In 1996, the only thing Alan Rubin, founder of Alec Bradley Cigar Company, knew about cigars was “which end to cut and which end to light.” Since then, he has become one of the industry’s leading innovators in blending and branding. Now his company is celebrating 20 years in business.
“It was my passion that encouraged me to invest my life in something I love, founding Alec Bradley Cigar Company,” says Rubin. “When I look back 20 years, I would say I wouldn’t change too much. I love this industry and the people in it. That is what keeps you here.”
Rubin had nothing more than the name ‘Alec Bradley,’ named after his two sons, when he incorporated in June of 1996. There were no ideas, no blends, no working prototypes. The cigar boom had already reached its peak and, by the time Rubin released his first blend, Bogey’s Stogies in 1997, the demand for cigars had declined immensely. “ The first blend under Alec Bradley was Bogey’s Stogies – ‘the only bogey that you will ever enjoy on the golf course,’ ” Rubin explains. “It was my original business plan – putting cigars on the golf course.”
Bogey’s Stogies, a mild, Connecticut-wrapped cigar, was short-lived, and by 1999, the inaugural stick was extinct. Alan Rubin then joined forces with Ralph Montero, another struggling cigar maker at the time, and together the duo turned the company around. They worked with legendary cigar maker Henke Kelner to produce their first successful cigar, Occidental Reserve, at Kelner’s Occidental factory in the Dominican Republic. “We had about 300 retailers in the United States selling them,” notes Rubin. “We were growing and we began blending in Honduras and Nicaragua.”
The ball started rolling from there. The next release, Trilogy, a triangular-pressed cigar, gave the brand great exposure, and the Maxx, Alec Bradley’s first big-ring- gauge release, became very popular with smokers. But none of that compared to the notoriety derived from the Tempus. The Tempus, released in 2007, was the turning point for the company, recording sales that were off the charts. It was its first full-bodied cigar and exposed the brand to new palates and newly found success.
Alec Bradley Cigar Company had planned to release a special cigar this year commemorating its 20 years in business. However, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) deeming regulations put the kibosh on that. “Just as we were getting ready to finalize the project [the 20th anniversary cigar], the FDA came out with their regulations and gave us a very short window of time to be able to comply with the regulations,” expresses Rubin. “I wasn’t worried about commemorating my 20th year, I was worried about the next 20 years.”
Coming from humble beginnings, today’s brand is a far cry from the inaugural release of Bogey’s Stogies that Alan Rubin was once peddling to golf courses in the mid-1990s. Alec Bradley Cigar Company touts itself as a “quality- first organization” now operated by three generations of Rubins. The company currently makes 90 percent of its cigars at the Raíces Cubanas factory in Danlí, Honduras, where it produces enough cigars annually to satisfy its global demand in more than 40 countries.
“We find a way to create an affordable luxury lifestyle product that becomes entertainment to those who partake,” states Rubin. “People give us an hour or an hour and a half of their time and it is very important that we perform to their satisfaction – that we actually surpass the level of satisfaction that they were expecting.”
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Winter Edition 2016. Read more