“If you can’t send money, send tobacco.” – (to the Continental Congress, 1776)
– George Washington
Southern tobacco has a rich and proud history … a once and mighty cash crop our founding fathers revered, appreciated and enjoyed.
Southern Tab, a cigar company based in Georgia is trying to revitalize this, all the while bucking the cigar industry, doing things their own way … the old Southern way.
When you think of cigars, you probably think of Cuba, Nicaragua, or Honduras. These areas do produce amazing tobacco. However, Southern Tab is aiming to switch things up, offering a product that truly represents our region. Although the wrappers of their cigars are from the Dominican, they use a tobacco filler from Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina.
Southern Tabs cigars, if you haven’t tried them already, are a mild to medium cigar with flavors of nutmeg, white pepper, oak, and leather (which I always appreciate). They burn well with a distinct look, feel and smell … it’s like nothing else that I have tried. And that is what I like most about it … it’s different … not what you typically get in smoke shops.
I’m not going to make a grand or bold statement about how they are the best cigar I’ve ever smoked, and I’m not sitting here saying that it’s the only cigar I smoke. What I am saying is that I thoroughly enjoy their cigars, and I’m excited about what they are trying to do. Again, it’s different, bold and pretty damn cool.
Finally, a premium cigar brand that actually celebrates being grown in the South … where it all started.
Southern Tab Cigars
Starting a business is an empowering and bold endeavor, there is the pride, and of course the money that can accompany it. Yet, it can also come with hurdles and unforeseen pitfalls that can quickly stifle a dream. It takes a special willpower… nerves of steel to go after your passion. Southern Tab is one of those businesses trying to forge ahead, chasing the American Dream … doing it on their own terms.
I had the opportunity to ask Southern Tab a few questions, as I wanted to find out a little more about their business, what they have gone through to try and launch their business, and how they plan to maintain their brand.
I hope you enjoy! (Responses in Blue)
Q: What made you start Southern Tab?
A: I was a groomsman in a friend’s wedding in Tuscaloosa, AL. I had introduced him to the South and now he was marrying a southern belle himself. Because of my convincing that all things from the South were better, picking up the groomsman cigars meant finding sticks made with southern grown tobacco, of course. Except, as most of your readers already know, they didn’t exist.
In all of my cigars through the years, I had never really thought much outside of Nicaraguan, Honduran, Ecuadorian, or the ‘let’s all bow down & worship’ Cuban. I was never loyal to any one label, blend, or country of origin, until it mattered to me. Now, I was standing in a large humidor in Tuscaloosa, AL, getting frustrated that in ‘Title-Town’ a place where many a victory cigar had been smoked, and a college town that has birthed plenty of southern lifestyle, there was no cigar available with southern grown tobacco from the region. I assumed this was an anomaly, but over the next 3 months, I continued to be bewildered that those tobacco fields of the Southland from 200 years ago had moved out of country, sold-out, or just died out. What was left was merely the short-seasoned tobacco crop for cigarettes and a handful of small farms that desperately tried to blend their crop with something from central america to give it more credence, or soak them in whiskey barrels, or fire-cure them in something else.
So I started Southern Tab, to unashamedly use and proudly promote our Southern Tobacco from KY, NC, & VA. …And, of course, to selfishly have a tasty southern cigar to smoke with my buddies. However, this venture has turned into a small mission to help save a few remaining southern tobacco farms and re-ignite a passion for what was the South’s largest cash crops for a couple of centuries.
Q: How difficult has it been to use only Southern Tobacco for your cigars?
A: Extremely difficult. Especially, to get a variety for a solid blend. I had been calling farms, e-mailing farmers, I was in cigar chat-rooms, and joined tobacco growers clubs to try to find tobacco farmers growing a southern broadleaf sufficient for a premium cigar. I reached out to Dr. Michael Moore, the tobacco specialist with the school of Agriculture for the University of Georgia, to connect with farms around the state. He was able to connect me with a few farms in NC, but ironically, nothing usable in Georgia. I’m hoping this changes soon.
I was lucky enough to come across the owner of BlackPatch Cigars, Eric McAnAllen, out of KY. He had been growing & testing different tobaccos on his wife’s fourth generation tobacco farm she inherited in the black patch region of KY. With over twenty years of working his own tobacco leaves, he has become our master blender. We use two of his KY leaves in our blend and then couple those with a North Carolina Broadleaf and a Virginia type 37. Now the kicker is that our wrapper is the only leaf NOT from the South. It’s from the Dominican. Which, we make no bones about. It’s beautiful and is the perfect finish to our sticks. With the ph of American tobacco, we needed a component of the Tab make-up to balance our mild to medium cigar.
