No review this week either. I just got back from the aforementioned vacation and I’m tired. Also I just sat down at my PC and approved the latest ~20 comments, and a good quarter of them were people stirring themselves to express their opinion about how I should keep my day job and that since they disagree with one of my tasting notes, clearly I have no value to the online whisky sphere and should cease operations immediately (paraphrased for brevity). For the record, I have a day job and this is not it. I mostly write this blog for “fun” (or used to), and I mostly keep it going because stopping would feel like giving up. The money made by advertising and the occasional sponsored post all goes into site upkeep costs and bottles of whisky to review.
Putting aside peoples’ callous online behavior (which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s spent more than 2 minutes in any comments section, anywhere), it always amazes me how much weight people put on the extremely subjective opinion of a single online reviewer (on a blog no less). I honestly can’t think of any reviewing process that is more subjective than whisky (or really any alcohol). Whisky of all types shares far more in common than in difference. To prove this, ask any non-whisky drinker to tell you the difference between two whiskies. Absolute best-case scenario they’ll be able to tell if one is peated (“smoky”) or not. Otherwise you’ll mostly get the answer “they both smell/taste like whisky.” This fact means that reviewing a whisky (by definition in contrast to other whiskies) means picking out minute differences and slight variations. It means deciding that a slight increase in one undesirable flavor or aroma compound means a given whisky isn’t worth its asking price. What happens if someone else – equally experienced – happens to not have a sensitivity to that one undesirable flavor? Or has positive sense-memory associations with that aroma? I’ll tell you what happens. A defensive commenter who assumes that the reviewer is a hack decides to defend the Internet from the evil wiles of said reviewer by posting a scathing comment, warning away other unsuspecting netizens from falling victim to the reviewer’s nefarious – nay, dangerous! – malpractice.
What do professional reviewers do about this? Reviewing whiskies is their job, so first they put a whole lot more time and effort into tasting all whiskies, and tasting them repeatedly, and spending a lot of their own (or their employer’s) money doing so. That helps a lot. Second, and I think you’ll agree with me on this, they don’t say anything bad. Flip through the tasting notes section in any published whisky book or magazine (or watch Ralfy) and you’ll notice the notes only point out the good stuff. This makes it a lot easier to get a reputation for reliability (“They like the same whiskies I like!”) without having to stick their neck out on mediocre whiskies. They can damn sub-par drams with faint praise and not make anybody mad. Honestly, Jim Murray is better about this and actually says what he thinks – positive or negative – but I still don’t think much of his opinion.
So why do I continue to pan every whisky that I either dislike or think is overpriced for its intrinsic value? Why not take the easy road and say everything tastes like Heather in Springtime and be done with it? Why do I continue to expose my sensitive ego to every Keyboard White Knight who just can’t handle a negative review of their house dram?
The answer is that when I started getting into whisky I was overwhelmed by the choice at the whisky shop – I just didn’t know which $50 bottle was actually worth the money. I looked online and subscribed to Malt Advocate and didn’t get much further. According to these resources, EVERYTHING was worth my $50. I’m sure, to some people, that’s true. I didn’t find that it was true for me so I decided that I could provide something of a service if I pointed out the gems and reviewed based on approximate price to try to save a few people from disappointing purchases. Here we are today.
I’ll close by repeating something I’ve said many times on this blog: If you disagree with my opinion, that’s GREAT. That means you’re forming your own preferences and have acquired the ability to go beyond “it tastes like whisky” and have developed a discerning palate. That means you don’t need me! Or, if you really like hearing what other people think about whiskies as you taste them, you should be reading many reviews from different reviewers and understanding that everyone is different, everyone has different tastes and preferences, and any single person’s opinion is solely a data point for forming your own opinion. That’s far more valuable than anything I say.