Estelí: What does that word mean to you? When it comes to the marketing people at General Cigar, it means… I’m not quite sure. The newest CAO limited release (a total of 15,000 cigars) is at least made at the STG Estelí factory, but so are most of the other CAO cigars, which doesn’t make for much in the way of distinction. The blend features a Nicaraguan wrapper, but it comes from the Jalapa region, not Estelí. The binder is Honduran, and the filler blend is made of Dominican, Honduran, and unspecified Nicaraguan leaves (could be from Estelí, could be somewhere else). Again, not much in terms of earning the right to be specifically named “Estelí” (in my humble opinion).

Any semi-astute cigar enthusiast is aware that Nicaraguan tobacco has changed the landscape of cigars dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years, creating a pretty substantial bandwagon to jump on. Which is great, as there’s been more than enough room for everyone to get in and do their thang. This, however, comes across as more of a marketing maneuver than a genuine admiration for the country’s most recognized growing region.

CAO Estelí TAA Exclusive 2018 Breakdown

  • Wrapper: Nicaraguan (Jalapa)
  • Binder: Honduran
  • Filler: Dominican | Honduran | Nicaraguan
  • Factory: STG Estelí (Nicaragua)
  • Production: Limited Edition (1,500 boxes of 10 cigars)
  • Vitola: 6″ × 54 (Toro)
  • Price: $8.99 (MSRP)

CAO Estelí TAA Exclusive 2018 is one of 13 cigars created exclusively for the 50th anniversary of the TAA (Tobacconists’ Association of America). While a select number of companies have been creating limited (and ongoing) cigars exclusive to the TAA for many years, 2018 marks CAO’s first contribution to the series.

Appearance

This is not an attractive cigar. It’s not straight; it’s curved and lumpy. While there aren’t an abundance of veins on the wrapper leaf, there are, however, several noticeable protrusions from the underlying binder, making it look like it’s been stuffed with gravel. The double cap is large and sloppy, with hanging flags of tobacco sticking out. The wrapper leaf itself is pretty attractive, showing a very rich rosado/mahogany hue—rough to the touch and a little oily.

The band is pretty ornate, more on par with the brand’s World Series (CAO America, CAO Brazilia, etc.) than some of their more basic offerings. A lot of the aforementioned releases (CAO Zócalo, CAO Pilón, etc.) tend to go with an ordinary rectangle of plain paper without any embossing, uniquely cut shapes, or high-end papers. With this release boasting a die-cut band and the faintest hint of embossing, it’s an appreciated touch to precede the smoking experience.

Click images below for full resolution

Smoking Experience

The wrapper smells like nothing I haven’t smelled before: cedar, spice, barnyard, and leather. On the foot, there’s a big blast of zinging pepper and natural tobacco sweetness. There’s a saltiness there that reminds me of the chocolate chip cookies my mother would make, always using salted butter. I’m immediately thankful to find, after punching a hole in the cap, that the cold draw offers some resistance. A previous sample had this cigar rolled so loosely that it was like trying to smoke lightly wadded up toilet paper wrapped in a dryer sheet. In terms of resistance, this actually may be a +2 on the tight side (zero being perfect, -1 being on the loose side), but it’s nothing that needs to be corrected or (hopefully) worried about. The first things to hit my palate on the cold draw are blackberry pie filling, Wonder Bread, and some nice chocolate. I’m ready to do this.

The first draws are very creamy, with the pepper coming in after about a minute, and a lingering sweetness on the tongue. But these are all sensations, and I struggle to find a flavor to pick out. This is so weird, five minutes in and the only flavor is “cigar mouth.” That sounds terrible, but it’s not unpleasant; it just doesn’t seem like it’s entirely there. The sensations of sweet/spicy/creamy themselves are pleasant and wanted in a cigar, but without any real associated flavors to quantify them, it’s just kind of weird. Perhaps I’ve caught this cigar in a strange period of it’s aging, where the flavors have not yet melded. At any rate, there is more to be found with the retrohale at this point and, thankfully, it’s not a full-out pepper assault (i.e. retrohaling isn’t uncomfortable).

CAO Estelí TAA Exclusive 2018 cigar ash

Further along, the profile begins to mobilize with a developing flavor like home-brewed botanical root beer (not the cheap stuff with artificial root beer flavor). This giant log is going to be a slow burning cigar, even by my standards. I am predicting over 2 hours. This is big part of the reason I have been gravitating away from the toro size (especially those that come over the 52 ring gauge mark) and towards thinner and/or shorter cigars within the last year or so (lonsdales and robustos for president 2020). Still, there’s not a lot happening other than a little bit of a Chuckles candy black licorice flavor, a little black pepper, and the accompanying old-school root beer note.



