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By: Lindsay Heller
If you compiled all long-term cigar industry employees with a serious musical background, you could form one heck of a jazz band or chamber orchestra. (Many of us have conservatory backgrounds—myself included.) There's something to be said for those who are creative, as the artistic brain views the world differently, and thus, rallies against being generic. Enter Rafael Nodal: a Cuban who made his way to Miami via the infamous Mariel Boatlift as a teen, but never imagined he would transition from violinist to cigar brand owner as an adult.
Nodal came from a town in Camagüey where citrus crops were king—not tobacco. He has no familial ties to cigars, and wasn't even introduced to them until a lunch with Nick Perdomo in the late '90s. Rafael's strong work ethic and need to succeed led to corporate jobs in the medical field, and while never fully abandoning his musical talents, he became Executive Director of a national psychiatric company. There he met the two people with whom he'd start a company: Dr. Hank Bischoff, and Dr. Alina Cordoves. Hank was a self-proclaimed Cubanophile, and Alina was a medical director who both had ties to tobacco, and would later become Rafael's wife.
The three spent years selling smaller Miami-based brands online, and after acquiring the Oliveros label, began redesigning that portfolio to increase their overall profitability. While trying to appeal to a multitude of consumer segments, Nodal's business suffered: they were grasping for straws as one might way, and a few critical misunderstandings of the market led to difficult, but ultimately valuable learning experiences. His stubborn nature meant never giving up, so finding his way was imperative; in this case, making small-batch cigars with Jochi Blanco at Tabacalera Palma in the Dominican Republic.
Rafael, Hank, and Alina eventually changed the company name to Boutique Blends to better align with their newfound philosophy, and in doing so, ultimately found success with the creation of Aging Room. After earning a spot in Cigar Aficionado's coveted Top 25 of 2011, Nodal got his first states of broad success, with future blends produced by Blanco, as well as the then up-and-comer, AJ Fernandez, in Nicaragua. In May 2017 Rafael signed on with Tabacalera USA (premium cigar division of Altadis U.S.A.) in a niche professional capacity, and there he became better acquainted with Fernandez, a fellow Cubano.
True to his musical roots, Nodal will often liken blend development to that of writing an opera: there are desired themes, key melodies and harmonies, a story arch, and the need for it to all work together inside one neat package. When it came to the Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua, however, you could call Rafael the librettist, and AJ the composer/arranger. Although each man is talented in his own, it's the partnership which makes the end result uniquely unforgettable.
Fernandez isn't shy about the special fermentation methods he's developed, that with varying degrees of aging per strain of tobacco, makes for master's stamp on every product that comes out of the factory. Striking all the right notes between flavor, construction, and consistency, AJ's ability to make Rafael's vision into a reality with the Quattro Nicaragua is another means to comprehend the immense respect and understanding that exists between these two gentlemen.
This premium is a puro, and all tobaccos utilized originate from 100% Cuban seeds. While the distinctions between each leaf are not specified other than the binder (Nicaraguan Sumatra), what we do get upon smoking is a symphony of flavors. Ranging from a variety of pepper, to roasted nuts, wood, baking spice, earth, cacao, and espresso, there's an underlying caramel sweetness which peaks through from start to finish. While numerous pairings exist for this full-bodied cigar, I'd highly recommend enjoying alongside mineral water so not one nuance is missed, as this blend is a masterpiece.
Rafael Nodal will never stop being an artist, and he's a lover of la dolce vita with great vigor when it comes to good food, wine, and cigars. Years of trial and error, plus constant learning have sired Aging Room, but collaboration with AJ Fernandez yielded his magnum opus.
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