Greetings, ATW readers.
Forgive my long time absence from mere discussion and opinion pieces. I have no excuses, simply explanations. I have a day job…beautiful kids…a stunning (and ever patient) wife…a liver to worry about…and…my focus has been elsewhere of late. Namely…in blitzing the site with whisky reviews.
You may have seen a very honest and articulate question bandied my way by a ‘whisky mate’ here on the site. The exact post, for those that care to read it, was here. I wanted to take the answers I was preparing there and put them front and center because I feel they are relevant, insightful and allow me an opportunity to share a bit of history and a few bits of advice.
I’m an average guy. Just turned 35. Office job which is quite contrary to the rest of my personality. Music…tattoos…books…zombie flicks…guitars…an obsession with the mountains…that’s more the real me. I’m a rather intense sort who swings from obsession to obsession, all embraced headlong and with a singular enthusiasm. Sometimes they fade after a year or two. Othertimes not. Whisky is a case of the latter. It is an interest that has monopolized much of my spare time for a few years now in one way or another.
Contrary to what you might think…I don’t drink much. A dram or two once or twice a week. Maybe a couple on the weekend depending on plans and family time. And then the occasional tasting flight I arrange. One of the questions from ‘Skeptic’ specifically spoke to volume of consumption, mentioning a figure of medical recommendation to not exceed 100 ml a day. F*ck. That’s a lot of d(r)amage to the liver. I am nowhere near that and not a daily drinker, by any means. My nights of ‘blurring the lines’ are maybe once or twice a year. Otherwise…I’m sort of a well-behaved lad. Let’s face it…hangovers are not fun. Especially with kids.
I also don’t need a full dram to do my tasting/nosing notes and review. After enough practice, you don’t need a lot. Honestly. Sit in on a tasting flight with me (and yes…that is a sincere offer if you are in town) and you will see what I mean. The way it ‘usually’ works (a guide, not a rule) is I will pair up a few whiskies that logically associate, and bounce back and forth between them. Reviewing one whisky at a time is not ideal. If the opportunity presents, I will generally revisit the whiskies again at some point before publishing anything. These revisits nearly always align with what my first impressions were. It’s all about ensuring that each time you sit to nose whiskies, the conditions are favorable (i.e. you haven’t just eaten anything funky…your home hasn’t been spritzed with cleaning products or the smells of cooking…you don’t have a cold…etc). If any of the aforementioned may be a factor…I abort and wait to be in the right ‘place’. Otherwise, no matter how much you nose/taste, you’re still not gonna get what you need out of it.
I mention this, as it ties back to a recent bombardment of reviews here on the website. Just so we’re all on the same page…at any given time I have between 50 and 100 reviews in ‘draft’ format. They may have a complete write-up, but no tasting notes…or contrarily…complete tasting notes, but the muse has not yet whispered in my ear what exactly to say about the whisky.
This flurry of activity is not related to a period of heavy drinking. Nor is it indicative of a change in anything to do with my personal constraints. It is merely a refocusing of energies for a period here in an attempt to build up a solid database of reviews here on ATW. Why? Simply because this is a vanity project. I want you to come here and read. I want to share thoughts and opinions, and I want to interact. I met one of my best mates through running of the website (a previous site , that is).
How do I try as many whiskies as I do?
There are a few things I need to speak to in order to share a full understanding on this subject.
1) I do not get whiskies thrown my way from the industry, like some I know who specifically solicit this. I’m not averse to it, per se, but I also don’t believe in the concept of pushing for free sh*t. I find it uncouth and classless. I wasn’t built that way, and I don’t need to do it. If something comes my way…so be it. I know I will be honest and forthright with you, and it would allow me to try more, for own benefit, as well as share notes which will hopefully aid others in buying. HOWEVER…you can see by the spartan facade of the site, there are no ads…no sponsors, etc. I am taking in no revenue to do ‘the whisky thing’. All whiskies reviewed on ATW are: purchased by me…purchased by friends who share…samples provided from local retailers who simply want you to know they’re selling it…tasted in formal tastings…swapped samples with others.
