I Owe It To A Few…

A few mates have passed on some wee samples over the past couple of months.  I’ve been delinquent in addressing this, so let’s get down to it.

You guys (and gals) know me.  I don’t take free stuff.  Not my style.  And by ‘free stuff’ I mean the kind of commercially ‘gifted’ packages that would come from the brands hoping for reviews or whatever.  In the earliest days I debated it, certain I could maintain my independence and lack of bias, but even then I questioned whether or not others would believe me as I spouted opinions from this tiny bastion of non-conformity.  Ultimately integrity was much more important than scoring freebies, so I just said ‘no thanks’.  I try to be kind when contacted, usually just informing the solicitor that they wouldn’t be able to get it into Canada anyway, but the reality is…I just don’t want to tarnish the relationship we’ve built here.

I do, however, benefit from friends passing tiny vials my way from time to time.  They have nothing to gain, just want to share and are curious about my opinion on some of these drinks.  I’ve written up some of them here on the site.  Usually these posts are accompanied by a pic of the sample bottle labeled in their own handwriting.  Sometimes I’ll ask them for a bottle shot to use, in the event they still have the full packaging.  I am currently sitting on a handful of these samples that I really should pay attention to.  They’re expensive whiskies (I imagine), and will be fun to taste.  More than that, though, it seems only right to the good folks who have shared.

The only exception that may seem compromised is that I do occasionally get samples (about an ounce, maybe less) from a couple local retailers.  These are friends trying to get the word out on exclusives and such.  I’ve always said I would help my friends and our local scene.  Here’s the deal:  If the product is shit, I probably just won’t review it.  If it’s good, I’ll review it and you can trust that I actually liked it.  Either way…the quantity is usually single cask kind of small.  Its really only the locals that benefit from these reviews.

Anyway…just wanted us to be clear.  After all…transparency is key, no matter what the big guys would prefer.

So…heads up.  I’ll be posting a bunch of these ‘vial reviews’ in the coming days.  I’ll credit those that allow me to (though some prefer relative anonymity).



– Curt

29 thoughts on “I Owe It To A Few…

  1. The Lone Caner

    Can you elaborate on the reasoning behind not reviewing bad hooch. You are “All” Things Whisky, not “Some” Things Whisky, so why exclude bad drams? Isn’t that a form of bias in and of itself? Dogs need to be addressed as much (if not more) than the good stuff, and producers called to account for their mediocrity, even if just locally. (NB – we’ve had this debate before at the very beginning, when I argued that one should review from all points of the compass, and from all levels of quality, in order to provide some balance to the normally high end, top-notch whisky you usually concern yourself with…I still hold to that opinion, but would like to know if your own ideas on the matter have changed much in the interim).

    1. ATW Post author

      I review lots of bad drinks. I just think I’d take a pass at doing it to a sample from someone like Andrew here in town. Why would I try to hurt a local business?

      1. Jeff

        I understand the choice but, once bottled, bad whisky either hurts some business’ sales upon honest review or hurts the unsuspecting consumer who buys that whisky WITHOUT being warned away from it by honest review.

        Whether anyone ever hears about the good ones from an outside source or not (and I’m still all in favour of that), it’s only bad whiskies that actually rip consumers off.


      2. Ol' Jas

        I agree with Jeff here, and with Skeptic below.

        To put it in stark terms: How close to you—emotionally or geographically—must a seller of bad whisky be to earn immunity from your honesty?

        1. ATW Post author

          So here’s the thing. If you’re in doubt as to my integrity, quit reading here. Simple as that. I mean that for everyone. Without prejudice or vitriol. If the services here – unpaid and in the name of trying to help people with common interests – don’t seem satisfactorily non-partisan then go elsewhere. I’m ok with that.

          I’m not, however, ok with the insinuation that everything is 100% black and white; that there is a rule for everything (i.e. a proximity that earns one ‘immunity’); or that because I have fought back against a lot of perceived injustices in the whisky world that I am willing to bend my own stances to someone else’s ideals or martyr myself to a cause being prescribed to me.

