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Saturday, April 3, 2010

"We want to be the best part of your day!"

 "We want to be the best part of your day!"

That was Alan Rubin's quote to me that stood out the most through our one hour and twenty minute conversation. It didn't seem that long, it felt as if I were talking to a long lost friend. This could be one of the least pretentious men in the industry with an easy manner and a strong business mind. He was very quick to assure me that he is doing what he truly loves.

I am usually the one trying to open my interviewee up with talk of what the industry means to the hard working, middle class man. Alan was citing back yard cigar clubs, fellowship of guy's smoking and living life on their terms... are you kidding me, that is all my half spun rhetoric! But I was listening, nodding my head and wanting everything he said to be true, and you know what? It was. He speaks with such passion using subtle lay-men terms and he puts you at ease the same if you were smoking one of his famous Alec Bradley lines of cigars, which he created in 1997. "Admittedly after some"learning experiences" of being a "gringo" in a Spanish cultured industry, I got stuck a few times with subpar tobacco in the beginning, I just had to learn the business from that end." After the sale of a sucessful family business of importing hardware good for the construction industry and promising himself a six month respite to devote time with his family, he has quite the life of luxury to pursue his passion, and we all know what happened next. Tempus (spanish for "time") Centuria, which received a 94 rating in Cigar Aficionado, six other of his cigars which received 90 ratings including the Select Cabinet Reserve SCR, which I personally thought should have been rated higher. The MAXX  The Freak, Trilogy and his pride of the lot, Prensado (spanish for "boxed press"), all great cigars and all the vision of this humble man.
Alan told me that one of his best business decisions was hiring then cigar creator Rafael Montero "Ralph", who was appointed from Operations Manager to Vice President and served as my liaison in the process of setting up this interview. The Friday before I spent almost fourty five minutes on the phone with Ralph, talking cigars and the industry or I should say the state of the industry, which he was quick to point out that the tobacco industry needs to separate itself from cigarettes in the same way that beer and wine did with liquor. Even though both are alcohol, they are very different in effect, process and characteristics. He said it is unfair to compare an all natural product with one that is full of chemicals that are so addictive. I learned so much from speaking with Mr. Montero, a very insightful and knowledgable asset to the Alec Bradley family, working with Hendrick Kelner, who produced the Occidental Reserve, and still remains in the blending process.

I got into such real conversations with Alan, dispelling rumors of "golden handshakes" with Marvin Shanken of Cigar Aficiondo and the bogus ratings of cigar publications. He was quick to defend Cigar Aficionado, he said because of the exposure in the magazine it propelled his company so much. He also sternly told me that this industry is not where it is today withouth the vision of Marvin and Cigar Aficionado. I am now sure that Alan had been following some of my posts on facebook, as I am very critical of high cigar ratings correlating with full page advertisements in Cigar Aficionado. I asked him directly, "Don't you feel that Marvin has lost touch with working men who spends his hard earned dollar to buy his cigar for the week and seeking sanctuary to escape: his boss, the bill collector, and faulty economy? His reply was "No, it was never about that, Marvin's mission statement was to promote the finer things in life."Dually noted! I agree Cigar Aficionado has its place, maybe I'm jealous!

Alan, also pointed out that this industry has been around for four hundred years and it is very cyclical as the economy, I remember reading once at the turn of the century when the economy instead of being compared to gas prices they (finacial analyst) would compare it to the five cent cigar, and how the price of that cigar would fluctuate from four to six cents. I tried to lead him into arming me with information about the competition but no avail he would have none if it. Only saying that he and the other manufacturers are like brethren, that they sit down at shows and conventions smoking each other's products. I even brought up Rocky Patel, which is good for some off-the-wall comment, but he just dispelled my tactics and we progressed to through the interview. I asked him to talk about his joint venture with Joseph Gannascoli's, new line of product Cugine Cigars, and he said, "Joe is very passionate about cigars and is trying to learn the business. He now has a good product, but it's now in his hands." I asked if it was a private label or did Joe have his hands in the process of creating this blend? He said Joe was totally in the process and wanted to have the Alec Bradley name involved with the blend. We also spoke of any new blends coming out for the IPCPR in August, he simply told me he is in a "creating mode" right now and working on a Connecticut blend, he also mentioned a surprise blend that  he could not release the name because he was unsure it would make it to the IPCPR in time. I thanked him for spending time with me, knowing all too well that I'm a small guy starting out in the industry and it was very nice for a busy man like himself to agree to do this. Alan told me, "You know Robbie, I want to thank you for taking the time and calling to ask these questions. It's guys like you that make the industry what it is."

Thanks again Alan, mission statement successful once again. Alec Bradley was the best part of my day!