While I have been in a number of interesting conversations during my time in the cigar industry, I have never been involved in a conversation that involved selecting a vitola for an upcoming release, at least nothing beyond the casual asking of my opinion on certain sizes. I have to imagine that whether it’s a Cuban Edición Regional or a store exclusive from a well-known non-Cuban brand, there are a range of discussions from the eccentric to the mundane.

I bring that up because this cigar, the Oliva Serie V Melanio JR 50th Anniversary, falls somewhere in the middle. It’s a 6 x 50 toro, which is one of the most common sizes on the market today, but it’s also the first round cigar in the Oliva Serie V Melano line to be sold in the U.S., which consists of vitolas that are all box-pressed. That includes a 6 x 50 box-pressed toro that is available on the shelves of any Oliva retailer that carries the Serie V Melanio line.

It is not, however, the first round Melanio, as Oliva has released several round versions for the European markets.

I bring that up because the decision to make a round versa of an existing box-pressed cigar seems a rather mundane if somewhat interesting choice. It’s not inherently distinctive, but that’s not to say that a round and box-pressed cigar in the same vitola are essentially the same. There is a difference in shape, but to achieve that shape, box-pressed cigars generally have a bit of filler tobacco removed, a number I have often heard pegged at about half a leaf. This means that the blend in the filler is different, and that means the blend is different, which means that the company has a decision to make: adjust the blend to try and make the round and box-pressed versions taste the same, or embrace the difference, whatever that might mean. There is also the thought that the compression of the tobacco affects the combustion of the tobacco, which in turn affects flavor.

Neither Oliva nor JR Cigar have said what the difference in the blend and profile might be, just that the blend remains the same on paper: an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and filler.

It is also a limited edition, though the production numbers have not been disclosed. It is priced at $15 per cigar and offered boxes of 10, though full boxes are priced at $127.50.

It joins an impressive lineup of cigars released in 2021 in celebration of JR Cigar’s 50th site, including releases from the Montecristo, Herrera Estelí, El Güegùense, Davidoff, JFR Lunatic, Aging Room, Rocky Patel ALR Section Edition, CLE and Romeo y Julieta brands, as well as private brands from Alec & Bradley and Crowned Heads.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Oliva Serie V Melanio JR 50th Anniversary
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: Tabacalera Oliva de Nicaragua S.A.
  • Wrapper: Ecuador (Sumatra)
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Length: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 50
  • Vitola: Toro
  • MSRP: $15 (Box of 10, $127.50)
  • Release Date: Sept. 15, 2021
  • Number of Cigars Released: Undisclosed
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

Before the de-banding process begins, I take a moment to take in the rich, reddish-brown color of the wrapper leaf, which seems particularly vibrant in the first sample. It’s a veiny leaf that has the visual texture of a topographic map, but I have rarely been one to criticize a leaf for its veins; if anything I think leaves without veins are the odd ones. There is also some oiliness to the leaf, a deep oiliness that feels more embedded in the core of the tobacco than having an oily sheen. While the round vitola is unique for the Oliva Serie V Melanio line, it’s by no means a unique vitola; the 6 x 50 toro is probably the most common vitola that could have been chosen. The cigar is rolled as well as I would expect from Oliva or any company, firm with a bit of give, flat seams, and well-applied caps. The foot offers a wonderfully fragrant aroma, one that is surprising to my senses. It’s almost floral, but there is also fragrant light woods, cedar, banana peel, a bit of vanilla and some freshly made pizza dough. Pepper comes in at the very end, a mild but incredibly nose-tingling sensation. Air moves fairly freely on the cold draw, and the flavors are much tamer than what the aroma would have suggested. There is the crust of sandwich breads, a dry wood, yet hardly any pepper, though the wood does a commendable job trying to replicate the physical sensation, while one cigar does offer a bit of sharp black pepper.

The Oliva Serie V Melanio JR 50th Anniversary takes a puff or two to get going, but once it does there is a fairly full flavor of toast, dry woods, and a varying mix of white and black pepper. The body of the smoke feels a bit thin but is hardly distracting outside of its contrast with the vibrance of the flavor. There is some creaminess that develops around the edges to add another layer to the profile with good results. There are a few puffs in the first third where I think the cigar has some baking spices in it, though given I haven’t been consuming many baking spices recently I’m not sure that’s an accurate description. The flavor picks up a bit of a toasty component that dries out the palate and stimulates the back of the throat, not in the sense of irritation but just a unique and direct stimulation. The end of the first third sees the flavors mellow just a bit, though there is still plenty of white pepper wrapped in a bit of creaminess through the retrohale. The draw is a touch open for my liking but isn’t an issue, while the smoke production is very good and the burn line is even. Flavor is medium-plus, body is medium and strength is a bit shy of medium thus far.

