The importance of not trying to be important.
Whisky blogging. It’s a total minefield. Whether your writing style is lacking, your opinion misguided, your patter is miserable or all three, there will always be somebody to bring you down with a bump. But regardless of your style, there can be some good points to remember while whisky blogging.
One of my fellow whisky bloggers IM’d me an article from another site (click link). I wished he hadn’t as my previous article had been a rant on why Black Friday is a bad for small retailers and I wasn’t wanting to spend energy on another emotional essay. However, something in the article felt wrong to me. The coin had been put in the slot and the rant button was pressed again for another go.
I’ve been following this site for some time now, but since an event in Jan 2020 which some of the Whisky Twitterati know as ‘Terroir Gate’ where there was a highly questionable article which attacked a fellow blogger who had the courage to question the relevance of Barley Terroir. I’ve had the website on Twitter mute since then. I’m sure they won’t miss me, but it was surely adventurous to challenge a farmer about growing barley. I’m sure the man has forgotten more about crop growing than they know.
The article on which I wish to comment concerns a writer who had the misfortune to have attended a disappointing virtual tasting. For one reason or another the event had come to be tagged a ‘Masterclass’, which ended up in disappointment for the reviewer, who went on to list some admittedly valid points. Despite the valid points, the rant didn’t sit well with me. Indeed, the whole page made me want to put on a tin helmet and go over the trench. I’ll admit to perhaps not following my own advice, but in this case, it is with good cause.
Advice Piece # 1. Don’t put people down publicly when trying to make yourself look good.
The whisky community is supposed to be friendly, isn’t it? Well, while the tasting was disappointing according to details provided in the article, anybody who knew about that event will be able to identify the host and the see the very public criticism of him. Pretty bad craic to run the event down then patronise the host afterwards. To write how “they might make a master one day if they keep on learning” does give the impression of the author looking down on this individual. It certainly seems to be a standard editorial policy for this site on a few occasions. The author seems to have forgotten even Masters can still learn daily.
Has the writer heard of the principle of “praising publicly, criticising privately?’ It’s a standard requirement in my industry, where failing to do so and humiliating a colleague in front of their peers not only sees the offender being ostracised, but also at risk of losing their teeth in a Glasgow style kiss. After all, the host himself didn’t call it a Masterclass, but regardless, I would say there is an onus on anybody attending these events virtually or in person to perhaps take such labels with a pinch of salt, unless you know the host, their experience and the drams involved. Quickly looking at these drams would suggest that these weren’t anything I’d associate with a Masterclass as I can get them straight off a supermarket shelf here in Scotland.
It’s a good point that you should be able to assume anybody with a Masterclass title connected would have an associated qualification – and I agree that it should, though there is still no guarantee of quality being present. The industry does lack regulation in many areas, but without casting aspersions on these titles just because some parade their being a Keeper of the Quaich or having a WSET qualification like a bull strutting his stuff in a field of cows, it still is sadly no guarantee of quality.
I’ve worked with some highly ‘qualified’ people in my industry that seem to have more degrees than a compass. While working in West Africa, we asked a guy to make the teas for the crew came back and every single tea or coffee was cold. As he’d never made tea or coffee before, he didn’t know you had to boil the kettle.
On the same ship, another guy couldn’t get the kettle under the tap of the small hand basin we had in our washroom. So rather than filling it with a cup like everybody else, he put the kettle into the toilet bowl and flushed. 10/10 for ingenuity, 0/10 for application – toilets on a ship often flush with filtered seawater.
The point is that you can still have a qualification but not be exposed to all aspects of the industry. Nobody knows everything. Doesn’t necessarily make you a w*nker. That leads nicely onto point 2.
Advice Piece # 2 – No Profanity
I’ve been in an engineering trade since I left school. Being a tradesman and Scottish means that swearing often comes naturally. The F bomb is not a big deal at all. The word w*nker hardly registers on the scale. But was there really a need to use it on a whisky review?
Does the author think are people w*nkers because they don’t know everything? We were all enthusiastic amateurs at one time, possibly overly so. Perhaps it would be better in the article not to be so rude but suggest that it’s better not to pretend what you know and when caught out, a simple admission should suffice coupled with a resolve to find out?
It’s not a crime to not know, especially when the host didn’t put himself in the Masterclass slot. As people with more experience, we should always build up and encourage in the whisky community rather than knock down those with less knowledge. Unless you want to look like a twat.
Advice Piece # 3 – Keep the Negativity levels low or non-existent.