I live in Canada. Our customs laws are so unbelievably rigid and archaic that we can not even ship alcohol from province to province, let alone between countries. (Yes, Canadian government…I’m taking aim at you *ssholes. Get with the f*cking times!) While I see samples (free or otherwise) being shipped all over to key reviewers and such…sadly…I am not a part of that.
2) I started the website when I felt I knew enough (though still adorably naive 😉 ) to be comfortable publicly speaking about the subject. In hindsight, it was a little too early. I have learned ridiculous amounts over the past few years. I have been humble enough to admit where I was off course, and have righted the ship from time to time. An easy example? Like all newbies…I scored far too high initially. I have had to do a couple of massive ‘true-ups over the years’.
Anyway…where I am going with this is…I made some connections through the site. Those individuals have shared generously of their time, knowledge and yes…whisky. I have friends in much better positions of life than I am, and who have a genuine interest in just wanting to hang out with fellow whisky nerds. One of the gents I am closest to now is someone I only came in contact through because of my site.
3) I run whisky clubs. One is a private little invitation-only affair for a few of my literate mates. We gather and discuss a book and some great whiskies each month. The other is a new undertaking. An impressive affair coming together known as The Dram Initiative. This is a big formal public club. I am the guy that brings these things to life. From there…a select handful of my best mates and all ’round good guys work tirelessly with me to keep it moving forward.
4) I take the initiative to be involved in events. Commercial tastings, festivals, launches, etc. I travel to Scotland every couple of years to tour distilleries and whisky bars. I also host my own events, when there is nothing out there suiting my vision.
At the end of the day…the most important bit of advice I can offer? Share your whisky. Use the ‘pay it forward’ model. Remember those who shared with you, and try to do the same for others where you can. I like to share good whisky with good people and it seems to come back around. Good people have in turn poured lovely drams for me. That’s what this is about, isn’t it?
Finally…for those that say they’ll never try a Port Ellen or a Rosebank or something…all I have to say is…y’never know. 😉
Cost? Well…let’s be honest. This is an expensive hobby. I make a pretty decent salary, but not quite decent enough to afford all of the whiskies I taste and review.
You have to cherry pick your purchases. Why try every batch of a’bunadh, as mentioned in the question, when there are tons of other great whiskies to experiment with? Yes, a’bunadh is great and I do try to keep one around, but I will generally try one out of every 5-10 batches or so. There are a lot of great whiskies out there.
And yes…you will miss out on limited batches. I do all the time. Sleep easy knowing that there will always be another ‘limited release’ coming down the pipelines. Hopefully you and your mates can sort of coordinate efforts on this front. You buy the new ‘Glenwhatzis’…he buys the new ‘Glenwhynot’…she buys the new ‘Glenpricey’. Then…get together, crack ’em open and share. That way you don’t need to personally buy them all, but still get the opportunity to try ’em. Trade bottles when you get halfway or three quarters through. Buy some sample bottles and start swapping samples. Plan your club events (if you have a little group who gathers) around drams you want to try.
Open ’em up. F*ck the idea of collecting. Storing some for future years? Sure. Collecting, and not sipping? Bah! Open ’em…share with friends…collect the memories. That’s the important stuff.
I admit…I have a couple hundred bottles in my basement. This ‘hoarding’, if you will, is self-perpetuating. After you build up some stocks, you’ll find you can buy less, but buy better. The key is always to buy a little more than you drink. Keep yourself in the black, in other words.
Finally…some thoughts on ‘integrity’…
All scored reviews are my own. There are other bits on the site which have been credited to Maltmonster or Whisky Pilgrim or what-have-you. But for the most part…this is my own rambling, for better or worse. I say that so you understand there is integrity, honesty and consistency to the reviews. You may not agree with me, but hopefully, if you stick around long enough, you’ll see where I’m coming from.
I also try to use almost exclusively all my own photography. I think this adds an element of sincerity and validation that these whiskies really are being tasted…and really are being properly assessed. I’m not the best photographer, but I get enough in the frame to show that these pics are not stock images.
