Released at IPCPR 2015, the CAO Pilón brings back a traditional Cuban method of fermenting tobacco in a circular pilón (pronounced “pee-‘lohn”), a practice that dates back to the 19th century. In the most common practice, “hands” (10-15 leaves tied together) are stacked on top of each other in a rectangular grouping, causing the pile to heat up, due to the natural process of decomposition. Once it reaches a temperature of around 115 degrees, the stack is then shaken out and flipped. In the circular pilón method, the “hands” are carefully placed in a circular pattern that allows them to heat up at a slower rate, lengthening the fermentation process and enhancing the flavors of the tobacco.

For the CAO Pilón, the brand has incorporated this method into the fermentation stage of its Cuban-seed Ecuadoran wrapper.

We have experimented with pilón fermentation for several years. It’s a very labor intensive process and we took our time perfecting it. We thought it was the right time to create a line around this classic technique because it does such incredible things to the tobacco. This is the first time we’re using the pilón method, but I can tell you, it won’t be the last.Rick Rodriquez—CAO

CAO Pilón Breakdown

  • Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
  • Binder: Nicaraguan
  • Filler: Dominican | Nicaraguan
  • Factory: STG Estelí (Nicaragua)
  • Production: Regular release
  • Vitola: 5″ x 52 robusto
  • Price: $6.50

The CAO Pilón is surprisingly attractive for its budgeted price point. But as Rick Rodrigues explained at IPCPR, this was precisely the idea—to allow for a celebratory-class cigar, both in look and feel, that the “Joe 6-pack smoker” could both appreciate and afford.

The rich and oily cuban seed Ecuadorian habano wrapper is pleasing to the eye and has no visible flaws. The off-white band resembles a formal, pre-release, drawing-room, spreadsheet-like rigidity—listing all the traits of the cigar, topped off with the signature of its Master Blender, Rick Rodrigues. The writing is in varying shades of tobacco brown, and is embossed with the title “CAO Pilón”. On the flip side of the band is an illustration of a circular pilón.

Smoking Experience

The pre-light flavors are earthy, with a sweet tobacco background, and the draw is a bit tight. Toasting is a slow process, but leads to a perfect burn with minor touch-ups needed. The first draw is much looser than anticipated (considering the pre-light experience), and is surprisingly sweet, with light pepper and some aged tobacco notes. The strength is medium and the body is pretty bold. Not much changes from the first to the second third.

Flavors develop and begin to multiply, including cedar, nuts, and cocoa. The experience is the same—a nice draw with a goodly body of smoke, and the retro-hale is all pepper and spice. I’ve touched it up here and there, but that has more to do with my OCD nature than a necessity. The burn isn’t perfectly straight, but it’s not wonky or bad either. It has more of a wavy “artisan” burn that honestly needs no touch-ups.

CAO Pilón robusto cigar review



Beverage Pairings
Initially, I paired this cigar with a Hario V60 pour-over cup of coffee, which I immediately learned was a bad decision. The acidity of the coffee was too much for this cigar, so I dispatched the coffee and switched to a refined glass of ice-cold tap water. The pairing was much more to the cigar’s liking and opened up more of the sweet tobacco flavors.

Into the final third is when this cigar really shines. It now ramps up to “full” in both body and strength, incorporating similar flavors from before, with an added oomph to really drive the experience home.

Would I smoke this cigar again?

The answer is Yes, with one caveat: it must be aged! At least one month. Since most cigars should be acclimated a few weeks before smoking, this is a small deal. Based on my experience and the fact that this is an extremely affordable stick, I find that this would be great to have a few of these resting in your humidor.

I am surprised at the mild complexity of this stick. It’s by no means a high-end cigar, but at its budget-friendly price of $6.50, it’s pound-for-pound a nice smoking experience. I have to confess, I was not impressed with the first one of these I smoked. The first time I smoked Pilón, it was hot off the press and the flavors were mild and “green”, to say the least. After roughly a month of additional aging, I found the samples performed dramatically better—this is key to the cigar’s performance! The two experiences were completely different from one to the other, and what originally left me thinking “eh”, now has me saying wow!

CAO Pilón cigar review and rating

CAO Pilón
The CAO Pilón is a budget-friendly stick with solid flavor and draw. Flavors of cedar, spices, tobacco, nuts and cocoa are all visible—and though it is not the most refined cigar you’ll ever smoke, it most definitely outperforms its price point.
Appearance90%
Burn/Construction89%
Draw95%
Flavor88%
Complexity77%
Price/Value90%
Pros
  • Great draw and smoke output
  • Full flavors for a budget-friendly cigar
Cons
  • Minor burn issues
  • Needs a good amount of acclimation
88%Upscale Budget Friendly
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)
89%
  • Ben Reed

    Great review, Matt!

  • Maximus V

    I found this to be an excellent smoke for the price.

    • Yeah, you certainly can’t argue the price. I liked this cigar also. Great value in my opinion.