Are we playing the right part?
You can’t be controversial all the time, or at least I’d like to think so. In the almost 2 years that I’ve been writing my blog I’ve attempted to put a metaphorical fox into a few chicken coops and am still living to tell the tale. Perhaps that is the benefit of being an under the radar blogger. My last article targeted a Malt-Official submission that fell short on journalistic standard, and to my pleasant surprise was received well by those who read it. Since then I’ve been musing about the existence of the ‘whisky community’ that seems to have been generated within social media, and whether or not we always act appropriately within it.
The whisky community we are in is a wide church, including everybody from occasional drinkers who have a few drams a week, to the whisky über-geek. There’s the bottle chasers, collectors or those standing on the sidelines just observing. Nestling in amongst us are those directly involved in whisky production which nicely completes the mix.
On the Scotty’s Drams Facebook page and Twitter Feed I asked the question ‘ What does ‘Whisky Community’ mean to you? I got a couple of responses on each page but received a few more private messages. It turns out that most answers were similar and to me they seemed more to focus towards the online aspect of the community. By a large margin, the main aspect was that people see it as a way to learn and share knowledge. In second place was friendship and sharing of drams. A couple of people said they use the whisky community as a source of entertainment. I can vouch for this, as I do too when working offshore. But there was a more worrying tone to two replies, which inferred that the respondents felt that some people needed to get off their pedestals, with one going as far to say that some need to practice what they preach.
One DM even went as far to question what it would be like if we were together physically when having our debates? I’d like to think there wouldn’t be a fight, but often I wonder. I’m probably as guilty on occasion on getting a bit overheated when something presses my buttons. Does the online experience make us braver or is it that we inadvertently feel freed of our social norms? With so many different levels of experience, like any community we live in there is bound to be the occasional clash from time to time. Certainly on Twitter where interaction is a lot easier than other social media (or so I find), we’ve seen one or two negative incidents which maybe made more traction than they should’ve. The ability of an instant response and the slipping of the clutch between brain and keyboard can often show a glimpse of what can be below the outer fabric of our community. Fortunately it is rare and I feel the general pulse is positive.
However, it doesn’t take much to start something off. From producers making incendiary tweets when responding to comments about their product, to the battlegrounds created when people take sides over the latest issue of the moment, it does seem as though our social media behaviour mimics that of a real life situation.
2020 has been a year in which behaviour and respect for others has perhaps been stirred within our consciousness. For me, as a newcomer to ‘WhiskyTwitter’, the first I saw questionable behaviour was the debacle over Terroir and the subsequent fall-out over differences of opinion, fuelled by an incendiary and unnecessary article attacking a bloggers opinion. It was certainly a very polarised experience with some people adding their opinions as though only they were right and nobody else was. People who contribute online using social media or their own websites have to remember the impact their writing can have within their readership. Even if they apologise after a lapse of judgement, the damage can already be done. I for one was put off of a certain Irish distillery’s products if that was what terroir supporters were going to be like. However in the interests of fairness, the instigator has posted an apology. I suppose in any community you’ve got to forgive and forget to be able to move on. We’ve all made mistakes I’m sure, with public ones often being the hardest to correct.
If we become a community, we need to ask if what we are contributing adds to the health of our clan. If it isn’t a positive change, then maybe consider not publishing it. Free speech is a right, but exercising our rights do not negate our responsibilities to others.
Can anybody fail to remember the next notable issue – the stance against some of the more lurid and often sexist comments in the 2020 Whisky Bible? This has been going on for a few years, but once Becky Paskin finally called the author out on it, it has been like a snowball rolling downhill, gathering size and pace. From there on in, the floodgates had been opened and many people within the whisky community have finally seemed to recognise that there is no place for sexism in the Whisky Community and it was time for things to change and not before time.
We’ll skip over the recent Malt article I blogged about a few weeks ago I previously mentioned. Click on the link if you want to be reminded. In more recent times I wish to draw upon two tweets to highlight the potential highs and lows of our community.
