Although it may have humble roots, and a relatively short history as a manufacturer of premium cigar blends, Nicaraguan-based Oliva Cigar Co. stands tall as a legacy in the tobacco community.
Like any cigar brand that’s been on the block for a hot minute, the Oliva Cigar Co. has experienced its fair share of tribulations and growing pains. Fortunately, the Nicaraguan start-up has been able to keep itself afloat over the years, going from a small-time bargain bundle brand during the cigar boom, to an award-winning industry mogul.
Today, the Oliva Cigar Co. is Nicaragua’s second-largest grower of Cuban-seed tobacco, and one of the most awarded names in cigar culture. With eight core cigar staples to its name, both shade-grown and maduro spin-offs in ample supply, and an exclusive line of limited-release offerings, Oliva continues to swing for the fences in the tobacco big leagues.
But long before Oliva Cigar Co. was kicking ass and winning awards, an enterprising tobacco farmer and broker was scouring the globe, in search of a fresh start and fertile land to grow his prized crops. This is the story of Oliva Cigar Co., and here is why every product within this legacy cigar brand’s portfolio is worthy of praise.
Born, Built, Bought, Upgraded, and Still Kicking Ass: The Oliva Cigar Co. Success Story
Humble Cuban Aspirations and
The year was 1886, and a relatively inexperienced Cuban tobacco farmer by the name of Melanio Oliva was unknowingly about to change cigar-making history forever. Melanio had decided that he would try his hand at growing tobacco in the lush Pinar Del Rio region of his Cuban homeland. Located in the San Juan y Martinez area, which today is revered as one of the crown jewels of premium tobacco cultivation, Melanio’s small farm soon began to produce outstanding sun-grown ligero leaves.
While Melanio would never see the critical acclaim or financial success that his descendants would experience well over a century later, it was his initial investment in the tobacco business that would spawn an entire empire.
By the early 1920s, Melanio’s son, Facundo Oliva, had taken over as the caretaker of the family’s tobacco farm, working tirelessly to keep up with the rapidly evolving Cuban cigar business. Over the next few decades, Facundo would elevate the Oliva family farm’s operations and reputation to the point where it would be revered as a small yet highly coveted source of some of Cuba’s richest tobacco crops.
Enter the Cuban Communist Relocation Plan
As political unrest and Communism began to sweep through Cuba, the future of the tobacco industry was indefinite. This shaky political climate gave Facundo’s son, Gilberto Oliva, all of the reason he needed to shift gears from growing tobacco to serving as a broker for the nicotine-rich plant.
But as Castro’s Communist regime solidified its grasp on the Cuban cigar market in the early 1960s, Gilberto truly began to fear for his family’s well being. And so Gilberto Oliva began to plan his exodus from Cuba, leaving his homeland in his wake, unsure as to where his family would wind up.
Over the course of the next few years Gilberto would traverse nation after nation. As one regional tobacco crop after another was inspected, smoked, and rejected as inferior, despair began to solidify within Gilberto. Every long-filler tobacco option he had encountered in Honduras, Panama, Mexico, Spain, and the Philippines had failed to provide that distinct cigar flavor profile that the Pinar Del Rio growing region of Cuba curates.
It would not be until Gilberto visited the mountainous land of Nicaragua that a leafy connection could be made. After confirming that Nicaragua was indeed the ideal locale for setting up shop, Gilberto began to slowly but surely unpack and start building the foundation of what would eventually become the Oliva brand of today.
Building a Premium Cigar Brand… One Stick at a Time
Flash forward to 1995, and all the hard work Oliva and his son, Gilberto Jr., had put into farming tobacco and forming a cigar brand based upon family heritage was about to pay off. However, like many start-up cigar brands, Oliva Cigar Co. got its feet off the ground by contracting out the construction of its proprietary tobacco blends.
Being that the Oliva family’s tobacco crops were being grown, aged, and fermented in Nicaragua, the need for a local partnership was paramount. This ultimately led to the Oliva family working with none other than cigar blending guru Nestor Plasencia at his factory. Naturally, this partnership was short-lived, and the Oliva family was soon able to afford its own Nicaraguan production facilities.
But despite having its own rolling factory, Oliva Cigar Co. didn’t get into cranking out award-winning premium cigar blends until much later. For those of us who have been in the tobacco biz a while, the name Oliva likely ushers forth a very different image than that which is associated with the brand of today.
Long before all of the critical acclaim and accolades, a metric mess-load of inexpensive Oliva stogies had to be rolled and sold. It was the late 1990s, and Oliva had made a niche for itself as one of the better bargain bundle stogie manufacturers on the market. While we will cover the specifics of the long-filler “Flor de Oliva” cigar line a little later on, it’s worth noting that if it were not for these inexpensive smokes, the Oliva brand would probably never have gotten off the ground.
