famous Pinar del Rio region. His cigars are a product of unrivaled learnings from a legend, with the boutique twist of a master. Relic is the latest example.

I’m going to tell you as much as I know about Relic. The long-fillers were born in Nicaragua’s soil, and they’re all extensively aged, top-priming ligeros. These pitch black leaves of various (unknown to me) Nicaraguan origins are secured inside a feisty Habano binder from Ecuador. And then the wrapper. The leaf that truly defines Relic and delivers flavor unlike anything AJ has produced to date. A rare, shade grown Habano wrapper from AJ’s farm in Esteli, Nicaragua. This dark, toothy leaf is loaded with power and flavor, took AJ nearly a decade to successfully grow to perfection, and is likely the reason Relic was kept secret from our greedy hands. That was more info than AJ wanted to tell us, but the wrapper was a proud moment, and his time to boast a little he was reluctantly eager to tell us.

The pre-light aroma from Relic is fantastic. Barnyard, sweet cedar, a little bit of pepper. The initial light is bold, awakening the taste buds and flooding the entire palate and nose with rich, toasty nuances. The bouquet is big up front, booming with notes of earth and leather, followed by a zest on the finish that’s just right. Like most big bouquets, the flavors mellow slightly, giving way to other intricacies. In this case, coffee enters the fray with a nice, oaky finish and the dash of pepper remains on the long, satisfying finish. The room note is equally big: thick clouds of aromatic smoke waft above filling my room with oily, woodsy smells.

Midway through, and I am fully aware: Relic is complex. Relic is unique. Relic is eventful. Relic is satisfying.

There’s a lot going on here, and I highly recommend trying Relic on a fresh palate, with no beverage other than water, at least once. The flavors are familiar yet unique. The coffee is like a roasted coffee bean, with a little bit of toastiness to it. The earth is rich and rustic, with a grittiness to it that smothers your taste buds. The oak is smoky and sweet; enhanced by the robust aroma filling my office. The pepper is fresh and inviting. Not spicy. Rather, a freshly cracked black pepper added to complement the bold flavors perfectly.

Three quarters of the way through, I realize my midway thoughts are now fully confirmed. So I said to myself, ‘magnificent self, I am going to enjoy this cigar til my fingers burn, and it’s going to be very difficult to put it down for good.’

Ahh. The final few minutes with Relic. Something I now know will be bittersweet. I’ve enjoyed this cigar thoroughly, and am enjoying the robust finale as I type the remainder of this review. Like many of AJ’s fuller-flavored creations, Relic ends with a charismatic crescendo. A truckload of flavor, delivered in a concentrated format that sits heavy on every last taste bud and lets you know, ‘I just burned something special.’ Something different. Something I want to have again – soon. No bitterness. No sharp notes. Just a rich, robust bouquet that’s big and smoky, blanketing my palate with a rush of dense, velvety smoke. Smooth from start to finish, Relic truly is something to be savored. Slowly.

Relic ain’t cheap. That’s for sure. But, once you try a few I’m confident you’ll agree, it’s far from expensive. Try it. Enjoy it. AJ can’t make a ton of them, but he can and will make enough for you to add this to the fabled short list of favorites.