Q: What makes Southern Tobacco different, than say Nicaraguan ?
A: Tobacco is a reflection of the soil from where it comes. So Southern Tobacco has its own signature that carries the flavors of the region. Lots of earthy tastes and aromas, such as Oak, Leather, Pepper, Nutmeg, of course, we like to agree that it finishes like a Sweet Tea. The other differentiator in Southern Tobacco is that you know where these leaves come from. You can visit these farms without a Visa and American Tobacco is also much more regulated as a farming product than anything in Central America, so this is cleaner and safer too. We pride ourselves on know whats in our leaves, from the ground up.
There is a heritage and an American pride component in it for us as well. We tend to trust it more because we know the hands working the fields and they’re not kids or slave labor. Which is the main reason why our sticks don’t cost $7. Its Southern grown, under our rains & our water supply, with our air, in our Southern soil. That’s what makes it different.
Q: Has distribution into stores been a challenge?
A: Unbelievably Challenging. We’re not owned & thus not promoted by one of the ‘big 5’ cigar conglomerates out there. Shops & Cigar lounges don’t want to deal with a one-off, they’d prefer to place all their orders with a single distributer. Plus, even if we get a seat in the humidor, we never get prime shelf space, because that is reserved for the big dogs paying the big bucks for it. The other challenge is our premium price-point. As mentioned above, our leaves, labor costs and processing just costs so much more for an American grown product. So it is hard to sell our premium cigar and our story without a trusted name behind it to convince people of it’s value. Once we do get into shops, they love us and usually get behind us to promote our unique difference. So we’re looking at how to target the smaller places that sell cigars to our demographic, but may not have a lounge or a walk-in humidor. Country Clubs, Beach Resorts, and Shooting Clubs have all been good to us.
Q: Have you been happy with customer feedback? How do you feel your product is being received?
A: The one thing that keeps saving us and keeps getting our feet in more doors to retailers is the product itself. It is a mild -mild/medium smoke that finishes well and wont knock you on your ass. It is designed for the guy like myself that doesn’t smoke a cigar every day, but on a Saturday with the boys on a back porch, in the field on a hunt, after a bulldog victory, or celebrating life somewhere else. Our customer’s feedback has been amazing. We get amazing reviews. the only negative comment we received recently was that the roll was too tight and they had to re-lite a couple of times. To that, we understand, and since our sticks are hand-rolled in the Dominican, by the best in the industry, we take it as a rare shortcoming. Our overall reception of the sticks has been fantastic. And I dont even know if people know about the story behind them or that they are American grown here in the South. We have international buyers order our sticks from Scotland and Germany. Not sure how they’re fans, but we love them. (And yes, I’ve tried to work out some trades for some Scotch Whiskey, but it hasn’t come to fruition yet) Our biggest struggle is letting people know that we exist. Once they know our story, and try our cigar, they love us.
Q: Where do you see your company growing and going? Anything new coming out?
A: I see the growth of Southern Tab in 3 major markets; college towns, outdoor sporting clubs, and country clubs around the south. We’ve been lucky enough to be featured as a ‘top recommended gifts’ this Holiday Season, in the upcoming Dec/Jan Garden & Gun magazine which plays to one of our core audiences. And we’ll be the exclusive cigar carried in their Field Shop retail store in Charleston. I would love to see us involved in more Southern weddings (since that’s where it all started) as well as graduations & college football victory cigars. Don’t be surprised if you see a celebrity partner with us pretty soon. We also are looking at what it could be to partner with a bourbon or high-end moonshine.
As far as what’s new coming out, we’re are talking to a farmer in Meriwether Co. Georgia that just harvested his first batch of tobacco in August. Tobacco is grown in 13 counties in Georgia, but nothing suitable for a premium cigars. This would give us a Georgia broadleaf to put in our blend.
At the same time, I’m trying to get a 6th generational shade tree tobacco farm in Gadston Co. Florida to resurrect a tobacco crop for us too. This would give us 1-2 additional blends. Our next blend will certainly be a little more robust, but this is still probably not until Fall of 2019. Until then, we have our single blend with limited edition labels. We will continue to work our packaging game too. We’ve received lots of compliments on our presentation, but there is still lots more we’d love to do to pull in more of the Southern culture into our packaging. Ya’ll have any ideas, we’d love to hear them.
If you haven’t already, give these guys a try! Support local business … southern made businesses. Think about where and how you are spending your money.
Follow them on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/southerntab/
And check out their amazing selection on their website here: https://southerntab.com/