Released in 2015, CAO’s Pilón cigar is named for an important part of the tobacco fermentation process. After tobacco leaves have been harvested and dried they are moved from the curing barn to undergo a “sweating” process. The tobacco hands are piled up and allowed to partially decompose. The tobacco in the pile (or pilón) heats up and goes through a complicated chemical transformation — the tobacco gives off ammonia and carbon dioxide, alkaloids like nicotine decrease, and the leaves start to develop the flavors and aromas that are typical of black tobacco. (More on the chemistry involved in this process can be found here.)
Pilónes in most modern factories are large quadrilateral bales. For the Pilón, CAO is using an old Cuban technique in which hands of tobacco are carefully arranged in circular piles. The skeptic in me wants to ask: What’s the effective difference between a square pile and a round pile? A pile’s a pile, right? My guess is that a smaller more manipulable pilon allows for more control over the keys to tobacco oxidation: heat, humidity, and air circulation. The piles must be periodically taken apart and reconstructed in order to control these elements, and perhaps a circular pilon gives the curador more control.
In any case, the developers of Pilón — CAO’s Rick Rodriguez and General Cigar’s Agustin Garcia — have been experimenting with this technique for several years, and if they say it makes a difference I will take their word for it. The cigar itself is a Nicaraguan blend with an Ecuadorian Habano capa. The Pilón is made in Esteli, Nicaragua in three standard sizes:
- Churchill – 7 x 48
- Robusto – 5 x 52
- Corona – 5 1/2 x 44
The Pilon robusto is a rustic-looking cigar with a slightly oily wrapper that is maduro in color and appearance. The cigar is firm in the hand and is finished with a round head and functional cap that takes a guillotine cut with no complaint. The draw is easy, and the burn is even and slow.
I tend to think of cigar bands as purely ornamental and of little concern, but the band on the Pilon is exceptional in one respect: it reports the blend composition. I have no use for gold leaf and intricate graphic artistry, but give me some information right on the cigar and you’ll get my vote every time.
Overall construction: Very good.
The Pilon starts out woody and very clean on the palate. It gradually develops some astringency and reveals typically Nicaraguan characteristics, but in the beginning it is fairly mild-mannered. The texture at this point is even a bit creamy.
An inch or so into the cigar and the woody aroma starts to take on a more coffee-like aroma, a nice medium roast rather than that undrinkable burnt stuff. A cedary overtone is still present, accompanied by a hint of cinnamon. The coffee beans finally give way to a slightly sweet caramel note, until the spice takes over.
I found the last third of the cigar to be a bit harsh; the subtleties of the first third and the complex flavors of the middle section are completely swallowed up a sharp peppery spice, joined by char at the end. I thought I might have been smoking too fast, but on my second try I slowed my pace intentionally and encountered the same phenomenon. It isn’t overly potent, just a little pugnacious on the palate.
CAO’s Pilón is a surprisingly complex cigar for the price, which is around $4.50 a pop. It turns a bit grumpy in the last third, but this may even out with a little aging, or it may be intentional — I’ve met more than a few devotees of the mean-ass cigar, so maybe the Pilon was blended to end with a nice poke in the eye. I’ll be trying this in the other sizes to see if that makes a difference, and maybe putting a few away for a while. The first two-thirds are really exceptional for the price.
Final Score: 88