CAO Concert “Roadie”

The CAO cigar brand has changed hands, moved headquarters, and reinvented itself, but the label’s new directors haven’t forgotten where CAO started: Music City, USA. The CAO Concert was blended by Rick Rodriguez as a tribute to Nashville, Tennessee, CAO’s original home town.

The music theme of the Concert brand is apparent in almost every way: the box resembles a Marshall amp, the bands are designed to look like guitar picks from the front, the upper parts of a Fender Strat on the sides, and fretboards meeting in the back. (Wouldn’t a Telecaster have been better for Nashville?) The frontmarks are concert-related, and the cigar was even given a sneak preview release at the Country Music Association’s Music Festival last summer.

I will make an attempt to restrain myself from abusing the music theme in this review. I will not not hammer on harmony or refer to the cigar’s opening act. I will not speak of overtures, or codas, or cadences. Not a note of it, I swear.

The wrapper is an habano rosado leaf grown in Ecuador, the binder is Connecticut broadleaf, and four different leaves from Nicaragua and Honduras comprise the filler. The cigar is made in four sizes, all 5 1/2 inches in length:

  • Solo – 5 1/2 x 50
  • Stage – 5 1/2 x 60
  • Amp – 5 1/2 x 46
  • Roadie – 5 1/2 x 54

Construction Notes

The wrapper on the CAO Concert is dark, glossy, and almost veinless. Unfortunately, it is also very thin and prone to cracking. The head of the cigar is flat with wide shoulders. With a ring gauge of 54 this cigar is built like a fire plug. The draw ranged from easy to firm, and the burn was slow and even.

It’s an attractive cigar until the wrapper starts to crack at the back. The humidity where I live hovers around 10-15%, so desert shock might be the culprit, though that’s rarely a problem with other cigars. Like all of my other cigars, I stored these at 65%, but maybe the Concert requires a more tropical residence.

Overall construction very good, discounting for possible storage errors on my part.

Tasting Notes

The Roadie is a bit wide for my taste, but the flavors are smooth and well balanced. The cigar opens with cedar sweetness and a dusting of cayenne which quickly dissipates, leaving a medium-bodied base of coffee and some soft baking spices — cinnamon, mild clove, or maybe even sandalwood.

The second half of the cigar builds on the coffee base and adds a touch of musk. The aroma grows sharper, a bit spicier, but retains a lot of its sweetness. The Roadie stays balanced throughout, even while it transitions from light and sweet to darker and muskier flavors. It’s medium in body and easy to smoke. I didn’t notice any harshness at all and the cigar didn’t bitter at all until the very end, well after the second encore. (Damn. Almost made it.)

Conclusion

Conscientious and critical cigar smokers rarely get excited about medium-bodied cigars, but this is one that I would urge everyone to try. I was surprised at the complexity of this new CAO blend, and with its smooth demeanor and suave appearance, I highly recommend it. The Roadie is good for almost 90 minutes of tasty smoking, for which the $6.00 entry fee is a pittance.

I hope that the wrapper cracking was an environmental issue that won’t occur to many other smokers, because in every other respect it performed beautifully. The only thing that I would like to see changed is the design of the band. The little Stratocaster tips are easily bent and quickly become annoying. Maybe they’ll take up my suggestion and change it to a Telecaster, so there will be only one tip to tear off. Aside from that small complaint, this is a wang dang doodle of a cigar.

Final Score: 91
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CAO OSA SOL

CAO Cigars was acquired by STG (Scandinavian Tobacco) in 2007 and is now one of General Cigar’s many holdings. There was much speculation about what would happen to the brand after its acquisition, particularly since the company had such a large presence in the marketplace. Not many cigar makers have a “lifestyle director,” but CAO did, and it showed. As just another species swimming in the sea of General Cigar it could be expected that the brand would now assume a lower profile, and to some extent it has. (Check out the Stogie Guys’ interview with Ed McKenna of CAO for more details on this transition.)

But the brand continues to evolve, and the latest creation to crawl from the surf is this one, the OSA Sol.

OSA stands for Olancho San Agustin. The departament of Olancho is the largest in Honduras (larger than the country of El Salvador, actually) and lies to the northeast of Danli, the capital of cigar production in Honduras. There is an interesting saying about Olancho: “Entre si quiere, salga si puede” (Enter if you wish, leave if you can.)

