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Why I Blog

by Oliver Klimek on March 6, 2014

I think it was Chuck Cowdery who once made a remark on Facebook that when a blooger starts to blog about blogging it is a sure sign that he has run out of ideas. That’s witty for sure and definitely contains some truth. On the other hand there is one thing which is more important in blogging than in traditional journalism: interaction wth your readers.

I have been ranting quite a bit lately, to the extent of being dubbed an “ever-ranting barbarian” by the Edinburgh Whisky Blog. And while overall reactions were rather supportive I have noticed a few raised eyebrows, interestingly enough mainly from other bloggers. Some interesting discussions have evolved in the blog comments and also on Twitter about the why and how of whisky blogging which I believe deserve to be looked at in depth.

One question was why I don’t use my voice in a more positive manner. In fact I have already written an article called Why so negative, Mr. Klimek? about this topic. But what you probably don’t know is that the title was a direct reference to a poem by German writer Erich Kästner, “Und wo bleibt das Positive, Herr Kästner?” This poem was written in 1930 when the nazis were beginning their rise to power in Germany.

It should be evident that by no means I would ever compare anyone or anything I write critically about to the nazis. That would be disgusting, immature and foolish. But on a more abstract level this poem describes a common reaction of people to threats they regard as inevitable. Allow me translate a few lines:

And again and again you are sending me letters,
In which you write, boldly underlined:
“Herr Kästner, where are the positive things?”
Heck, Devil knows where they are.

….

You sprinkle sugar on top of your pain
And you think it would disappear under the sugar.
Again you are building balconies in front of your hearts
And take the kicking soul onto your knees

The human species is out of order
And with it house and state and world.
You want me to wrap it up in rhymes
And think this will keep it in place?

I don’t want to cheat, I will not cheat.
The time is black, I don’t paint it white.

….

Full German text here.

If this is all too bleak for you (the last verse is an eerie prohecy of the Second World War, by the way), then you can just watch Monthy Python’s “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life”.

This is much funnier, but the message is pretty much the same: “Enjoy the bright side of death, just before you draw your terminal breath”

Translated to whisky this means that with almost every bit of news I see the whisky industry heading into a direction that I am uncomfortable with. It’s like a screw that is slowly fastened turn by turn. And I do not belong to the type of people who when the world around them is grey just put on rose-tinted glasses so everything looks fine again. So I write about what disturbs me, even at the risk of being just a lone voice in the wilderness.

When confronted with a controversial piece of news, a whisky blogger has essentially two options. Either state your opinion, be it in favour, against or neutral, or be quiet. Too often for my taste, bloggers just stay quiet. Nobody will know how they think about an issue. Are they quiet in silent surrender or in silent consent? Nobody will know. And this is one reason why I often decide to speak out: Because when I don’t like something, the last thing I want to happen is to be unvoluntarily placed in the “silence equals consent” camp.

But why do I raise my voice at all? Quite a few comments went like “Hey, it’s an industry, they exist to make money. They won’t listen to you anyway, so move on.” (Move on to where, actually?)

DeadKermit-viOliver Kermit after an appointment with the Diageo Board Of Directors where he proposed a new development strategy for their single malt whisky brands.

What those people do not get, it appears, is that I do not write my blog for the whisky industry. I write it for people who love whisky just as I do. Of course it is also read by industry members, but they are not my target audience. But why do I still criticize the industry then, knowing that I probably won’t change anything?

Now imagine a newspaper columnist criticizing the government. Would you think: “What a pompous schmuck, is this rant supposed to make the government change their minds? How naive! So why not just leave it and move on?” Chances are you wouldn’t. Or would you?

No, I don’t write to change the world. But I do write to alert my readers that not everything they hear or see should be taken at face value.

The elderly among you may remember that this blog started as whisky-rating.com, solely devoted to whisky scores. Over the years my focus has continuously moved to opinion pieces, leaving the whisky reviews as icing on the cake.

