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BayouInterest: Black Label Trading Co.

By Melanie Moffett
In Center Block
Jun 26th, 2014
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JUNE Web 

BayouLife Magazine catches up with Black Label Trading Co. owner James Brown during a recent visit to Monroe

article by Michael DeVault | photo by Brad Arender

It’s the kind of bragging-rights story guys tell one another over drinks and cigars. On a road to a remote Honduran village, James Brown came face-to-face with gun-wielding militia men. There are the embellishments that go with this kind of story: the guns were automatic, the road was remote, and they were just a couple of miles from their destination. For fifteen minutes, they argue, “sweating bullets,” before the group eventually decides to turn back.

“We get about a quarter mile down the road, and we hear this noise,” Brown said. So, they stopped the vehicle, turned around, and looked behind them. “We see that they’re using the road as a landing strip for a plane.” Brown laughs now, but at the time he was leading a tour through the jungles of Honduras, clients of his adventure travel company. These days, Brown is engaged in an adventure of a different sort, as he and his wife, Angela, work to build Black Label Trading Company, a purveyor of fine Nicaraguan cigars. BayouLife caught up with Brown along DeSiard Street in downtown Monroe, as he was preparing for a cigar and bourbon pairing at Cotton. The event was put together by Friday Ellis at Governor’s Cigar and Pipe and featured several of Brown’s signature cigars.

“I think smoking a cigar, like drinking a bottle of wine, is all about the experience,” Brown said. “The cigar can either be that memorable moment or you can have a memorable moment where you enjoy a cigar. For me, that’s what creates the perfect smoke. It’s not the cigar itself, but what it is you’re doing, what memories it creates, where you did it, and the people you did it with. That’s what makes it a great cigar.”

Black Label Trading Company grew out of his travels through Central America. He picked the name because it fit the image he hoped to have for his company. Dressed from head to foot in black, it’s a name that could just as soon describe him as it does the company he founded. Brown has a steely stare, dark eyes, and the complexion of a man who spends time in the jungle. At times, he looks more cut out for a ship in Black Sails than the upper chambers of Restaurant Cotton. But it hasn’t always been that way. For a time, Brown was a sommelier in fine restaurants, time he credits with honing his palate.

“Working in the restaurant industry, the owner actually owned a bunch of tobacco stores and cigar shops. So that kind of got me into cigars,” Brown said. He was drawn to tobacco for the same reason he found wines intriguing. Both products come from simple plants and make complex sensory experiences. Traveling Central America exposed him to enough varieties of tobacco that he knew he wanted to work with Nicaraguan blends, which tend to be much richer than varietals from Dominica or Cuba.

Though he’s a bit reserved talking about the future, Brown said the company is already looking to expand its offerings. “We’ve played around with a few ideas,” Brown said, and he called cigars a great start. But, he foresees a time when the company branches out into coffees and spirits. “We left it open, our name, Black Label Trading Company, because we didn’t want to be married to cigars.”

Whatever they choose as their next offerings, Brown said it’ll be something about which he and his wife are passionate. “We have a lot of passions. So it’s kind of just honing all of those into what we want to be doing at the moment.”