About a month ago, I picked up a 7-cigar sampler of CAO blends that I'm sure many of you have seen. It comes with a DVD which I have yet to watch, and one each of the following: 1 - CAO Black Ltd. Gotchic (torpedo) - Smoked! 1 - CAO Black ’VR’ Moby (toro) - Smoked! 1 - CAO Criollo Pato - Smoked! 1 - CAO Cx2 Beli - Smoked! 1 - CAO Italia Ciao - Smoked! 1 - CAO L’Anniversaire Cameroon Belicoso - Smoked! 1 - CAO Gold Maduro Churchill - Smoked! The CAO Conmemorativo Sampler I recently read Iota's review of a CAO Criollo, which reminded me of this sampler sitting in the back of my coolerdor, and his thorough researching of others' reviews gave me the idea to add one more to the list: my own. But why stop there? I might as well review the whole sampler, one by one, and give my thoughts on a large portion of the CAO line as I made my way through this sampler. So I call this my CAO journey, or CAO Odyssey, without an actual CAO Odyssey in the mix. ****** CAO Italia Ciao 5" x 56 Made in: Honduras Wrapper: Honduras Binder: Honduras Filler: Nicaragua, Peru, Italy This cigar was my first selection out of the box, as it's the smallest of the lot and hopefully by the time I get to the longer ones, the weather will have improved a bit. It has a maduro wrapper that still has lots of reds and browns showing through, giving it a pleasantly mottled look. The stick feels good in the hand, firm but with some spring to it when one gives it a pinch. The cap is a bit lumpy and malformed, but this was easily forgiven as it still was quite receptive to my punch coring out a perfectly circular aperture. Before lighting, I gave it a dry draw, and I tasted a good deal of spice, and tons of sweetness to it. It is reputed to be a full-bodied cigar, but the initial cold draw made me think I was in for a medium-bodied experience, which is exactly my cup of tea. The smell of the wrapper reminded me more of pipe tobacco than of cigar leaf. I lit it up with my trusty Prometheus lighter, and for once did a fairly good job of lighting it very evenly. I started to puff upon it and was smacked in the face with an overload of spice and none of that sweetness I had tasted when it was unlit. It was a peppery little demon for the first inch or so, and before I even got to the inch mark, the burn went on a serious run. I kept trying to correct it, but it would not accommodate me with an even burn no matter how hard I tried. A word to the wise, I had this humidified to 70% rh, but I believe it might smoke better with either a lower rh, or some dry-boxing prior to smoking. The ash was very white and flaky, and kept dumping all over my lap with only the slightest provocation. Thankfully, the intense spice started to subside after the inch mark, and it began to produce copious amounts of thick, chewy smoke. It took on a pleasant meaty flavor, and I started to really enjoy it...for about another inch. The draw quickly dwindled down to almost nothing, and I had to puff furiously to get any smoke out of the thing. I recorrected the uneven burn, and did a purge, which gave off a blaze of blue flame for several seconds. But never again was I able to coax it into giving me the volume of smoke it had initially produced. It ranged all over the place from enough smoke to keep me relatively content, to almost nothing at all. This was a frustrating cigar, because I wanted to like it, but the burn and draw issues prevented any chance at it. It started to produce a foul charcoal taste, and I inspected it to make sure it wasn't tunneling, but no, it was just the flavor of the cigar. Overall, I found this to be mediocre at best. Perhaps with better construction, and a perfect amount of humidification, this could be a good smoke, but it seems to me to be much too finicky and high-maintenance for my liking. I like my cigars the way I like my women: ready to go whenever you are. The Italia Ciao was definitely not that way. I've smoked the Oliveros El Padrino Edicion Italiana, which also contained Italian tobacco, and I found it to be distinctive and pleasant, but never during the course of the smoke was I able to pick out any flavors that I could attribute to the Italian portion of the filler. ****** CAO Criollo Pato 4.7" x 50 Made In: Nicaragua Wrapper: Havana '98 Criollo grown in Nicaragua Binder: Nicaragua Filler: Nicaragua After a long Presdident's Day of work, I went home to enjoy a gorgeous California afternoon with a nice cigar and I figured I might as well make it the next in my CAO sampler. With Iota's review still in my brain, and RedCorn's recommendation, I figured it was time to get out the Criollo Pato and give it a try. This cigar was quite a surprise, I must say. It was a rich brown, with a rough-looking wrapper with a pigtail cap. There were a number of imperfections all over the wrapper leaf, giving it an ugly appearance, and I didn't have high hopes for it. The Criollo blend is made in the Torano factory, and in my experience they generally make pretty good cigars, so I really didn't know what to expect when I lit her up. I clipped off the pigtail with my Xikar, and lit her up with ease. The flame spread on its own across the entire foot, and settled quickly into a fairly even burn with only minor variations. The flavor was somewhat nutty with some hints of cinnamon that faded quickly. What was left was just a clean tobacco flavor that was delivered by an extremely even, full draw. I realized that this cigar reminded me of some other cigars I've had, and it took me a moment to pin them down. That simple but rich tobacco flavor reminded me of a Hoyo de Monterrey or a Romeo y Julieta...but the Cuban blends, not the Honduran or Dominican. I couldn't stop thinking about how 'cubanesque' this cigar was. I realize that many will scoff at this, but that was my take. I was so thoroughly impressed with this stick, from its rich flavor, to its even burn, to its impeccable draw. Another great aspect of this cigar was that after I lit it, I really didn't have to touch my lighter again until I had smoked it down to the nub after an hour and a half (at least). My wife commented on how far I took this one several times, with comments like 'Aren't you done yet?" and "You usually put them out by now." The draw was just flawless throughout, and it was so low maintenance, completely the opposite of my experience with the Italia. I know a lot of people have panned this cigar, but as they say, different strokes for different folks, because it really hit the spot for me. ****** Out of image space, so all other reviews posted as replies!