The flavor gets a bit drier as the Oliva Serie V Melanio JR 50th Anniversary gets into its second third, a change that delivers a steady tingle to the tongue while also revealing a bit of dry earth that either wasn’t in the first third or simply got overlooked by what else the cigar was offering. Try as I might, I don’t find much in the way of changes in this section, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If anything, I’m trying to find noticeable differences between this and what I think of from the other sizes in the Melanio line, and it’s here when I wish I had a box-pressed version lit up that I could smoke side by side. I smoked the 7 x 50 Churchill vitola not that long ago and I’m not sure I find lots in the way of difference, though this does seem a bit sharper and more pointed on the back of my throat. As this section begins to wrap up, the body of the smoke thickens up quite well, and it’s now on par with the intensity of the flavor. Both are medium-plus and seeming to build, while strength sits closer to medium. Other than some flowery, flaky ash, there’s nothing to complain about with the technical performance, as combustion, smoke production and the burn line are all very good.

There’s an interesting increase in some component of the profile that is giving it a bit more sharpness, specifically hitting the top of my throat. It has me thinking the dry wood may be driving the sensation, but it doesn’t quite seem to be that. Some of the sensations from the pre-light aroma are now at play, with a slightly damp cedar now part of the profile, while the pepper is more vibrant than it has been since the first third. That pepper seems to hit multiple senses, from the taste buds to the back of the throat, the nose on retrohales, and even my eyes with a bit of irritation. As the conclusion of the cigar begins to approach, I find myself trying to figure out what is missing from the profile, and while the immediate answer is nothing, the more contemplative answer is that I don’t quite know, other than that it’s something that would give the cigar a bit more complexity, a bit more cohesiveness and a bit more depth on the palate. The cigar picks up a bit of creaminess in its final inch or so, almost as if the cigar took note of my request in the previous sentence. Flavor is medium-full if not outright full if you smoke this down to about half an inch, the body is medium-plus, and strength is medium-plus. The technical performance is very good, with plenty of smoke, an even burn line, and no need for a relight or touch-up provided it gets a regular puff.

Final Notes

  • The ash on the first cigar was surprisingly flaky, and it flowered a decent amount in the second half.
  • I like the 50th anniversary bands that appear on the various cigars released, though when placed on the foot, it looks a bit odd because the bottom of the band isn’t cut in a straight line, but rather with some design. It wouldn’t be worth mentioning if it were higher up, but on the foot, it catches my eye.
  • It doesn’t factor into the score, but the pre-light aroma from the foot is incredibly enjoyable and unique.
  • I’ve made this point before, but I think there can be a lot to learned when smoking two cigars side-by-side, whether it be to compare vitolas, or to compare the differences between a natural and maduro version of a line. I think this would be a great candidate for this.
  • I first did this with Eric Parkinson, a former retailer in Peoria, Ariz. that now works as a rep for My Father Cigars with his wife, Jamie. I’m pretty sure it was the Illusione ~888~ we smoked, right when the box-pressed ~888~ Slam came out.
  • It’s interesting to me that the round version costs more than the box-pressed version, 85 cents per cigar more if buying by the box and $1 if looking at individual cigar pricing. That seems a bit odd since it would seem the box-pressed would take more labor, though maybe uses less tobacco. The likeliest answer is that because it’s a limited edition that uses some extra packaging, there might be a price difference.
  • Until a cigar gets to about a 56 ring gauge, I don’t have a strong preference for box-pressed versus round cigars, at least from which one is a more enjoyable smoking experience. Above 56 ring gauge though, I’m definitely leaning towards a box-pressed option if available.
  • I didn’t feel much in the way of strength from the Oliva Serie V Melanio JR 50th Anniversary, something I’d say about the line.
  • Both Oliva Cigar Co. and JR Cigar advertise on halfwheel.
  • The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time was two hours and on average.
  • The Oliva Serie V Melanio JR 50th Anniversary is available exclusively from site sponsor JR Cigar.
91 Overall Score

There are a few questions to answer when it comes to the Oliva Serie V Melanio JR 50th Anniversary. Does it do the Oliva Serie V Melanio line proud? Yes. Is it appreciably better than the box-pressed version? Not that I could tell, but it's not appreciably worse. I'd suggest that it might be a bit sharper than the box-pressed version, though that's based on a fairly recent memory as opposed to a head-to-head comparison. Regardless, it is still an enjoyable cigar, a generally very enjoyable one at that. Whether it's worth picking up at a bit of a price premium is up to you, however, as I don't think you'd go wrong with either the original box-pressed version or this limited edition, celebratory round version.

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Patrick Lagreid

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.