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OTL Sits Down with Max Myers, CEO of ACC Cigars
by Sasha Illyvich

Achievement Cigar Company is the world’s leading luxury producer of cigar tobacco, luxury and vintage cigars, the world’s largest collection of famous brand vintage single malt scotch as well as exquisite, beautifully designed accessories and related products. From the sophistication and elegance of Don Cervantes cigars and scotch, the modern and socially conscious PROPIO to the ultimate collection in rarities and age represented by ACC Special Edition, fast lifestyle cigars of Pi and the largest collection of Macallan Single Malt Scotch ranging from 1910 to 1986 - our growing collection of brands is sure to impress the most refined tastes and experienced connoisseurs.

The heritage of ACC began in 1952 with Jose Aray Marin, on a small tobacco field in Ecuador. Starting with simple planting, harvesting, and local trading, Mr. Aray, seeing the opportunity, began to purchase several agricultural properties in the Province of Guayas in Ecuador. In 1954 Mr. Aray then met Guillermo de la Portilla, who had migrated from Cuba, bringing with him generations of Cuban expertise as well as precious varieties of Cubano seed and leaf. Mr. Portilla and the Aray family began planting on their hacienda Paulina, which had the perfect weather, soil and luminosity needed for the growth of first class tobacco. The rest is history.

I had the opportunity to meet Max Myers, the CEO of ACC Cigars back in 2010 at Occidental Cigar Club in San Francisco, one of SF’s only cigar friendly establishments, which boasts an impressive list of whiskies. We started talking and eventually his interview appeared on my radio show “Pure Indulgence” on the now defunct Radio Dentata.

Over the years, Max and I have become good friends, exchanging cigar talk among other things. For Of the Leaf, we spent some time together getting to know more about ACC and its brands.

Sascha: Let’s talk the Don Cervantes brand. You’ve finally swayed me to being a fan of the Tres Maduro over the Masterpiece Platinum, but just barely! What was the intention behind both blends?

Max: Well within the Don Cervantes brand those are the only maduro blends. Platinum came due to a general appreciation of maduro cigars, both personally and in the market. I wanted a heavily Ecuadoran taste using various vintages and without sacrificing fermentation. We came up with a fantastic medium body and smooth maduro. It was a real winner and paired especially well with red wines. It was almost like it was born for it. Not wanting to rest on our laurels, I decided to push the envelope a little. I wanted to do something that I do not think anyone has done so far. I made a triple maduro using real heavy and old maduro leaf. To clarify, there are a few ways these terms get defined. Maduro typically refers to the wrapper leaf being maduro, which itself is defined as mature, or dark. Other brands have produced double maduro, triple or “all” maduro. It’s hard to know if you are comparing apples to apples. Double can mean extra dark maduro, or it can mean maduro wrapper and some maduro in the filler, among other definitions. For Don Cervantes, the Tres Maduro cigar has a maduro wrapper, a maduro binder and of the three varieties of filler blended in the cigar, one of them is maduro. This resulted in a taste we have never seen before. It is a rich, complex and sweet cigar that grows in sweet complexity over the hour or two you are smoking. Some of the leaf in this cigar was about 22 years old at the time we rolled the one you have from 2009. To me, despite this cigar being right in the middle of the range of Don Cervantes, I consider it my personal crowning achievement. It is a blend that has never been equaled.

Sascha: The Presidente is your answer to Cuban cigars? What does it offer traditional Cuban cigar smokers?

Max: No. To answer Cubans, we produced a cigar within the PROPIO brand called Veneno. It was modeled not to taste Cuban but to appeal to the tastes of clients who are historically Cuban cigar smokers. We consider it close to what Cubans could be if they did not have so many systemic problems. We made Presidente as the flagship cigar in Don Cervantes, both for wide accepted taste as well as appearance. It has a fantastically oily, dark, but natural wrapper which is blended with tobacco from three origins. We did this to expand the taste profile beyond Ecuador. It has been a fantastic success, and despite being more expensive, it sells better than most of the other cigars within our brands.

Sascha: You recently launched Masterpiece Black, which tastes like a more aggressive Masterpiece Gold. What was the difference in the blend and how has consumer response been?

Max: You pretty much nailed it. We feel like people who smoke light cigars do not always need to smoke Connecticut wrapper cigars. Often non CT cigars are spicy, or lacking in a unique taste that really stands out. We wanted something that did not have to rely on ligero to get a real mouth full of flavor. Masterpiece Black really did it. It has been universally accepted and heavy smokers consider it a great morning cigar.

Sascha: Let’s talk concept behind Don Cervantes packaging. What inspired that?

