At the end of the day, we don’t save lives; we just try to make them better one hour at a time. It makes no difference whether you’re an oil tycoon or a gas station clerk; for that time that you sit and smoke together, you’re both able to enjoy the moment, no matter who you are—this is the experience we want to be a part of. Alec Bradley of Alec Bradley Cigars tackles how his company is pushing against bigger, more established brands in the modern race for the perfect tobacco blend. Buckle up, son: we’re about to give you, the cigar smoker, an unforgettable experience!
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Cigar Cafe Radio Alec Bradley | La Knox | Mickey Blakes | Undercrown Shade
I’m Lane. I’m joined today by Sean and Harris and we’ve also got Chris from Alec Bradley with us. Welcome, Chris, on the show. How’s it going Chris?
What’s going on? Nica Puro Rosado is one of these new releases that we came up with at the show. It hasn’t even begun shipping yet. You are lucky enough to be smoking them.
I’m going to get some samples so that I can enjoy them. I received eight.
How many stands can you cover?
Tell us a little bit about it? What’s the blend? What was the impetus behind it? Tell us about it.
For Alec Bradley, instead of going ahead and releasing a ton of new cigars like we did and like most companies do, we want to tweak what we did and play more with our branding. It takes some of the lines like Nica Puro that we had that had been successful for us and well-loved and extend them a little bit. Nica Puro Rosado is another line extension of Nica Puro. It’s got the same binders and fillers. We went ahead and threw a Rosado wrap over the top of it. It makes it a little bit more medium, gives a little bit of spice it lacked before. It came out favorable. What do you think of it?
It’s starting out very well. The pre-light draw was pleasant, a little bit sweet. It’s starting out a little nutty, a little earthy, a medium body. I’m enjoying it so far.
I like it too, it’s a little spicy to me. I just lit it on up.
Right off the rip it’s got that bit of spice and that fades into a little bit of sweetness.
I’ve got a question for you. It sounds like that it’s more of a medium, medium full-type of cigar. I was going to bring this up a little later but it seems everyone’s going to more of a lighter smoke. It seems there are a lot of Connecticuts coming out from a lot of the different manufacturers. Has Alec Bradley jumped into that ring? Are they holding back and doing their own thing?
One of our releases was the Sanctum. It came out about a month before the trade show. I’m happy with that because a lot of our cigars tend to be in that medium to full range. Rosado, Black Market, the Tempus Maduro, it all tends to be a little bit stronger and full body. Sanctum is dead medium right across the board. What I like too is we’ve been playing with a lot of strange tobaccos lately. You look at Sanctum and it’s got a Hondura Corojo wrapper, Costa Rican binder, Colombian, Nicaraguan and Honduran fillers. We’re starting to play with Costa Rican, Colombian. Black Market has Panamanian tobacco in it. We’re playing with a lot of different stuff.
Tell us a little bit about your background. I know you’re new to the region there. Give us a little bit of background on how you got into the cigar business and how it happened.
For me, it started out just loving cigars. I originally worked at AT&T and to de-stress after working I would go smoke a cigar. I’ll go to a shop, which was Mickey Blake’s in Connecticut. After a while, those guys came up to me and it was like, “You need to come help us out. You need to come work for us.” I was working 60 hours in AT&T but I loved cigars so I was like, “No problem. Let’s do this.” I did about 80 hours a week for six months. My doubles were 9:00 AM until 2:00 AM when the club closed. That was literally my Saturday. I would be 9:00 AM sales meeting at AT&T, closing up our club at 2:00 AM. It was ridiculous. I did a twenty-day stint where I had no days off. I was driving back from a girlfriend’s house about 3:00 AM. I rolled my car at 60 miles an hour with no seatbelt on. I was laying on my windshield, none of my doors would open. I had to literally crawl out through my window. I lost a shoe, which sucked.
Luckily, I was totally fine. No stitches, nothing broken. I was up until about 4:00 or 5:00 pulling glass out of my beard. Other than that, it was good. I woke up the next day sore as hell. I lit up a cigar and made a cup of coffee and I said, “Life is way too short to not do something I absolutely love,” so I quit my job at AT&T and I went off to work at the cigar shop full-time. Eventually I helped them open up a second store. We’re very successful there. I was with them for about two years total. I went ahead and decided I want a change of pace. I always had a passion for Alec Bradley products. We did well with our stores. I had a great relationship with Alan, George, Michael and all those guys. They’ve been down to the shop a few times. I reached out to them. I knew they were looking for somebody and within a week I was packing everything I owned into two suitcases and I drove to Georgia.
