James Brown Visits Low Country Pipe & Cigar
Black Label Trading Company has become phenomena in the cigar industry since the brand's inception in 2013, with scores of devoted enthusiasts following the company's progression, myself included, and last month the founder of Black Label, James Brown, attended a special event at Smokingpipes' brick-and-mortar store, Low Country Pipe & Cigar.
Low Country itself is an imposing structure: a three-story brick building that radiates an air of sturdiness and holds not only a wonderful array of cigars and pipes, but a welcoming atmosphere and an extremely comfortable lounge. When I arrived at the event, a mixture of rich tobacco smoke, freshly pulled shots of espresso, and a vivacious energy greeted me as I entered the lounge; it was filled to the brim with avid aficionados. In the center of this organized chaos were the event's display tables showcasing a vast array of Black Label blends, all attended by the company's sales rep Koy Matta and James Brown himself.
This display comprised Black Label and BLK WKS Studio products, as well as event-exclusive cigars like the Tiger series, and offerings from Dissident and Emilio, brands also produced at Brown's Oveja Negra factory. After some perusing, I selected a sizable handful of cigars to fill up the empty space in my travel humidor and to smoke while I mingled, lighting up a Tiger Lily before making my way into the crowd and introducing myself to James.
When Will Sindustry Return?
Our conversation began with a question I had been dying to ask for years: When is Sindustry coming back? Sindustry is one of BLK WKS Studio's limited-edition cigars, originally released in 2017 and again in 2018, though it hasn't been seen since. This cigar was intended to be an annual release, so where has it been for all these years? James explained that Sindustry's absence is a symptom of the balancing act necessary to maintain the quality of its San Andrés wrapper, the same wrapper used on the Morphine, another of Black Label's limited-edition cigars. Since it's a key component of two of the brand's most celebrated cigars, maintaining consistent and exceptional quality is imperative — an ideal James stressed multiple times throughout our talk. The good news is, according to Brown, Sindustry will be returning in the near future, likely within the coming year.
Sindustry will be returning in the near future, likely within the coming year.
Enter The Tiger: Event-Exclusive Cigars
I also wanted to know more about the Tiger series: the Tiger Lily, Khan, and Neon Tiger cigars. The line was initially introduced as a set of factory-exclusive blends; they were available only when touring the Oveja Negra factory, with limited availability in Europe. In 2022, to celebrate the year of the Tiger, the line was reintroduced as an event exclusive, retaining its elusive status while offering slightly wider accessibility in the U.S. James explained that the Tiger's uniqueness comes from its Maduro, Connecticut Shade, and Candela barber-pole wrappers, with each of the three blends prioritizing one of those three wrapper components: The Khan highlights the Maduro, the Tiger Lily the Connecticut Shade, and the Neon Tiger the Candela. Moreover, they all contain a special Criollo filler that James describes as being less toothy and more velvety, imparting fragrant and complex floral notes with hints of citrus.
Gran Fábrica Oveja Negra
Given the rousing success of the Black Label brand and its subsequent ubiquity among cigar enthusiasts, I wanted James' perspective on what he felt was most important for people to know about his company. He smiled and began to tell the story of Oveja Negra. Translating to Black Sheep from Spanish, Oveja Negra is the factory James established to produce Black Label's cigars, and since its founding in 2015, it has not only handled production for Black Label, but enabled Brown to launch BLK WKS Studio (Black Works Studio) — a highly boutique sub-brand comprising a selection of small-batch cigars that highlight unique sizes, construction techniques, and components. In addition, Oveja Negra has since expanded to manufacture Emilio and Dissident cigars. This quartet of brands is handmade and distributed by Oveja Negra, falling under the umbrella of Oveja Negra Brands since 2019. Brown's emphasis on consistency is reflected in his craft, as his total control over production affords greater oversight of rolling techniques, quality control, and the tobacco used in the cigars.
In fact, Oveja Negra's founding was actually precipitated by James' experience with consistency issues in the cigars he smoked. James has lived in several different countries throughout his life, and in each country he had varying experiences, with certain blends losing their consistency across identical vitolas depending on where he was. Such issues simply wouldn't do for James, so he relocated to Nicaragua, a familiar locale he had experienced while running a travel agency with his wife, and established himself in both the country and the factory. From this position he was able to oversee the entire cigar-making process and make adjustments to production as they were needed, keeping the standard high and the chances of mistakes low. James ensures consistency across all of his Oveja Negra brands by following one simple rule: no substitutions, ever. Each cigar that comes out of the Oveja Negra factory is true to its stated leaves, varietals, and origins, regardless of any shortages in supply. If a cigar states Dominican Ligero in its components list, that's what's in the cigar; no substitutions are allowed for any other kind of Ligero, and the same goes for all other tobaccos used to make their cigars.
no substitutions, ever.
An Artist's Approach to Packaging
Among Black Label's most unique aspects is its art, from event posters, to shirt designs, to box and band artwork, standing apart from others in the industry with striking, avant-garde aesthetics. Brown creates all of Black Label's art himself, and many of these designs relate to James' youth experience as a graffiti artist or his time spent in Latin America, the latter echoed in the brand's often macabre, religion-inspired iconography. While the art itself is decidedly nontraditional, in line with James' cigar-making approach, its reflection of Latin America's spiritual traditions is a connection and tribute to the land that's graced the industry with its leaves for centuries.
Celebrating 10 Years of Oveja Negra
As the conversation drew to a close, I asked James which cigar he had been smoking during our time talking, and I'm glad to have asked: It was in fact a prototype of Black Label's 10th anniversary cigar. Though Brown couldn't give me an exact release date, 2023 marks a decade since the brand was founded, so I hope to see the cigar available in the near future. Other anticipated releases include this year's S&R, which will be returning with a new Lonsdale vitola alongside its other sizes, as well as a special 10-count boxed set called the Black Album, which will comprise a collection of familiar limited-edition blends, all in brand new vitolas.
Black Label has consistently been one of the most exciting, innovative cigar brands on the market, and this penchant for innovation comes with a bold attitude and an identity that is decidedly avant-garde. The brand's intense sense of self is one of the reasons I personally love Black Label and James' work. They aren't constrained by overarching expectations of what a cigar has to be, but have tied themselves to rigid standards of quality and a creative freedom that fosters exploration of what a cigar could be. Many of their blends have found regular spots in my own rotation, including the NBK, Deliverance, Last Rites, Green Hornet, and Lawless, so explore our on-site selection of Black Label, Dissident, and Emilio cigars and experience the work and artistry of James Brown and Oveja Negra for yourself.
Tagged in: Black Label Trading Company BLK WKS Studio Interview Low Country Pipe and Cigar