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While the name may say anniversary, this cigar is all about a birthday, that of Cano A. Ozgener.

For those not familiar with Ozgener, he got his official start in the tobacco world in the late 1960s by creating a small business of modifying pipes, which led to the founding of CAO in 1977. The company was rooted in pipes but ventured into cigars in 1980 with a line called Casa de Manuel, which didn’t perform as hoped. Ozgener returned to pipes before expanding into humidors, and in 1994 founded CAO International, eventually giving cigars another chance in 1995 by way of a line simply called CAO and made by Nestor Plasencia, a year that served as a rebirth of the company. That cigar was a bit better received than the original, but it would still be a while before the company would rise to a more prominent level.

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Without diving too far into a play-by-play of the company’s history, in 2002 the company celebrated its founder’s 65th birthday with a limited edition cigar made at its Nicaraguan factory, CAO Fabricas de Tabacos, a facility shared with Toraño Cigars. It’s a Nicaraguan puro that was produced in three box-pressed sizes, the Esen (7 x 54), Moda (6 x 52) and Tonton (5 x 50).

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Each individually numbered box contained 10 cigars, with each cigar coming in a gold anodized tube that bears an embossed version of Ozgener’s signature, with a purple ribbon keeping them all in place. A booklet that would appear to be about the life of Ozgener was also included, as it was titled Vita.

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  • Cigar Reviewed: CAO 65th Anniversary Esen
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: CAO Fabricas de Tabacos
  • Wrapper: Nicaragua
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Length: 7 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 54
  • Vitola: Belicoso
  • Est. Price: $11.28 (Boxes of 10, $112.78)
  • Release Date: 2002
  • Number of Cigars Released: 6,000 Boxes of 10 Cigars (60,000 Total Cigars)
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 1

Since the CAO 65th Anniversary Essen isn’t a particularly distinct cigar in terms of its shape or the wrapper, the eyes immediately get drawn to the gold band that features a tuxedo-clad, smiling Cano A. Ozgener in remarkable clarity. I’m not a fan of excess amounts of gold in design and fashion, so I find it a touch gaudy, but it certainly makes the point and given the era in which is what released, might have been more appropriate. The cigar itself is a long, box-pressed torpedo, and it seems to have held its shape quite well over the years. It’s not a terribly firm press, but firm enough to know that it’s not a round cigar. There is a richness to the wrapper that is almost equal to that of fine wood furniture; the color is a well-tanned but not dark brown with small veins and little tooth, but just a bit of sheen gives it depth and gloss that rewards a more thorough inspection. It’s firmer than I would have expected from a box press and shows just a slight bit of give, with a well-applied cap that is smooth and color-matched. Cool, sweet notes of dried apple and strawberry greet me at the foot, though there is more complexity and detail than I initially detect. A bit of damp bark is present as well, which leads into a juicy tobacco smell that reminds me of wet leaves being prepared for the rolling process. The cold draw is a touch firm yet still allows air to move well and isn’t as engaging; a lightly salted peanut note comes through first, with the damp undertones not yielding much beyond a generic wood flavor.

Knowing that this is a Nicaraguan puro prior to smoking it has sort of primed my palate, but the effects of the age are what I find myself exploring most. Much like I found in the pre-light aroma, there is a certain juicy aspect to the CAO 65th Anniversary’s flavor in the opening puffs. It’s only mildly peppery and not particularly rich with earth, but rather a slight bit woody and succulent. The first inch holds fairly steady on its course, occasionally upping the pepper component but only slightly when it does. Cedar enters the aroma, followed by a bit more pepper through the nose. Smoke isn’t quite as plentiful as I would like and the slight breeze quickly whips it away, again too quickly for my liking. The liver-colored ash[ref]A term used to describe Schnauzers.[/ref] does a good job of holding on through the first inch as the burn line begins to get just a bit uneven. When it finally departs, the flavor pivots a bit as a touch of clay hits the palate, while the pepper from the retrohales becomes more lingering and a touch more potent.

