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Top Scores (April 2015)

letter from the editor

I’ve mentioned this story before, but it seems uniquely attached to this announcement and worth repeating. I remember a seminal moment for halfwheel: it was December 2011, less than a week before we were going to make the site live and I was at the office of Brooks Weddings, the wedding photography business that Brooks Whittington used to run. I made a joke, saying something along the lines of “one day halfwheel will have an office."

I was sort of joking, sort of serious. It wasn’t really meant to be a thought-provoking comment, just something off the cuff and somewhat funny, but maybe not impossible to imagine.

Less than 18 months later we were subletting half the space of Brooks Weddings and within another six months we had taken full control of the space.

Now, we’re moving on up.

To be more truthful we are moving down, as in downstairs. Later this month we will pack up what’s currently in our small office and move into a space that is well, less small. That new space is in the building next to where our current office is, which means we will still be in the North Dallas suburb of Addison, Texas.

While the descriptions in the Instagram post above might have been a joke—sadly we cannot have tiger storage—the initial blueprint shows the new space. It will give us more room for hosting guests, a defined conference area space, greater and improved storage for cigars and beer, a much larger studio area and a break room amongst others. We have room to grow, more room to move around and a lot more flexibility than the small office we’ve outgrown.

It’s been five years since I launched TheCigarFeed—one of the two blogs that was merged into halfwheel in 2012—and while it does just feel like yesterday, so much has changed. I’m both grateful and proud of the collective work that’s been done by our team over the last few years. It’s allowed us to come this far, but more importantly, set us up to do even greater things in the future.

Whenever I announce something like this, it always ends with me thanking the readers. At halfwheel, it’s not an afterthought. While we put in a lot of work, we are able to get so much more out of work because of the trust and faith that you—our readership—has in us, both individually and collectively. We most certainly don’t take it for granted and we hope you’ve enjoyed the ride so far.

Charlie Minato

ATTENTION: WE'VE CHANGED OUR SCORING SYSTEM

Charlie Minato

I like to think that we are as good as anyone in cigar media  when it comes to disclosure. But earlier this year we implemented a big change and purposely made the decision not to explicitly announce it, at least until today.

We changed how we scored cigars.

Midway through last year, the halfwheel staff began to have conversations about whether we felt like a modification to the scoring system was needed. The conversations took place over the course of many months and when it came to a few points, we were not unanimous. That being said, the staff—collectively—felt that we could improve how we were scoring cigars by making a few changes.

——

First and foremost, we wanted to have a more unified and consistent way of dealing with construction issues. In previous years, reviewers would have the freedom to evaluate a cigar based on how the majority of the samples performed, as opposed to evaluating each sample on an individual basis. That has changed.

This was largely done for evaluating construction issues.

We wanted to make sure that each reviewer was taking off the same amount of points for similar construction issues, but it was also done in an effort to punish the cigars that have construction issues. If you walk into a decent cigar shop and pick 10 cigars at random, there’s a good chance no more than two of those cigars will present any construction issues. It’s the reality of today’s market and we wanted to make sure that we were rewarding the cigars whose samples performed without a single issue when conducting a review, which means recognizing more minor issues for the purposes of our scoring.

At any review publication that publishes scores, "ratings inflation" will happen. There definitely seems to be a trend where over time scores creep higher and higher. In some ways, it makes sense; the products you are making in 2015 should be better than the products you were making in 2010, that’s evolution. But there’s also some human error that takes place, particularly when you are collectively publishing over 300 scores per year.

While we hadn’t seen ratings inflation within our yearly averages or within the top end of scores, we did see the percentage of cigar scoring between 87 and 90 points at halfwheel becoming greater and greater.

Small tweaks were made to help reverse that trend both by lowering and increasing the scores of cigars.

Finally, our new system deemphasizes the overall score. That might seem confusing given the three paragraphs above this one, but we wanted to remove the fasciation amongst the reviewers with the overall score and center the focus more around the components that make up the score. So, when the new algorithm was put into place, reviewers weren’t given access to it. This means that when they turn in a score sheet, they have no clue what score the cigar will actually get, removing any sort of math games that could occur because “this cigar deserves an 88."

(In the interest of full disclosure, I have access to the algorithm key, but avoid using it when conducting my reviews in the interest of consistency.)

——

All that sounds like a lot, but both internally and externally, no one seems to have noticed.

There hasn’t been a rash of comments or emails regarding scores seeming particularly “off” or “weird” over the last few months. Even our reviewers, who will sometimes admit they thought a cigar was going to score a point higher or lower than it did, haven’t had very many moments where they have felt the scores were “off.”

And so far, the data supports it. The average score for cigars at halfwheel is within a point of where it was last year. The amount of new cigars qualifying to be eligible for the site’s top 25 is at a nearly identical pace as last year—and yet—there’s a bit more diversity. While the amount of new cigars scoring 91 or above is keeping pace with last year—by mid-February the site had already half as many 94-plus rating as it did for the entirety of 2014. And with that, there are far more scores in the 70s, a significantly less amount of 87-90s and yet, it doesn’t seem like too many noticed.

——

We chose not to make the announcement in January for a few reasons.

First, if we had said something is changing, people would have gone looking for it. Don’t like the score on that Oliva—it’s the new system's fault. Think we were too harsh on that Cohiba—new scoring sheet. I bet that wouldn’t have gotten 95 last year.