The previous sample I mentioned with the terrible construction (I probably had about 25 relights on that one!) offered up more in terms of flavor than this. Here, with this sample showing better construction, I had high hopes for a good experience, but this is missing the mark so far. The first third takes 44 minutes, with a medium body (ideally, the draw could be a bit more open to give a little more smoke), middling strength, and a surprising mild-medium flavor profile.

CAO Estelí TAA Exclusive 2018 cigar smoking

Going into the second third, I’m noticing that the pepper is picking up a little citrusy sting to it, more akin to Szechuan peppercorn. While I haven’t needed a touchup and the burn line is very consistent, the draw is tightening a little and the burn cone is becoming inverted, requiring double puffs to keep the wrapper burning with the rest. I’m getting some big-time charred grilled meat, like blackened-burned steak crisps. Its a step-up from the way the earthiness was expressed in the first third. The flavor profile seems to dramatically improve at the one-hour mark. There’s a fruitiness arriving with a crisp, tangy herb flavor that reminds me of shiso (a plant belonging to the mint family). A rich, creamy, toasty flavor is the driver at this point, and the burnt meat is now more like burnt chocolate cookies. This third closes with a big jump in flavor to medium-plus, while the strength and body remain at roughly medium.

The first third starts out with an unfortunate appearance of some bitter nicotine note riding on the back of the charry flavor. I don’t think I’m going to be able to finish this cigar with about an inch and a half to go. A pleasant, rich nuttiness shows up, keeping me from tossing it for a couple minutes, but the char flavor is now overwhelming, tasting like burned-black marshmallow and ash (s’mores accident). The strength was maybe medium-full, flavor was near full, and body was medium.

Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?

No. There are multiple things about this cigar that I don’t like. It’s larger than I like, the construction was bad on both the too-loose and too-tight sides of the spectrum (between multiple samples), the first third was ho-hum, and the final third was just kind of charry, making me forget the enjoyment I had during the middle third. The disappointment outweighs the good, in this cigar.

Additional Info:

  • This cigar was unveiled at the annual TAA convention, held from April 29th through May 3rd at the Casa de Campo resort in the Dominican Republic.
  • While the cigar was originally estimated to see an August release, CAO later surprised with a launch in early May.
  • I remember being 6 years old, playing with the neighbor boy (his name was, no kidding, Bubba) and he gave me the old “open your mouth and close your eyes and I will give you a big surprise,” which happened to be a handful of dry dirt from under the lilac bush. This was one of the first recollections that presented itself as an identifiable flavor during the review. So I guess, in that regard, this cigar could be described as both floral and earthy. Sounds worse than it is.
  • I had to clip a quarter-inch off the cap to try to open the draw a little and see if I could get away from the bitter nicotine flavor in the final third. This caused the brittle wrapper to explode. The draw improved a bit, but no help in the “bitter nicotine” department. In fact, the cigar began deteriorating pretty quickly. The last 5 minutes of the smoking experience were not ideal.

Profile
  • Flavor: Medium-Full
  • Strength: Medium-Full
  • Body: Medium
Core Flavors
  • Root beer
  • Creamy
  • Earthy / char
  • Peppercorn
Tips
  • Smoke Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
  • Pairing Recommendation: You’d need something really big to stand up to this cigar, perhaps a heavily-peated Ardbeg Scotch or a very strong Lapsang Souchong tea
  • Purchase Recommendation: Avoid

CAO Estelí TAA Exclusive 2018 cigar nubbed

CAO Estelí TAA Exclusive 2018
I'm not quite sure how to position the CAO Estelí TAA Exclusive 2018 within either the CAO or TAA collections. Maybe I’m spoiled from some of the other notable TAA cigar releases, but isn’t a TAA release usually something special? It's not quite clear what CAO's intent was with this cigar (apart from being in close release proximity to the CAO Nicaragua, which followed this cigar by two months). Calling this "Estelí" feels a little misleading, and there doesn’t seem to be anything noteworthy to give this distinction other than the band identifiers. In terms of performance, the samples smoked for review showed inconsistent construction and general burn issues. The flavor profile takes awhile to get going and, once it's finally hitting its stride in the mid-section, the final third kicks it back into the undesirable (charry) territory. At least they didn’t go full "gordo" size on it (as with the limited edition Zócalo cigar), I suppose that’s a plus.
Appearance83%
Burn/Construction80%
Draw85%
Flavor82%
Complexity82%
Price/Value83%
Pros
  • Affordable
  • Interesting multi-country blend
Cons
  • Not worth the low price due to inconsistencies and lack of identity
  • Misleading name/concept
  • Mid-section was the only decent portion in terms of an acceptable flavor profile
83%No TAAnks

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