You can build a brand any number of ways. Lots of advertising and/or promotion is one way to get name recognition. So is product presentation, like flashy packaging. You could develop a “rock star” image for yourself or your company to be a bit more edgy. But, for long term growth and success, the best way is to make a quality product at a fair price, and that seems to be the approach that Alan Rubin has taken in building the Alec Bradley brand (named for his sons).
I remember the first couple of cigars that we carried from AB, the Occidental Reserve bundles (still in production), and the Trilogy triangularly pressed cigars. I was pleased with both, and looked forward to future products. I became a fan of the Maxx cigars which offer a lot of flavor, larger sizes and a reasonable price. Since then, there has been a string of solid entries from them, and one notable example is the Family Blend.
I first tried these as part of a promotion. We had an in-store event with the Maxx and, if memory serves, the Tempus. Part of the deal was that, if you bought a box of either brand, you would receive a 10 pack of unbanded cigars. These were attractive and had a tiny pigtail cap, and I was able to try one. I immediately enjoyed the cigar, and asked our rep about availability. He told me that they would be on the market in about six months, but they didn’t have a name yet. I periodically checked to see if they had come in, and after a while I saw a new Alec Bradley product—Family Blend.
These cigars have a nicely mottled, rich chocolate colored wrapper with minimal veins, a satiny sheen and a small pigtail twist, with an understated but handsome band. The pre-light aroma is straightforward, redolent with aged tobacco. The cigar feels firm and springy to the touch and the 5.5 x 50 extended robusto has a nice, well-packed heft.
I cut it with a Palio double guillotine and took a draw, which was easy but not too light. The pre-light draw showed notes of earthiness and some coffee with a hint of dark, stewed fruit. I toasted the foot using a butane torch and lit up.
The initial wave of flavor smacked of medium roast coffee, a bit of oak and a flinty character with little spice or sweetness; in many ways a throwback flavor to older blends like the Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey cigars of the seventies and eighties, It burned fairly evenly with no need for any touch-ups, and exhibited a firm grey ash. As the cigar progressed, the coffee flavor moved to the background and the oak and earthiness came forward. Additionally, a little hint of white pepper crept in at about one inch into the cigar.
Midway, the oakiness was clearly dominant and the pepper also developed further, while the earthy backbone complimented the savory components. From that point on, the flavor profile didn’t change much, but intensified a bit more. The burn remained even throughout and the draw was smooth and easy all the way.
Appearance- This is a nice-looking cigar. About the only things that could improve it would be a little more sheen and fewer noticeable veins, which would probably be impossible because of the type of wrapper leaf. I give it 13 out of 15 points.
Construction- This is a solidly made smoke with an effortless draw, and the smallish pigtail shows a nice level of craftsmanship. Usually, in cigars with a draw as easy as this, the burn will get a little wonky or run a bit, but I’ve never had that happen with the Family Blend. I feel comfortable giving it a 32 out of 35.
Flavor/Aroma- This is a nice, uncomplicated, medium-bodied smoke. The elements of wood, earth and a little spice weave their way in and out constantly, but the flavor is not overly complex. I would have liked a bit more sweetness, but it was a tasty smoke. The aroma was clean and indicative of the quality of the cigar. I grade this 42 out of 50.
Summary- This is a rock-solid everyday smoke. Its reasonable price and consistent quality make it a perfect core cigar, if the flavor profile suits you. With some rating systems, an 87 is a borderline average score, but with our system, it represents a very good rating for a stick that is also an excellent value. At the beginning of this review, I mentioned that it seemed to me that Alan Rubin and his workers focused their efforts on delivering quality and affordability rather than glitz and glitter. If so, they’ve hit the target.
[Editor's note: Click the below photo for a large close-up to see the nice subtle design element of the letter "i" being dotted with a leaf.]
[Editor's note 2: Notice how some of the wrapper folds over onto the foot in the photo below.]
Overall rating: 87
Wrapper: Trojes, Honduras
Filler: Nicaragua, Honduras
|Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of pipe tobaccos for Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe and www.pipesandcigars.com in Albany, NY. He has been a cigar smoker and pipe tobacco blender for over 30 years. Russ will be contributing articles in several areas starting with reviewing cigars that are the best bang for the buck – something we anticipate many readers will be interested in during these challenging economic times.|