When you think of, for lack of a better term, gringos owning and operating cigar factories in Estelí, Jonathan Drew of Drew Estate and Skip Martin of RoMa Craft Tobac come to mind. But there’s another: James and Angela Brown of Black Label Trading Co., who not only own their own factory, Fabrica Oveja Negra, but also live in Estelí.

The Browns own Black Label Trading Co., but late last year they launched a new project, Black Works Studio. The project seems to be a banner to allow the factory more flexibility to produce cigars at a quicker rate and in a more limited capacity. The first three of these cigars shipped in early December, each with its own blend.

NBK uses an Ecuadorian habano oscuro wrapper, Killer Bee uses an Ecuadorian maduro wrapper while the Rorschach uses an Ecuadorian habano wrapper. All three cigars use a Nicaraguan binder and fillers.

Black Works Studio Vitolas

  • Black Works Studio Killer Bee (4 1/2 x 46) — $7.50 (Boxes of 20, $150)
  • Black Works Studio Rorschach (5 x 38) — $4.30 (Boxes of 50, $215)
  • Black Works Studio NBK (6 x 46) — $9 (Boxes of 20, $180)

Black Works Studio Rorschach 1

  • Cigar Reviewed: Black Works Studio Rorschach
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: Fabrica Oveja Negra
  • Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Length: 5 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 38
  • Vitola: Petit Lancero
  • MSRP: $4.30 (Boxes of 50, $215)
  • Release Date: Dec. 8, 2015
  • Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The Black Works Studio Rorschach is a pretty small vitola and not one normally used for longfiller cigars. Oddly, it’s not the ring gauge, 38, that is the odd part. It’s the fact that it’s five inches, not six inches like most petite lanceros. I found the cigar in Lone Star State Cigar Co.’s section dedicated to little cigars. There’s a peanut butter cookie-like sweetness from the wrapper along with a touch of leather. That carries over to the foot, but it’s joined by big cedar and some mild hay. The cold draw has a really big orange Creamsicle flavor.

The Rorschach begins with a sweet oak flavor followed by some black tea and coffee bean on the finish. The first retrohale is really nice with just a bit of creaminess surrounding the oakiness. Each of the three cigars I smoked have an incredible amount of variance in the cedar present in the beginning stages; some are dominated by cedar, while one sample has none detectable. Outside of the difference in cedar, the first thirds get to the same place: a sour wheat flavor, which reminds me of a wheat beer, along with some breads and creaminess. There are a lot of grain flavors: sometimes more bread-like, sometimes more beer-like and at times just plain grain. The finish has some blood orange and white pepper along with a building creaminess. Smoke production is where a lot of small ring gauge cigars find themselves: calm until a puff is taken. The flavor is full, while the body and strength are both medium.

Black Works Studio Rorschach 2

By the second third all three of the smaller Black Works Studio offerings have a fair amount of cedar happening. There’s also granola and some saltiness added to the core grain-dominated flavor profile. However, the finish is where the progression really is; as it’s salty with some earthiness. There’s also sour lemon and pepper that comes and goes as it pleases. The initial grain flavor along with the sweet and saltiness would make for a classic gose description, sans coriander, which I don’t find in the cigar. Of note, the lemon in the retrohale is much more of a candied flavor, almost reminding me of lemonade. The draw opens up a bit and the resting smoke production increases slightly with it. Strength is now medium-plus but the flavor and body remain where they were previously.

Black Works Studio Rorschach 3

There’s a lot more pepper in the final third, mainly black pepper, along with some mustard powder upfront. It’s a clear transition of flavors with not a ton being carried over from the middle part. Something that is familiar is the importance of the finish. It now has a potato-like starchiness and some sour apricot. With less than an inch left, there is a transition into a salty potato chip and I’m able to find some coffee bean underneath. After an hour—yes, an hour—the Rorschach has presumably given me everything it’s got and I decide to call it a night.

Black Works Studio Rorschach 4

Final Notes

  • I still am not entirely sure what Black Works Studio is. I am not opposed to separating this from the core business, but I’m not sure I think it’s necessary. If I’m a Black Label Trading Co. retailer I likely will want to carry Black Works Studio since presumably the customer base would be similar.
  • Black Label Trading Co. and Black Works Studio are now being distributed by Boutiques United, formerly known as House of Emilio.
  • I have an immense amount of respect for anyone that is willing to make the commitment to move from the U.S. to the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua to run their own factory. There’s not many that do, but it shows a level of commitment that is different than what most are willing or able to put in. While it’s not a guaranteed formula for success, I do think it greatly increases the chances so long as you are willing to take it slow. In my mind, there’s no replacement for feeling tobacco as it goes through the stages.
  • The Rorschach test is a noted psychological activity created by Hermann Rorschach. In very plain terms, you are shown a variety of inkblot images and asked what you see.
  • Here’s Rainn Wilson from The Office doing a NSFW version of the test.

  • There are quite a few entrants into “most challenging to photograph” cigar, but purposely obscuring text is perhaps a new one.
  • Final smoking time was one hour.
  • Site sponsor Lone Star State Cigar Co. (972.424.7272) carries Black Works Studio.

Update: The review implied this cigar was a longfiller, it is not. See comments below.

86 Overall Score

While smoking a cigar in one hour is a near record for me, I imagine that’s not what was intended given the small size. As for the flavor, it was full, but not in your face full, and fairly nuanced. While I appreciated the salty and sour contrasts, there were puffs where they overwhelmed the rest of the flavors and those weren’t great. In the end, I’d smoke another, but I cannot see myself seeking this out. I will say that I look forward to revisiting this rather unique cigar after a year to see where things stand.

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Charlie Minato

I am an editor and co-founder of halfwheel.com/Rueda Media, LLC. I previously co-founded and published TheCigarFeed, one of the two predecessors of halfwheel. I have written about the cigar industry for more than a decade, covering everything from product launches to regulation to M&A. In addition, I handle a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff here at halfwheel. I enjoy playing tennis, watching boxing, falling asleep to the Le Mans 24, wearing sweatshirts year-round and eating gyros. echte liebe.