You know what really grinds my gears? a world where every next-door-pub bartender pouring some not-that-mainstream whisky is regarded as a whisky expert.
Disclaimer: This isn’t about pointing out anyone. To make things clear, I know it’s not necessarily your fault if you gave an interview to a publication and they decide to call you the “world’s leading whisky expert” or any other shiny title of that kind. Journos need credibility markers and sometimes refering to you as a whisky writer/blogger/consultant or whatever your actual job is may not be classy enough.
However, when reading the news, it feels like this world is full of “whisky experts”: bartenders, ambassadors, bloggers, consultants, collectors… There are indeed plenty of us knowing shit loads of stuff about whisky but this all thing can be very confusing, misleading, especially when opinions are taken as facts. I can’t even count the times I’ve come accross opposite facts about whisky being relayed by mainstream media. Not as far as last week, I read on Forbes that I could know the taste of a whisky by its regional origin, while I did read a few weeks earlier on another publication that I couldn’t trust regional origins anymore… And that’s a single example amongst many!
How can the reader/consumer tell who’s actually right or wrong, who’s the real expert, when on Monday you’ll learn that Japanese whisky is the best in the world and on Tuesday that it may actually be French… Wait until Friday and it will become Canadian, American or Taiwanese. Don’t believe me? Browse through Google news and have fun!
The issue is, half of those so-called “whisky experts” are probably as expert in whisky as I’m a hardcore gamer (hey, I do enjoy a good ol’ Crash Bandicoot sometimes…) or skilled guitar player (no really, I master Come As You Are like a pro!). Clarity is needed. We need to make a difference between hidden brands advertising (promoting their own interests), opinion pieces (subjective by essence) and actual facts. And that’s a grey zone at the moment but this could be achieved through greater consumer education and thanks to a clearer approach from the media. Sponsored pieces have been a thorny issue for a long time, and it’s far from solved…
But then, who’s a real whisky expert?
According to the official definition, being an expert in something is all about “having or involving a great deal of knowledge or skill in a particular area.” – so here, it’s all about defining this “great deal”. When exactly should one assume he knows enough to be refered to as an expert? Is the guy who has visited 54899898 distilleries, wrote 558899775 tasting notes on WhiskyBase and attended 458897 whisky festivals or even wrote a book, a whisky expert? Probably in front of his friends, family and many of his peers but he may be a hell of a whisky connoisseur, doesn’t necessarily mean he masters ALL aspects of the whisky world, especially the production side.
When it comes to whisky, I very much agree with the views expressed by Hans Offringa (Dutch whisky writer) in one of the latest issues of Whisky Magazine: “the real whisky expert is the guy or woman who actually makes the whisky at the distillery or in the blending lab”.
Anyway, seeing this “expert” attribute being used in every possible way, I don’t even know if it has a meaning anymore.
What about me you may ask?
Nope, I do not consider myself as an expert at all (while my auctioneer job title says the contrary ;)) but more as an “enlightened connoisseur” which on my personal “whisky expert scale” would stand somewhere between connoisseur and expert – still, a looooong way to climb before reaching the top though.
Relax, take it easy because that’s ok! You don’t need a shiny status to share your views on whisky. I would even encourage anyone willing to share on the topic to do so – even if there are already endless useless debates, but sometimes us consumers can highlight very spot-on points which can sometimes ring a bell in the producers’ heads.
When I began writing this blog, I had only started my malted discovery journey since a few years and it didn’t stop me for one second. I find it actually more than interesting to read someone who’s somehow detached and may be able to bring a new perspective on things that “whisky experts” cannot see anymore, having their nose in the grindstone.
Finally, here’s a stupid and probably very useless tool to illustrate my views about whisky knowledge, let me introduce you to my personal “whisky knowledge scale” (there’s of course no scientific facts or any kind of serious research at all behind this).
Cover pic: littletipple.com