Three of a Kind (Oliva Five Card Stud Sampler Review)

Well, the time has come to provide a retrospective on my Oliva Five Card Stud Sampler from Pipes & Cigars.  This was a mixed bag of selections that, mostly, proved to be excellent, but with some notable exceptions.

I began my journey in late November last year with the Oliva Connecticut Reserve Robusto, “composed of Cuban-seed Nicaraguans in a light Ecuadorian Connecticut shade wrapper.  I was especially attracted by its golden Colorado claro colour, small veins, tight wrap, and solid double cap.”  I was also especially pleased by my initial impression:

Opening the package, I found that the wrapper note was of rich golden tobacco, new mown hay, and cream.  Smelled great; fresh like morning!  I hoped I wouldn’t have any trouble with the draw, since the pack was rather hard.  Still, I elected to punch, realizing that the firmness of the stick might require that I clip the end later.  It punched with textbook perfection.  The pre-light draw suggested butterscotch cream.  Nummy!  Toasting the foot released a delightful scent of smokey cream and butter pastry.  I couldn’t wait to sample it.

20141115_100444[1]Concerned by the hard pack, I elected to punch it rather than clip it, since I might have to clip it later.  After puffing to get it going I found that the Connecticut Reserve had the flavour of “Butter cream, toasted almonds, butterscotch and wood elements . . .  Buttery caramel soon followed.”  I found it also to have a greater nicotine content than advertised and it left a mouth tingle and made me a little woozy near the end.  It improved as it progressed, gaining what I described as “a not-unpleasant sourness” and the pack softened up, making the draw easier; perhaps too easy, based on my dizziness!

20141228_092608As I said, “The final third might very well have been the best part of the cigar.  Both the off kilter burn and the initially challenging draw corrected themselves, and it settled into a creamy, flavourful, light and rich tasting delicious smoke!”  The total smoke time was just under two hours.  Overall I docked it a half-star for an off-kilter burn and an initially challenging draw, proclaiming it, “A Morning Cup O’Joe Cigar!

I saved my second card in the set, the Oliva Serie ‘O’ Robusto, to cheer myself up on a cold and wintery snow day in January.  This was one of Cigar Aficionado’s top 25 cigars of 2013, scoring a 92 rating, so I expected to be impressed.

I was.  The wrapper note was coppery and it punched and lit easily.  I went on to proclaim:

My first impression of the initial draw was of butter, caramel, earth, and copper.  As you can tell, I thought it was interesting and complex, and not at all my usual fare!  Delightful!  It also did not take me long – but not right away, this was a few draws in – to notice a lovely floral undertone that I am certain was not present initially.  I imagine this is only present when the cigar was sufficiently heated.

I found the first third, which I smoked quickly “due to pure blissful enjoyment” to be excellent.

By then I had discovered lots of terroire, almost like a true Habano; it was very metallic, with some nutty elements.  It also lost none of its delectable complexity.  It burned at a slightly off-angle at first which had corrected itself at this point. . . . As I have come to anticipate, by the time I finished the second third – only fifteen minutes later – the butter and caramel had reduced in favour of the terroire, the coppery flavours, and the nut. . . . It finished beautifully with butter, sweet, and just a touch of a floral element.  It went out a little sooner than I cared to permit it to and refused to draw any further, just a little over an hour after lighting.

2015-03-19 13.58.26I had no complaints and I loved it, so I gave it the full five stars.  Definitely “A Touch of Warmth On a Winter Day”!

Moving on to the Oliva Master Blends III Robusto was downright disappointing.  I had been hoping for a truly impressive smoke with all the associated hype.  I had been saving it for a special occasion so I sampled it on a trip to Kelowna on the Spring Equinox with the guys.  I found that “he Master Blends III (2006) is a chocolate shaded, rough-wrapped cigar with obvious veins and an attractive pastoral-themed label.  I was intrigued by the promise. Its wrapper note was of espresso and barbecued steak.”  Cigars International said that the Master Blends III is “constructed with a luscious sungrown broadleaf wrapper leaf and a Nicaraguan blend of Habano-seed, ligero tobaccos.”   It received a 92 rating from Cigar Aficionado.

And that was the last positive thing I could say about it.  The rest of the review continues:

But I found that the initial draw tasted like aromatic tongue bite (and nothing but!) I blinked at the stick in disbelief.  A few more draws released flavours of barbecue briquette smoke, mud, clay, leather, and sour, 24-hour old German military coffee.  This couldn’t be right!  What was wrong with me?  I had recently recovered from a cold . . . could that have been the problem?

I passed the cigar forward to the gentlemen in the front seat and asked them what they thought.  And they, too, pronounced it bitter and acrid,  I realized as they were smoking that the oils of the stick – which, I confess, were indeed as thick and lingering as you might want from a fine cigar – were fixing that horrible acrid bad-coffee flavour in my mouth so that it wouldn’t go away.

If that weren’t bad enough, I had to draw hard to get the thing to produce this awful smoke; which also billowed copiously around the car.  It went out about a third of the way in.  I left it because I was going into a store, but when I came back out and resumed my trip, I couldn’t bring myself to relight it.  That awful bitter, bottom-of-the-coffee-pot acidity was stilllingering in my mouth!

So, total fail.  Did I get a bad batch?  Did it turn sour due to mistreatment somewhere along the line?  I don’t know.  I will probably try it again in the future because I’m not inclined to believe that a cigar that was rated so highly could be so frankly horrible without some extenuating circumstance, but this one was a disappointing dud.

