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Puffing Along

F.D. Grave & Son of New Haven, Connecticut, is behind the Muniemaker cigar brand.
Mark Vaughan
From the Print Edition:
Fidel Castro, Summer 94

(continued from page 1)

"Fred is our walking tasting machine," says Dick, adding that he "got a couple of pheasants today." Then he launches into a discussion of last year's Connecticut broadleaf tobacco crop, from which F. D. Grave & Son will get its annual supply of wrapper and binder leaf.

For the Grave family, taste has always been the paramount factor in judging the quality of their cigars. During a three-hour conversation with them, the notion of taste comes up at least a dozen times. "We are known to have the blackest wrappers in the industry," says Hoyt. "But don't let that fool you. Our oscuras have an excellent, robust taste, sometimes referred to as a sweet-tasting smoke. They are not harsh whatsoever."

"We work on the premise that the big thing is taste," agrees Fred Graves. "It isn't so much looks; it isn't so much packaging. In the long run, it's the taste that counts." To illustrate his point, he finally lights the Palma 100. A wispy cloud of bluish smokes rises toward the high ceiling, casting a mild, pleasant fragrance throughout the room.

F. D. Grave & Son uses broadleaf, which is exposed to the elements during the growing cycle, rather than shade-grown tobacco, which is cultivated under tents and therefore protected. Variations in the wrappers' color, texture and general complexion are to be expected, explains Dick Grave. In fact, Dorothy Hoyt claims, these minor flaws are "what make our cigars beautiful. It's a question of character as opposed to some sort of subjective standard of perfection."

Does Hoyt smoke cigars? "Of course," she says with a laugh. "I'm not a frequent smoker, but I really enjoy our cigars. Sometimes I can even get my female friends to try them. I had my first one when I was 13."

***

The F. D. Grave & Son's cigar line once included 22 different cigars, many of which were dropped when the current Muniemaker flagship brand was introduced in 1916. Today the company markets 10 cigars, seven under the Muniemaker brand, including four oscuras, a dark and two lighter labels, ranging in size from 4 1/8 inches to 6 inches. One of their other three cigars, the 4 7/8 inch Cueto naturale cello, was introduced when F. D. Grave & Son acquired the brand along with the Lewis Osterweis & Sons cigar company in 1954. The two other brands, Bouquet Special and Judges Cave, are both long-running labels. Billed as "the millionaire's cigar at an average man's price," the 5 1/8 inch oscura Bouquet Special, which comes wrapped in cedar and packed in a glass tube, is the only cigar in the line with elaborate packaging.

The 4 1/8 inch Judges Cave, which dates to the company's 1884 founding, is the only original brand still in production. Frederick Grave Sr. took the name from a New Haven area landmark that is reputed to have served as refuge to two of the 59 judges who signed the death warrant for King Charles I in 1649 and were persecuted after the Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660. As the story goes, three of the fugitive judges escaped to the Colonies, and two eventually were forced to hide in a cave for several weeks while the search for them intensified.

One of the more distinguishing factors of F. D. Grave & Son's cigars is price, which ranges from about 60 cents for the Muniemaker Regular to about $1.50 for the Bouquet Special. According to Fred Grave, another important aspect of the company's continued success is the high value for price ratio they offer. "Our motto is: 'What this country has is a good 60-cent cigar,' " says Grave. And, he insists, "there is a demand out there for a good-tasting, moderately priced cigar. We have a lot of customers who can afford to smoke anything they want. But not everyone is comfortable spending five or more dollars on a cigar, especially if he is smoking four or five of them a day."

"Our cigars may not carry a hefty price tag," adds Hoyt. "But they are of the finest tobaccos and can match any cigar for flavor." Which brings the conversation back to taste. "The point is that people appreciate a good-tasting cigar. If that cigar costs $10, fine. But if you can deliver it at a moderate price, so much the better," she says.


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