          So…agree all you want with Jeff or Skeptic, but it doesn’t change a thing.

          1. Ol' Jas

            I dunno man. I don’t really know ANYTHING about your integrity, and I don’t see how it’s a prerequisite for coming here. I come here to chat because the posts are often interesting and for whatever reason, this blog seems to attract a lot of lively discussion in the comments section. (Similarly, I don’t anything about the MAO blogger, but I read his blog for the same reason: it’s interesting. Same for the K&L blog. Heck, if Nick Morgan had an interesting blog, I’d read that too.)

            An (interesting!) idea is on the table: Should you decline to review bad whisky because it’s from a friend or a local retailer you like? It seems to me (and others) like you should. For an analogy, I think we’d all disagree with Whisky Advocate declaring that they won’t criticize NAS or review bad JW Red because “why would they want to hurt their friends in the industry?”

            But regardless of what ideas might prevail in such a discussion, shouldn’t we have the discussion? I’m surprised your response is basically “if you don’t like it, just leave.”

            (Finally, I don’t understand your bit about “fighting back against perceived injustices” and the couple ideas that follow that. If it’s important to the discussion, could you explain further? Thanks.)

          2. Bob


            (please take the following as delivered with the utmost respect)

            If we doubted your integrity we’d have stopped reading and contributing a long time ago. Anyone who is posting here gets something from your site.

            To be fair to Skeptic, what you said at the top suggested that there could be a significant of sample-ware from local retailers and your later posts suggests a very few. That’s a big difference.

            But in principle, if you’re saying you’ll select which samples to review based on whether you like them, it does change the fundamental nature of your website.

            It’s not like you’re putting out recommendations for free stuff that’s crap – if you did that it would be your integrity that’s crap.

            But what it inadvertently does, by highlighting those special offerings you like, is call into question all the other special offerings that haven’t got your green light, because your average reader won’t know when they see something, whether it’s the one you decided NOT to review or another one that may or may not be good.

            Will that put people off? Maybe, maybe not.

            As you say, it’s your site. For people like me who mostly read your reviews for enjoyment, I’ll still enjoy reading your reviews. But for someone local who likes to get special cask offerings, it could change the way they look at your site.

            So it won’t alter your integrity, but it does change your site.

    2. Maltmonster

      Please correct me if you think I’m right, but I think the Author was trying to politely say that Rum is sh#t, so why would he waste his time reviewing something that only a few coke drinkers would chose to swig. On a side note I’ve known the Author now for many years and can say with complete certainty he has faults, like not being Irish, over marinating his brain with peat, and his bad choice of friends to name a few but I would never question his integrity unless there was serious money involved.

      1. Skeptic

        I think anyone who thinks all rum is bad in hasn’t tasted Smith and Cross or Lemon Hart 151 proof.

        As for integrity, people may be judged on what they do AND what they do not do, what they say AND what they do not say.

        All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Someone famous said that.

        If you take samples from friends in the industry and only post about the good ones, then the credibility it gives to the seller suggests that all their stuff is good.

        I know, your blog, your rules… I don’t care. I like reading your stuff and make my own decisions. But when you start cherry-picking reviews the utility of the blog becomes diminished.


        1. ATW Post author

          So don’t read it. I’m light years past giving a shit if people want to question my integrity. I do not get given any samples under any pretense of owing a review. I choose what I write up. It has always been, and always will be, that way.

          Occasionally KWM brings in exclusive casks. I can honestly say I have not tried a bad one. They have proven time and again that they can be trusted. If I find one to be a dud at some point in the future why would I a) say something to hurt a friend of mine or b) say something to hurt a local business.

          I don’t dodge bad whiskies in any sense.

          1. Skeptic

            SO you’re in a position of either hurting a friend (or business owner) with a review, or by omission, hurting the pocket books of the anonymous public. I get it.

