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July 23, 2011

My Malty Moral Compass

In the evolutionary progress of the whisky blogger, the likes of John Hansell and Tim Forbes have adopted the Darwinian role in extrapolating histories, motives and likely mutations for the species. As the blogging population expands, institutions become established and competition for resources intensifies, blog-based discussions are increasingly about… blogging.

One could say, cynically, that this new self-awareness and inclination to stratify the blogosphere into the obsequious and the high-minded is little more than paranoia and sour grapes. However, I tend to think that any call to personal reflection is a positive move for it reinforces the attitude that blogging is and ought to remain a valid and efficacious platform from which to discuss whisky matters. Blogging lends so many commendable attributes to the exploration and interpretation of whisky such as immediacy, interactivity and multiple media options to accomplish something truly creative and original. In addition to this, however, I would like to attach the word ‘sustainable’, and have it stick.

In last month’s Whisky Roundtable, a potent coalition of blogging minds devised by Jason Johnstone-Yellin, Jason himself  raised the issue again of what the future held for blogging. He suggested that there were certain unscrupulous individuals, self-styled experts and those suckling at the teat of distillers’ PR companies, guilty of muddying the water for the rest of the blogosphere. Has the democratic nature of the media worked against quality control? With whisky bloggers having experienced such terrific growth in stature over the last few years largely because of committed self-publicity, where has this left blogging ethics? How can the best, and by this I mean those writers endowed with a genuine passion built for the long haul as well as proper care for the factual integrity of their content, distinguish themselves from the tech-savvy upstarts capable of grabbing all the attention in this fast-paced world?

The responses from the twelve blogging platforms were revealing and considered and I would recommend you read both them and the equally thoughtful comments posted by other readers and bloggers. For me personally, however, it provoked some soul-searching. Have I been as transparent as I could have been? The answer, regrettably, is no. The bulk of my content never was intended to be comprised of tasting notes and that, together with my small stature in the blogging community and especially in the eyes of those PR companies, has meant that the necessity for cross-examining the pros and cons of writing about all the ‘free stuff’ simply never arose. My content has not been driven by a few companies sending me oodles of booze. However, I feel I owe you further clarification on what appears on the Scotch Odyssey Blog and why.

I have received some samples. Master of Malt have sent me three: one from their Drinks by the Dram selection and two of their own independently-bottled whiskies. One of these, the Highland Park, I wasn’t keen on and said so. The other, a Caol Ila, I absolutely adored and said so. I reviewed the Glenfarclas, and the DbtD service, because it was one I intended to use myself as a budding connoisseur. However, Master of Malt in their correspondences with me have overtly stated that there is no obligation on my part to provide a good review. Had they done so, I would have consumed the whisky in private and details of it would never have made it as far as the Scotch Odyssey Blog. The only other samples to date were the Hankey Bannister range from Inver House. They didn’t light my fire at the time but proved useful in bulking out a piece on blended whisky inspired by a superlative Compass Box tasting.

Speaking of Inver House, what about that press trip late last year? Unquestionably I was flattered to be invited, but I hope my trio of write-ups express most explicitly my appreciation of the team involved comprised of the distillery managers, Cathy and Lucas, and my fellow bloggers. On the subject of the juice, I have had a bottle of Old Pulteney in my cupboard long before I knew of Inver House as a company and I fell in love with Balblair as a spirit eight months before I would be invited to visit it. Regarding my recent work experience, that was entirely financed by myself and the potential blog content was neither suggested nor restricted by anyone at the distillery or in Airdrie.

Ultimately, though, we bloggers have to watch our steps: analyse the offer on the table at any one time and evaluate how relevant and unencumbered any potential freebie will be to the platform you have put together and built up. That I have specialised perhaps makes that boundary even clearer for me and the Scotch Odyssey Blog. If it hasn’t anything to do with whisky tourism or the experience of encountering Scotland and its flavour-creating and flavour-capturing distilleries then why discuss it at all? But what of those occasional tasting notes, then; what is the deal with them?

I have already gone into some depth (and verified my views with the help of Keith Wood) on the matter of ‘sensings’ here, but I would like to add that whisky appreciation is increasingly a form of meditation and, if it is not so extravagant a claim to make, self-knowledge for me. When nosing a whisky, I venture under the skin of my world and learn more about it and my previous interactions with it on a sensory level. When these findings surprise or delight me, I want to share such discoveries.

Certain distilleries and certain places are invested with more personal significance for me and these are far more likely to be and indeed have been woven into the fabric of the blog. When an expression from one of these distilleries does receive a review, an accompanying explanation has not been fudged to justify my commenting on a whisky in preference to distillery visitor centres or tours, it is instead part and parcel of my ethos for the blog. I have been fortunate and determined enough to explore Scotch whisky in an unusual manner and to particular depth and this has instilled me with powerfully emotive ideologies and memories. It was inevitable that these should often be attached to certain brands and I am not about to apologise for this. It was the people, place, circumstances and spirit itself that wooed me, not marketing bumfph. Such experiences and the resulting preferences simply make me a passionate whisky drinker, just like all the rest of the most principled whisky blog writers and readers.

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