The story of Alec Bradley Cigars is the story of impassioned, dedicated people, finding a niche in the cigar world and then excelling.
Alec Bradley Cigars began when Alan Rubin and his father sold their hardware (nuts and bolts) company. Alan started looking for his next business. “I wanted to pursue a business that I loved” he explains. While he thought about many businesses, he enjoyed cigars. Though he had no experience making or selling cigars, that was the business that called out to him.
So Cigars it would be. Being a native Floridian, Alan knew that golf and cigars went well together. And after all, you can golf all year round … right? Amusedly, Alan looks back on this assumption and chuckles. But nevertheless, it was on the golf courses that Alan would sell his first cigars.
The brand Bogey’s Stogies was born in 1996, “The only Bogey you’ll enjoy on the golf course”. In 1996, cigars were in the hands of celebrities, on magazines, they were everywhere. It was a good time to sell cigars. But the good times were not to last.
As cigars lost their mass-appeal in the late nineties, Alec Bradley needed to change. Alan needed help. So the story really begins with the people who helped the company in its early days and are with Alan today.
Alec and Bradley are Alan Rubin’s sons. It is something of a family tradition to integrate family and their names into a company. When you spend just a few minutes talking with Alan, you will immediately realize how important his family, and how important each person in the company is to him. Make no mistake, Alan is the founder and driving force behind Alec Bradley. But he is quick to articulate exactly how important his entire team is to the success of the company.
The People are the Company
Lori Bond was the first reliable person to be hired as a paid employee. She has worked until midnight. She has banded and boxed cigars and done everything required to help the company grow. She jumped into the deep end of the pool when Alec Bradley came out with the Occidental Reserve brand. They sent 2 cigars in silver tubes to 500 retailers. They sent no price list, just a product description.
Lori followed up with every single retailer by phone. She asked them, “what would you sell this for?” Many would say, $4 or $5. She asked if they could sell it for $2.50 per cigar and they built up a retailer clientele of over 300 stores with that product.
David Rubin, Alan’s Father, never left his side after they sold their hardware company. He was the first employee in a sense but really he was a volunteer. Whatever was needed at the fledgling company, David would get it accomplished. He still works at the Alec Bradley office every day providing advice based upon his decades of business experience.
Ralph Montero and Alan met in the early 2000s. He was running his own cigar brand, Montero Cigars, and was struggling with the end of the Cigar Boom of the 1990s. Alan, was also struggling. According to Alan, Ralph needed funding and Alan needed Ralph’s business expertise. So they joined forces. Ralph started working part-time, roughly estimated at 40-60 hours per week, and they released Occidental Reserve. The company finally began to support itself.
Beyond the Golf Course
Following the moderate success of Bogey’s Stogies, Alan needed to grow the company. People were not buying as many cigars as they used to and Alec Bradley was in a tight corner. “We were at the point of survival. My cigar-maker asked me how he could help us survive. I (Alan) said ‘we need to make flavored cigars’.”
Gourmet Dessert Cigars, “All of the flavor, none of the fat”, was the cigar needed at the time. There were buyers for flavored cigars and that is more than can be said about the traditional cigar market at the turn of the century. Gourmet Dessert were small cigars made in Miami.
I wanted to pursue a business that I loved.
“When we were making flavored cigars, they kept me in business. We were in really tough times then.” Gourmet Dessert was available from 1998 until 2001 or 2002. “We got out of flavors as soon as we could. It was not the part of the business that we wanted to be in.” explains Alan. But though flavors were not where Alan wanted to be, they carried the company through the difficult period when most cigar brands died. Ralph, Henke Kelner and Occidental Reserve helped Alec Bradley move from flavors into the traditional cigar market. You already know that Lori was instrumental in selling those cigars. But what Alan is fast to point out is that “Nobody would have bought the cigar if it hadn’t been made by Henke”. Ralph Montero had a good relationship with Mr. Kelner and when the company needed a solid traditional cigar to sell to proper tobacconists, they all got together to create Occidental Reserve.
3rd Time is a Charm
With Occidental Reserve firmly on retail shelves, it was time for Alec Bradley to exercise its creative muscles. At Home Depot, a DIY and hardware store, a new concept in cigars was made. In the Home Depot store near the office, staff were demonstrating a DeWalt table saw. Inspiration struck.
Alan asked, does that saw cut angles? “Yes” the employee said. Alan walked away, bought wood in a different aisle and returned to the saw demonstration. The employee cut the wood at angles to form a three sided mold right there in the store. What this unique mould did, was to press a cigar from three sides. This created one of the most novel innovations that cigar vitolaria has seen in years; a triangle shaped cigar. “I was so impatient back then.” Alan states. He wanted to smoke the results of the triangle press so badly that he had to self-impose a certain kind of discipline. “I would put the cigars in the presses before I left work one day so that they would press over night before I could take them out of the moulds to smoke.”
