Cigar Review: Oliva Serie V
Believe it or not, Cadillac was once revered as the maker of the finest automobiles on the road. There was literally nothing better out there. If you wanted luxury and had the money, you bought a Cadillac. Thus Cadillac and luxury became synonymous with each other, and not only that, but it was a metaphor for "the best." If you were buying the finest watch, you would call it "The Cadillac of watches." A high-end golf club would be referred to as "The Cadillac of golf clubs." The sad thing is, over the years the Cadillac name sort of fell by the wayside. Other luxury cars emerged that were even better than Cadillacs and had even more luxurious features. The wealthy began purchasing expensive imports and leaving the Cadillac legacy to slowly fade as time went on. Nevertheless, that familiar metaphor never disappeared. "The Cadillac of..." is still readily used today to refer to the best of the best. And yes, Cadillac is still quite a luxurious make of automobiles. What does this mean? A true legacy never disappears completely. The shifting of the limelight is no indication of better or worse. Greatness comes and goes, but the things that are truly legendary will always stand the test of time. Such is the case with one of the greatest cigars ever blended, the infamous Oliva Serie V.
Enough of all this car talk. We are here to discuss stogies, right? Well, first off, a little background. The Oliva Cigar Company dates back to the 1800s. At the time, patriarch Melanio Oliva began growing tobacco on a humble farm in Cuba, circa 1886. Fast-forward to just over half a century later and the grandson, Gilberto Oliva, makes the emigration to Spain with his family following the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Years later, he relocated to the sunny land of Nicaragua with hopes and dreams of reentering the tobacco business that his grandfather had worked so hard at. This he did, going through many of his own storms along the way. During his journey, Gilberto Oliva grew tobacco in several countries, including Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and the Philippines. Things progressed, far more slowly than surely, but by 1995 (some 30 or so years later) the Gilberto Oliva brand of cigars was launched, as the Oliva family evolved from simply growing and selling tobacco to manufacturing their own cigars. While some may consider this a huge achievement, a rocky road lay ahead of Gilberto Oliva and company, and things got worse before they got better.
The first cigars produced under the Oliva name were rolled in one of Nestor Plasencia's factories in Honduras. They were decent cigars, but we are talking about the mid-90s, a.k.a. "The Cigar Boom," and "decent" just wasn't gonna cut it. Struggling to hold on, Oliva cigars (now shortened from "Gilberto Oliva Cigars") miraculously survived the era, despite the rise and fall of numerous startup brands. Surviving on hopes, dreams, and a fairly large stockpile of aging tobacco grown years earlier by the family, Oliva Cigars began producing value-priced sticks that appealed to a pretty big audience. In addition, the cigar world's fascination with Nicaraguan tobacco was beginning to grow, and Oliva became somewhat of a go-to for such coveted cultivated currency. By 2003, the once struggling Oliva Cigar Company opened the doors of a brand new factory in Esteli, the city now considered to be the epicenter of Nicaraguan cigar production. A mere 2 years later and Oliva was producing over 6 million cigars a year, going from struggling to exist to struggling to keep up with demand. Although the vast majority of Oliva-produced cigars were Oliva-branded product, the company was making cigars for a number of other brands as well. The Oliva family was now achieving phenomenal success, and things were only going uphill, as production more than doubled over the next 4 years!
Today, Oliva Cigar Company, run by Gilberto's children, is among the most dominant monsters in all of the cigar business, selling various products in 18 countries and collaborating with other brands on a regular basis. They are the second largest grower of Nicaraguan Cuban seed tobacco and have made leaps and bounds in the cigar production process, churning out Top 10-rated cigars on a yearly basis. In 2014, in fact, Serie V Melanio (the original Serie V's successor) was given the prestigious title of "Number 1 Cigar of the Year" by Cigar Aficionado, considered by many to be the highest honor a cigar or cigar manufacturer can receive. It's no secret that Oliva Cigars is among the greatest cigar companies in history. But what exactly is the cigar they are most well known for? What "put them on the map," so to speak?
Every company has a flagship. That one thing that they're known for. In the cigar world, just one cigar can become what an entire brand is synonymous with. For Oliva Cigars, the flagship couldn't be any more obvious. No matter where you read about Oliva Cigars, one reference ALWAYS pops up right next to the name: Serie V.
Oliva Serie V was born in 2007 and has been offered in as many as 13 different sizes and styles over the years, though 7 vitolas are considered regular production, the most popular being the 6 x 56 Torpedo and the 6 x 60 Figurado, both of which have received countless 90+ ratings as time has passed. Serie V is a true Nicaraguan puro, meaning all the tobacco is grown and cured in Nicaragua, wrapper, filler, and binder. Made entirely of high priming ligero leaves, known for extremely full body and immense flavor, Serie V is known for its rich intensity and bold flavor profile. The wrapper leaf is one of the most gorgeous Habano Sun Grown wrappers known to man, and one of the strongest at that. Oliva Serie V is one of a handful of cigars that began the Powerhouse movement. At that time, standard full-bodied cigars began to be known as medium-bodied, as cigars such as Serie V pushed the limits of strength to levels intolerable to some. Nevertheless, the flavor was undeniable, and very shortly after its introduction, Serie V became known as one of the world's finest cigars. Less than a year later, the coveted Serie V Torpedo was named "Number 4 Cigar of the Year," carrying an unbelievable 94-rating by Cigar Aficionado. This began a frenzy, and over the next few years Serie V was a VERY difficult cigar to get a hold of. Something about the luxury of smoking an Oliva Serie V seems to mesmerize whoever happens to be enjoying it. It's rich, powerful, and decadent, yet smooth as silk all the way down. At the time, there wasn't a comparable cigar available. Serie V became an instant legend.