Where in Georgia?
How long have you been with Alec Bradley now?
About three months.
Congratulations. I love those stories. I’m new into the cigar world. I would say I’m eight months in. I’m like you, I do it just to relax. If I put in a 50-hour week and I’d go to football practice with my son, it’s 8:00 PM, 9:00 PM before I get out there. I sit out in the garage and have a smoke for an hour, hour and a half and I relax. That’s it. That’s what I use it for.
Before we started the show, he came on, content management, producing the show and everything. He didn’t smoke cigars at all.
He’s been sucked in. Now he smokes everything.
Good, that’s how it’s supposed to be done.
I started out with Javas and now smoking VSGs, Davidoff and everything.
I don’t drink. I gave that up six years ago. It’s like wine or beer or anything that you’re trying to get the most out of. I call you, Lane, a cigar snob but in fact we’re all pretty much the cigar snobs. Let’s be honest, we are. What have you smoked lately? What jumped out at you in the last week or so? What have you guys smoked that you liked or didn’t like?
Most of what I’ve smoked over the last week has been Davidoff stuff. We had the Escurio Nights event and smoked the 2012 Limited Edition, smoked the Escurio in the middle and then had the Davidoff Nicaragua.
Is that the double shower? Almost passed out day?
Yes. That was the day that I had four cigars from 1:00 PM until 8:30 PM. I was sent directly to the shower when I arrived home.
It was nicotine seizure time.
I was ready for a good nap. Four cigars in one day is too many, officially.
I couldn’t smoke a cigar the next day. I had to probably take a break.
I didn’t say that I wasn’t going to want to smoke a cigar all weekend long while my wife was out of town at the beach and my sister. I smoked too.
I was disappointed you didn’t come over and smoked the Woody though, the 18×80 from Leaf by Oscar.
That’s a ridiculous cigar.
One of our guys lit it up at noon and smoked it until about 7:30 PM.
Did you get a time lapse video of it?
We didn’t end up getting the video, but I have a progression of pictures.
That was real?
How long had it taken to smoke that?
He started at noon and smoked it continuously until 7:30 PM.
I went on over a review site and read about that cigar. The guy who did it said he did it in three and a half hours. He said, “If you want to do it, then enjoy it.” He said once he got it down to six inches, he started powering through. It’s 21 inches long and 100 ring gauge. The guy said, “Plan on four and half, five hours for the cigar.”
Tell everybody what this is. If you haven’t seen it, it’s fucked up. Go ahead.
This new cigar we have in the shop is called Leaf by Oscar. It’s been incredibly popular. It’s just blowing off the shelf. It’s a cigar that’s wrapped in a tobacco leaf basically when you unwrap it. The same guys made one cigar, it’s a big version of that cigar. It’s in a huge wood coffin and the one we had is eighteen inches long and it’s an 80-ring gauge. It looks like a weapon. They gave us one of them and one of our guys at the cigar shop, one of the managers, I told him, “I’ll give it to you if you’ll smoke it and take pictures.” He was off Saturday and started at noon and finished around 7:00.
It looks like he’s going to charm a cobra with it. It looks a stupid, twenty-inch flute.
That may be a bit too phallic for me.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
It took two people to light it. The picture of them lighting it was very questionable.
Was the draw a bitch on it or what?
No, he started early and smoked pretty well, it was pretty good draw and a pretty good taste.
I’ve got to see all these pictures last night and he loved it.
He also wears a size 22 shoe and his nickname is Bigfoot.
It’s perfect for him. Out of all the Alec Bradley cigars that they have, what’s your favorite?
My favorites, I have between three, to be honest with you. Mundial for me is absolutely insane. I love that cigar, it’s next to perfect.
I haven’t had it yet.
That’s a good one and that’s your flagship, best of the best one.
This is not counting Fine and Rare, which I love but so few exists. I’m not going to want to smoke them. Raices Cubanas is another one of my favorites, that came out as well as Mundial. We dropped the Tempus Nicaragua, which is a line extension of the Tempus. We gave all the Tempus a new coat of paint, new bands, new boxes, made them look as beautiful as they are. Tempus Nicaragua is a Nicaraguan Puro, double binder, phenomenal. Dead medium, I love it. I can smoke that thing all day. I literally smoked three of them back to back at the trade show.
