When Tim Cavenagh graduated from college and moved to China for work, he discovered that finding a good cigar was a challenge. At the time, China’s cigars tended to be poorly constructed counterfeits, leaving an aficionado like Cavenagh with few options when it came to a good smoke. Each time he visited the U.S. he’d bring some of his favorite cigars back to China, and he and his friends would have their own cigar-and-wine-tasting events, where he would educate them on everything they needed to know about cigars.
Hoping to find a legitimate source of quality cigars in China, Cavenagh eventually reached out to some of the world’s top cigar brands and boutique companies to ask how he could help to get their cigars into the Asian market. Few returned his calls or emails, but after he was offered the chance to distribute on behalf of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars, he began to see an opportunity before him.
AN INFUSED CIGAR
Though Alpha Cigar Company is new compared to other cigar manufacturers, its cigars are unique in that they are the world’s first known absinthe-infused cigar. As the developers of the first product of its kind, Cavenagh and Hansen have an advantage and additional challenge as they build brand awareness.
“Our philosophy has always been to focus on the quality of the product, and to complement it with a subtle infusion,” says Hansen. “Much like a fine wine is barrel-aged in oak to enhance and balance out the flavors, we use premium spirits to add a touch of uniqueness to our cigars. While our real focus is on the tobacco, as anyone that has tried our cigars can attest to, I do think that the absinthe is a good attention-grabber.”
To develop their cigars, the duo traveled to the Dominican Republic with a bottle of absinthe and worked with a boutique factory that provided them with more oversight and input on cigar development than they would have had at a larger factory. They enlisted the help of Abe Flores, a young cigar blender that has made many 90-or-higher rated cigars, to help them create a superior product.
The last step to creating their product was the design of its logo, packaging and band art. Alpha Cigar Company’s logo features Cerberus, a three-headed mythological creature that ties into the triple cap featured on each of its cigars. The number three is also significant to the Alpha Cigar Company brand because the company started out with three blends and three main herbs are used in the absinthe distillation process: anise, wormwood and fennel. Cavenagh and Hansen also wanted to convey the exuberance, industry and decadence of the 1920s in their logo and package art, feeling this decade of American history captured how their own cigars have both an appeal to hardcore cigar connoisseurs but are also an offbeat and fun product in the infused cigar category.
FROM THE INSIDE OUT
As the duo continues to build their company and its brands, the partnership between them has strengthened. When they first met, Cavenagh was the cigar enthusiast while Hansen was the absinthe guy. Now, each has learned to become well-versed in each field. They also share in the duties and responsibilities of running the company.
“As new business owners, you kind of need to be a jack-of-all-trades. I tend to spend a little more time on the road, pounding the pavement,” says Hansen.
“We are from different backgrounds, and we’ve naturally fallen into our respective roles in sales and marketing,” Cavenagh adds. “As any entrepreneur knows, we really do a bit of everything. I would say 95 percent of any day-to-day decisions we make, we run by each other first.”
Having developed its blends before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Feb. 15, 2007, predicate deadline, Alpha Cigar Company and its founders are focusing on long-term growth. They’ve launched a rewards program called Cerberus Club to reward the company’s loyal customers. To honor the U.S. city with the largest absinthe following, the company released an exclusive cigar, the Édition New Orleans, this summer. The company is continuing with its grass-roots approach, holding events across the U.S. to build its following one cigar smoker at a time and also adding new retail partners that carry Alpha Cigar Company cigars each month.
– Story by Antoine Reid
This story first appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.