Musings on Why I Bother

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.

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  • My palate is different than yours, but that’s ok. I know that and it doesn’t really bother me. I’m not sure if you’ve ventured to any whisky/scotch/bourbon communities on reddit, but that’s an absolute minefield. I was excoriated for answering a guy (it’s always a guy) who ASKED for opinions on “Most overrated distilleries”. I had the gall to say that I don’t really understand the hype with Bunnahabhain as I’ve found all but one of their offerings overpriced and underwhelming. I re-iterated that it was ONE opinion and that obviously I’m in the minority regarding Bunna. Well, forget about it. I’m clearly a moron who doesn’t know anything about good whisky. I’m a pretender who only loves Macallan (I don’t). I’m poor and jealous (I do quite well, thank you very much). Whisky can bring out the best and the worst in people.

    • Good perspective, thanks Joel. I haven’t checked Reddit but I can’t say I’m surprised. I also don’t engage on Twitter, and I generally avoid other blogs’ comments sections unless I’m looking for specific information. Unfortunately, I think whisky (and wine, now) specifically attracts people who want to prove their superiority to others, and will go to great lengths to make sure everyone knows how important their opinions and their tastes and their experiences are. I’m sure the same thing happens in other luxury goods, or anything where people can tie their egos to symbols of status. Sigh.

      • You’re 100% correct. Any luxury good or brand (whisky, cars, watches, etc.) will cause a certain segment of the population to make that good/brand their entire identity. Ergo, when you disagree with them in any way they take it as a personal insult.

        I was once verbally attacked in a liquor store for choosing Lagavulin 12 CS over Macallan 15 Fine Oak. The Lag 12 was in the locked cabinet along with a few others and when I asked the store employee for it, a guy told me “for that price, get the Macallan 15, trust me, you’ll thank me later”. I replied that I wasn’t a big Macallan fan and that Lagavulin is one of my favourite distilleries. Well, I may as well have insulted his mother, his wife, and his children. Who gets that angry over what someone else is drinking? Oy vey.

  • Funny, I recently started a blog about coffee and espresso in particular for the same reasons. I see too many people confused trying to get into espresso, and each time they venture to ask questions about what gear they need, they get the answer that they would not be able to pull a shot unless they buy a $2,000 grinder and at least the same money for the espresso machine, which is not true. I wanted to write with the angle of value and bang for your hard-earned money. I wonder what kind of backlash I will get once the comment section of my blog starts getting populated 🙂

  • Please continue to provide any dissenting opinions you may have. The way I put my own impressions of a whiskey in perspective is to compare them to both good and bad (or not-so-good) reviews. Without the negative, I cannot estimate where I stand. If we disagree, I use that in combination with those instances where we agree, in order to properly gauge whether I might like something you’ve tried that I haven’t. Carry on!

  • I have to admit that I often read comments because I find the negative ones amusing. This is the only blog that I read regularly, but you find those experts who know nothing on every whisky, wine or beer site. I also find Ralfy’s vlog as he calls it to be extremely entertaining, although it must be taken with a grain of salt because he will not post about any product that he doesn’t like. If someone is going to tell you why they like something, it helps to know why they don’t like something else. My personal favorites are when in the past you gave negative reviews to some of the most popular malts and blends. People took such affront to your snobbery that it was as if you walked into their homes and called their firstborn child ugly. My thought is if that’s how you feel then don’t read it. Keep up the good work for those of us who appreciate what you do. And to those who like to air their grievances, thanks for the laughs. Cheers!

  • I am reading many whiskey blogs and whiskey YouTube productions. Overall I don’t agree with most ratings that are posted, still, I am interested in different perspectives. We don’t always have to agree, different opinions make a horse race.
    The rightfully highly regarded whiskey historian, Michael Veach, is not providing any ratings, but lists taste profiles and states that the rating is in the eye of the beholder. Well, that might be true, but I want to ask Michael what is the whiskey that you recommend to your friends? Are there hidden gems out there that we missed?
    So no ratings are not the answer either.
    So why do I read the ScotchNoob blog religiously every Monday morning? Because my taste profile aligns perfectly with these reviews. Every single “must have” is also on or near the top of my personal list (and trust me, this is not at all the case with basically any other blog). I especially appreciate the honest, “take no prisoners approach” to reviews. This creates credibility and trust, makes me want to go to a liquor store and buy a bottle. I guess that’s why this blog is special for me, other readers and whiskey lovers. It puts a smile on my face every Monday and makes me explore new whiskeys and flavor profiles that I didn’t have yet on my radar screen.
    So thanks for all the effort and great work, very much appreciated.

