Alec Bradley Cigars is celebrating twenty-five years in the cigar industry this year. This is no small feat in the competitive cigar industry as we know it today.
I’ve come to know Alec Bradley Cigars, first as a brand fan, and now as industry colleagues, over the past eight years. Their beginnings were fairly humble, and they experienced a learning curve, with some trial and error. Two-and-a-half decades after they started, the company is globally respected, is thriving and is one of the top innovators in the industry. Today, their brand and blends are globally respected.
Alan Rubin is the architect of the Alec Bradley brand. His vision as founder of the company is compelling, as our conversation shows.
By Randy Mastronicola
Randy Mastronicola: Twenty-five years in the cigar industry now. Congratulations. Not too shabby. How does that resonate for you?
Alan Rubin: It surely doesn’t feel like it’s been twenty-five years. Sometimes I look back and I start thinking I feel like I’ve been in the business three or four years. It’s still exciting. I’m still very passionate about it. I think there’s more wisdom in my decisions after twenty-five years, but it feels like it’s still new to me. I still enjoy it, I think to the level of when I started. Actually, probably more.
If you don’t have more wisdom after twenty-five years, you might as well just fold your tent. I know your previous endeavors weren’t related to the industry. You were an outsider.
My prior career couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed to the cigar business. I was in a business that was based on price and service. Then I came into a business that’s all about being a brand. Without question, creating a brand that people know, enjoy and trust, it’s a very difficult task. I wasn’t really thinking about that when I got in this business, but it’s been an amazing journey to try and take a brand name and bring it out to the general public. Most people who enjoy cigars know who we are and what we do.
Which cigar or cigars do you feel really helped you imprint on the industry? When you knew you’d arrived.
We had some stepping stones. We came out with Trilogy–a triangular cigar. It was new to the market. It had colorful packaging in a world of many tones of brown. We had three very brightly packaged products on the shelf, and because the cigar was triangular, it was different. The Trilogy was a bit of an eye-opener to the industry and made people notice.
But if I had to give you one cigar that put us on the map as a company, it would be Tempest Natural. I remember looking over at Ralph Monteiro, who’s my vice president, and we didn’t say anything. I just looked at him, kind of nodded my head like, “This is it.” He raised his eyebrows, kind of like, “I hear you.” We knew we had something special, we had something different. It was just a go. It was a flavor profile we’d never had, a style we had never had, and I knew at that moment this was our future.
Do you ever think about how creating a new cigar will make an impact on the industry in terms of a trend? Or you don’t go that far with it in your initial vision at the beginning?
Oh, it’s not in the window that I look through as to how it will impact the industry because I don’t know. There’s no real formula. Sometimes it’s just in our minds. What are we looking for? What is the flavor that we’re looking to achieve? Then, when you head in that direction and you finally hit it, you start to say, “Okay, what is it going to look like?” An example would be Black Market. On the Black Market line, we had been working with Panamaian tobacco for just around two years.