I try to stay humble (some days harder than others), as it lets others see you’re not in it for gain.
I’ve finally started using twitter. Come find me at @Allthingswhisky. Each time something new goes up here, I’ll let you know there.
Sincerest thanks to ‘Skeptic’ for his questions. They’ve allowed me to orate without it necessarily being from a soapbox.
Until next, friends…please keep comments coming. Your feedback is important. I thank you.
Long time reader, first time commenter (sounds like a radio-show). Anyway…just a comment. Great blog! Cheers.
My favorite folks are obsessive and, in particular, highly passionate. It’s easy for me to understand why I love your blog. Thank You.
Thanks, guys. Appreciate the comments. Sincerely.
Had to come back here and drop a line.
I highly recommend you all have a read over here: http://www.myannoyingopinions.com/2013/10/23/annoying-whisky-bloggers/ Do follow the link as well to the previous article. While this comes from a more cynical place than yours truly (I’ve mellowed since my more vitriolic university days), it makes a few hard-hitting points that we could all stand to learn from.
Good read. Go now…
Having read it, I did find it very interesting. What’s your take on it?
Articulate, but ultimately too cynical. There seems to be a very reactionary core of individuals out there who look on everything with skepticism and call out anything that doesn’t align to their core values of what the industry should be. There’s a distrust implicit in some of these opinions that isn’t altogether warranted. I do concede that it takes both extremes to reach a moderate middle ground (hence me seeing a lot of value in the above linked article), but I also believe that both of these extremes are easily dismissed. I don’t want to call anyone out by name, ’cause there’s already far too much mud-slinging in this little whisky world, but I can name individuals representative of both extremes that I read and immediately dismiss as over the top adulation or vitriolic agenda-pushing.
This isn’t a ‘can’t we all get along plea’, but it is an admission of distaste for anyone telling me that blogging needs to follow certain rules, or that my relationships with anyone in the industry need be governed by moral principles other than my own. As was mentioned in a comment beneath one of those articles, someone said something along the lines of ‘quickly being able to see through it’. That’s the approach I take both in my own writing, and in what I read. My biases for the whiskies I love are sung from the rooftops, but my distaste for certain industry people (bloggers through to companies/distilleries/ambassadors) is generally something that I keep to myself. No need for more Capn Jimbo douchebag-ery out there.
Put simply…Not everyone is out to a) get free shit b) piggyback off of others c) get famous d) insert random other implied blog-whore accusation, so sometimes the benefit of the doubt is not a bad thing.
Blogging has done the industry a world of good, I would argue.
If there’s a lot of mud-slinging in the little whisky world, there is also very little proportional truth told in it, particularly about the distasteful downside that people can only wish wasn’t there. If there’s distrust, it’s distrust which IS largely warranted because it was, and continues to be, created by the industry and its defenders, and mostly through the topics that aren’t fully or openly discussed. The same people who will conduct impromptu kindergartens on Adam Smith economic theory as justification of the industry’s self interest in pursuit of profit fall silent when industry tricks are discussed except, sometimes, to defend those tricks on the basis of “all’s fair in business and marketing” or essentially “of course they’ll lie to you, that’s their job”. Fair enough, but lesson learned – I can’t trust those who make these arguments, or avoid comment, to see my interests as anything more than secondary to those of the industry, so I speak on behalf of those interests, as a consumer, myself.
In avoiding talking about that industry downside (all the people, companies, etc. that could be named, but aren’t – did you really call Jim Murray a douchebag – no, not really), the impression is left that the upside is all there is, which suits the industry very well indeed. Does the industry really care what, or how much, anyone says, so long as it isn’t critical of itself or its supporters? A lack of industry criticism, again, to me, indicates a degree of pro-industry bias (as per professional whisky writers), if only by virtue of what people won’t say – if people aren’t commenting on everything they see, the predominantly positive comments that are left do have the effect of marketing, intended or not.
