I’ve talked in previous reviews about how a cigar’s styling can create a narrative in your mind before you even light it, and CAO Cigars has fully embraced this idea. One could start with the brand’s Classic series and the way they exude an heir of luxury. Follow that with the World line of cigars, all of which show off their namesake country’s flag and heritage. General Cigar Company saw the vision that CAO had and purchased them in 2007, since pushing even further into the depth of our imagination with the Amazon quartet of cigars. Last (but definitely not least) we have the Flathead series, a theme based in the automotive and motorcycle industry.

The Flathead line of cigars was originally released in 2013 and is currently available in five vitolas, each named after various engine parts such as the Sparkplug and Camshaft. In 2015, we saw the addition of the Flathead Steel Horse, a motorcycle-based extension to the series. In recent years, CAO has begun showcasing unique, limited smoking experiences under the Flathead name, including the Flathead V19 in 2019, and now the Flathead V21 for 2021.

CAO Flathead Carb V21 Breakdown

  • Wrapper: Mexican San Andrés
  • Binder: Connecticut Broadleaf
  • Filler: Dominican Republic | Nicaragua
  • Factory: STG Estelí (Nicaragua)
  • Production: Limited Edition (2,000 boxes of 27 cigars)
  • Vitola: 6″ × 60 (Gordo)
  • Price: $13.99 (MSRP)

The latest release in the Flathead series, the V21, sports a Mexican San Andrés wrapper, Connecticut Broadleaf binder, and ligero-priming filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. CAO continues with the abridged fermentation process we saw in the V19 under the premise that it “[locks] in the tobacco’s native characteristics.” This is followed by a secondary aging process. Rick Rodriguez, CAO’s master blender, notes:

“We see this as the ultimate cigar for the CAO smoker who wants to experience the complexity of each tobacco with every draw. I’ve personally enjoyed V21 on its own and with a drink and have experienced different notes every time I smoke it. To me, that means we’ve done our job.”

The CAO Flathead V21 is available in the following sizes, each being limited to 2,000 boxes of 27 cigars:

  • Carb V21: 6″ x 60 | $13.99 (MSRP)
  • Big Block V21: 7″ x 70 | $14.99 (MSRP)

Appearance

The V21 itself is a commanding cigar. Even this, the smaller of the two vitolas, is still a quite large and hefty soft box-pressed stick. The pack is pliable upon squeezing, but not squishy. Can I just say that they are not joking when they say “flat head?” This one has me contemplating my cutting prowess and planning more of an execution.

A black and crimson metallic band gives the appearance of a machine in motion, with pistons pumping vertically along the cigar, flanked by sweeping wings surrounding the sides. It’s a great-looking band and easily recognizable as part of the Flathead series.

The wrapper is dark milk chocolate in color. The delicate oil sheen the tobacco gives off is only hampered by the light-but-prominent tooth present on its surface. If you have ever ran your fingers across a braille restaurant menu, the experience is not that dissimilar. Tobacco veins are light and only offer a slight unevenness to the box-press.

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Smoking Experience

The aroma I’m greeted with is a dry alfalfa hay mixed with a light acidic note of white wine vinegar. I wonder if the short fermentation time may be a contributing factor to these notes. After a shallow double-guillotine cut (making sure not to slice too deep), I find a draw that offers slight resistance, with notes of dried alfalfa hay and leather. The tobacco itself is noticeably tart on my tongue.

An extended toast is required to get all components of this sizable cigar burning. The first full draw I take comes with notes of musty lumberyard, extra dark molasses, and a rawhide leather that reminds me of chew toys I buy for the family dogs. A mix of cayenne pepper, espresso, and leather are present on the retrohale, adding more depth to the original flavors’ medium body. Strength is at a medium, but shows signs that it will build as I continue.

CAO Flathead Carb V21 cigar smoking

I expected this to be a long smoke, but I seem to be cruising through this 6″ x 60 Carb faster than most cigars I’ve smoked of this size. The musty lumberyard experienced at the onset has evolved into a wet sawdust and coffee grounds concoction. Semi-sweet chocolate replaces the molasses and, further deepening the experience, the bright rawhide leather mellows and takes on more of an old leather coat profile. Pepper now bites at my sinuses on every retrohale, dominating the earthiness of the cigar. The ash is quite flakey and falling steadily at half-inch intervals. In terms of strength, it is now at a medium-plus.

As I near completion of the V21, the dark molasses note has returned but is very diminished, providing background to the predominantly wet and charred earthy wood profile. Think of the smell you get when you douse the coals of a campfire with water. That’s it. Pepper is still present on the retrohale, but now is only slightly stronger than the earthiness. Closing out the cigar, a bitter acrylic paint note shows up and brings my smoking experience to a lackluster close.

CAO Flathead Carb V21 review

Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?

If it was offered in a smaller vitola, say the Camshaft 5½” x 54 size, then I definitely would. Big ring gauge (and length) cigars can be a little much, especially when sporting a medium-plus strength and body. As it is currently offered, I would definitely opt for the smaller of the two vitolas, seeing that the soft box-press made for a better mouth feel and overall smoking experience for me. If CAO does size extensions on this blend, then I would be happy to give them a go.


Profile
  • Flavor: Medium
  • Strength: Medium / Full
  • Body: Medium
Core Flavors
  • Musty lumberyard
  • Rawhide leather
  • Extra dark molasses
  • Fresh potting soil
  • White pepper
Tips
  • Smoke Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
  • Pairing Recommendation: Black coffee | Bourbon | Aged rum | Root beer
  • Purchase Recommendation: 5-pack to 10-pack

CAO Flathead Carb V21 cigar nub finished

CAO Flathead Carb V21
CAO Cigars puts its foot back on the throttle with the introduction of the Flathead V21. The same abridged fermentation strategy offered in the previous V19 blend is revisited for the V21, but now comes in a Mexican San Andrés wrapper. The first few puffs deliver a musty lumberyard, dark molasses, and rawhide leather profile. Pepper builds on the retrohale to the halfway point, and then slowly subsides to the finish. Notes of wet sawdust and coffee grounds dominate at the midpoint, shifting to a wet charred earth note as it comes to completion. Though the notes and characteristics of the cigar do shift during the smoke, they are not drastic enough to be considered overly complex.
Appearance91%
Burn/Construction89%
Draw88%
Flavor85%
Complexity79%
Price/Value86%
Pros
  • Draw is great on this big cigar
  • Burn stays even, requiring only one touchup
  • Its bold, heavy flavors are great with most dark barrel-aged spirits
Cons
  • Similar flavors through the entirety of the smoke become boring in a cigar this size
  • Body is overtaken by strength as you progress
  • Cigar ends on pepper and funky acrylic notes
86%Laying Wood
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