The San Agustin valley is not on any map I can find, but if the coordinates that are printed on the OSA band are correct, it’s just across the El Paraiso border. Hopefully that makes it easier to leave. I looked at the coordinates on Google Maps and it appears to be an extremely remote location. No surprises there.

General uses a wrapper from the same region on their Punch Gran Puro, one of my favorite General smokes, and also on the Partagas Spanish Rosado. The OSA blend is quite different from those, but it is designed to “highlight the nuances” of this particular wrapper. The binder is Connecticut broadleaf, and the filler is a blend of Honduran and Nicaraguan tobaccos. Three sizes are in production:

  • Lot 54 – 54 x 6
  • Lot 58 – 58 x 6 1/2
  • Lot 50 – 50 x 5

Construction Notes

The star of the OSA Sol is the wrapper, but you wouldn’t know it by looking. It’s a little rough, fairly veiny, and somewhat dry in appearance. The cap is smooth but sort of pasted over a round Cullman style head, emphasizing its functionality. The cap cuts neatly though, and it doesn’t unravel. Triple seams are nice to look at, but function is what counts.

The roll of the cigar is solid, but contrary to some other reviews I found these to draw a little too freely. They seem to burn pretty quickly, which may be a result of the loose draw. On the other hand, the burn is perfectly even, and the ash is smooth and solid.

Overall construction: good to very good.

Tasting Notes

In a word, the OSA Sol is woodsy. Cedar and humus. It starts up with a cedary spice and a touch of tannin on the tongue. It’s smooth on the palate though, and the aroma is sweet and woody.  A couple inches into the cigar and the wrapper really starts to shine. Nuanced notes of apple and leather combine with the cedar in balanced complexity. The smoke remains smooth up to the end, but a slight pucker of tannin  persists; a dash of pepper in the last third adds a dimension to the woody flavors on the palate.  The sweet woodsy aroma continues to the end, but the flavor starts to char at the band.

Conclusion

Based on its wrapper I thought the OSA Sol would be similar to the Punch Gran Puro, but it’s mellower and maybe a bit more complex as well. It’s a great medium-bodied smoke for this time of year — I always like a woodsy cigar when the temperatures start to come down, and this one is smooth and burns beautifully. I wish it were a little more affordable, but 6 USD is probably not too much to ask. It’s worth a shot if you’re in the mood for a smooth and flavorful autumn smoke.

Final Score: 89

Special thanks to General Cigar for providing samples of this new blend.

La Traviata Maduro Divino

CAO’s La Traviata is about the best thing to happen to cigar smokers on a budget since the invention of the coolidor. I took a look at the original La Traviata earlier this year, and I’ve been enjoying them ever since.

This summer CAO released the maduro version of La Traviata, which employs the same filler blend — a Cameroon binder and filler from Nicaragua and the DR — but uses a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper leaf instead of the tradition Ecuadorian Habano.

I grabbed two from a box at the B&M the other day and left in a rush. When I got home I slipped the cello from the sticks and noticed something a little odd: the two robusto-sized Divinos that I had were slightly different shades of dark brownish-black, and one was slightly smaller in ring gauge than the other. Not by much, but noticeably so.

La Traviata Maduro is not mentioned on the CAO website, but it’s safe to assume that the size lineup is the same as for the regular Traviata. And looking at my sales receipt, it appears the pricing is similar as well.

Construction Notes

I started with the lighter and slightly narrower one of the two. The wrapper on this maduro is thick, oily and very toothy. The darker one is especially rich in appearance, but the lighter one is still a highly presentable stick. The roll is solid and the cap is tight. The draw is fairly good — a little loose on one of the sticks, which is why it might have smoked a little hot at the end. The other one was just about perfect though.

The ash is solid gray in color and fairly sturdy, though it crumbled a bit in the ashtray. The burn is uneven, which is typical of thick maduro wrapper, but it never required correction or re-lighting.

Overall construction: Good to Very Good, with some concerns about consistency.

Tasting Notes

I was surprised at how tame the Maduro version of La Traviata smokes by comparison with the natural version. It starts with a touch of pepper, but that fades pretty quickly until it reappears in the final inch. The primary flavors here are classic maduro: bittersweet chocolate and dark roasted coffee bean. Underneath this is a woody foundation with an earthy touch.