Reinvesting every spare cent it made from those inexpensive hand-rolled cigars back into the business, the Oliva family lived frugally, invested wisely, and bided its time. While all of this was going on, a particularly potent crop of tobacco was fermenting away in a steaming pile within one of Oliva’s warehouses. Aging complete, the Oliva family set to producing what would later be considered as the brand’s first real “boutique” cigar in 2001: The “Oliva Serie O Bold.”
Cloaked in a toothy habano wrapper, and loaded with full-bodied long-filler befitting the name this Nicaraguan purebred puro arrived on the cigar scene amidst mild fanfare. With its unique embroidered cloth cigar band, undeniably rich attributes, immaculate construction, and clean combustion, the original Oliva flagship cigar soon elevated the family-owned brand’s name and reputation.
By 2004, the Serie O Bold had evolved into the Serie O Classic, which retained the same eye-catching embroidered cigar band, but offered a milder premium cigar blend. This far more mellow cigar came accompanied by a maduro-wrapped doppelganger, both of which remained just as easy on the pocketbook as they were on the palate.
Naturally, this balance of cost per performance made a massive splash in the American cigar market, which at that point had rebounded somewhat from the cigar boom’s crash in the late 1990s. Capitalizing upon this momentum, Oliva launched the Serie V in 2007, a robust cigar intended to appeal to full-bodied cigar smokers. It was here that Oliva really began to garner widespread recognition, as the V continues to be consistently rated as one of the best Nicaraguan cigars of all time.
With brand recognition and financial capital increasing year after year, Oliva began to play with various tobacco vintages and expanded its crop cultivation capabilities. This ultimately led to the launch of the “Serie V Melanio” in 2012, a heavily fermented, ligero leaf-rich thunderclap of a stogie that within two years would go on to be named Cigar Aficionado’s 2014 Cigar of the Year.
The Big Belgian Upgrade
Shortly after the Oliva Serie V Melanio Figuardo was recognized as one of the best premium cigar blends on the planet, the Oliva Cigar Co. was purchased by Belgian-based J. Cortès Cigars N.V.
Owned outright by a man by the name of Frederik Vandermarliere, the Oliva brand has seen great success since its procurement. Over the past few years the Belgian tobacco specialist has honored his pledge to leave Oliva’s operations and tobacco cultivation practices as unaltered as possible.
Allowing members of the Oliva family to retain their roles within the company post acquisition further aided in boosting morale, all while keeping quality control on point. This gave reason for longtime Oliva Cigar Co. CEO and descendant, José Oliva, to retain his responsibilities and business practices for a number of years.
Playing one role or another in the family business since the early days, José Oliva has pretty much seen and done it all, including serving as the head of sales and being the face of the company. After relinquishing his post as company CEO in 2019, Oliva moved into an advisory role to allow ample time for his Florida-based political career.
Despite the Oliva Cigar Co. being sold to J. Cortès Cigars N.V., the Oliva family still owns all of the tobacco fields it has long cultivated in the mountains of Nicaragua. According to reports about Oliva Cigar Co. operations, this strikes a nice balance with Oliva Cigar Co.’s new owners, as it allows the factory to retain “...preemptive rights and obligations with respect to this tobacco volume.”
Outside of this little caveat, Oliva’s Belgian owners have only had to make a few investments in the legacy cigar brand to get it up to snuff. Some of these upgrades include a brand-new cigar box manufacturing facility, the addition of upgraded machinery, renovated hand-rolling cigar stations, and the introduction of factory safety regulations to meet EU standards.
Tobacco Nerd Note: In 2018 Oliva Cigar Co. CEO, José Oliva, became the presiding member of the Florida House of Representatives. The Republican started his political career as Florida State Representative in 2011, and was the 101st Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives until his term ended in 2020.
Get to Know the Full Line of Oliva Cigar Offerings
Oliva Serie V
Oliva’s line of Serie V cigars made its official debut at the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show in Houston in August of 2007. Manufactured amidst the throngs of other cigar makers in the Nicaraguan capital of Esteli, Oliva’s Serie V cigars rely upon a filler blend that comes from the fourth priming rather than the fifth for superior balance.
Rocking a robust Habano sun-grown wrapper pulled straight from the top portions of the tobacco plant, the V is both power-packed and superbly constructed. The maduro variant that was launched in 2009 is also outstanding, with rich Nicaraguan coffee undertones and loads of loamy earthiness adding complexity to the already ideal premium cigar blend.
Oliva Serie V Melanio
Following its debut at the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers trade show in August of 2012, the Oliva Serie V Melanio immediately began to receive rave reviews from cigar smokers and tobacco experts alike.
Made entirely from Nicaraguan filler and binder tobaccos hailing from Oliva’s sprawling plantations, each of these smokes comes swaddled in a Sumatra-seed cigar wrapper from neighboring Ecuador.
This version of the Serie V was the first Oliva offering to utilize this particular wrapper for a cigar type. Combined with a premium cigar blend straight out of Nicaragua’s Jalapa region, the ultra vintage Oliva V Melanio produces an insane amount of flavor, while retaining nearly the same body as the regular V line.
