Lots of manufacturers and cigars stood out to me at the show as intriguing, but perhaps the most intriguing entry was the re-launch of CAO. There has been a lot of discussion as to what General Cigar’s intent was for CAO. Were they really going to make them into a pillar of their catalog or were they simply going to let them lapse into obscurity? I wanted to know, so I was really quite excited when I got the call from General to come and check out what they were doing with all of their brands this year. As I finally approached the CAO booth, I got really excited to finally ask them my burning questions about the brand.
My first question was the most pressing; “Are you planning on making CAO a lasting brand?” Rick Rodriguez, head of CAO’s product development immediately launched into the personal risk he took by joining this branch of the company. For him and Ed McKenna, CAO’s senior brand manager, failure was not an option. They were commissioned by Dan Carr, president of General Cigar to make this brand successful at all costs. Their mission was simple; “do whatever it takes to make this line go; all tobacco resources are at your disposal.” Most of the other General brands have channels and protocol to go through to get their resources, but McKenna and Rick were given the “keys to the kingdom,” so to speak. Dan Carr believed firmly in this project and wanted it to be special. So if it helps, think of CAO as the special operations branch of General’s army, their accountability is to the president alone and their resources are on the level of carte blanche. So with all that backstory in place let’s see if they have a success on their hands.
The first thing I would like to say is that the CAO OSA’s (Olancho San Augustin) band and packaging is akin to a Dan Brown novel. Everything about the band and box has meaning, and is eye catching to boot. CAO has traditionally been known for their packaging and design, and team McKenna and Rodriguez knew that while the cigar was of upmost importance, so was continuing the avant-garde look and feel of CAO’s flair for the visual! In this department they succeed with a white and green box (pictured on the left). The added layer however is their symbolism of the boxe’s colors, curves, and almost imperceptible writings. The box represents the region in which the cigar was manufactured, the Honduran region known as Olancho, specifically the San Augustin Valley. Looking at the box one can see the white, which represents the white barns that dot the valley’s landscape. The green meandering stripe represents the river that runs through the center of the valley and makes it fertile and verdant, and the minuscule numbers one can trace on the band and box are the longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates of where the valley actually lies. These little touches create a fun little tie to where CAO was reborn, and how the CAO team is taking it to the next level.
Having a cool band, box, and packaging is definitely a strong step in the right direction, but the most important piece for success is the cigar itself. I can say that over the course of the show and since I have gotten home I have smoked three OSA’s and have been quite impressed. The OSA features a smooth wrapper from the Olancho San Augustin valley to set off this intriguing blend. The goal was to really feature this unique wrapper and showcase its earthy flavors, so the rest of the cigars’ blend was taken into account. To round out the intriguing blend is a Connecticut binder, and a blend of Nicaraguan and Honduran filler. Cutting the cap reveals a smooth, effortless draw and an inspection of the foot reveals notes of barnyard and leather.
As I began to smoke the cigar the first immediate thing that I noticed was the spice wasn’t on the front of the palate, but rather on the back of the throat. I can say that on all three of the OSA’s I have smoked, they all had a unique back-of-the-throat spice. This spice was tempered by a subtle and sweet flavor that reminded me of earth and grass. As the cigar continues the spice begins to fade and the sweet grass note really comes to the forefront. The ash is tight and easily stays put until ready to be doffed off into the ashtray. Continuing the flavor journey reveals a change at the midpoint towards a dry floral note with an intermittent burst of nuttiness. At this point I am thoroughly impressed by the medley of notes that have been playing across my tongue and palate. To finish the cigar in the last third are notes of leather and floral; leather being the more dominant. Throughout the smoking experience, I found every OSA cigar I smoked to be consistent and well constructed.
General Cigar and CAO had a lot to live up to in their first attempt at a new line. It could have easily been a half-try at a blend in order to phase the company out of the market, but Ed McKenna and Rick Rodriguez under the leadership of Dan Carr have really hit this one out of the park! From the concept of the packaging to the cigar itself, everything about this project is unique and well executed. I can’t tell you how many times throughout the show I found myself trying new product and musing, “this is nice, but it’s nothing new.” Admittedly its hard to come up with blends that are ground-breaking and different, but this was one cigar that really was enjoyable because of its unique characteristics. So if you are a fan of a medium bodied cigar that really has some unique characteristics and qualities, then re-explore the world of CAO by picking up an OSA!
Price: $5.75-6.75 depending on size
Wrapper: Olancho San Augustin
Binder: Connecticut broad leaf
Filler: Honduran and Nicaraguan blend