The benefit of the doubt “grey area” which some would like in whisky has simply been worn out by the industry itself again and again playing into it – if there is a generation of whisky cynics out there (or even just a small too-vocal minority), again, they of the industry’s own creation. Now everything said about whisky HAS to met with skepticism, even (or particularly) what you’re reading right now, because the same people who used to say “hey, you can trust us”, will blame you for being so naïve as to have taken them at their word in the first place when, now, they have to change their story (“miseducation” on the importance of whisky age being the major example).
I’d agree that a great deal of blogging has done the industry a world of good – but that it could have been more valuable by doing consumers a world of good – because it is their interests that are under-represented, not those of the industry.
No…I referred to Capn Jimbo, not Jim Murray. If you don’t know the Capn…consider yourself blessed.
By ‘industry’ in the last line, I really should have said ‘wider whisky world’. My poor word selection. There is no denying blogging has benefited consumers. Countless Connosr members, Ralfy fanatics, youtube commenters, WWW forum members, WM forum members, etc say so.
Again…the industry’s downsides are good to portray, but only if tempered with a bit of positivity (the reverse is also true). Otherwise…whoever it is orating just comes across as a whiner, and should maybe find a new passion that doesn’t offend their sensibilities at every turn.
I’m all for keeping the giants in line, I should note. God knows I (and we) here at ATW have published enough to offend as well. (And you should hear the closed door conversations)
But the point really isn’t to offend, or to whine, for that matter: it’s to express consumer interests which are simply separate from those of the industry, an idea which gets a surprisingly small amount of traction, even from many bloggers, who, one would think, are consumers first and foremost. I only suggest that consumers act, and speak, as advocates for their own interests, as they currently have few true allies in the commentating world.
And, in keeping with that, much current whisky commentary seems to be at least as much about what isn’t, or can’t, be said (the closed door conversations), as what can be, so editing on the negative side while the positive stuff rings from the rafters – the message being the positive side is what you hear the most of, so most of what there is TO hear must BE positive. It’s not my sensibilities that are offended, usually just my understandings of logic, reciprocity and simple truth telling which are mystified.
“This isn’t a ‘can’t we all get along plea’, but it is an admission of distaste for anyone telling me that blogging needs to follow certain rules, or that my relationships with anyone in the industry need be governed by moral principles other than my own.”
I couldn’t have said it as well – only better, lol. And BTW, there’s nothing as satisfying as a good colon cleansing. As far as douchebaggery goes, I’m just a simple bag, willing to let you do all the penetrating commentary. God save the queen!
I’m pretty new at this game. I think my first “educated” sip of Whisky (by that I mean not a sip from my father’s glass when I was 5) was just about 3 years ago. However, I’ve done a ton of reading, catching up (yes, starting from the beginning) on most blogs I can find, going through as many reviews as possible, etc…I consider myself an academic Whisky drinker ( like those who can, do, those who can’t, teach, and those who can’t teach, teach phys ed…).
What I have noticed is a trend towards more craft presented whiskies even in the 3 years I’ve been at this. Maybe I’m wrong. But I wonder if the bloggers who kept clamoring about e150a, chill filtration, higher ABV, etc… Maybe they gained some traction with the industry. Maybe it’s because of the million and a have hits to Ralfy.com videos that people are demanding better quality. Not everyone, but a growing minority. This is why we are willing to celebrate and pay big cash for stuff like Amrut, Springbank, etc…
Of course it made Whisky more popular and jacked up prices, but I’m lucky that at the rate I drink I can afford to pay a little more for quality, AND, you’re all fortunate because the only thing I enjoy more (within the Whisky realm) than drinking Whisky, is sharing it with others.
So if you’re in Toronto, blogger or not…
Thanks for the reply –
The move to craft presentation is an interesting point but, where it’s also paralleled by a move to NAS, I think it’s a net gain for the industry financially (although it can also result in better whisky for the consumer, depending) – and there are a lot of moves to NAS. As someone once said, the scotch industry gets a lot of credit for things it doesn’t do, and not chill filtering or adding E150a saves money. If the industry can sell you, through NAS marketing, on buying whisky that averages three years younger than the former baseline, that covers giving you 6% more ABV diluted through what producers save on losing 2%/yr. Angel’s Share at cask strength. Again, this isn’t to say that craft presentation doesn’t make some good whisky (although NAS labeling adds nothing for the consumer, which is why, along with the fact it opens the door to younger age content without notice, I object to it). I only question whether, regardless of what consumers wanted, this wasn’t the direction the industry wanted to go anyway all along, to make higher profits on the more youthful stock they’re increasingly going to sell you.