I gave it only a single star.  So, thus far I had two of a kind (and they were Queens indeed!) but this one was a deuce and it wasn’t wild.

The fourth card in the hand was the Oliva Serie ‘G’ Toro, which I started smoking on the 5th of April.  It had a Cameroon wrapper and I love a good Cameroon!  Said I:

That “91 rating” was enough to land the Serie G a place in Cigar Aficionado’s Best Cigars of 2006, where the CA writers also praised its “bang for the buck.”  It also received a 92 rating from Cigar Snob.

I was impressed by the earthy wrapper note and the cigar’s pleasing mud coloured wrapper.  It was elegantly presented with its classy gold and maroon label and smooth seams; and it was not veiny.  The pack was on the harder side of firm but not enough to concern me in regards to draw, so I opted to punch the solid double cap with my bullet punch.

2015-03-25 17.27.02But “. . . it immediately cracked.  Now, I happen to know for a fact that this stick was stored properly in my humidor, which has been kept at a steady 62 humidity since I got it. . . . Enthusiasm waning, I struck a light to it with my cedar cigar spills.  The Serie G lit easily and properly.  I found the first draws to be earthy and buttery; oily in a way that the Oliva Master Blend III had promised and not delivered. The first third offered a similar clay note to the Master Blend III, but rather than being bothersome (even with the accompanying dry mouth) in this case it was quite enjoyable, and pleasantly bitter like a good cup of coffee.  And yes, my coffee complimented it well.  Alas, it went out only twenty minutes later.”  And again ten minutes after I re-lit. “Scowling, I once again clipped and re-lit a now much-reduced toro that was more like a robusto for a third attempt.  Now I noticed the nut undertone.  It was sort of bitter, like a walnut.  I’m not terribly fond of walnuts, but this was pretty good.  Unfortunately the serious reduction in the size of the stick resulted in quick end to the smoke.  It went out once again with most of the final third unsmoked.”

I’m not sure it was worth all the effort!

I clipped once more but didn’t relight until about twenty minutes ago; several days later.  This time the cigar proved well.  There was no more clay dry-mouth, and it fired up easily enough.  Perhaps it was too wet in the humidor?  Perhaps I didn’t give it enough time to rehydrate in the humidor after its journey?  I was left with a bit of a spinning head near the end, probably because I smoked it too fast in order to assure that it wouldn’t go out on me.  My total smoke time, all together, turned out to be about an hour.

So: good cigar, bad execution.

2015-04-18 12.46.17“Okay, it was good, but” I had to seriously mark it down due to the relighting issues and so I only gave it three stars.  So this one didn’t match my pair yet either.  It might have been a ten (a decent card) compared to the pair of Queen’s I’d started the hand with!

Last, but certainly not least, I sampled the Oliva Serie ‘O’ Maduro Robusto a few days ago. “Now, I like a good maduro cigar very much, but I thought some of the Olivas were amazing and others were . . . not so much.  So I scrutinized this stick suspiciously.  The wrapper was a pleasant black coffee shade, almost seamless and with a matte finish, and a solid double cap.  The Oliva presentation is always classy with a simple gold, white and maroon label.  Cigars International informs me that the colouration is due to sun-grown tobaccos naturally fermented, and that this is a full-bodied Nicaraguan puro.”  I found that “It clipped easily and with few rough edges.  I tried a pre-light draw and found this stick to have a lingering mouth like chocolate-covered coffee beans.  Mmm!  The cigar lit easily with my cedar spills, and turned out to be even more delicious on first draw than anticipated. Chocolate-covered coffee beans and buttery oil with a peppery aftertaste.  Now this is what I was hoping for out of an Oliva!”

But as I said:

I needn’t have worried.  The Serie O stayed consistent and perfect throughout its entire hour and a half of smoking time, and changed not much, except that there was a little more pepper near to the end.  The draw was easy and full, with voluminous smoke and a rich maduro taste and lovely smooth finish.  There was not even a hint of bitterness in the middle portion as I’ve come to expect.  It didn’t go out once and although it was full-bodied, I was able to smoke it at a relaxed and steady pace because of its fine construction, which did not necessitate puffing at the thing, and thus I was not at all dizzy or lightheaded.  I finally put it out with a smile as it came close to burning my fingers.

Best cigar I’ve had in a long time, and no issues whatsoever.  Hardly surprising that the churchill size made #11 in Cigar Aficionado’s Best Cigars of 2013!

As a result I gave it a full five stars.  I said that “O is for ‘Outstanding!'”  And that was the third Queen, making three of a kind.

So, in summation, I would say that storage is the top priority when dealing with Olivas.  Cigar manufacturers do their best to assure quality control in shipping, but obviously I did something wrong somewhere, or perhaps they got bumped around in shipping (impossible to anticipate when small quanitites are shipped.)  Make sure that you rest your Olivas for several months in a properly treated humidor, and don’t carry them around in a less-than-perfectly-humidified-case unless you’re going to smoke them within an hour or two!  There are the places in which I think I went wrong.

But overall, these were very good smokes.  They complimented each other well and individually were quite enjoyable.  I think I have a good idea now of the Oliva stable, and I like it.  Even with the dud in the middle, I would have to give the Oliva Five Card Stud Sampler:

3 and a half stars

And that’s a lady’s perspective!

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