Black Label Trading Company: Memento Mori Review

Black Label Trading Company: Memento Mori Review

James Brown founded Black Label Trading Company in 2013, the brand's debut marked by a decidedly different approach to both blending and branding and acquiring a legion of devoted followers enamored with their high-quality smokes and contemporary approach to design. Much of Black Label's lasting appeal stems from the company's refusal to be constrained by tradition, freeing them from the expectations of what a cigar must be. This philosophy, paired with the small-batch sensibility of their production, affords ample opportunity for both experimentation and refinement, ensuring each blend is as true to the vision of the blender as possible.

Much of the imagery presented by Black Label, be it on their boxes, bands, promotional material, or merchandise, is unified by its implementation of morbid imagery, often borrowed from Mexico's practices of folk Catholicism. It's only appropriate that, in 2022, the company released a cigar named after arguably the most poignant and philosophically important sayings concerning the end of life: Memento Mori. Translating into English as "remember you must die," the phrase has a deep history whose origins can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophy, and though it has undoubtedly existed in a variety of word combinations, the spirit remains the same: Human life is finite and it should be celebrated, preserved, cared for, and lived above all else, because death is imminent. While it initially sounds like a bleak outlook, this deeper meaning recontextualizes the expression, articulating the universality of mortality among the living and urging those hearing it to live life to the fullest while possible.

Human life is finite and it should be celebrated, preserved, cared for, and lived

Originally a factory-exclusive cigar available only to those touring Oveja Negra's facilities in Nicaragua, Memento Mori comprises a Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper atop an Ecuadorian Habano binder and Nicaraguan fillers. The art for this cigar depicts several symbols associated with the phrase, as well as a skull, crossed bones, and a pocketwatch, in stark white against an inky black background. The darkness of the band complements the rich mocha hue of the wrapper, the surface of the wrapper itself covered densely by tooth and showcasing tight, nearly invisible seams. Despite the toothy exterior, the cigar is soft to the touch, with an almost silky texture.

Two other features stand out: its tipped cap, here in the form of a dense extension of tobacco reminiscent of a pigtail cap, and its covered foot. The smell from the barrel is of rich, spicy tobacco and barnyard alongside an underlying sweetness and pleasant, understated muskiness. Sweetness is much more pronounced at the foot, with rich, molasses-y aromas and a touch of spiciness that makes the experience a bit more lively. The cold draw is rather light, with subtle peppery notes and an underlying sense of hay and cedar, though more subtle than the other aromas of the pre-light stage.

Black Label Cigar Event with James Brown

Black Label Event at Low Country Pipe and Cigar

First Light

Initial puffs are extremely pepper heavy as the closed foot burns, surrounding a core of deep earthiness which evolves into a richly complex array of baking spices that fade quickly from the finish. The barnyard aromas from the pre-light return in a rather subtle way, along with a truly surprising, Christmas-y combination of baking spices on the finish that linger for quite some time. Subsequent puffs uncover a dry, vegetal flavor that's fleeting, but provides some balance against the more unctuous flavors here, and the lengthy finish of this smoke affords it ample time to evolve, morphing into a slightly muted dark chocolate sweetness that's both welcome and surprising.

The cold draw is rather light, with subtle peppery notes

Further into the first third, flavors shift toward a more pronounced vegetal aroma, evolving and expanding over the finish to create a uniquely savory combination of flavors. Retrohales are more pepper-forward, and reduce the presence of the aforementioned vegetal notes, instead reintroducing a rich combination of pepper and earth ubiquitous to this cigar. Midway through the first third, the retrohale shifts toward a smoky, peppery, mesquite that stays on the finish and immediately calls barbecue to mind. Smoky mesquite slowly evolves into rich barnyard aromas that are tempered with a smooth nuttiness and peppery leather that close out the first third.

The second third opens with a bevy of sweet flavors, molasses, dark cocoa, and graham cracker, unified by spicy leather which carries these aromas into the finish. There's a very subtle cinnamon note which gradually develops as this third progresses, never quite bursting to the forefront, but supporting the evolution of the flavors which surround it and keeping the spicy element of this cigar interesting and complex. In addition, a slight bit of floral aroma begins to come into play, sticking around just long enough to make the deep earthy flavors which follow it all the more surprising.

Midway Flavors

Black Label Trading Company: Memento Mori Robusto Cigars

Retrohales at the midway point of the second third are surprisingly creamy, with a slightly bready note that's then slowly overtaken by a brighter display of the cinnamon found earlier. Continued retrohales keep this flavor profile, while standard puffs see a dramatic switch back to the spicy, richly earthy, and leathery aromas that have remained a constant in this cigar. Passing the halfway point of the second third introduces dark, almost bitter stonefruit flavors that yet maintain a slight sweetness and underscore the complexity of this blend beautifully. Closing out the second third, retrohales offer a robust umami flavor and smoky aromas, lining up rather well with standard puffing at this point.

The first puffs of the final third reveal leather and earth once again making their way back to the forefront, though the smoky mesquite from before bolsters their presence. Retrohales maintain the same general presence as the latter second third, though with a distinctly enhanced meatiness and a bit of a return to the creamy flavors present earlier. However, these flavors evolve after subsequent puffs, adding cinnamon to the mix once more to great effect. Halfway through, the flavors of standard puffs stay consistent, though the retrohale evolves once more to incorporate a vibrant burst of baking spices that wake the palate and invigorate the smoke, as floral aromas manifest and retreat at odd intervals. Finishing the final third, retrohales again shift, losing a lot of their darker qualities and taking on a creamy texture that's sporadically punctuated by bursts of pepper. The last few puffs stay true to this flavor profile before the cigar becomes too hot to smoke.

Overall Flavor Profile

The overall flavors here are most certainly full-bodied, with boldness around nearly every corner, though Black Label has done well to expertly balance this robust profile with sweetness and creaminess. Despite its fuller body, its strength doesn't often rise above medium to medium-full, keeping it fairly accessible to newcomers who wish to explore a heartier blend.

flavors evolve after subsequent puffs, adding cinnamon to the mix once more to great effect

What makes this cigar so impressive, however, is the great degree of nuance that its flavors express, unafraid to showcase deeply complex aromas that are fleeting, much like life itself and in line with the imagery and title presented. The final smoking time of these cigars averaged an hour and twenty minutes — though I am a fast smoker — making it a good choice when time is of the essence. Though a Robusto was used for this review, the Memento Mori is also available in Corona and Lonsdale sizes on site.

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Black Label Trading Company Cigars


    • Lori Gregor on May 11, 2023
    • Incredible cigars, amazing artwork and spectacular James Brown!

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