I once spoke to somebody in the whisky industry about writing articles and one of the things I told them was that I felt that despite the amount of people in the industry and who follow it, it is a small world. Especially in Speyside where there are quite a few people involved in the production side. We discussed the website in question for this article and I mentioned the levels of negativity that often come out. The person just smiled, so I know I’m not alone in my thoughts.
While you should never be afraid of criticising a product or something that deserves it, there are ways and means of doing so. If you want a rant, at least make it entertaining. A regularly negative drone just gets boring. Far from challenging the industry or individuals, you’ll just start getting ignored. If you don’t like something, say it’s not for you, Don’t judge others for liking it and don’t constantly bang on about it.
I’ve never lived more than 15 miles from a Single Malt distillery. I can see one from my house. It has had its (fair) criticisms over the years, but nobody intentionally makes a poor whisky. You never know who will see what you write, and certainly running down a business in a small local community is definitely bad craic, regardless of who owns it. You only end up closing more doors than opening new ones.
Advice Piece # 4 – Don’t be hypocritical or at least admit it when you are.
Hypocrisy. We all do it from time to time. And I am aware in what I’m writing I’m not following any of my own advice apart from this one. It’s ok to be hypocritical as long as you acknowledge it. Sometimes the situation changes and you must go back on your word. Don’t worry about it, just be open. I’ve had to be when I got caught out in the past with Macallan Folio 5 being released in far larger numbers than before, and I was forced to flip it. And I don’t hide how much I hate flippers. Thankfully I wasn’t very good at it, making a profit after fees of £37.50, so that sweetened a bitter pill, and being open about it preserved my integrity.
Going by the tone of the article I was sent, it is extremely hypocritical to slate somebody for having an ego when obviously displaying one yourself. I don’t think I need to add more to that.
Plus, being funded to maintain your independence? However you do it, this has potential to undermine your independence, something this site seems to hold dear. Patreon use for recovering expenses is fair enough, but you can get unlimited hosting and bandwidth for under £300 a year. But unless it’s a job (I’m assuming it is), should you not keep a hobby self funding? That’s the only way to preserve total independence. I’m not suggesting any thing is improper by using Patreon, but if you are funded by donation, that’s because people like what you publish. Human nature being as it is, if people are going to pay you for what you publish, the likelihood of you continuing to put out the same kind of content continues. Hence the egotist ranting often seen on the site perhaps?
I certainly don’t expect others to pay for my hobby or whisky, unlike many Patreon funded Whisky pages.
Advice Point # 5. Have a clear point to the end.
Often when this site publishes a rant, it doesn’t always have a clear point all the way to the end. They seem to have the maxim of “why use one word when several will do?”. Some of their contributors seem to have swallowed a Thesaurus. But what gets me is in some cases, the bones of the article don’t always seem to support the review at the end. In my mind, the worst example was the review of The Lakes Distillery release of The One, The write-up before had nothing at all to do with the whisky being reviewed, and was just an ill-judged irrelevant rant. Had I been the owner of the Lakes Distillery I would have been furious that my product was tied into this negative publicity.
The day they published ‘No Masterclass’ it must have been a slow news day for the team, as even though the reviews were relevant, it still seemed to be tacked on. The reviews just seemed like an easy way to get more negativity in. Personally, I’d think it better to keep a rant away from products, unless the rant is to do with the product in question. You don’t want to necessarily bite the hand that feeds you. Far from challenging producers, you will just encourage them to ignore you while you feed your sycophants. And this will mean things are unlikely to change for some.
As the site and people involved will invariably see this, what will be interesting to see is if I am subjected to a similar treatment that the other party in Terroir Gate received. Of course, they have a right of reply, but how it is done may be interesting and will certainly show their professionalism when it comes to responding criticism.
Unlike some, I’ve never felt the need to fly a kite with regards to my experience in the whisky world. I’ve been collecting since 2006, but that doesn’t make me an expert. Neither does living in a region heavily connected to the Scotch Industry, though I can say I probably know enough. But like tasting a whisky, our opinions on the same subject can differ. After all, some people think Bells is tasty, but that doesn’t mean they should be shot down for it. However, for this particular website in question, in their ‘About’ section, when they say difference of opinion is OK, do they really mean it, or are we dissenters “the poor little lambs’ condescendingly alluded to ?
It isn’t always Masterclass. Not always classy. As for the w*nkers, I’ll let you decide. But if you want a serious review site, Matt ‘The Dramble’ is a better bet in my humble opinion.
Yours in Humiliation, Hypocrisy, Negativity, Swearing and always in Spirits,
Keyboard – Authors Own
All Other Images – Shutterstock