Welcome to The Daily Caller’s inaugural “Cigar Hunter” column. Some weeks I’ll be hunting for taste, and others for bargains — and occasionally for rare smokes and Washington, D.C. personalities to share them with in a city that frowns on tobacco. I’ll always tell you where I shopped and what I paid, and I won’t bore you with ratings.
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True confession: This is my very first CAO cigar. I’ve stayed away from the brand until now, principally, I think, because of the Brazilian flag colors in the brand’s logo. Who thinks of gargantuan South American countries when cigars come to mind? Not me. Orange juice and coffee? Yes. Sugar? Absolutely, although you can’t get Brazilian sugarcane in America because of the idiotic protectionist tariffs built into our Farm Bill, and meant to benefit a single wealthy Florida family. (Don’t get me started.)
And with all the other big names out there — I’m talkin’ about you, Perdomo and Rocky Patel — why venture out of Central America and the Caribbean? My local cigar shop has a few shelves of CAO sticks, and they never seem to go anywhere. (RELATED: Cigar lovers, industry unite to snuff out FDA regulatory agenda)
But I got a rare deal last week, paying CigarBid.com just $43.00 for 20 robusto-size maduro cigars. They included five La Gloria Cubana Serie N sticks and five Obsidians. I would have gladly paid $43.00 just for those 10 cigars. But I also got five 5 Vegas Gold torpedos — which, frankly, I’ll probably give away — and five of these CAO “Brazilia Gol!” cigars. I set one aside to smoke on Saturday evening after dinner.
So I’m calling the price $2.15, which is pretty remarkable considering that a box of 20 retails for $136.00. (First rule of cigar smoking: Retail is for suckers. Second rule: Pay retail for a few sticks to keep your local shop in business.)
I puffed this on my patio, outdoors, in roughly 98-degree heat. Not ideal weather, but it was down from about 105 four hours earlier. The weather reports for Brazil showed that the whole country had a high of 85 degrees on Saturday. So go figure. Maybe I should start planting Cuban seeds in my back yard.
The CAO “Gol!”cigar is quite beautiful out of the cellophane. It’s a 5” stick with a 56 ring gauge. The outside felt firm. I couldn’t find a single soft spot on the oily skin, and only one small leaf vein. I cut it with a garden-variety super cheap straight cutter that I probably got at a golf tournament. Nothing fancy: I lose ’em too often.
If you’re a novice cigar smoker, one thing you should learn to do is “toast the foot” of your smokes. After you cut the smoking end, hold a lit match (or a strip of cedar if you want to look cool) under the other end and warm it up before you put the stick in your mouth. This, the old-timers have told me, helps the cigar to light uniformly when it’s time. It also gives you a nice scent of what’s to come.
The scent, in this case, is all about coffee. I would have sworn I was smelling a dark French roast. That wasn’t welcome since I don’t drink coffee — can’t stand the stuff, take my caffeine in the form of a Diet Coke IV drip — but you normal people will probably appreciate it.
I have no idea how they get tobacco to smell like coffee. Seriously, it’s like the farmers in Brazil are plowing surplus arabica beans under the soil. I almost wonder what would happen if they tried it with orange peels or left over candy canes.
The first few puffs came very easy and the draw was smooth. This is not a cigar you have to work very hard to smoke, unlike the last box of Cubans I — um — “acquired” from a parking lot attendant near where I work. They were Cohiba Esplendidos, the real thing, but smoking them was like sucking a milkshake through a cocktail straw. (I learned to poke a very thin steel dowel through the whole length of the cigars to open them up before smoking.)
I’ve always been skeptical of wine connoisseurs who claim to be able to taste everything from black currants to zebra musk in a merlot. Whenever I hear a wine described, I assume the speaker really couldn’t tell the different between a “deep, fruity nose” and a long, hairy arm. (Disclaimer: Saturday marked two years, to the day, since I last had alcohol, so what do I know?)
But with cigars, my taste buds come alive in a way that usually requires Chinese chili peppers — the kind with the little black fermented soybeans. If you haven’t tried them, and you’re into food that makes you sweat, it’s entirely worth the flight to Beijing.
Most of the flavor from a cigar hits your tongue in the very back, where you taste “bitter” foods. This one tasted like coffee and leather — like the smell of a wet ball glove. But a third of the way through, the cigar changed character completely. Where there was once coffee, there is now — get this — chocolate.
I sometimes detect the rich taste of chocolate in maduro cigars. Every time the smoke left my mouth after taking a puff from this one, the “finish” taste was all Hershey’s Special Dark. Note to self for next time: Bring a glass of milk to see if a chocolate-milk flavor results from this odd maduro wrapper.
Note that a maduro wrapper means just that — the wrapper. Most of this cigar is filled with Nicaraguan leaves, and the “binder,” which holds the filler together, is garden-variety Nicaraguan leaf too. Some of those filler leaves added a peppery profile to the taste as I worked my way through the second third.
I just learned while writing this that the CAO Brazilian line is actually rolled in Honduras, for reasons that elude me. But the wrapper is all Brazilian. It’s dark, earthy and rich, from the state of Alagoas in northeast Brazil. The wrapper leaf is what the experts call a “Bahia.”
Bahia leaves come from an eastern Brazilian province by the same name, about two-thirds of the way North from Rio de Janeiro to Recife. This is where some of the country’s best nicotine originated. In 1873, Gerhard Dannemann, a wealthy German, built a second home in the Bahia town of Sao Felix because he thought it would be a great place to create a line of cigars that his fellow wealthy Europeans would relish.
He built factories. He changed his first name to Geraldo. He hired the townsfolk. They made him the mayor. At one point, his company was the third largest cigar marketer in the world.
Today, few American cigar smokers know what a real Brazilian stogie tastes like. If you’re interested in the experience, try Dona Flor, a brand that just made a comeback last month after a five-year trademark battle. It’s 100 percent Brazilian, through and through.
The nice thing about the Brazilian wrapper on this CAO cigar is that it’s thicker than most. You can tell when you roll the smoke around in your fingers: There’s very little “give.” And it produced a really bright, white ash. Very few cigars sold in North America use this wrapper leaf. Others include the Carlos Torano Signature Collection and the Alec Bradley Trilogy Exotic Maduro.
Back to the CAO: Two-thirds of the way through the smoke, the flavor profile changed again. This time I would swear I tasted s’mores. No joke. Take the dark chocolate and add a toasted marshmallow flavor. Truly bizarre and unexpected. It only lasted about a minute, and then it was gone.
The coffee taste came back in the home stretch, but this time with an extra something — sometimes intense, and sometimes subtle, but generally in the hazelnut family. And suddenly the smoke became much smoother than it was earlier. There was nothing acrid or bitter anymore. The coffee was there but in a secondary way, like a hint of espresso in a rich dessert.
I don’t know if it’s the outdoor humidity here in Northern Virginia, but I didn’t have to re-light this cigar at all even though I kept putting it down to type. It held its own, and I smoked it down to the last inch.
The final bit of the nub brought the strongest flavor — full-bodied, rich, probably a turn-off for occasional cigar smokers — and the bitterness of the first few puffs returned. But I like the heavy stuff. And I suddenly like Brazil.
Remind me of that when their soccer team crushes
us every team featuring MLS players in the Olympics. I’ll be on the patio, watching and smoking, and shouting “Gol! Gol! Gol!”
Note: I’ll be speaking at the Independence Institute’s annual “Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms” party on August 11. If you’re anywhere near Denver, or can get there, it’s a fantastic event. Probably the most politically incorrect thing to happen in Colorado all year — unless the president fails to carry the state, of course.