Ralph was initially unimpressed by the idea. But Alan returned to the office with his moulds and began experimenting by pressing cigars into a triangular shape. Ultimately, Ralph accepted the idea and they created the Trilogy line. It was offered with 3 sides, 3 wrapper options, and 3 vitolas. Trilogy captured the imagination of cigar enthusiasts. Everyone wanted to know how this shape would feel in the mouth. It was an essential oddity for any collector’s humidor.
All about Cigars
Alec Bradley Cigars is a unique company in the cigar business. Everyone there is entirely obsessed with creating the best cigars they can, every day. Alan and Ralph visit the factories that make their cigars monthly. When they are not at the factories they share their newest creations with their sales, marketing, office and warehouse staffs. Everyone gives input to new blends.
The walls in their meeting room and the creative department are covered, serial-killer-style with inspirational art, magazine clippings, and other found images. The creative process surrounds them. Sam Phillips, VP of Marketing, explained that while engineering their new image (see below) the team spent hours, which turned into days, then into weeks discussing the meaning of the brand and the imagery that would best represent it.
The Alec Bradley cigars that we are most familiar with today all sprung from the last four years of creativity, with only a handful of exceptions. Tempus was released to critical acclaim. Its use of wrapper from Trojes, a region of Honduras set the flavor apart from all other cigars on the market.
The Lancero format of Tempus is both Alan’s and Cigar Journal’s favorite vitola thanks to its showcasing of the flavor of the wrapper leaf. Family Blend, a cigar named to pay homage to the fathers of Alan, Ralph, and George Sosa (VP of Sales) is a medium to full bodied, hugely flavorful cigar.
It earned a spot as Cigar Journal’s Finest 25 cigars of 2011 and it is truly a world class cigar. The dark oily wrapper and pigtail finish make this a classic cigar in the traditional sense.
In 2011, the company released three new cigars; American Classic, Black Market, and Fine and Rare. American Classic truly is a classic style cigar. At a very attractive price, this cigar delivers loads of Central American flavor with extreme finesse and balance. The Black Market is half covered by black paper and keeps a shady profile, like an underworld operator. But when you light it, the intense character of the strong cigar leaps onto your palate. The company is rapidly gaining space in humidors around the world. As the cigars grow to be better known, the company wants to unify the brands under the Alec Bradley crown.
Change now Afoot
“We are about to show a whole new look and feel for the company. We are revealing the badge; a red crest with a crown and AB (white letters). One of these three pieces of the logo will appear on all bands, marketing and communication”, explained Alan Rubin. “This is the big change we are making.” Ralph explains, “Now we want to present a unified theme with our products. We want people to know that if they enjoy ‘product A’ and ‘product B’ that they know that both are Alec Bradley.”
The company has many brands on the market, all with unique identities, this change, will communicate to customers that Alec Bradley is the company that makes all the cigars they love. Alan explains, “We are going to segment the brands that we produce. We will have traditional lines including Tempus, Prensado and Family Blend that all have a similar look to what they have now.”
Special Edition Projects
But now we have Fine and Rare, which gives us the ability to release limited edition blends. “Fine and Rare has to be both Fine and Rare.” Ralph explains, “to be Fine and Rare, it will always have to be special. It will be something that we cannot do on a large scale. It will always have those characteristics and it will always be limited in production.” The original release, a blend called HJ10i, was only 1000 boxes of 10 cigars. The first edition sold out in 15 minutes.
The incredible popularity of the blend HJ10i (Howard Johnson’s (hotel) on Interstate 10) was great for retailers who got them but unfortunately there were not enough to go around. This same blend will be re-released in 2012 as the “1st release 2012” in order to allow the cigar to be tasted by more people. The blend is composed of 10 different tobaccos from 10 different countries.
The master rollers at Raices Cubanas in Honduras skillfully found a way to combine the leaf to create an indulgent cigar smoking experience. Every band is signed by those responsible for creating the cigar and each week, a new band was produced for the batch.
The people whose signatures appear on every band of Fine and Rare include, Ralph Montero, the Endemanos, Floor Supervisor, and Rollers. “It is really about honoring everyone involved in creating the project … and putting the credit where it is due” explains Alan.
In 2012, a new edition of Fine and Rare will be released. While not all the details are yet available for it, Alan explains that it will be “A very unique blend” made by a small set of the best rollers at Raices Cubanas in Honduras. The line will be exclusively in the classic torpedo shape 6 1/8 x 52 (156 x 20,6 mm). Cigar Journal tasted a prototype of the cigar in late 2011 and it impressed us as a strong cigar with a tremendous flavor.
Artists in Cigars
What sets Alec Bradley apart as a cigar company is its extreme attention to every detail of cigar making and branding. The office breathes the brands. Alan and Ralph are intimately involved with every minute detail of every cigar that they produce. They do not produce many new cigars each year. But every cigar they make has been carefully sculpted from the fields, through the factory and down to the coloring and fonts on the bands.
The company’s tagline, “Live True” strikes this writer as how Alan and Ralph live. They are passionate about family, friends, employees and their brands. They have a single-minded focus. And this is why they are producing some of the best cigars in the world.
Alec Bradley – Portfolio 2012
Alec Bradley Cigar Distributors, Inc.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Spring Edition 2012. Read more