It is said that Serie V is meticulously rolled by only a handful of the top rollers at the Oliva factory. Whether this is true or not, I don't know, but I believe it. The construction of Serie V is amazing. Looking over the cigar, there seems to be one solid tobacco leaf with no seams holding the stick together. The appearance of the oily Habano leaf is near flawless, lightly splotched with somewhat of a marbling of dark brown and reddish colors. The luxurious gold and brown band perfectly compliments the appearance of the cigar itself. The draw is on-point, but I must throw out a recommendation that may cause some snobby connoisseurs to cringe: Let the cigar dry out a bit before smoking it. Trust me on this one. The leaves that compose the Serie V were never meant to be used to fully construct a cigar in times past. Ligero leaves were simply added to filler blends for flavor enhancement. To build a cigar ENTIRELY of ligero means big time potential for draw and burn issues due to the very heavy oil and moisture content of the leaves. Is this usually the case with Serie V? Not usually, as the Serie V is expertly rolled, but I still recommend to allow it to sit in open air for 3-7 days before cutting and enjoying. For me, anyways, it makes a huge difference and leads to far fewer re-lights. That being said, let's get to that enjoying part.
At first light, Serie V explodes like a grenade full of white pepper and cinnamon. There's really no other way to describe it. The cigar screams as it burns, blasting the palate with a peppery storm and forcing the one smoking to question the decision to light it. Then, just as quickly as it started, things start to change. The pepper storm subsides, leaving opportunity for the other flavors in the vastly complex bouquet to make their presence known. Burning through the first 2 thirds of the cigar, bold flavors of coffee and chocolate coat the palate, along with sweet hints of floral tobacco lingering in the background. Black cherry and licorice become apparent as the profile begins to change from sweet and spicy to earthy and smoky. A cedary blast isn't uncommon from time to time, beautifully complimenting the sweet notes presented by the intense ligero tobacco.
The first 2 thirds are enjoyable, smooth, pleasant, and full, though never close to overpowering. But what about the final third? Well, there are those that finish a cigar and those that, well, miss out. Determining what missing out means to you is a matter of opinion. As far as Serie V goes, I recommend nubbing it, as I do, all the way down until it stops smoking. Will this make you dizzy? Maybe, but that's a small price to pay for getting to enjoy the finishing characteristics of a Serie V. For those of you with guts, let's get to that final third.
The flavor has now gone from sweet and spicy to earthy, smoky, somewhat bitter, and very, very intense. Slight tar build-up is noticeable, as can be expected from an all-ligero cigar, but to me, it only adds to the character of the cigar. See, with sticks like the Serie V, its kind of like smoking 2 cigars in one. The first cigar is flavorful and pleasant and the second is nothing short of mind numbing in terms of power. Chopping down a Serie V is a good sign that you're a strength junkie, so that mind-numbing power overtaking the complex flavor profile is probably a welcomed exchange. At this point, leather, tobacco, and oak are more the feel of the flavor profile. Oh, and nicotine. Lots of nicotine. Let's face it, Serie V has been a heavy hitter from day one. People that want something mild and easy-going most likely won't even touch one. Those aficionados, though. Those manly men. That rare breed of cigar freak that has no fear, this is the crowd that has made Serie V what it is today. Final notes on the tasting: bitter dark chocolate and more pepper as the cigar comes to an end, and throughout the experience, heavy coffee and spice on the retrohale. There really isn't much more to say about Serie V, other than the fact that it's just beautiful. Simply beautiful. From beginning to end, it's so easy to see how this stick has gotten such attention over the years. All the 90 ratings, all the top 10 appearances, all the magazine covers, it all makes such perfect sense while experiencing what this amazing cigar really is. The legacy of the Serie V is virtually unmatched by any other cigar on today's market.
Oliva Serie V pairs very well with a number of beverages, including coffee, dark rum, single-malt scotch, dark beer, and Tawny port. My recommendation is to enjoy it after a big meal. Like any strong cigar, Serie V can cause dizziness and even nausea if smoked on an empty stomach. It makes a phenomenal celebration cigar as well, so long as whoever is celebrating with you is briefed on the power of the stick. Other cigars from the Powerhouse Movement that may be considered similar include Ashton VSG, San Cristobal, and Don Pepin Blue Label. Serie V Melanio is the little brother of Serie V, and is definitely worth a try in addition. It’s been nearly a decade since the Serie V's inception, and after all these years it's still going strong.
What gets me, though, is that Serie V has been living in the shadows in recent years. Other big names have stolen the limelight, new luxury cigars seem to take the high ratings and top spots on the "Best of" lists. Cigar freaks are looking to other cigars to fulfill their search of a high-end stogie that reeks of luxury. Stronger sticks come out yearly, even further pushing away the recent memory of Oliva Serie V. It may be said that the monster has gone to sleep. However, the monster isn't sleeping. Serie V is still here, it's still selling like crazy, and it's still considered one of the finest, most luxurious cigars ever made. Pictures of the Serie V may not be on the covers of the cigar magazines. People aren't flashing photos of them enjoying a Serie V on social media. But in reality, the legend continues. I chose to write about Oliva Serie V because I feel like it isn't talked about enough these days. I wanted to revive an interest and a new following of people that maybe haven't tried a Serie V, or maybe even haven't heard of it. But I didn't need to. Oliva Serie V is a flagship. It's a mainstay in the humidors of millions of connoisseurs. It's a favorite go-to for a decently priced ultra-premium, full-bodied cigar. After all, the shifting of the limelight is no indication of better or worse. True legends never die. Oliva Serie V is, always has been, and always will be the Cadillac of Cigars.