My top three are the Coyol. I’m a big fan. I love the Lineage. My favorite is still the Black Market. I’m a big fan. One of my top six, seven go-to cigars when I don’t want to be pissed at one that I hate. Here’s the thing, I try so many of them. I try to have new ones shipped every couple of weeks. The problem is that obviously you put a lot of hours in and you’re looking forward to that time. I’m always afraid that after working 50-ish, 55 hours, 60 hours and then coaching, that I’m going to get a smoke that I hate and I take that shit really personal. I try to right the ship by taking one that I know that I’m going to like. Hopefully I’m not completely pissed off before I go to bed. The Black Market’s the one that rides the ship back. Those are my three but I definitely have to try some more because I know you have a bunch of different cigars that I haven’t smoked yet.
We talked a little bit about the Black Market as being one of the crowd-pleaser Alec Bradley cigars out there.
I have my reasons. First of all, it’s well-packaged. You know I’m a sucker for packaging. I don’t know what Alec Bradley had in mind when they blended that cigar. To me, if I can’t go and get a Liga Privada, that’s my poor man’s Liga Privada. That’s the one that I would smoke. I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not, but that’s how I feel about it.
For you to go ahead and compare it to something that’s a $16 or $17 price point for an $8 to say you enjoy it as much or close to, that’s a big deal. A lot of our cigars, we don’t try to kill anybody at price point. We try to cater to guys that want a great cigar and want to be able to smoke it every day. You’ll get to say our value lines, our $5 or $6 smokes, they’re all 90-rated, the American Classic, the American Sun Grown. We rereleased the MAXX, new boxes, new bands, tweaked the blend, changed the priming on the wrapper a little bit. It caters to a bigger ring smoker. They come as big as 8.5×60, but even that, that’s an $8 cigar. You’re ranging from $5 to $8 in that line.
We’re going to do a segment real soon on price point, give our top five at say under $5 or $10, $15 and under. Those would be great to check out for that segment. Guys that I know that know that I smoke cigars are like, “How in the hell are you smoking $15 cigars all the time?” If I didn’t have Harris as my little friend, I wouldn’t be. I’m a lucky son of a bitch.
I’m pretty top-heavy right now with the four Davidoff’s that got sent home with me.
Lane threw down the gauntlet and said, “I can give you a $5 cigar, you’d think it was much more,” and I’m not the one that says that that’s not true. I would love to see, I would love to segment that. I want to talk a little bit about the Shade first and then I want to go into the AVO Classic because that’s a good price point. Obviously, I was super juiced about having the Shade. It’s packaged well, new, tough to get, everyone’s looking forward to it. The price point is great. Again, Connecticut wrapper, real light, a creamy smoke which is rare. When people say they have a creamy smoke, that’s a tough thing to get from a cigar. Drew Estate does it pretty well. As soon as I got it, I opened up the box and I lit one up, Harris. I have to tell you that I liked it. The construction was outstanding. In fact, their QC’s got to be ridiculous because the thing was almost perfect. The draw was right on, the burn was right on, it was packed nicely. It certainly wasn’t my favorite and I’m going to smoke those other three with great amount of glee. The AVO Classic’s a more complex cigar and it’s trying to do the same thing.
The Shade as compared to other Undercrowns highlighted the fact that it’s Drew Estates’ Double-A team. It felt like it was Michael Jordan playing Double-A ball here in time for the fair and playing basketball for the Bulls.
The regular Undercrown, it is very consistent. There are not a lot of transitions in flavors from the start to the finish. I thought that for the most part, the Shade was very similar to that. I thought the first quarter inch was a little harsh for me. In fact, I was a little disappointed in it. It settled in after that first quarter inch, third-ish. It got to where it was supposed to go where I thought that they intended it to go. There’s very little transition and I liked that at times. If I’m going to have a lighter-bodied smoke, I would like some more complexity in the flavors. I don’t think I got that in the Shade. It’s another great cigar from Drew Estate, but I don’t know how you feel about that.
It would be interesting to see how they are a few months from now when they’ve had a little time because the ones you were smoking that we had got in the store, they just came in the door. I feel the samples I smoked at IPCPR maybe had aged a little bit longer or rested. It seems to taste slightly different than what’s shipping right now.
That’s something I’ve never even gave much thought too but that’s a good point.
I don’t think I’ve had one since around the time of IPCPR.
What’s new coming in now, Harris? What’s going on now? Is it still like Christmas?
Things are starting to trickle in September and October with a lot of new releases start to hit the stores. I mentioned that the Tatuaje TAA 2015, those seem to be as good as expected. They’re always one of the best out there in the hard to find limited release. It’s a rerelease from the 2011, size and blend.