            I doubt it will have much of an impact on KWM sales, but you can be sure I won’t be buying an exclusive cask there without tasting it first unless you’ve reviewed it… too risky. If sales of said bottlings drop, it will mean a lot of people read your reviews and are afraid to buy. If they don’t drop, well, you already know how many people visit your page…

          2. ATW Post author

            Since when did I become the arbiter of good taste? The suggestion that I am implicitly responsible for someone else’s financial dealings is ludicrous at best. Almost offensive at worst. Caveat emptor.

            And more importantly…I received five half ounce vials from KWM a couple weeks back. Two were for cognacs or something, one was a Kavalan (not a KWM cask) and two were blends done to celebrate the 25the anniversary. The latter two will be posted in one review either later this eve or tomorrow. The Kavalan…may or may not review. The other two…well…this is a whisky site.

            I should add…these were passed on to me by one of the gents that works there. NOT the owner/friend we were discussing.

            These samples are the only ones I’ve seen from KWM in a couple years. So you want to tell me that if you don’t see me reviewing the other dozens of store casks they release you’ll just assume I didn’t like them? Odd stance.

            The reality is I buy almost all of my own whisky. Or pay for it in a roundabout way as something I’ve chosen for our whisky club or been poured at a festival or event to which I’ve bought a ticket. I don’t (and can’t) buy all of the store casks. It’s not financially feasible even if I wanted to.

            This debate is tiresome. Sorry to be snarky, but not really. I’m a little over defending myself here. I think my actions and transparency thus far should have rendered integrity-checks moot long ago. Even when I’ve taken a stance some have disagreed with I have been forthright with it.

            C’est la vie.

          3. Jeff

            “So you want to tell me that if you don’t see me reviewing the other dozens of store casks they release you’ll just assume I didn’t like them? Odd stance” – well, if something isn’t reviewed there’s evidently more than one possible explanation, so I don’t know how odd the stance is. It’s more difficult for the buyer to beware when the legitimate warnings that could be coming could be fewer than previously thought, but I guess forewarned is forearmed in the largest sense.

            I just think it’s true that, once substandard whisky has been shipped, it’s a matter then, not IF someone gets burned, but of WHO gets burned; it’s a shit sandwich for somebody because somebody gets stuck. It doesn’t really follow – and I mean this quite sincerely – that the retailers deserve to be without a chair when the music stops on this stuff any more than consumers do, but I guess I look at it from a consumer’s POV.

            On the other hand, I’m not sure how we’ll get better products if the duds don’t get called out and/or the industry isn’t put on notice that some of its releases simply don’t make the grade – regardless of where the samples come from. In fact, if I was in retail, I’d make sure I sent samples of ALL my duds to reviewers before they acquired samples on their own as a pre-emptive sales defense policy – on the basis that, with the samples coming from me, those samples get extra consideration.


          4. Jeff

            Something that preys on my mind from the recent scuffle:

            If this really IS all about the right to SELF determination – I’ll do what I want while everyone else can go fly a kite – then can it really be about defending someone ELSE’S sales agenda instead of their own, however oddly arrived at?

            As I’ve said many times, people who worry about the issues of the whisky industry, not surprisingly, eventually get co-opted into sharing its viewpoint. I don’t know if you noticed it, but you’re now in the business of helping local retailers sell whisky – to the degree of self censorship.


          5. Chris 1

            That’s a bit of a stretch, Jeff. Curt has no sponsors, no advertisers, no patreon account, he never solicits samples like most of the transparent internet bloggers, never begs for money to support his “work.” Do you really think a guy doing what he does can totally separate himself from the people and businesses around him, with whom he has a common interest type relationship? He’s human, he has friends, some of whom happen to be in the business of whisky retail. I do agree with the point that it would not be a bad thing to review some over-hyped stuff that is not so good. That’s something I would like to know before I go out and pop a bunch of hard earned.


          6. David

            I don’t think people should be playing “gang up on Curt”.

            I think it feels like people talking “at” each other, not “to” each other.

            Curt, I get what you’re saying, and as I’ve always bought into, it is YOUR site. I agree you don’t need to apologize for the way you run things, and there’s no need to defend it. The site stands on its merits and is a very valuable resource.

