BOX PRESS WITH BOVEDA’S ROB GAGNER
What would happen if two guys rolled two cigar sources into one industry-changing digital daily? You’d get halfwheel, the industry’s most popular online source for cigar news, true reviews and glamour shots. (And all the updates on smoking bans and legislation that affect cigar enthusiasts.)
Go behind-the-scenes at halfwheel with Boveda to find out:
- How halfwheel changed the way we shop for cigars.
- What cigar manufacturers think of halfwheel’s honest cigars reviews.
- How a cigar feature can read like an episode of Law & Order.
Explore cigars, cigar life and cigar enjoyment with Rob Gagner, host of Box Press, Boveda’s cigar podcast.
WHAT’S A HALFWHEEL?
AKA media ruedas, a halfwheel is a bunch of 50 cigars bundled together by a cigar roller.
If Cigar Aficionado is the granddaddy of the cigar news, then halfwheel is the uncle who gives you the straight scoop on what your family’s really like. (Then slips you a few bucks to buy an Arturo Fuento.)
The halfwheel HQ is just north of Dallas and west of the way we used to get our cigar intel. When Charlie Minato and Brooks Whittington launchedhalfwheel on January 1, 2012, it was the first time cigar news and reviews were wrapped up in one tight timely virtual package.
Other cigar blogs were hard to navigate, impossible to search and even harder to trust for unbiased information and honest reviews. And cigar news was spotty.
“Cigar Aficionado would maybe write at the most four articles per week. They would have Cigar Insider that would come out every other week,” Charlie Minato said. “And Cigar Insider would really be the place to have the more exclusive news stories.”
In 2010, Charlie addressed the cigar news famine with TheCigarFeed. From his dorm room at Wake Forest University, Charlie started publishing cigar content based on solid reporting. And he kept the website going until December 2011, when it merged with another guy’s cigar blog to create halfwheel.
The other guy? Brooks Whittington. Brooks was an editorial photography stringer for the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Telegram and other publications. As the print medium dried up, so did the demand for editorial photography. So Brooks and his wife launched a wedding photography business. For about 10 years, he shot vows around the world. But alas, brides are a fickle bunch. And Brooks’s documentary-style of capturing weddings crashed. Ever the cigar lover, Brooks trolled cigar blogs in his ever-growing downtime. Trolling led to critiquing. Critiquing led to starting his own cigar blog.
“When I was looking around the internet, I realized people were taking pretty crappy pictures of cigars,” Brooks said. “And realized I could do better.” So he started SmokingStogie, a very simple website with high-end shots of Cubans, unicorns and other hard-to-find smokes.
Brooks and Charlie got to talking at a cigar convention. And they kept talking. And they decided to merge their two websites. The duo dissected the sites, harvesting the best from both—Charlie’s cigar reporting and Brooks’s pro photography. Brooks and Charlie wanted to fix the flaws they saw in other cigar blogs. So halfwheel’s content is both easy to comprehend and find for everyone who loves cigars—not just industry insiders.
Brooks thinks of himself and Charlie as curators of the cigar industry. He said they want to be the people who cover the industry in its entirety, no matter how small the story.
What isn’t small is the popularity of halfwheel’s in-depth cigar reviews (or its 20K+ cigar collection). Charlie, Brooks and other reviewers evaluate cigars based on flavor, construction, burn, draw and smoke production and body. The reviews follow a consistent, reader friendly design. And halfwheel’s search capabilities make it simple to find and revisit a write-up.
For better or worse, halfwheel is unbiased in its critique of nearly every notable cigar. That means cigar manufacturers—and halfwheel’s sponsors—might not always like what they read.
“Not every cigar is good, and as such, not every review will be pretty.”
– halfwheel’s response to the critics of “too critical”
But honest-to-goodness cigar folk respect the honest reviews. Rob Gagner, the host of Boveda’s Box Press podcast said, “If I’m going to go into a shop and look at the cigars on the shelf, I’m going to pull it up on halfwheel to see if that cigar got a good rating. And then decide whether or not I’m going to spend my hard earned money on it.”
NO SMOKING AT HALFWHEEL?
Usually during a Box Press episode, Rob smokes cigars with his guests. There’s no lighting up at halfwheel HQ. (WHAT?) Instead, Charlie and Brooks reviewed Answer’s fruited sour craft brew out of Richmond, Virginia. (Is a beer brewed from passionfruit, mango and lemonade still a beer?) Did you know the people behind halfwheel also publish a craft brew blog? Check it out.