By the way, thank you very much. I’ve got one sitting in my humidor and I may sell that on eBay.
You probably can do that. That’s always one of our bestselling cigars by the box. There are people from all over the country calling.
For buying, selling, trading cigars, that’s one of my friends makes heavy use of.
There are a lot of people in that.
I don’t recall which actual thread it is.
It’s a sub-Reddit?
Chris, by the way, thank you very much. Alec Bradley is one of our sponsors. We love them. Alan’s a great guy. George is a great guy. What other cigars are you excited about right now? What do you love out there?
The new La Flor Dominicana Coronado, it’s insane. It’s a phenomenal cigar. I don’t think I have a chance to smoke one yet, but they’re rereleasing the 2015. I’d smoke it. I’ll smoke it at some point. As far as cigars, I’m just a big fan of not necessarily new. If we’re talking Drew Estate, I agree with Harris, the Shade needs a little bit of time to level out and get to where it needs to be. The Herrera Esteli is probably my favorite one from them. From a blend perspective it does a lot more for me than even Liga does.
What is it called? Which one?
The Herrera Esteli. It’s a tremendous cigar. I’ve personally gone through three boxes in my lifetime. Other than that, My Father and Don Pepin, they’re an awesome product.
We’re talking a little bit about everyone going into Shades or Connecticut light wrappers. Have you seen the new Oliva Connecticut?
Have you seen it, Harris? How old is it?
It’s been around. They’ve been out for a while. We’re talking about the same one, Oliva Connecticut.
It was white banded with gold embossing on there. It looked similar to the Shade. I thought has there been some market swapping going on? Some cheating a little bit?
You do see a lot of Connecticut Shade cigars with a white and a little bit of gold band on it. The Davidoff, Ashton. I don’t know why that is.
It’s probably because I haven’t smoked very many Connecticut wrapped cigars that I haven’t noticed it. As we’ve talked about them, I started with a flavor infused and I jumped into the full-bodied ones pretty quickly. I’m going back, which is weird. I’m finding that as long as it’s an interesting blend, I like the lighter bodied cigars just as much as the full-bodied ones.
Like what you were saying before where you expect that mild cigar to have a lot more complexity. I’m a mild to medium guy. Primarily, I smoke fuller stuff, but usually after a meal or a drink. Limited stuff like the Nat Sherman Sterling or the Joel Sherman Limited Edition, the Quesada Reserva Privada, those are some of my favorite cigars that are going to come out. Their mild as dead, but the complexity is insane.
As far as mild wrapper tends to go, I too like Cameroons lately. I found that a lot of times you’re able to find more complexity with that Cameroon wrapper than most of the people put into the Connecticut ones.
I mentioned before smoking Kristoff Cameroon but I haven’t got a chance to yet.
Harris doesn’t have them in yet.
It’s still not here yet.
You sent me the Sinatra, not the Cameroon.
You had Nicaragua too, didn’t you?
One of my favorites. I love it.
That’s the one he keeps having on the list.
I can’t find it. I said it on the last podcast. I can’t find it anywhere.
You mentioned it before. Shawn, our foreman counter rep is telling me that La Knox is supposed to be coming in. I think it’s The Night. It’s a really dark cigar. It’s blended by Tony, Litto’s son. Everything he’s blended in has been fantastic: Chapter 1, Capitulo Dos, the La Knox. That one’s going to be a great one. I have not smoked it yet.
Me neither, I’m actually looking forward to it. I bother Sean every time I see him as to when it’s coming out and where I could find it.
I thought I had one from the show, but I can’t seem to find it.
Do you find that blenders that are pretty well-known get on a roll with their blends? Do you find they get on a hit roll and they keep going and they shoot up some clunkers every once in a while?
They tend to get stuck in a rut and that’s where La Flor Dominicana has been refreshing for Tony to do some blending, Litto’s son, because he’s bringing a different palate to it. His blends are very different than other things they make.
In what way?
Chris was saying they’re not as full on full body. They’re a little more complex. There are some different flavors in there.
Just in general with 1994 Chapter 1 and 2, La Knox haven’t gotten a smoke yet. They’re not as in your face strong.
My dad has been smoking Harris’, we’ve got them from you, the Arturo Fuente 858 for probably 25 years, maybe 30 years whenever they came out the early ‘90s. I’ve turned him on to some new cigars in the last eight months or so and he doesn’t seem to appreciate. He says, “Sean, it’s just smoke to me.” He likes cigars but he doesn’t try to pick out the fine parts of the flavors. It bothers the shit out of me. It’s like someone that’s saying, “It’s all just music.”
