Utah isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of cigars, but Brandon Oveson of Apostate is helping to change that perception. After languishing in the corporate world and leaving the Mormon faith, Oveson converted to the tobacco industry. He talks about becoming an outcast, the Salt Lake scene, and fostering community in the cigar world.
The First Premium Smoke
Cigar Life Guy: Tell me about your first premium cigar experience.
Brandon Oveson: My first real experience was with a buddy of mine in the remote mountains of Utah around 2010. I don’t remember the exact cigar, but I believe it was a Camacho, Connecticut. We sat around a campfire, telling stories and reliving our glory days. We had a bottle of Pendleton we were passing back and forth. The stars were insane. It was a perfect recipe to make me a cigar smoker for life.
Finding Community with Cigars
Cigar Life Guy: Tell us how you got started in the cigar industry. What did you do before, and how does it help inform what you do with your current business?
Brandon Oveson: Most of my professional career was in middle management for several Fortune 500 companies. I was a corporate shill, and cigars were my hobby. When the grind became too much, I took a little break from work for a while in early 2016. After reflecting on what I wanted to do next (all while smoking cigars every day), I decided to try my hand at tobacco retail and learn about the industry. Luckily, Kendrick (my partner who owns Beehive Cigars) needed a part-time tobacconist. He hired me in July 2016, and by October, I was his General Manager, running the shop and doing the cigar buying. That was how it all started.
The Origin of Apostate Cigars
Cigar Life Guy: Apostate comes from the Greek “apostasia,” meaning defection, revolt, and rebellion. What’s the story behind this name? Or better question, what are you rebelling against?
Brandon Oveson: I grew up in Utah. Growing up in Utah typically means growing up in the Mormon faith. In my mid-twenties, I had a bit of a crisis of faith and decided to leave the church. When you go, Apostate is what they call you. It’s not a term of endearment and generally means they will view you as an outcast. To Mormons, the word means someone who has lost their way. When I left, I lost access to the community I had grown up in. I found community and a sense of belonging again when I discovered cigar lounges. So, for Kendrick and I, it made sense to call our brand Apostate when we decided to start making our cigars and attempting to help foster community through tobacco.
Cigars, Religion, and History
Cigar Life Guy: Speaking of names. Your line derives its name from various sources, including scriptural passages and Mesoamerican gods. Tell us about a few of your favorites.
Brandon Oveson: All of the cigar names have their roots in our religious upbringing. Lucky for us, there’s a lot of source material regarding Mormon mythology (laughs). My favorite so far is the Sword of Laban. The name comes from a story from the early chapters of the Book of Mormon. One of God’s faithful chosen must recover the written record of his people so they can carry it with them as they journey to a Promised Land. The record is in the hands of a local magistrate in Jerusalem named Laban. Nephi, God’s faithful acolyte, finds Laban drunk and passes out in an alleyway one night. So God commands Nephi to take Laban’s sword, cut off his head, adorn his clothes, walk into Laban’s house, and take the written records. It’s an intense story that helped illustrate the rich backstory of our faith through a cool cigar.
Apostate Cigars, Cigar Industry and Utah
Cigar Life Guy: Cigars aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think “Utah.” What’s the cigar scene like there?
Brandon Oveson: The cigar scene in Utah is pretty robust. You’ll usually find a rich and loud counter-culture anywhere you have a heavily religious community. That’s certainly the case in Salt Lake City, and we feel lucky to have the support of the local cigar community. These folks show up. They pay the 86% state tobacco tax without (much) complaint, and they understand that cigars will only thrive in Utah as long as they participate. It’s been fun.
Cigar Life Guy: What has been the most pleasant surprise of working in the cigar industry?
Brandon Oveson: People often assume there’s heated competition among manufacturers. There’s competition in the sense that the collective creativity of these fantastic blenders and manufacturers prompts everyone to bring their best to the table. But overall, I’ve experienced more inclusion and collaboration than in any other industry. We all want to see each other win, and everyone quickly says, “If you need anything, let me know.” Being part of a creative community that wants to provide folks with an experience rather than just a product you light on fire is enjoyable.
The Future of Apostate Cigars
Cigar Life Guy: What’s next for Apostate Cigars?
Brandon Oveson: Right now, we’re focusing on organic growth. We are having fun bringing our product to lounges and shops nationwide. We just debuted two new blends at the PCA tradeshow in Vegas, and they will be well received and we have two more blends to finish to round out our core lineup. Hopefully, you’ll see those on the table at the next tradeshow in March. Wish us luck!
Cigar Life Guy: Have we missed anything? Please tell us anything else you’d like the cigar world to know.
Brandon Oveson: Everyone can check out our current list of retailers, find our social media links, and look at our upcoming events by visiting www.apostatecigars.com.
Overall, we want folks to know we’re here to help foster this community, enjoy each others’ company, and live life to the fullest. We’re all going to die, so let’s enjoy the ride together.
Photo credit: Apostate Cigars