(Editor’s Note: A version of this post first appeared in the December version of The Newsletter.)
Ashton Symmetry, Padrón Family Reserve No. 50 and the Tatuaje Lancero Sampler.
Those are just three products that were not reviewed on halfwheel in 2014 because of our previous guidelines regarding what we review.
For its first three years, halfwheel reviewed prerelease cigars—products that were not yet available for sale—and limited edition cigars. Any cigar that is a regular or even limited production (i.e, not a set amount of cigars made) release was excluded. Every year it presented a problem and there’s a handful of major releases that were not reviewed because they did not fall into one of those categories. It was a carryover from Smoking Stogie, one of the two blogs that was merged to create halfwheel, and while it has worked for the first three years of halfwheel’s existence, it’s time to change.
Brooks Whittington created Smoking Stogie in large part to review cigars that simply were not going to be reviewed elsewhere. It served its purpose, but that was six years ago and a much different website. At that point there were maybe a handful of limited editions per month and for the most part Smoking Stogie did not even review those; its focus was on crazier releases from years past. In 2009, Smoking Stogie was reviewing far less than a dozen cigars per month and as such it could be very selective about what it reviewed, making its reviews truly different than anything else on the internet.
I remember when Brooks made the change to start reviewing new limited edition cigars on a regular basis, which was a pretty dramatic shift for the website. As time went on limited editions became common, meaning reviews of limited editions became easier to find on other blogs. Smoking Stogie was meant to be a niche site within the industry, not a site whose tagline is “the industry’s cigar blog.” It published maybe two dozen news stories in those three years, whereas we averaged over two dozen news stories per week. It also did not cover many prereleases of regular production cigars before they hit the market and perhaps most importantly, it never dreamed of publishing one review per day.
In 2015, we are removing both the prerelease and limited edition standards as requirements of what we review.
That means from time to time there will be reviews of products that are regularly produced and already for sale. In all honesty, we probably could have avoided this whole announcement and few would have noticed, we still get emails asking why we review product x, but have not reviewed product y—and when we mention the standards, most people are pretty surprised to hear that’s how the website operates.
That being said, some of you are probably concerned that what we review is going to dramatically change. Fortunately, you can put away your virtual pitchforks. It might be a major shift on paper, but in reality, it will be a minor fine-tuning.
- We still are going to review a lot of prerelease and limited edition cigars — Last year there was over 1,200 new SKUs added to the cigar market, there’s a ton to review under the old standards. Even if we got rid of reduxes and wrote new reviews for 365 days, we’d still have limited edition and prerelease cigars we would not get to. We are still going to review the Monster Series, and Habanos S.A.’s Edición Limitadas and a plethora of Viajes, but now we will be able to review some other products that we think are more than relevant to the cigar market, like the three mentioned above.
- The old system probably unfairly rewarded certain manufacturers — There’s a reason why every single regular production release of Viva Republica has been reviewed. Viva Republica’s Jason Holly goes out of his way to send us products before they hit the market. While we appreciate what Holly and others do, we do not think it’s fair to punish companies who choose not to engage in that practice. Furthermore, certain manufacturers have learned that they can avoid having us review any of their non-limited edition product so long as they do not give us the product before it hits the market. That’s not good. There’s no rational explanation of why we reviewed the new Arturo Fuente Añejo, but not the new Padrón Family Reserve. Then there are companies like Viaje, whose business model is essentially built for our old review standards. While we’ve cut back a bit on the amount of Viajes we review, to date we have still reviewed more Viajes than Cubans, Davidoffs, Fuentes and Padróns—combined—this year.
- It will only be new regular production products — There will not be a review of an Ashton VSG Wizard. While we definitely understand the benefits of reviewing products that have already been out for a few years, that’s not really something we do—sans the occasional vintage review—and we want the reviews to remain as interesting as we can make them for you the reader. We feel like focusing on new products is the best way forward to achieve that.
- Some reviews won’t have to be rushed — There are a handful of times in which manufacturers have overnighted us product so that we can have four or five days to get a review turned around. We’ve cancelled a few of these reviews because the products clearly suffered from the process of being shipped and simply were not in a condition to be reviewed, but even when the cigars are fine, the process is not ideal. This change will allow us to spend a bit more time with the product and produce better and more thorough reviews of products we otherwise would have done under the “prerelease” banner.
- New cigar brands will be better covered — Certain new companies like Crux and Epic made a concerted effort to get their product in our hands before hitting the market, but for most, there are much larger concerns when starting a cigar company. While the plan is not to ramp up the reviews of brands just entering the market, we would like to diversify it. Rather than having five reviews between those two brands, we’d like to be able to do five reviews of five new brands, something we think better covers the market.
Finally, while there are certainly some instances where the reviews at halfwheel are unique because of the cigars being reviewed, the majority of the cigars we have reviewed over these last few years have been reviewed by someone else. The uniqueness factor that Smoking Stogie once had because of the subjects of the review has worn off a bit. I still would be surprised to see another blog review a Davidoff Oro Blanco, particularly buy four of them, but times have changed.
We’d like to think that most days what sets our reviews apart is the writing, research and artwork that goes into each review. Those standards are not changing and we think that if we were to produce a halfwheel review of the Ashton Symmetry, most readers would find it just as interesting as the La Aroma de Cuba Noblesse.
Our goal has always been to produce the website we would want to read. This change is one that’s been done completely in that spirit and one that we hope benefits you as well.