And, thinking back, was it entirely a case of consumers telling the industry they wanted better whisky, or also a case of marketers telling us that this WAS better whisky, and that was why we should buy it? I wonder, would raising a clamour for putting age statements back on Macallans have the same effect?
Perhaps what we have now – and for the foreseeable future are a few mega-conglomerates who in view of their insatiable goal of expanding market both can’t nor won’t state age. What mega-corporation is going to reduce profits?
And the craft distillers whose shallow pockets mean what? That they too can’t and won’t. What craft distiller can sustain losses for 10 years before maybe having a winner.
The situation might well reach its equilibrium sometime after the companies involved have largely elected to wreck the quality of their entry-level expressions (expressions which did power the current boom, and bubble, in whisky). All the PR in the world won’t really make dreck into 90-class stuff (although some are trying by talking up the young whisky that many feel compelled to market before its time, which is a separate issue from not wanting to say how young it is), and there will be a loss of credibility, in the long term, on the part of companies and reviewers who try to pretend otherwise, and that credibility will be very slow in returning.
As for what companies “can’t” do (and how can NAS labels be a “necessity” when age statements abound? – it’s just a come-on that simply has to be refused: no one has invented “ageless” whisky), I find it just as silly to think anyone really has their hands tied as I do that anyone, even in the whisky industry, can really believe in indefinite market growth. Those that are realistic should be more concerned about what will be left of their credibility after the bubble bursts, as those will be the ones with the strongest chance of survival.
This discussion also raises another interesting point: just what IS “too” cynical in terms of one’s view of the industry and its marketing? I find a big double-think here: on one hand, anyone who takes the whisky industry at its word is largely considered to be far too naïve but, on the other hand, even given the track record of “truth bending” that makes the aforementioned so, some would maybe want the industry to be perpetually given the benefit of the doubt concerning anything “new” that comes out of it, as to do otherwise would somehow be “unfair”. What I take from this is that consumers are supposed to be trusting enough to always initially believe what they are told by the industry, but just cynically enough “on-side” so as not to hold anyone responsible (or even, really, to remember it) if it turns out not to be so (you know, “quit whining, it’s just business, everyone does it, it’s their job, just suck it up, enjoy your whisky”) – the best of both worlds for marketers.
If the same folks who offer “sure, but ALL marketing is BS, whisky’s no different so grow up!” as an excuse after the sale would offer it as a disclaimer BEFORE the sale, I wouldn’t have to be so cynical myself and could trust more of what I read.
Another option, to avoid cynicism, is to seek out the true craft distilleries, independents run by honest folk.
I came across a winery once that had just opened. We liked the wine but could not carry it with us, so he agreed to ship it at cost. We left our credit information, and when I saw my bill, I saw he had charged only what it had cost him to ship. As opposed to the other established wineries that charged more than double for shipping.
Bladnoch strikes me as a scotch version of this story. I see (and taste) single cask expressions at virtually cask strength, priced very reasonably (mind you, the mark up by the online retailers has risen).
So if one is tired of the marketing and spin, forgot JW and Macallan, and seek out Bladnoch and similar operations.
The worst that can happen is that you’ll have a great dram…
Were it only so. Actually the “worst” that can happen is that you’ll have an awful dram from a less monopolistic company for which you paid actual shipping. Not that the percentages might not favor you…
I think you misunderstood skeptic. I interpreted his example of a small craft winery where the product was good, and they were so “craft” that they didn’t inflate shipping costs.
I don’t think he meant you should offer to pay shipping for a bad product. Try before you buy still applies and smaller does not automatically equal better.
But if an independent offers age statements, it shows they were willing to wait until it was time, and you know what you’re getting. So you may have a higher level of success in value for money.