            But consider this article:


            In this case the guidelines were meant to be completely unbiased but it turns out one of the “unbiased” members did have a financial relationship with big pharma. Is he unbiased? Maybe, but now this expensive major review now has its validity in question.

            Now your site is not an issue of the same magnitude, but the principle is the same. And because it’s a different industry there’s not the same impact on our lives, perhaps, but I agree that by choosing to accept samples from people in the industry and then choosing not to review some you don’t like, it does suggest a bias.

            Personally I don’t care, because I can’t afford the single cask special KWM offerings, but I see Jeff’s point.

            But maybe it’s best if we all agree to disagree and move on, and focus on positive aspects of this site and the product we all enjoy (in moderation…).


          7. Jeff

            I don’t think it’s a stretch at all: somebody intentionally isn’t writing something so somebody’s sales won’t be hurt. To me, that’s self censorship to help sell whisky.

            Although what we’re discussing is mostly editorial policy, the site itself is certainly run on the up and up. Further, I’d agree that worrying about whether this or that exclusive product sells doesn’t lend any personal benefit beyond keeping a retailer with the same sales concerns happy – but that’s sort of been a point of mine for a while now: consumers sometimes end up adopting industry perspectives at the expense of consumer perspectives.

            Sure, it happens and happens because people are human – as I said, I understand it – but it ends up reflecting and supporting the long-promoted idea that the folks selling the stuff (for the whom the deck is already heavily stacked) are the ones who somehow need further special consideration while the folks buying it are just allowed whatever consideration’s left that the former didn’t “need” (and it isn’t much at all).

            This is reflected in one of the usual, if surreal, defense mantras for NAS: “but if they told you the age of what you’re buying, they wouldn’t be able to sell this younger whisky at this higher price”, to which my response is:

            “Yeah, so? Poor industry, right? Contrary to popular belief, fair pricing through product transparency wouldn’t be the end of the world, or the end of whisky.”

            I just don’t worry about any producer’s (or retailer’s) bottom line that much, much less worry about them “going out of business” (as if!) because of what product they can’t sell under what bogus circumstances based on what information someone withholds.

            Sure, I understand the rather obvious motivation BEHIND the nonsense marketing, but understanding it doesn’t help me as a consumer unless it’s by refusing to play the silly game the industry sets out. Surprisingly enough, I have no personal interest in seeing young whisky sold at hyper-inflated prices that consumers are expected to pay just so some company can post another year of record profits by way of nonsense marketing. I’m funny that way, mostly because I know I’m a buyer, not a seller.

            “I think it feels like people talking “at” each other, not “to” each other” – that may or may not be true but, as what I think has already been dismissed as irrelevant anyway, I was going to have my say. I take it that the problem somehow remains with the critics, not with some crap whisky somebody’s been handed or with who won’t it call it crap whisky based on whose sales might be hurt. On that, we probably will have to agree to disagree.


        2. ATW Post author

          And the rum thing was an inside joke. As was the Irish reference. No rums or Irish were hurt in the writing of the initial post, MM’s comment or subsequent rebuttals.

          But for the most part, yes…most rums are shit. Adulterated, sugared, unregulated swill wherein an age statement is laughable. A 12 year old rum does NOT mean that 12 is the minimum age. Ugh.

          The good rums (i.e. those largely treated as whiskies) never make it to Canada. They are usually cask strength, mature, unmanipulated and quite…above average. 😉

  2. David

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve always thought there were one or two samples I’d love to get in your hands to get your take on them. You’ve not reviewed any Armstrong Bladnochs, for instance, and now that the distillery is completely redone, with new stills, etc…, the Armstrong years are truly in the past.

    I wonder, how would we arrange to get you one or 2 special samples if I were to be in Cowtown?

  3. kallaskander

    Hi there,

    being away for a while on a well deserved holiday I just begin to catch up on what happened in the whisky world in the meantime.

    Just found this blog entry http://cocktailchem.blogspot.de/2017/06/the-importance-of-negative-reviews.html

    which in the spirit of things (is it ok to review whisky in the negative?, critical voices like sku drying up etc) is an important comment.
    Glorification (http://thefaction.co/portfolio/johnnie-walker-display) of every new release is the job of marketing – somebody must do the other job.