I definitely hear that from some customers. You’ve got a segment of cigar smokers that feel that way.
Some people smoke the same thing for 25 years because they’re afraid to go ahead and try something new. They’re happy with it. It’s consistent. It’s the same one that they’ve been smoking for 25 years. To them it’s not necessarily about trying this new cigar or new cigar. They want to sit back and they know that the one-hour time that they dedicate, go relax and smoke a cigar is going to be good. You said that before, that you usually pick up a standby and then you try something new in case something new lets you down. You have your standby and then you can go to bed happy. It’s the same mentality.
I’ve got probably five or six that I would consider in heavy rotation at any given time. The show has expanded my likely to find new cigars.
If you look at other industries, the history, say like beer. Forever it was just Bud Light, Miller Light, Budweiser, no craft beer. All of a sudden, the ten, fifteen years you have the craft beer scene and people that are into that, there are still people that, “I don’t want anything, just Bud Light.” It’s similar with cigars. You have all these great new boutique blends or newer companies creating interesting things.
Harris, how long have you been in the cigar business total? I should say in the tobacco business.
About right up ten years total.
Do you think that the blends are quite a bit better now with all these boutique lines coming out than they were ten years ago?
There’s no question. There’s so much more creativity like with Alec Bradley, them trying tobaccos from other countries that aren’t traditionally used in cigars. There’s so much of that. The more established big guys push them along too because they see these other companies do it and they’re like, “We don’t want to get left behind, so we’re going to do more,” versus just doing what they’ve always done. When we first opened, CAO, maybe Rocky Patel, they were the new guys that were pushing things ahead and doing things that people were excited about. Outside of that there wasn’t much. It was your standard brands.
By the way, I’ve got an old Alec Bradley that was sitting in someone’s humidor for I want to say the better part of a decade.
Tell me it’s a Trilogy. You’re about to be so happy.
We used to sell Trilogy.
I found somebody that had some original Trilogy Corojos, which are ten years probably at this point. He had them sitting in the corner still at the original MSRP of $3 and I bought them all and they smoked incredible.
It’s been sitting in the humidor for about two months now aging in there. I’m afraid to smoke it because I don’t know what I’m going to get.
What blend is it?
It’s the SB Special Blend.
That is old school.
You can see it says Alec Bradley right there.
You’ve got to light that thing up. I’ve never actually smoked one.
Maybe I’ll do that tonight. I didn’t do any research on it. I don’t know if it was a bundled cigar or what. I was excited about seeing it. If you re-humidify, will they be okay?
Yes, if done properly. Any drastic change in humidification can crack the wrapper. If you burn it up slow, you’ll be fine.
I wanted to tell you that I turned a buddy on to the Camacho Barrel-Aged and he put it in his suitcase before he went to a business function. He smoked it and the thing unraveled on him. Why would that happen?
Did it fly there?
He put it in the suitcase, it flew there. When he got back he opened it up the next day and while he was smoking it, the wrapper unwrapped on him. I’ve smoked enough of them. It wasn’t a production issue.
It could be a number of things. You’ll see guys that cut off way beyond the cap, it unravels and they look at you and say, “What happened?” The cap holds the whole thing together. You cut that off and there goes the wrapper. It could be a lot of issues.
If you’re ever flying cigars, it’s better to put them in your carry-on baggage because the checked bags are in a non-airconditioned hold. What I’ve been told is when the plane is at cruising altitude, the temperatures are crazy. How low they are, low humidity, so it can destroy them fast. It’s maybe that.
They’re so temperamental.
I stuck mine in my Cigars and More Vitola travel humidor on the way to Mexico and they were fine.
You had some good ones on that trip.
I had some fantastic cigars in Mexico. I took them all in.
You didn’t bring any back, did you?
Nicely done. It was a pleasure being on with you. I hope you come back again with us.
See you later.
Take care, guys.
- Alec Bradley
- Nica Puro Rosado
- Nica Puro
- Black Market
- Tempus Maduro
- Davidoff Nicaragua
- Leaf by Oscar
- Fine and Rare,
- Raices Cubanas
- Tempus Nicaragua
- Liga Privada
- American Classic
- American Sun Grown
- AVO Classic
- Drew Estate
- The Shade
- La Flor Dominicana
- Herrera Esteli
- My Father
- Oliva Connecticut
- Nat Sherman
- Kristoff Cameroon
- Arturo Fuente 858
- Rocky Patel
- Camacho Barrel-Aged