James and Angela Brown spent some time with our team and shared their creative inspiration behind their brand and the upcoming projects for Black Label Trading Company
Hoochly: Tell us about your background. What did you use to do before cigars and how did you fall into the industry?
James: I think I’m one of the few people that didn’t have any experience in the cigar industry before starting my own company. I was in the wine industry for a few years working as a Sommelier and started smoking cigars many years ago. My wife and I went on to own several different businesses around the world, Mexico, Africa, Guatemala & finally Nicaragua. In Guatemala we had an adventure travel company that offered trips throughout Central America and in particular; Nicaragua. As an avid cigar smoker I started spending a lot of time in Esteli learning everything I could about tobacco and cigar making. Over a couple of years this grew into me blending cigars for our travel company clients. Everyone loved the cigars and that planted the seed that this could turn into a business. A couple of years later we launched BLTC.
Hoochly: Tell us about the creation of Oveja Negra and where the name comes from? Are you guys the black sheep of the family by any chance?
James: In my experience no body cares about what you do more than yourself. I didn’t feel like we could grow and develop our brand in the direction we wanted in someone else’s factory. I felt like, if my name is on it, it has to be 100% my cigar. I needed to own the process, from start to finish. This is what makes us so unique. With those goals in mind we started Oveja Negra two years ago.
I definitely feel like the Black Sheep in most things I do, especially cigars. We try to go against the grain with our cigars, keep things new, interesting and out of the norm. Being the only Gringo family living in Esteli doing what we do, the name just seems to make sense.
Hoochly: BLTC launched in 2013 with six blends and since then you guys seem to never stop, where do you get so much creative juice from?
James: I see cigars as an art form. I’m inspired by many different things that somehow find their way into a new cigar. Movies, music, art, I just never know where the next idea will come from and when it does come, we go for it! Being able to create all our artwork to reflect the personality of the cigar keeps me inspired.
Hoochly: Speaking of creativity, let’s talk about the marketing of your brand. What was the inspiration?
James: As a cigar consumer I felt like there just wasn’t a brand out there that spoke to me. There were some brands with semi-edgy packaging but the cigar was never edgy enough for me. I basically wanted to create a brand that reflected the things I wanted out of a cigar. The branding is a reflection of the many sides of my personality. BLTC is dark & gothic and BLK WKS is urban & raw. I think both brands do a great job reflecting the style of the cigars they represent. That is the most important thing with branding.
Hoochly: Tell us about your “Less is More” philosophy
James: Use the best materials, take your time, don’t complicate things that are not complicated. Let the tobacco tell you what works, don’t force anything and be patient. The cigars will speak for themselves.
Hoochly: Sindustry, Green Hornet, Boondock Saint, S&R, Morphine, Killer Bee, Deliverance, Lawless, Last Rites, Benediction, Bishops Blend, Catacomb, Rorschach… I’m sure we are missing a bunch others here. These names are so out of the box; How do you come up with them and which one has a cool backstory you can tell us?
James: You’re missing a few but that’s ok. Once again the inspiration comes from all over. Killer Bee grew out of my love for the Wu Tang Clan, NBK (Natural Born Killer) and Boondock from the movies. Rorschach is a mix of our off cut tobacco so each one is a touch different, and open for interpretation, like a Rorschach test.
For the BLTC lines, I just love the dark religious inspired art. Seeing it all over Central America for years gave me the inspiration.
Hoochly: Tell us about the Black Works Studio Project
James: When we started the factory I developed several blends that didn’t fit into the BLTC profile. I wanted to get these cigars to market and show the interesting things Oveja Negra was capable of, so we developed Black Works Studios. The name came about because we treat our factory as a studio. It’s my creative playground and nothing is too out of the box. Black Works is all about being creative and focuses on very unique cigars that are made in ultra small batches of 100 boxes. It has been described as the boutique inside the boutique.
Hoochly: Talk to us about the latest Governor and First Lady cigars. They seem to be a hit!
James: It’s a shop exclusive we did for Governors Cigars in Monroe, La. They were one of our first retailers so we were very excited to make there first shop exclusive. The Governor has a Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper and the First Lady has a Connecticut. Given that a Conn. is it not typically our style we amped up the filler making it a very interesting blend. The first batch sold out in 24 hours but another batch is in the works. Having our own factory has allowed us the opportunity to work on some interesting projects with different people.
James: Well, with current FDA rules that makes it tough! We do have a couple of BLK WKS cigars and some private label projects that will be hitting the market later this year. 2017 Bishops Blend & Morphine from BLTC will be coming soon also.
Hoochly: What do you guys do on your off time? Any hobbies?
James: My wife and I are big Land Rover fans and spend our free time looking all over Central America for restoration projects. We rescue old Land Rovers, restore them and send them to new owners in the US.
Hoochly: And finally, the million dollar question; how do you Hoochly?
James: Anyway we can!