This annual New Year’s tradition at halfwheel contains a few elements. There’s the programming notes portion, a reminder, a reflection and a small peak into what is to come.
But the latter has me quite confused.
This year has been one described with endless adjectives and superlatives—all of them quite deserved. But beyond the obvious, 2020 has left me confused.
There has been immense tragedy all around this world. I am quite fortunate, the people who create halfwheel have been quite fortunate. We haven’t been firsthand witnesses to much of that tragedy and the horrific impacts felt by many this year are magnitudes greater than the frustrations and complications we’ve felt. None of us have been in the hospital, none of us—to my knowledge—have lost anyone close due to coronavirus. And halfwheel is still around.
It’s actually more than around. As one could expect, a media business that operates entirely on the internet and was built by people working from home was fairly adaptable to the complications of 2020.
Actually, halfwheel thrived.
Despite posting nearly 40 percent fewer posts than 2019, halfwheel‘s traffic is up over 15 percent compared to 2019. This December—our worst month in 2019—was actually our second-best month ever. Our worst quarter was actually Q1, well before the impacts of the pandemic had taken root. We ended the year with five consecutive 20+ percent growth months. I could go on.
All of us at halfwheel are confused as to whether the growth is sustainable whenever “normal” takes shape again. But each one of us is thankful to you for clicking on articles like this—or parks smoking ban stories—and making that feat possible.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been any negative impacts.
We posted 499 fewer times in 2020 than we did in 2019, that’s the lowest number since 2013. Much of that was because there was less going on. There were fewer legislation stories to write as governments tried to deal with the more important issues facing them. Cigar companies introduced far fewer products than they have in the last decade, a result of the complications of coronavirus. That meant we not only wrote fewer news stories about them, but we also ended up modifying our review schedule for a few months because we simply didn’t have enough cigars on hand to review.
Event coverage more or less stopped after February, except of course to write about whatever was being canceled.
And for the people that make halfwheel, we saw a lot less of the cigar industry than I imagine we ever have.
I miss the traveling circus that the industry so oftentimes feels like. There are times in which I’ll see the same person three times in three weeks, all in three different states. (Patrick Lagreid and I actually did this dance in January, seeing each other in three different places—plus the country that is the Miami airport—in two weeks.) I miss the seasonal nature of working in cigar media. The festival season in January and February; the build-up that happens in the spring as the weather gets warmer; the pre-trade show coverage that dominates June; the trade show coverage itself; the lull that takes place in August; and then the last four months of the year, which seems to drag me and others to various corners of the globe.
I know both Patrick and Brooks miss this, the latter probably because it means he has to see a lot more than me.
We are very fortunate to be where we are, but I do look forward to a time in which the weeks feel like events that begin and end instead of the neverending week that began sometime in mid-March.
As for what 2021 holds for halfwheel, it remains to be seen what 2021 will offer us. Will there be trade shows to cover? Will there be times to go and safely see tobacco in the fields? Will there be an event we could host? Will things get better? Or, are they going to have get (a little) worse first?
At the moment, as frustrating as it is, the goal of halfwheel has been to run the site as well as we can without losing our minds. And so far, I don’t think any one of us has lost our mind, yet.
HOLY GRAIL + AWARDS WEEK 2021
For many of you, there are some projects to look forward to.
As we have done since this site launched in January 2012, we will kick off the new year with what we call Holy Grail Week, though, you’re going to have to wait one more day for this first review.
The concept is simple: we try to find crazy expensive or rare cigars to review. And for this year, we truly do have some interesting things for you to read about. It will begin tomorrow, Jan. 2, and continue through Jan. 7.
After that, there will be a few weeks of normal operations—I hope you enjoy reading news stories about price increases—and then we will start our awards week. For a number of reasons—though mainly because Patrick and I won’t be in Nicaragua this month to cover the now-canceled Puro Sabor festival—it will be a week later than normal.
- Jan. 18, 2021 (Monday) — Numbers Review
- Jan. 19, 2021 (Tuesday) — Factory of the Year
- Jan. 20, 2021 (Wednesday) — Company of the Year
- Jan. 21, 2021 (Thursday) 12 p.m. CDT — Packaging Awards
- Jan. 22, 2021 (Friday) 12 p.m. CDT — Top 25 Cigars
- Jan. 25, 2021 (Monday) 12 p.m. CDT — The Consensus Top 25 Cigars
The last three events will all be broadcast via live shows on our YouTube and Facebook pages.
There are two changes to this schedule compared to last year. One, there will only be one show on Jan. 22 as opposed to a separate post-show; second, at some point after Jan. 25 I will post an article looking back at 10 years of The Consensus.
Every year, I ask of you the same two things.
The first is easy. Just go back and read this article, it’s the first one we ever published at halfwheel, now nine-years-old. In it, you will find out what Brooks and I wanted to create when we were building this site. It’s a mantra that Brooks, Patrick and I have modified, but still try to follow every day: be the cigar blog we would want to read.
As for the other, it’s entirely up to your own sensibilities. I ask you to do what we do on Jan. 1, something that happens because of the upcoming Holy Grail week: go smoke your holy grail cigar. There’s a cigar that sits somewhere in your humidor, one that you’ve been saving for an undetermined special day. Make today that special day. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we really don’t know what the world will look like tomorrow.
And if you do, leave a comment with it below. I know that we’d all love to know what those special cigars are.