The smoke is quite smooth, and not nearly as complex as the natural Traviata. The cigar stays within the standard range of maduro flavors for the duration of the smoke — 35 to 40 minutes — and attempts no major transitions. It’s just a simple, solid smoke.

Conclusion

At around five bucks a stick La Traviata doesn’t really need to make a huge splash, and for me it didn’t. But it’s still a solid performer, and there is always room in the humidor for a reliable medium-bodied maduro at this price.

Final Score: 86

La Traviata by CAO

La Traviata is the Top 25 cigar that didn’t make the cut. So many people noticed that this cigar wasn’t on Cigar Aficionado’s “best of” roster for 2009 that it was thought to be an oversight. The objections were so widespread that CA issued an explanation: the new CAO blend was released too late in the year to be eligible for inclusion in their list. This is how you get attention by being overlooked.

So it’s safe to say that a whole lot of people have been digging this cigar. I finally found a couple boxes at the tribal smoke shop and grabbed a handful for “analysis.”

La Traviata is an old Cuban brand name and an even older Italian opera by Giuseppe Verdi. The opera tells the tragic tale of a consumptive courtesan (la traviata literally means a “strayed woman”) who falls in love, with somewhat predictable consequences.  The first production of the opera was a failure in part because the woman playing the courtesan was hardly consumptive — she was in fact obese — and a close examination of the woman on an old box of Cuban La Traviata reveals a similar misconception. It would appear that the cigar and the opera share little aside from the name.

But the folks at CAO wanted to “harken back” to the era of pre-nationalization Cuba with this blend, so the name fits. On the other hand, I’m a little skeptical that it’s possible to replicate the flavor profile of a late 19th century cigar. (Maybe they have some seriously aged cigar blenders swimming in the factory’s Cocoon pool.)

The cigar features an oily Ecuadorian Habano leaf wrapped around a Cameroon binder and filler comprised of ligero from both Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The blend was released late last year in three parejo sizes, and two more have just been announced: a corona gorda and the first figurado for the line, a petite belicoso.

  • Divino – 5 x 50
  • Radiante – 6 x 52
  • Intrepido – 7 x 54
  • Animado – 5 5/8 x 46
  • Favorito – 5 1/2 x 52  (belicoso)

For this review I smoked the robusto-sized Divino, with samples drawn from two different boxes.

Construction Notes

The wrappers on these sticks are thick and oily, though the texture seems to vary from smooth to quite grainy. The color is a very dark colorado maduro, or perhaps even straight maduro. Veins are prominent but not unsightly, and the head is a little irregular but solid. The cap is pasted on, not wound, but shears away nicely.

The roll is rock solid to the touch but the draw is excellent. The ash is solid and the burn is even. All this cigar lacks is the perfect Cuban-style triple cap. Other than that, there’s really nothing to complain about here.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

A hard woody flavor combined with a peppery overtone opens this cigar. The smoke is smooth, but a tad tannic on the palate. The sweet spicy aroma reminds me a little of hickory, similar to what I find in Illusione Original Document and other cigars that utilize Aganorsa Nicaraguan tobaccos. The flavor here is not quite as clean as that, but it’s bright and tasty.

The tannins even out in the middle section but never disappear entirely. The foundation flavor remains woody, at times veering to leather. Light caramel-coffee flavors and notes of malt show up in the aroma.

Up to this point I found little to substantiate the Cubanesque aspirations of La Traviata, but in the last third I did find a fleeting muskiness reminiscent of cuban cigars. It didn’t last long, but for those last few puffs about half an inch from the band I could have been fooled. Unfortunately the flavor becomes a little dirty after this point, somewhat carbonized and burnt tasting, but this is after a very eventful three quarters.

Conclusion

Now I understand what the rumpus is all about. This is a dandy smoke. La Traviata is medium to full in body with a rich and complex woody flavor that finishes up with leather and a momentary glimpse of the forbidden isle. All of the cigars I’ve smoked from this line have had rock solid construction and burn beautifully.

But wait! There’s more! CAO has set the price point for La Traviata alluringly low, right around 5 USD per stick for the Divino. I can think of many cigars in the 10 dollar range that pale by comparison to this smoke.  This could be the best buy of the year, and for what it’s worth, I think it’s the best blend CAO is making right now.

Final Score: 90