I want to start this review off with a little bit of info about myself. I am prone to my imagination setting the scene for me, with such tiny details as a name or a visual image. That being said, when I first was given the CAO Arcana Firewalker cigars for review, my mind leapt into gear. I had images of banana leaf-clad men deftly navigating a glowing amber bed of coals while drums boomed in the background; images played by unseen individuals at a frantic pace and a volcano spewing molten lava and fire in the distance. Yeah, I’m a bit much for even myself at times. So, now that you have the same mental scene set in your minds, take a trip with me as I explore the CAO Arcana Firewalker.

The CAO Arcana series has trained its focus on the more unique tobacco fermentation processes used in the premium cigar industry: both past and present. Former Master Blender and Brand Ambassador for CAO, Rick Rodriguez, stated in their press release for the Firewalker:

“The Arcana series is an opportunity for us to unite CAO fans with rare tobacco methods they might not otherwise learn about on their own. This is our way of sparking conversation about what it takes to make a great cigar. We hope it also speaks volumes about our passion for tobacco and the lengths we’ll go to deliver exciting cigars to our fans.”

The first release in the Arcana series—Mortal Coil—featured andullo tobacco that was fermented in tightly bound palm tree pods called yaguas. With the Firewalker, an even more interesting technique is used. It is known as chincagre, and the process involved is lesser known in today’s premium cigar market. CAO describes it best:

“Chincagre is an archaic process of primary aging used by local tobacco farmers in Western Nicaragua. There, in the region of Masatepe where the filler is grown, the tobacco is placed into a pilón that is buried deep in the volcanic soil. The subterranean conditions allow the tobacco to ferment naturally, locking in an inherently sweet and aromatic quality. After two months, the Chincagre process is complete, and the pilón is then transferred to the factory for nine months of secondary fermentation.”

I must say that this description had my interest piqued, as I was completely unaware that this method of tobacco aging and fermentation even existed. What, if any effect, does chincagre tobacco have on the smoking experience?

CAO Arcana Firewalker Breakdown

  • Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano Rosado
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Factory: American Caribbean Cigars S.A. (Nicaragua)
  • Production: Limited Edition (5,000 boxes of 20 cigars)
  • Vitola: 6½″ × 56 (Toro Gordo)
  • Price: $11.99 (MSRP)
  • Joya de Nicaragua cigars
  • Atlantic Cigar Sale

Appearance

There is no missing the band on the Firewalker. It covers at least half of this sizable cigar. The band appears as an almost scroll, encompassing the stick with its torn edges and cracked gray background. The ambigram of Arcana that spans the entirety of the band is difficult to decipher, looking more like “Arcacia” to me than Arcana; it seems like an unnecessary addition to such an already overdone band.

Popping this notebook-sized band off of the fawn-colored rosado Habano wrapper reveals its true colors. An ever-so-slight tooth is present on the even wraps. The seams are tight, and the cap is adorned with a slightly undersized fantail finish. The 6½” x 56 vitola is surprisingly light in my hands, though, squeezing it between my fingers, I don’t get a squishy feel. The cigar is firm, and just barely gives to the pressure.

Click images below for full resolution

The Arcana Firewalker seems to not want to give up its secrets easily, as I get only fleeting notes of old, decaying alfalfa with equally elusive molasses as I inhale deeply against the wrapper. Shifting to the foot of the cigar, the only noticeable change is the addition of black pepper to the mix.

I prefer a straight cut on most cigars, though I am cautious with the Firewalker, as the light weight and firm wrapper gives me the impression that I could easily damage the cigar while cutting. Thankfully, my concerns are not realized, and the cap clips easily with no damage to the head. The cold draw is terribly loose (3/10), and I only get slight sweetness alongside a potting soil note. The draw is such a huge concern that I take the second cigar I have for this review and cut it as well, checking the resistance in case I happened to have a one-off. But alas, the draw on my second cigar is negligibly better, and the cigar itself is very soft and squishy even before light. So, I am going to go with my original selection for the mainstay of the review.