Secondly, we wanted to see if we could set out to achieve everything we wanted in the new system: more diversity, consistency and range—yet, without changing what an 88 means—and I think we did. At the end of the year, 91 is still  almost certainly going to be the cutting off point for new cigars to make into consideration for our end of the year awards. I think our scoring of cigars is still harsher than any other major publication. I still stand by our scores—the ones from 2014 and the ones from 2015.

We know that regular readers attach a certain meaning to the numbers we give cigars: an 88 means x, a 79 means y, etc. We still wanted to  have those numbers attached to a meaning for you, but slightly adjust the way that we look at scoring cigars.

Finally, we waited because while scores are a big deal, they aren’t the only reason we’d like you to come from halfwheel.

The ultimate test for any score is whether the thousand or so words above it match up with the numbers below it. If they don’t, we failed. I’ve always believed that at halfwheel or any other publication that publishes both text and numbers, you can judge a review not by a number, but by enthusiasm in text.

I firmly believe that changes to a scoring system are inevitable, whether implicit or explicit, personal or all-encompassing. In fact, the 2015 scoring system isn’t the second one that’s been used at halfwheel, it’s really the fourth, following the pre-halfwheel scores included from Smoking Stogie and TheCigarFeed. Whether it be ratings inflation, a new algorithm, changing tastes or human error—the scores of the same cigar are going to change over time, even if the cigar hasn't.

We made a decision to try to make those changes work within the standards we had already established, while still reflecting a more realistic view of the market and the products we are reviewing. And whether it be in 2020 or 2016, I’m sure we’ll need to make changes again.

BEER PAIRING: BOULEVARD HIBISCUS GOSE / BG MEYER GIGANTES 52

Brooks Whittington

It is getting warmer, so for this pairing, I thought I would try to find a cigar that goes well with one of my favoring style of beers — goses. I love sitting outside on a warm night with a gose, and if I could find a cigar that pairs well with it, then so much the better. The problem is obvious — what cigar will be able to stand up to the distinct sour/salty combination that goses are known for without it overwhelming all of the flavors that it possesses?

My attempt at a good combination led me to two very different products. For the beer, I chose the Boulevard Hibscus Gose, which is a 4.2 percent ABV gose that is brewed in Kansas City, Mo. with coriander, sea salt and hibiscus flowers. The cigar I chose was a BG Meyers Gigantes 52, which is a 4 x 52 petit robusto with a blend composed of a Nicaraguan habano wrapper from 2007, a Brazilian mata fina binder aged at least six years and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic that are at least six-years-old. 

As I expected, while I was able to get quite a bit of flavors out of both, the two never seemed to meld together totally, with the gose overwhelming the subtle nuances that I knew were in the BG Meyers Gigantes at points. Interestingly, while I thought the salt would be the overriding flavor issue in the gose, it turned out that the coriander in the beer took center stage when it came to flavors, with the salt trailing by a fair margin. On the plus side, the sweet malt that was evident in the beer actually helped the combination quite a bit at the times when the coriander was not ruining the experiment.

I have good news and bad news about this union. The good news is, the combination of the Hibiscus Gose and the BG Meyers Gigantes 52 is actually a pretty decent combination at times when enjoyed together. The bad news is, both the beer and the cigar taste substantially better when enjoyed separately.

FIVE TEXTS WITH: MARIA MARTÍN


Each month Patrick Lagreid will text five questions to one person in the cigar industry. We'll take screenshots and post the results of whatever they took about here.

Up first, Maria Martín, who recently joined Kuuts, LLC. The industry veteran is the daughter of the late Pedro Martín. She has previously served as the president of Tropical Tobacco and the national sales manager of Camacho.

This month, Patrick sent six questions in four texts, which could be the new name of this feature.

halfwheel on the road

While we are based in Dallas, we attend a fair bit of cigar events nationally and internationally. In addition to periodically dropping in around town, we plan on being at a few events each month.

Members of the halfwheel editorial team will be at the following events this month:
  • Nowhere. If you are around Dallas on May 15, contact a staff member for details on Fifty Fifty Day/office party. (Space is limited.)
Don't be afraid to say hi. We have stickers.

DEALS FROM OUR ADVERTISERS

CAMACHO AMERICAN BARREL-AGED LAUNCHING IN JUNE

After months of teasing, Camacho is taking the lid off its newest project, American Barrel-Aged

While it’s made no secret that it would be working with tobacco aged in bourbon barrels, the biggest news might be that this is the first Dominican-made Camacho.

Camacho American Barrel-Aged uses an American broadleaf wrapper and binder. The filler also contains broadleaf tobacco, a maduro leaf from Pennsylvania, and a six-year-old corojo leaf that was aged in bourbon barrels, which Camacho is describing as the centerpiece of the blend.
Read more.

LA PALINA GOLDIE ROBUSTO EXTRA FOR 2015

If Maria Sierra was at work yesterday, she was almost certainly rolling La Palina Goldies in a 6 1/10 x 50 size.

That’s the next size of the popular limited edition line from La Palina, officially known as the Goldie Robusto Extra. Company owner Bill Paley told halfwheel that he expects the latest Goldie to arrive sometime between late May and early June.

It will be the fourth different size the line has been offered in, every cigar rolled by Sierra. The Cuban-born roller works at El Titan de Bronze and has been the exclusive roller for the line since its inception in 2012. Because of the fact that all La Palina Goldies are rolled by just a single person, the release is staggered—this year 1,000 boxes will ship in the spring with another 1,000 arriving in late fall.
Read more.

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