  • Some of us, it should be noted, are glad you bother writing this blog, and return every Monday to read the latest review rather than spray vitriol in the comments. Back in 2018, when I first visited your website, all of my previous whisky experience fell into two categories: shots of Jameson or Jack Daniels, not so much for the taste but for the instant intoxicating effect; and bourbon, usually jack or jim, poured over a rocks glass filled with ice. Imagine my surprise, then, when I stumbled across your blog: it was like entering another dimension. Fast forward three years, and you’ve led me to some of my favorite whiskies—Talisker 10, Redbreast 12, Balvenie Doublewood 12, to name a few. I rarely vehemently disagree with your reviews (Damn that anchoring!) but find myself formulating my own rankings (Glenlivet 12, Evan Williams BIB, and Bushmills Black Bush are all “Must Haves” in my cabinet (I’m a cheapskate, what can I say)). But that’s splitting hairs: you led me to all of these whiskies, for which I can’t be more grateful. You also don’t read other reviews, which adds credibility, but also helps you to avoid saying what everyone else is saying about a particular whisky (the internet seems to collectively agree that there is a “Flintstone Vitamin” note in George Dickel BIB). You have decoded the Whisky selection such that I’m now able to: discern between one “Glen-” and another; select a solid twenty-dollar bourbon among the sea of dozens of others with bigger marketing budgets and cooler labels; and, perhaps most importantly, explore the vast selection of Whisky with a sense of confidence and an eye towards value. See you next Monday!

  • I don’t agree with everything you say, but I appreciate your candor. Please don’t let the negative responses get you down or cause you to quit. I like forward to your weekly posts and enjoy referencing your past ones. Your one of four whisky reviewers I pay attention to. I love your humor, understand your reference points, appreciate that you consider and respect the cost or value and absolutely consider your reviews to be filled with integrity. Don’t change a thing! Slainte!

  • I don’t always agree with you either, but so what? In the end, it’s all just a matter of taste. I’ve been reading your postings on this site for years, and I’m always interested in your views, whether or not they happen to fit with mine. (Among other things, you write beautifully — and I know a lot more about writing than I do about whiskey. Even a negative review of one of my favorite bottles is still a pleasure to read.) So please don’t let the occasional nastygram get you down. Some people just lack manners. And please do keep those reviews coming.

  • The musings are fine, and bad on the abusive nay-sayers with too much time on their hands, but that’s life. I rely on your reviews because they’re thoughtful, informative and often entertaining, hands-down the best on the inter-web. So, thanks for bothering! You’re talented and appreciated, so keep up the good work please.

  • Love this sentiment and could not agree more. You are a treasure to the community and we need you to continue this endeavor. Basically, I love you and this is THE only review site I actually trust.

  • Like others here, I don’t agree with 50% of your taste either…but so? There’s no such thing as two people having the same exact tastes. I don’t agree 50% of the times with my wife and kids’ taste…that’s natural.
    But, I respect what you do, and especially value the direction you give here which helps me understand something more before a purchase. Or if not a purchase, at least knowledge in an area where I’m no expert or desire to be one. So…just want to say “thanks” for what you do, as it’s become part of my daily reading regimen

  • Thank you! I could not have said it better. I feel the same. I am an average whiskey reviewer and I don’t for fun. I don’t make money off it and I actually have been slacking on it. I am horrible and writing and horrible with words. It takes me forever to write a review. I don’t care I enjoy it. I am way far behind on posting online stuff. People get what I call “internet balls.” Since they don’t meet face to face they get the courage to say what ever they want without the need to have to back it up. Again thank you for the post. This is the first time I found your website. I will be sure to search it out more.