Cigar Aficionado

A Day With the Ozgeners

Cano and Tim Ozgener from C.A.O. International came to town yesterday, and I spent a good part of the day with the two of them. We met in the Cigar Aficionado offices and chatted while smoking C.A.O.’s newest blend, the Lx2, which I think is the best one they make. It has a mix of Nicaraguan and Dominican filler, a binder from Honduras and a sun-grown wrapper from Nicaragua. The combination makes for a hearty, sweet smoke with good balance. We gave the Lx2 Toro 91 points in the December 9 Cigar Insider.

I get to see Tim, who is president of C.A.O., quite a bit, but my meetings with Cano are less frequent. Cano founded C.A.O. back in 1968, when he turned his engineer’s mind to the meerschaum pipes that he so enjoyed, and figured out a way to improve upon the design. He began selling the pipes, marking them with his initials, and C.A.O. was born. Pipes led to humidors, which led to cigars.

Cano explained one big reason the cigar business is better than the pipe business. “Cigars burn,” he said with a chuckle. People hold onto pipes forever, but once you use a cigar you need to go out and buy another. However it happened, I’m happy he got into the cigar business. We convinced Cano to sit in front of our cameras for an interview about how he founded C.A.O. more than 40 years ago. You’ll see it soon on Cigar Cinema.

I joined Gordon Mott and the Ozgeners for lunch across the street at I Trulli, where I’ve probably had more business lunches than anyplace else. The food was great, as always, and I had sautéed striped bass with some tomato and escarole. We finished the meal with shots of espresso (caffeine is key in the cigar industry) and we said our temporary goodbyes, as I’d be seeing Tim and Cano later that night.

After work, I took the subway uptown with Greg Mottola, our former tasting coordinator and now the associate editor of Cigar Aficionado, and walked into the Grand Havana Room. We were warmly welcomed with C.A.O. Lx2 Lanceros, which have recently been added to the lineup as a regular size. (More on that Tuesday in Cigar Insider.)

Randall Denman, manager of the club, had organized a full dinner with the Ozgeners for nearly 50 members of Grand Havana. He was recreating something we did at the last Las Vegas Big Smoke—a deconstructed tasting of an Lx2, smoking three little puros, each containing one component of the cigar, then the final cigar itself.

The Lancero, although obviously freshly rolled, had great flavor. The wrapper on the Lx2 has a lot of character, and because lanceros have less filler than most cigars you get a real blast of wrapper flavor. That’s why cigars with distinctive, flavorful wrapper leaves (from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua) make for great lanceros, and why I’m not a fan of lanceros made with Connecticut shade wrappers—not enough taste.

There were a lot of cigars to smoke—four in the sampler, plus the lancero—and there was one more to come. After a fine dinner prepared by chef Alberto Gomez (arugula salad with sun dried tomatoes, shaved parmesan, and balsamico, followed by a filet with bordelaise sauce) the final cigar of the night was passed out—a C.A.O. Lx2 Salomone.

Salomones are the other hot cigar of the moment, which is funny because they’re the opposite of a lancero. Lanceros are elegant and skinny smokes, while Salomones are huge, oversized monsters. They typically measure about 7 1/2 inches long, with ring gauges around 58 or so. The heads are tapered, and so are the feet, with a big bulb of tobacco near the foot.

“This is what I smoke in the office,” said Tim. The cigar isn’t part of the normal C.A.O. line, and isn’t for sale in stores, but given how good it tastes (and the trend for the size) I can’t imagine C.A.O. keeping it to themselves for much longer.

It was a full cigar day, spent with a couple of the finest people in the cigar business.

". . .got any job openings? ;-)" —March 19, 2009 17:08 PM