  4. kallaskander

    Hi there,

    we have seen a lot of things like this lately, https://thecasks.com/2017/06/20/drifting-away-from-whisky/
    most prominent Sku’s calling it a day.
    I mentioned earlier that I think that the state of all things whisky (not you and the blog Curt, more general) is losing its passion and a lot of enthusiasm in short momentum and drive on the consumer side.
    IMO many whisky forums where I post make a tired and somewhat lame impression and in short I think that in times gone by there was more fire in the discussions about the stuff.
    To me signs that the soft skills on our side the entusiasts side were underestimated and underrated by the powers that be.
    Driven by greed the whisky industry has lost its touch and the connection to those people whose money they crave. The principle of treating whisky in the form over substance way with more and more stories and less and less quality did not work out.
    As we all are ony too aware „they“ thoroughly miscalcultated the role and importance of bloggers formus nerds and enthusiasts – in short their cheap vuluntary force of multiplicators and marketeers from convinction who made whisky great again after the 1980s crash (sorry I couldn’t let slip this one).

    After the whisky industry and their marketing departements took over because the beginning boom was never fast or big enough alienation set in between the fans and their object of fandom and never more so as when they pushed those NAS-ty whiskies on us and ererybody else.

    Reaction is setting in. Many fellows of the fellowship of whisky turn their back and walk away and if I read David Driscoll right http://spiritsjournal.klwines.com/klwinescom-spirits-blog/2017/6/21/its-on.html
    there is are signs of a beginning oversupply. Not of every whisky but there are signs.

    In another key it is refreshing to read things like http://cocktailchem.blogspot.de/2017/06/the-importance-of-negative-reviews.html
    as here has been some discussion about what to review and why.

    Could be that there is no need to found the Whisky Drinkers Trade Union as opposition to the whisky industry’s sinister purposes after all. Could be the problem is beginning to solve it self in the middle term – again.


    1. David

      No, you’re not. But it’s pretty obvious. Even on this site, things are waning.

      (Sorry Curt, but it’s true…you’re attention is more elsewhere and less here than it has been – not at all a criticism, just an observation. Quite rightly so)

      I’m wondering what factors are in play…. I think that for many of us our enthusiasm about tasting and sharing is still there. I still have some great get-togethers, better, I would say, than in 2011 when I started. I’m tasting better stuff than ever and I’ve made some very nice friends.

      But many of us could taste what has been out there and what is out there now for a long time and not get bored. Lot’s of catchup… But what is there still to talk about? A new batch of Laphroaig 10 CS?, A’Bunadh batch xxx? All of these are variations on a theme and just like in music there’s not much being made today that is very unique.

      Maybe the industry is to “blame”. With all the crap they are marketing there’s not much affordable for people to even review.

      Or maybe the novelty about reading and tasting vicariously through others has worn off. I mean look at Ralfy…he’s openly leading with his patreon account on his site now. Bonus content for donors…

      I feel like I came to this 7-8 years too late. I could have picked up stuff I can’t get now for any money, and I could have got it cheaper and be set for life. I know a guy (sadly he and his collection are long gone) who picked up 9 bottles of 30 YO Black Bowmore in the 1990s for $100 each. If they were around now his whole collection would be worth half a million. (It was estimated at 250 K in 2008).

      Maybe it’s time to settle back and enjoy what’s in the bunker, and start to focus on the smell and taste and less on the commentary.

      It’s like reading a series of books. Once you get to the end and there are no more you miss it, you miss the characters, but more often than not you find something new.

      Which reminds me, CURT, are you publishing any more fiction?

  5. kallaskander

    Hi there,

    I come back to this thread because I just discovered something which echoes somet things I posted above about passion and the soft skills of enthisiasts.


    It is always nice to be confirmed in your opinion from outside sources… makes you feel cozy in your echo chamber 😎

    And I like the concept of consumer “expert” – ha take that Nick!



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