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By: Lindsay Heller
These days it's difficult to imagine the modern cigar market without Abdel "AJ" Fernandez. The Cuban émigré left Pinar del Rio in 2003 and settled in Estelí as a third-generation grower, blender, and manufacturer. Prolific doesn't accurately describe his company's output, as they're responsible for everything from seedling to finished product—AJ even has the boxes made for his proprietary blends on-site. Aside from reviving his Grandfather's brand, San Lotano, AJ has worked for clients like Rocky Patel and Altadis, which led to owning one of Nicaragua's largest premium cigar operations, Tabacalera Fernandez. A proud immigrant, AJ unabashedly praises his adopted country. His greatest joy seems to be succeeding in the industry he loves, knowing that alongside him the people of Nicaragua prosper, too.
One of AJ's biggest successes is the creation of the Ave Maria brand, as what began with one blend has morphed into a premium portfolio, raising the bar with each new release. Renowned for its beautiful packaging, flawless build, and balanced aroma and profile, each Ave blend easily appeals to enthusiasts and aficionados alike. Fernandez's latest addition to this line is the Ave Maria Holy Grail, and one might say that given how they're housed in individual coffins, they are truly to be treasured.
Shimmering via its packaging, bands, and golden Connecticut wrapper leaf, Holy Grail is a sight to behold. Offered in a single Churchill vitola (7.0"x48), it's on the more mellow side of mellow to medium-bodied, but don't let that deter you should you have a penchant for stronger cigars... Beneath the Connecticut wrapper lies a Mexican San Andrés Valley binder enchasing a bouquet of Nicaraguan long-fillers, each of which present their own characteristics throughout the smoking experience.
From the inside out, the core tobaccos present notes of white pepper, earth, and freshly buttered toast, whereas its Mexican binder brings forth an oaky quality sensed both on the palate and the nose. As always, the wrapper leaf acts like the icing on the cake, and here the Connecticut capa provides an underlying creaminess highlighted by sweet cedar courtesy of the aging room. Fun fact: San Andrés pre-dates Cuban-seed tobacco varietals, proven by numerous archeological finds in the Tuxtla area of Southeastern Mexico. One of the foci of the Mayans in this region was producing high-quality tobacco, depicted on stone monuments showcasing Priests and Gods emitting large plumes of smoke into the air, using pipes similar to the Churchwarden style, but with straight stems.
Although a handmade such as the Ave Maria Holy Grail can be enjoyed at any time, for those of you who enjoy smoking a fine cigar in the evening, I decided to create a craft cocktail which pairs perfectly with this new blend: the Rosemary + Rye. Grab your lighter, a cocktail shaker, a rocks glass, and follow the instructions below.
ROSEMARY + RYE
1 bunch fresh rosemary (reserve two sprigs for smoking + garnish)1c sugar1c water1 sprig rosemary1 shot of Rye1/2 shot lemon juice1/2 shot Rosemary Simple SyrupGlass of iceSplash of Club Soda
Crafting your Cocktail
1. Prepare the Rosemary Simple Syrup by adding the water, sugar, and rosemary to a saucepan. Bring everything to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the mixture from the heat, letting the rosemary steep as the syrup cools; once cooled, remove the rosemary and strain into a jar.
2. Using your lighter, light one of the reserved sprigs of rosemary. (It won't fully catch, but you want to get it to start smoking to release the oils and essences.) Set the smoky rosemary on a heat-safe surface (i.e. your stovetop), and quickly cover with your cocktail glass. Let it sit and infuse with smoke while you make the rest of your drink.
3. In a cocktail shaker, add a handful of ice, the Rye, lemon juice, and Rosemary Simple Syrup. Shake until the exterior of the shaker starts to display some condensation.
4. Flip over your smoke-infused glass and add a handful of ice cubes. Strain the cocktail via your shaker attachment and pour into the rocks glass.
5. Top the drink with a splash of Club Soda, and garnish with the other sprig of reserved rosemary. Enjoy!
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