Oliva Serie O
Handcrafted in Estelí, Nicaragua, the modern Oliva Serie O debuted way back in 2012, and immediately landed an impressive 94-point score from Cigar Aficionado. This Nicaraguan puro is a woodsy, heavily spiced take on the rich coffee approach strong cigar smokers prefer. Surprisingly smooth thanks to its long-filler innards and Cuban-seed cigar wrapper receiving additional fermentation time, the Serie O maintains a permanent slot in the Oliva portfolio.
For fans of even more heavily fermented tobaccos, Oliva offers its Serie O line in maduro form, which also relies upon a Nicaraguan-grown Habano filler and binder, and then encases it all with a dark chocolate Connecticut Broadleaf maduro wrapper. Sweet, but not cloying, the Serie O Maduro takes the spice and cedar approach to a whole new level.
Oliva Serie G
The natural version of the Oliva Serie G is a medium-bodied blend constructed around a Cameroon cigar wrapper out of Africa. As with virtually all of Oliva’s cigars, the Serie G sports aged Nicaraguan Habano filler tobacco for both flavor and mellowness.
Oliva’s Serie G Maduro is also of medium-strength, and relies upon a Mexican wrapper for its outer layer. We find the maduro variant of the Serie G from Oliva to be particularly tasty, with the box-pressed Robusto Oliva Serie G Maduro being a Klaro Cigars favorite for when an after-dinner short smoke is in order.
Oliva Connecticut Reserve
Those in search of a milder cigar will likely turn toward Oliva’s Connecticut Reserve. Nicaraguan in both its long-filler and binder’s birthrights, yet finished with a shade-grown Ecuadorian Connecticut cigar wrapper, this medium-bodied smoke is about as milky and silky as it comes. Loads of tannin notes, toffee, and meadowcream complement this smooth cigar’s subtleness quite nicely.
Master Blends 3
Master Blends 3 “Liga Maestra” may sound like a hipster inspired pour-over coffee, but it’s actually the third release in a limited series of Oliva artisanal blends. This smoke relies upon a peculiar concoction of 100% Nicaraguan ligero filler, a nondescript Nicaraguan binder, and sun-grown Connecticut Broadleaf wrappers in maduro form hailing from the state of Connecticut.
Complex and fairly intense, this potent premium cigar blend is the latest in what will surely be Oliva’s lengthy exploration of its “boutique cigar” roots.
Gilberto Oliva Reserva
When it comes to classy Sumatran cigar wrappers, the Gilberto Oliva Reserva has appearances to spare. Shiny, tightly wrapped, and toothy, this homage to the man who started the whole Oliva empire is a real treat. Bound by an exclusive Ecuadorian binder, the vintage Nicaraguan filler tobaccos from the Oliva farm within this cigar produce vast amounts of heavily spiced smoke and a sizable smack of strength.
Medium to full-bodied, and brimming with dark cocoa sweetness from additional fermentation stages, the aptly named Gilberto blend harkens you back to a time when cigar smoking was permitted in virtually any business or home.
Those in search of a less robust smoking experience will appreciate the Gilberto Oliva Blanc, which holsters the same solid construction as the stronger cigar type we adore, but with a much milder, shade-grown cigar wrapper varietal.
Flor de Oliva
Available in original, gold (natural), corojo, and a maduro cigar wrapper cigar type, the inexpensive bundle cigar known as the Flor de Oliva is how this Nicaraguan brand earned a name for itself way back in the day.
Indonesian Sumatra wrapper leaf on the outside, and Nicaraguan long-fillers within, this medium-bodied cigar continues to be a go-to smoke for those in search of value. Thanks to its modest price point and surprisingly lengthy aging process, the Flor de Oliva is sure to go down in history as one of the best bargain-bin cigars of all time.
Tobacco Nerd Note: The year 2020 marked the most productive year to date for Nicaraguan cigar manufacturers, with the country shipping well over 186 million smokes to America within that brief 12-month period. Today, it is estimated that the premium cigar industry employs over 110,000 Nicaraguan citizens. As one of the largest employers of tobacco-oriented labor in Nicaragua, Oliva Cigar Co.’s facilities are responsible for the production of anywhere from 15 million to 16 million handmade cigars annually.
With each new blend and limited release, the Oliva Cigar Co. reinforces the fact that it does indeed deserve to be recognized as one of the greatest cigar manufacturers in human history.
From habano seed to ligero priming, the Oliva brand has the premium cigar game on lock. Recognized for its unwavering adoration for all things box-pressed, and near flawless construction, the products coming out of Oliva’s Nicaraguan production facilities provide a tobacco thrill ride that is sure to impress.There’s a reason why Klaro Cigars offers an array of options from the Oliva brand in its monthly subscriptions. You can also pick and choose the Oliva cigar that best suits your palate via a bespoke 5-Pack from Klaro Cigars. That said, you’ll just have to fire an Oliva up to truly understand what all the fuss is about.