This is a big topic. Bound to offend some.
Anyone else out there noticing a glaring lack of critical writing when it comes to whisky? Yes, there are threads of rampant discord in the commentary sections beneath many an article or post online, but what about the actual article itself? Is it critical? Or the printed word in hard copy? What happened to the type of writing that was meant to parlay objective truth, and not merely tout the rainbows and unicorns side of things? Is it a thing of the past?
Once a year (conveniently, not long before Christmas) the ‘prophet’ Jim Murray takes to his pulpit and spews forth two pages of fine print fire and brimstone on subjects such as sulphured casks, the rise of world whiskies and decline of Scotch or what have you. But two pages? Once a year? That’s a mere blip in the grand scheme of things. And I have to admit my own cynicism in this regard. How much critical thought is actually behind these diatribes in terms of representing reality vs simple self-serving agenda-pushing (read: “I need a new tack to help sell this year’s ‘bible’). Just as an example: sulphur is honestly about 1/50th the problem Jim makes it out to be.
Aside from Jim, though, who is at least doing something in his own twisted way, who out there is actually taking the industry to task? The whisky periodicals (Whisky Magazine, Whisky Advocate, Unfiltered, etc) are nothing more than ad space, seemingly endless and over-generous awards and the occasional distillery feature. Even worse…pseudo-irrelevant articles about cooking and such. These publications are pretty much nothing more than an extension of the various marketing departments. I mean, c’mon…any supposedly respectable publication that puts that Beckham/Haig bullshit on their cover and still expects to be recognized as a reliable authority on the subject is at best delusional, and at worst absolutely contemptuous of their readership.
And unfortunately, yes…it is indeed true. Most bloggers (not all, mind you) are simply so enamoured with whisky that it seems nearly everything is awesome. I don’t question their hearts being in the right place, but I do question the rose-coloured glasses they seem to view the spirit through. Hey…we all wear them in the early years. Been there and had to recognize my own shortcomings through experience. I honestly do think most bloggers are truly in it for love of the game, but a lack of criticism to offset the praise leads to the scales tipping immeasurably in favour of the brands. Do I think these bloggers are throwing out glowing reviews and kind words in return for free goodies? Not really, no. Some do perhaps. They’re probably the exception though, and not the rule. I can really only think of one egregious example of overt shilling for freebies (even self-confessed, in fact), but this is not as much of a problem as others seem to believe (or so I choose to believe).
So, I guess what I’m asking is: Where’s our Noam Chomsky? Our Naomi Klein? Not necessarily pure journalists, per se. But researchers par excellence who do the sifting through tons of information to collate truths into digestible chunks for the masses? Critical writing, that is. Does this even exist anymore?
We almost need our own sort of crisis to force change, I think. A ‘Whiskygate’, if you will. We need a ‘Deep Throat’. An insider to come forth from the industry and speak in a way that blows the doors off the sleight of hand the brands try to bamboozle us with. We need more truth telling.
I highly recommend reading the Whisky Sponge, if you don’t already. Any reference he (or she) makes that you don’t understand…google it. There are many truths buried therein. Additionally…our own Maltmonster teases here on ATW with conspiracies and far-fetched takes on reality, but the nuggets of criticism are real and founded. Read My Annoying Opinions for much less annoyance than you might imagine. I think he was a little more cantankerous in early days, but still occasionally pulls the curtains back a bit. There are others. Find them. Don’t be lazy. Don’t be content with what you read in the magazines. Nowadays they only exist to exist and to sell you stuff.
Read the comments in the forums and sites by some of the more cynical whisky lovers out there. They may not have their own podium from which to orate, and yes, some of the overt pessimism and seeming anger need be ignored, but the insight is often priceless. Take these cynical views and temper them with optimism.
Before closing, I do want to laud one individual who has spoken out about this very issue. You likely know him. Lads and lasses, Mr. Dominic Roskrow in video form. The eight minute mark of this video is key. Well done, Dom. Appreciate the candid approach.
That’s my two cents (and probably worth only half as much). Up to you now whether you want to reach for the red pill or the blue one.
– Words: Curt
– Image: Shamelessly cribbed from The Whisky Sponge site