Smoking Experience

Toasting the foot of the cigar is a very quick experience, as it seems that the cigar wants to spring to life with no puffing at all. My mouth is filled quickly with smoke from a small draw and an odd mix of old wood and iron, backed with a burning cayenne pepper. I akin this mixture of flavors to the smell you get when you walk into an old steel-roofed mechanic shop that has had its wood frame soaked in used motor oil and exhaust for decades, sitting empty long enough for decay to homogenize the scents into a singular musty aroma. It’s unique and not unpleasant at all.

Moving into the first half of the cigar, the cayenne pepper note has backed down, and a dry cocoa powder comes through. It’s layered with a distinct fertile earth flavor—tangy and vegetal. The body of the cigar is a medium-plus, and I am forced to touch up the wildly uneven burn in the first 15 minutes of smoking. I attribute this to the loose draw, which has only slightly improved to a 4/10.

CAO Arcana Firewalker cigar smoking

Halfway through the CAO Arcana Firewalker and I have had to touch up the burn two more times; I am finding that I am quickly cruising through this cigar. The ash is extremely flaky, and my shirt is covered with gray and black flakes. Flavors have transitioned, and I am getting a dry black pepper that lingers on my tongue alongside dusty earth, green and tangy cedar, and char. I have resigned myself to the fact that the loose draw is going to be a problem throughout the smoking experience, and exercise restraint in my draws in an effort to not overheat the tobacco. The body has lightened to a medium intensity, and there is a noticeable strength coming through at a medium-plus.

The mid-point of this cigar seems to have been the pinnacle of the flavor output, as all notes have started to muddle together since then. The result is an old campfire ash note mixed with a slight nutmeg and rough black pepper. The retrohale is unpleasant and bitey, so I don’t do it as regularly as I would on most cigars. The draw is unchanged, and I have done four touchups to this point. I recognize that these touchups are a cause of the char notes, but the poor construction of the cigar forces either multiple touchups or a burn so uneven that only half of the cigar would have been smokeable at best. The ash falls loosely in half-inch chunks, and the strength has stayed even at a medium-plus.

Closing out the CAO Arcana Firewalker, I find it fitting that the only flavors left are a wet, earthy ash. It’s reminiscent of the aroma you get when you drown out a campfire at the end of the night. Black pepper has been present through most of the smoking experience, though even this has become muted at this point by the aforementioned dominant flavor.

CAO Arcana Firewalker cigar ash

Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?

I originally had two cigars that I smoked for this review—both were so equally poor that I went out and purchased another, just to see if maybe a different selection would give a better result. While that cigar did have an ever-so-slightly better draw, the smoking experience was not noticeably different, and the wrapper on that selection cracked and split almost immediately after first light. With all of that being said, I would have to say that I would not smoke this cigar again. I love unique cigars that employ old or creative blends/processes. With this CAO Arcana Firewalker, I have found that unique processes don’t always result in unique cigars.


Profile
  • Flavor: Medium
  • Strength: Medium / Full
  • Body: Medium
Core Flavors
  • Dusty Earth
  • Black Pepper
  • Campfire Ash
  • Garage Mustiness
  • Char
Tips
  • Smoke Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
  • Pairing Recommendation: Islay Scotch | Porter (or even a heavy porter) | Dark-roast coffee
  • Purchase Recommendation: Single stick (or not)

CAO Arcana Firewalker cigar nub finished

CAO Arcana Firewalker
The CAO Arcana Firewalker is the second release in the Arcana series, which focuses on unique aging and fermentation processes. The Firewalker employs the chincagre method of aging and fermentation, which involves burying the filler tobacco pilónes in the rich volcanic soil of the Masatepe region of Nicaragua for two months before digging them out and aging them for a further nine months at the factory. While the cigar is a chunky 6½” x 56 vitola, the Firewalker is extremely light, and unsurprisingly, the draw is disappointingly loose. The result is a fast and uneven burn that requires multiple touchups and flavors that are muddled, earthy, and charred throughout. The final draws of the cigar come too quickly, and their earthy campfire flavors embody the Firewalker name.
Appearance91%
Burn/Construction70%
Draw70%
Flavor80%
Complexity81%
Price/Value82%
Pros
  • Price point is attainable for a limited-edition release
  • Voluminous smoke
  • Conversation-starter cigar
Cons
  • Inconsistent construction
  • Flavors are charred/disappointing
  • Sweetness touted in description barely comes through when smoking
79%Ash Burner
  • Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust
  • Cigar Wars
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