Max: Well the old clear Havana brand from the late 1800s called Cervantes had basically disappeared from most markets. While it is still an active brand in Cuba as a cigar produced for the domestic market it was sort of saved and lying in wait in Ecuador by the founding family. When we finally decided to make it back into something, we produced a wide-foot, flat sixteen stick and five stick packaging with magnets to hold the lid. The quality of the packaging is very close to humidor grade and actually as we speak, our new upgrade of this packaging is in the works and might even be ready by the time this goes to print. We think the brand having such a long heritage really needs to be considered not only in the cigar quality but the packaging. We set out to match the tremendous standards we put on the cigar itself with packaging that stands on its own. Of course I am referring to the international market packaging. There was a different packaging in the US for a time.

Sascha: How has nobody heard of ACC Cigars before?

Max: I beg to differ. We have a tremendous reputation. You just need to ask in the right place. Let me give you an example. If you are walking into the MGM, walk in the front lobby and there is a door on the right side with no sign. That is a side entrance to the VIP lobby, whose main entrance is behind large planters you would only see if you drove past the main entrance. From there you go upstairs to the second floor and there are several private casinos, where the average players deposit upon entrance is $1 million.

ACC, as a whole, dominates the luxury market. We are considered the only legitimate choice. We have 4 distinct brands within ACC but as a general rule they know that something within ACC will meet their needs. Additionally, we have people who pre-order and are willing to wait when sometimes our supply is too low. They do it because to them there is no alternative.

Sascha: Who are your clientele and what are they seeking in a cigar of your caliber?

Max: Good question. Our clientele are quite a niche. They have generally ended up being mostly the ultra-high net worth of the world. People who want what they enjoy the most regardless of the barriers. These are not simply crazy rich people who will spend anything to get something expensive or rare for bragging rights. These guys are hardcore smokers. Generally our clients smoke 3-4 cigars a day. They are real connoisseurs too. There are of course new rich people who do not have any taste and buy to brag but those people are not real clients. They jump on anything impressive and disappear just as fast. Our clients are the real deal.

Sascha: For a luxury brand, how do things differ in the factory when compared to other brands?

Max: For a brand that is heavily focused on the luxury market, instead of the tobacco market we simply focus on the standards we value. I did not set out to build a luxury brand cigar. I set out to make cigars that satisfied me. That meant standards of my own. Those standards of farming and fermentation, leaf selection, leaf age, construction, taste, are all my personal requirements for myself. After building a cigar like this, you almost have no market left. The luxury market it turned out, loves the standards that we set, and accepted us. We have dominated this market ever since. There is a sign hanging in our office which says: “When things don’t happen right away just remember, it takes 6 months to build a Rolls-Royce and 13 hours to build a Toyota.” There is of course nothing wrong with a Toyota. The point is, when you want something built the way we do, you have to invest the time, skill, effort, and money. One example would be our most recent brand called Pi. From concept to market, it took 2 years. Nobody can survive in an environment like this, which takes 2 years of investment in time and money until you have a chance to sell your product, assuming anyone even buys it. Specifically in the farm/factory, things that differentiate us from other factories are numerous. Our farm sits on a God-blessed location that is perfect for tobacco. We have natural rivers flowing past which let us irrigate without chlorinated municipal water. We have constant cloud cover encouraging the leaf to grow thick and large. We have fermentation barns without heaters. This means it takes us 3-4 times longer to ferment, but it is done naturally and slowly, which makes a huge difference in the taste. We have leaf aging rooms where the leaf sits for any indefinite period of time, up to decades. Then we have leaf sorters in the factory who are trained to discard any leaf with a blemish. You will see in most cigar shops that even famous brands patch holes and slits in a cigar. We discard it and do it over which is expensive since we have already invested in aging the leaf for so long. We also incorporate entubado bunching techniques which provide a full fill evenly throughout the cigar, eliminating air pockets. We blend any variety of leaf age and breed to get the taste we want. This can result in a cigar with 22 year old filler, next to 5 year old filler, with an 18 year old binder and a 5 year old wrapper. It’s totally based on the result of the taste we are trying to achieve. After rolling we store the cigars again in our cigar storage rooms for any indefinite amount of time.

The Tres Maduro you are smoking was actually rolled in 2009. Parts of the leaf in that blend was already tremendously old. There is no way to substitute speed and get results like this. This is the reason I get so annoyed when I hear famous online retailers your readers probably all know, say things like “What's the difference between a $1 cigar and a $10 cigar? $9.” He is of course not only insulting his customers who are spending $15 or $50 on a cigar but he is ignoring the facts. He has an agenda to promote cheap cigars because that is his business. I can’t even make a cigar in my factory for $1. My production methods and output speeds are 25% of most factories. Some of my cigars are produced at 10% of the speed of others. It’s just the reality we face producing what we really want to smoke.

When Sascha is not enjoying his passions in alcohol or smoking the finest cigars and pipe tobacco, he’s writing the hottest romance novels.  His shared interests have left him with many new experiences, including working as a retail tobacconist at the now defunct Grants Tobacconist in San Francisco, CA.

Proclaimed by the Publishing industry as the Bad Boy of Romance, Sascha started writing sixteen years ago.  Find him at http://saschaillyvichauthor.com Agency Representation provided by The Corvisiero Agency.


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