Cigar Diary: Mexico's Cigar King
Max Gutmann is one of the world's great collectors of Cuban cigars as well as Mexico's official Cuban cigar agent.
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Gutmann: I guess it was about the same time. I started buying a couple of boxes here and there and I started a small collection. I realized that cigars were like wines; they got better with age. And now I have cigars in my collection that are over 50 years old, pre-Castro cigars. It's fun to have them and smoke them from time to time. They are not cigars that you are going to smoke every day.
CA: How many cigars do you have in your collection? It seems like a lot.
Gutmann: No, no, I only have about 1,500 boxes or so. I take very good care of my cigars and now it is easy to know how old they are because every box has a date on it when the cigars were put in the box. No one really cared about that until about 10 years ago. It was when you broke the story on the special code on the back of the box that told where the cigars were produced and when they were put in their box.
CA: Some people argue that cigars do not improve with age. What do you think?
Gutmann: Of course they do. But they have a certain lifetime. It is like wine. They can improve, but there is a point, if you don't smoke them, that they don't get any better. They lose some of the quality. But easily up to 15 or 16 years.
CA: What period is your favorite time to smoke a Cuban? Five or six years?
Gutmann: I have a lot of my cigars from eight to 10 years of age. I don't mind smoking younger cigars, but I like them with age.
CA: When do you think the 109 will be right to smoke?
Gutmann: I smoked the 109 the other day, from the Partagas anniversary humidor of 1995, and when I took the cigar from out of the box I thought it smelled perfect. It was unbelievable and I think that my 109 will have the same thing. In five years, it is going to be incredible. I hope we don't smoke them all!
CA: What do you think is a good strategy for someone who wants to start a cigar collection?
Gutmann: Of course, it all depends on your budget. You can just start with one box. And you don't smoke all the cigars and you see how they develop with age. And then buy another box once in a while and keep them. Increase your pleasure little by little. You need to know what year they were boxed and then you go from there. It is like collecting wine. There are good years and bad years. It is less of a problem now with Cuban cigars, but in the past there have been years when hurricanes have affected the crop, or blue mold. But it hasn't been like that for a while.
CA: Is storage important for collecting?
Gutmann: Yes. They have to be in the proper humidification. You can have the best cigar in the world, but if it is dry, it is going to taste horrible.
CA: What is the humidity you recommend?
Gutmann: I keep them at 74 percent humidity. But Mexico City is at a very high altitude. Otherwise, I would keep them at 70 percent. I keep the temperature at 57 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
CA: That is really cold.
Gutmann: Yes. But you will never have any problems with bugs. The bugs appear when it gets too hot. You have one beetle and it can ruin all of your cigars. So I keep it cold. I have to wear a sweater when I go into my humidor.
CA: You also collect a lot of accessories ...cutters, bands, boxes, furniture...everything.
Gutmann: Yes. I have been collecting things like that for many, many years. When I am in Europe, like London or Paris, I always go to the antique markets to look for things. Unfortunately, the prices for these things have really gone up. Years ago they didn't cost anything. These pieces became expensive after the cigar boom and everybody wanted them. Some of the prices are really ridiculous now. Most of [the pieces] are from the 1800s.
It's interesting how all the cutters and the humidors from that period are relatively small because the cigars smoked were very small. They were like the Cuabas.
CA: Small figurados?
CA: Have you collected bands too?
Gutmann: I have bands with all the American presidents, French aristocracy... They used to use real gold for the bands back then. That would be impossible now! The labels would be more expensive than the tobacco!
CA: Has your taste changed in cigars? Are you smoking shorter cigars, for example?
Gutmann: You know, it has not changed that much. I always like to smoke different cigars. One of my preferred cigars has always been the Partagas Lusitania, the double corona, but I have also liked the Partagas Serie D No. 4 or Romeo & Julieta Churchill. But I also smoke Cohiba. I think the Siglo VI is one of the best new cigars to come out for a long time.
It depends on the situation too. It depends on your mood. Sometimes you smoke a cigar in the morning, and then you smoke a cigar at night and it tastes completely different. Your palate changes all the time.
CA: You only smoke Cuban?
Gutmann: Yeah, because I have always had Cubans available to me. In fact, it is hard to get cigars from other countries in Mexico. I started with them. I had the opportunity to smoke them. So that's what I do.
CA: What would you do if you couldn't smoke cigars anymore?
Gutmann: I would be very upset. [Laughs loudly.]