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I run into a bit of a combustion issue in the transition to the second third and am forced to relight it as I’ve either fallen out of rhythm with the CAO 65th Anniversary, or it just hit a spot of tobacco that needed a little more heat to get through than I was providing. Either way, it’s burning nicely again and moves towards a spicy orange flavor and aroma from the smoke, with the pepper again lingering in the nostrils for quite an impressive amount of time. The tingle left on the palate is more woody, suggesting cedar or oak when it’s clear enough to make a confident description. The midpoint sees the cigar hit a new high point as the flavors come alive with bright peppermint and subtle bubblegum riding along in almost equal step with the pepper, and the draw opens up just enough to create a bigger volume of smoke by which to experience this new change. While I need to relight the cigar, something I’m not thrilled about doing, it provides me with the opportunity to experience a big shift in the aroma, which is now incredibly complex and thick as a hearty stew, making it hard to pull out individual notes but very easy to enjoy as it seems to surround my senses.

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The new-found complexity of the CAO 65th Anniversary Essen is quite enjoyable if all-too-fleeting, as chalk and pepper begin to take over and make it a much more simplistic flavor, while subtle dry wood in the background tries to help keep complexity an applicable descriptor. There are still some points where the cigar tries to regain its complexity, but either the challenge proves to be to great or blend simply has other ideas. Pepper, wood and earth all splinter off into more individual roles, while a bit of the citrus sweetness returns in the final two inches. The draw remains fantastic and there haven’t been any burn issues, with smoke just about average in terms of quantity. It gets a bit more rough on the palate, not harsh by any means but certainly a tick more abrasive and aggressive with the tongue tingling. A bit of chocolate finishes things off as the flavor gets more smoky but not overly hot. It’s only in the final inch that the cigar picks up any bitterness from the heat.

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Final Notes

  • There are some great pictures of a just-opened box of CAO 65th Anniversary Esens on this CigarGeeks.com thread.
  • The production number is based on a picture in that post showing the box is one of 6,000. I’m not completely certain if 6,000 boxes were produced of this particular vitola or across all sizes.
  • I always find it just a slightly bit disconcerting when a person’s face is on the cigar band. While I appreciate the tribute, it just feels a little bit to invasive of my personal space.
  • Cano Ozgener is focusing on art at the moment, which you can see more of at his website and Facebook page as well as his Twitter account.
  • According to his Facebook page, he “created Pi Synesthesia, the artistic expression of the mathematical constant Pi.” He describes himself as “a resident of Nashville, TN, is an artist, successful entrepreneur, engineer, cancer survivor and a longtime philanthropist.”
  • He is also the founder of OZ Arts, Inc. a non-profit that aims to foster visual and performing arts in middle Tennessee. The Nashville Business Journal has more on his artistic endeavors in this July 2014 article.
  • Additionally, he is a survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, with a relapse resulting in the need for a stem-cell transplant. One retailer noted that a portion of the proceeds from this cigar would be donated to cancer research.
  • Just to be clear, Ozgener’s first name is pronounced Johnno.
  • The list of companies who made CAO cigars is quite impressive, and includes Plasencia, Perdomo, Toraño, Tabacalera Tambor (which also made Bahia) and La Aurora.
  • In looking at some online comments about this cigar, they weren’t too well received in their first year of availability.
  • In 1998, CAO released L’Anniversare in celebration of the company’s 30th anniversary.
  • There is some discrepancy when it comes to the stylizing of the brand’s name, some going with CAO and others going with C.A.O. While the band goes with the latter, we decided a while back to use the former since it has become the more common presentation.
  • The cigar for this review was provided by a reader.
  • Final smoking time was three hours and 15 minutes.
94 Overall Score

As I say with nearly every review of an aged cigar no longer on the market, I really wish I had a memory of the CAO 65th Anniversary Esen which to compare this first experience, since time seems to have had a good bit of favorable effect on this cigar. Everything is balanced and while the first and final thirds are good if not memorable, the complexity and richness of the second third is something I hope to get out of every cigar but rarely am fortunate enough to encounter, and is easily the best couple of minutes I've gotten from a cigar in recent memory. On a shallower note, I also wish I had the opportunity to see the tubes in person and go through the full experience of this cigar, since the sample used for this review came without it. If you've still got the CAO 65th Anniversary around and aren't too enamored with its packaging to smoke it, you should find yourself pleasantly rewarded by what it has to offer.

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Patrick Lagreid
About the author

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.

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