First was a tweet by @MaltMentalist who asked people if there was a whisky or an experience that had put you off a brand. I was shocked by the amount of people who told stories of distillery representatives or brand ambassadors at whisky events who’s behaviour had put them off. It was also sadly unsurprising about the amount of ladies who had been disrespected, which does reinforce the point that the whisky world still has a sexism issue. I’ve since learned of other examples of how fellow enthusiasts can equally be dismissive of the fairer sex being involved in our hobby. Attitudes like this do not help shake of the image of whisky being an old man’s drink. A stuffy, sexist and insular old man at that.
When we think of people perpetuating these sorts of behaviours, what are they really trying to achieve? It does nothing positive for anybody, least of all them. Surely a true whisky community builds each other up, regardless of gender, backgrounds or knowledge? The fact that people who consider themselves connected to the industry are sometimes responsible for this behaviour should start ringing alarm bells and be highlighted. That’s the only way to effect positive change.
Of course, there is the other side of the coin. My next tweet will remain anonymous as I don’t want to draw attention to anybody, but the people involved will recognise themselves. Somebody asked on Whisky Twitter “What is grist?”. I’ve become so accustomed to the high level of knowledge amongst the Twitterati that I was really surprised to see this question in public. I was half expecting a flurry of antagonistic replies, but this did not materialise. Instead a basic answer was given in which the replier asked for confirmation that he got the answer right. This is a complete contrast within the whisky community compared to the examples given in @MaltMentalist’s tweet. And to me, that is what our social media based whisky community should and must be about. Just because you drink a lot of whisky doesn’t mean you have to know how it’s made to offer an opinion, but it helps greatly. It was good to see someone reply and not talk somebody down in a way that I’ve seen many others do on different forums.
It is easy to forget when you live in Speyside, or even Scotland that not everybody has access to a whisky distillery to see the whole process. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been in one. Sometimes I go as I’ve never been. Sometimes I want a particular photograph. Other times I want a bit of extra knowledge and sometimes I just want to be immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the distillery to satisfy my senses. These are just my experiences. Many may have only been once to a distillery, some never. So let’s get three things straight –
1/ Lack of knowledge does not preclude you from being a valued member of the whisky community, as long as you have respect for others and are ready to learn. There’s a lot of knowledge and assistance out there. Just use it wisely.
2/ As a ‘community’ we have the responsibility to help along others who maybe don’t have the same experience and knowledge. If we fail to do so, then we have a dysfunctional community.
3/ Your idea of what is good content on social media may differ from others. A community is full of people happy doing their own thing.
Pointlessly antagonistic articles like the Masterclass one that was pulished serve no purpose in building a whisky community, and smack of elitism and isolate people. It just diminishes the effect of the article which did have some valid points. Nobody likes feeling a fool and shooting people down in public will only result in many people not wanting to ask for vital knowledge for fear of looking stupid. And in my industry, making people feel stupid by having a superior attitude is the quick way to get kissed in the Glasgow style.
Factions and cliques will always exist. That’s no different to any ‘real life’ community. But we can’t act as though we are only connected each other by Ethernet cable from our router. In my opinion, while the vast majority of people do, we need to be behaving better than we would within a physical community. All said and done, it isn’t whisky that should be the focus, but the people. We all do our own thing that makes us happy. If people like it, great. If not, then move on and let people do theirs as long as they aren’t hurting anybody.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it should be about how important ‘communities’ are, and we need to care about them more by being aware of how we and others act within them. I’ll hazard a guess that we’ve all relied on the social fabric the whisky fraternity provides more than we think over the past 9 months. It’s been a fantastic time where people have risen to the challenges of isolation with online tastings and the use of the internet to cement friendships built over the shared love of a spirit.
As we move into 2021, it is perhaps time that we take a moment to think about how we can continue to add something positive to the circle of whisky lovers around the world. We all have our part if we want to be true community members. There is so much positivity in our movement that we should be proud of and build on. Goodness knows we all need it.
Wishing you all a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year. Here’s hoping it never gets as bad as 2020.
Yours In Spirits
Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.
Nuclear explosion – stolen from Google
Care In The Community – stolen from Google
Barrel – authors own.