I find myself more and more tackling whisky bullshit. Whisky bullshit comes in two flavours. The harmless type is when people simply write wrong or inaccurate things about whisky without knowing better. But the second type is the really dangerous one, the bullshit that is purposefully placed in front of your feet and that is made to look and smell intriguing.

And this is the main reason why I write my “rants” at all. To try and show people who are interested in whisky a way through the smoke and mirrors set up by clever marketing people.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff March 6, 2014 at 11:22 pm

It is true: silence is taken to be understood as agreement or consent – if you’re not kicking ABOUT it, you’re generally understood to be fine WITH it. And a predominant diet of positive comment coupled with a lack of criticism has been working to the industry’s benefit for some time. As I have written elsewhere:

There is no lack of positive commentary on whisky (or on and about whisky blogs), largely because positive comments aren’t really controversial in the sense that they disrupt anyone’s ego or revenue stream – thus there’s no lack of people, both inside the industry and out, to provide positive comments (what friends WON’T you make by telling everyone they’re great?). And where there is something that’s less than stellar to be criticised, many of these same folks, particularly the professionals (although there are some shilling amateurs as well) fall silent. In fact, I would argue that those shilling for the industry do their greatest service, not by their kind words, but by their even kinder silences in an era of rising prices, falling quality and dodgy logic. Something the industry says or does doesn’t make sense (or isn’t even consistent with what it said/did five years ago)? No comment, or “it’s controversial” (without expressing any opinion about who’s right IN the “controversy” – somehow it’s just not for these people, “acknowledged experts” all, to say) or “it’s just business” or “it’s just the producer’s job”. It’s never anything to be taken any more seriously, or given any more logical dissection, than a friendly wink to those already “in on the joke” – and does the quality of the new whisky in question really matter to these people anyway while they shrug, laugh, and return to their bunkered bottles and high-end free samples?

To that I’d add that critical silence is, arguably, even MORE intrinsically valuable to the industry than congratulation or positive comment. Does the industry really care if every blogger likes what it does, so long as its critics say nothing? The result is the same: 100% positive comments on the Web, and it’s far easier to achieve that result by the second method (or really the ONLY way to achieve it, just with fewer comments overall) than by making, or even trying to make, everyone happy in the first place.

Only real critical bloggers stand for consumers because only they – not the PR people, or the professional whisky writers (who predominantly act as another grade of PR/marketing people) or the shilling bloggers – will actually call the industry on its nonsense. And where that nonsense reigns, the consumer loses.
Keep swinging, Oliver!

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Oliver Klimek March 7, 2014 at 6:11 am

“Something the industry says or does doesn’t make sense (or isn’t even consistent with what it said/did five years ago)?” – Hey, only yesterday Diageo announced candy-coloured labels for the new Singletons to “facilitate the demystification of single malt whisky”. Which of course is exactly the opposite of what they are doing at Mortlach right now. You really could write about such stuff every day.

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Jan van den Ende March 7, 2014 at 12:14 am

Hey Oliver, I don’t really know if you are grumpy but I do share some of your concerns with respect to the Industry and people writing about it in an exclusively positive way. Large corporates must make large returns for their shareholders and maximizing profit is extremely important. In the situation of High Demand and Pressured Supply (at least for the time being) this results in the use of younger whiskies, NAS expressions, higher prices and the like. The second issue is that the Industy can make much more money on young people than on old ones.Old people sip and enjoy, young people drink and mix. So the larger part of the consumers won’t bother so much with what’s in the bottle as they mix it anyway. They go for advertising, nice modern labels etcetera. And the industry complies! How long this situation will last? Lots of new Distilling capacity is being constructed as we speak and new countries are adventuring into whisky, sometimes with very promising results. So in a couple of years the Demand/Supply situation will be more balanced. Unless the younger consumers have found a new drink to mix with by that time. In which case we might see an oversupply situation as we have seen before in Whisky History. The closing of distilleries and the need for a return to quality might benefit us older people!. We’ll see what happens! In the meantime I will continue to write my independent Tasting Notes and read your Grumpy articles!
Cheers!
Jan

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Johanna March 23, 2014 at 1:01 am

Excellent piece Oliver. Respect.

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