Concepts, test blends, white labels, pre-production samples – call them what you will, they are often those cigars that smokers hope to get their hands on because they carry an aura of mystery, of something that’s a work in progress. Or in some cases, it shouldn’t even exist – in the days of vinyl records, DJs would bootleg records and remixes onto “white labels” because they either didn’t have the money to afford proper labels or didn’t want to go through the proper (legal) channels for producing a physical record.

In the cigar world, the idea of the test blend has become more and more prevalent – manufacturers have been known to hand them out during factory visits and in-store events or they tweet photos of new cigars with code names. They are a glimpse into the future – a peak at what could be the next big thing. Manufacturers have also included them in new retail offerings as well as in event-only samplers.

The event-only sampler has become a staple in Oliva’s marketing plans, especially for the their STUDIO TOBAC group, which has created samplers for its 2011 and 2012 World Tour events. Like those samplers, this Oliva sampler is given to customers purchasing a box of Oliva cigars, but unlike the STUDIO TOBAC events, not every Oliva event will feature the samplers.

In July 2012, we broke news of this new event-only sampler that would feature five never before released cigars, four of which come from existing lines and one of which would be the concept blend being reviewed today, the Oliva Concept Blend OC-001.

The sampler boxes look like this:

Oliva Special Edition Sampler Box

Inside is the five cigars, all first-time releases:

Oliva Special Edition Sampler

These event samplers were first given out at an event at Match Lounge on December 21, 2012. Again, not every Oliva event will have these available, so it might be worth checking with your local retailer before showing up and being disappointed.

Oliva Concept Blend OC 001 1

  • Cigar Reviewed: Oliva Concept Blend OC-001
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: Tabacalera Oliva de Nicaragua S.A. (TABOLISA)
  • Wrapper: Ecuadoran Sun Grown
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Size: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 50
  • Vitola: Toro
  • MSRP: n/a
  • Date Released: December 21, 2012 
  • Number of Cigars Released: 1,000 Samplers of 1 Cigar  (1,000 Total Cigars)*
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 1

*Oliva says the initial run was less than 1,000 samplers, though they left open the possibility of making more.

While it looks like almost any other cigar at first glance, a closer inspection reveals how gorgeous the wrapper is: a medium brown that is almost bright because of having just the right bit of oily sheen. The veins are very flat, which give it more of a visual texture than a physical one. It’s a well-packed cigar showing hardly any give and has a decent amount of heft in the hand. The pre-light aroma is up front with a note reminiscent of dry-rubbed pork about to head into the smoker—slightly sweet, definitely meaty and for lack of a better word, thick. The cold draw is equally as flavorful if just a bit thinner in texture, with baking and grilling spices leading the way and just a faint bit of sweetness in the mix.

A pungent and pleasurable hit of barnyard aroma starts the Oliva OC-001 when the first third begins, settles down for a few puffs and then a peppery note hits with a vengeance by the time the burn line is about three-quarters of an inch along. The pepper subsides quickly and makes way for an earthy, chalky note that is much more balanced and flavorful, bringing back some of those pre-light aroma notes of dry rub barbecue. To say that the flavor has been intense and adventurous to this point would be an understatement. One casualty in all this excitement is that ash, dropping off before the first inch and appearing to be on the weaker side as it starts to flower a bit. As the second third approaches, there’s an attempt to find some balance that keeps getting disrupted by hits of spice that light up the palate.

Oliva Concept Blend OC 001 2

What was seeming like balance has turned into a flavor lull as the Oliva Concept Blend OC-001 gets into its second third. It’s made all the more noticeable by how full flavored and almost off-the-rails things got in the first third. At the midpoint is where things pick back up and repeat many of the notes found earlier: dry barbecue spices with the addition of tangy wood and the soil note returning. The spice component starts toeing the line of irritation at points, but the flavors keep bringing me back in for more. Burn has been spectacular up to this point, with the ash being the only notable detriment.

Oliva Concept Blend OC 001 3

Heading into the final third, the smoke picks up a more aromatic nature, like catching some drifting smoke from a barbecue or meat smoker. If there’s one word to describe the flavor profile being offered by this Oliva Concept Blend OC-001, it’s unfamiliar. While the flavors are fairly identifiable when broken down into components, I can’t recall having tasted this end result in any other cigar, making the notion of this being a concept cigar that much more real and enjoyable. The lack of pepper allows the spice component to shine through, which creates a real sharp and complex tangy sensation. In the final inch or so the flavors turn charred and provides a tough finishing note as the interesting complexity and uniqueness of the flavors up to this point get covered up by a burnt wood note.

Oliva Concept Blend OC 001 4

Final Notes:

  • Not being sure of what this cigar would deliver, I decided to make it my first cigar of the day. It was a good decision, as the flavors seemed that much brighter. I had no knowledge of the blend or any component of it until after smoking the cigar.
  • Because of the unique taste, I was convinced there had to be some exotic tobacco that I’d never tried as part of the blend.
  • The ash was either weak or camera shy, breaking off every time I tried to snap a photo of it.
  • The band was a pain to get off – it was on about as securely as I’ve ever seen one without being glued to the wrapper, and every attempt to remove it knocked some ash into my lap.
  • There are times this cigar smells and tastes like what I think of when watching BBQ shows on the Food Network.
  • The wrapper came unglued ever so slightly in the final third – not really a crack, more that the glue got just warm enough to release its hold.
  • I’ve mentioned it before, but smoking a cigar with absolutely no knowledge of the blend or flavor profile is one of the best things you can do. We’re all curious as to whether or not we’ll like something before hand, but flying blind allows you to shed all suppositions and ideas about what might lie ahead and forces you to pay attention to the flavor progression.
  • That said, had I known what was in the cigar, I don’t think I would have ever seen this flavor profile coming.
  • The cigars for this review were provided by Oliva.
  • Final smoking time is about 2 hours.
  • The only way to get the Oliva Concept Blend OC-001 or any of the other cigars in the sampler is to attend an Oliva event that is featuring them. Just a note: not all Oliva events will have them, so it is best to confirm before you go if you are wanting to pick one up. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
86 Overall Score

If there's one word for this cigar, it's unfamiliar. The flavor profile put forth by the Oliva Concept Blend OC-001 is unlike anything I've ever tried and in a good way. There are points where the constant shift of flavors is exciting and captivating, though the intensity seems to override things during those transitions. Is it something I'd want to smoke more of? Yes. Is it something I'd want to add to my regular rotation? I'm not sure – the problem with the Oliva OC-001 is that it still feels too much like a concept and not enough like a finished product. I hope that Oliva finds a way to get this cigar's flavors dialed in, balanced and into a regular production release though – the potential is definitely there.

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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, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.