By the Whisky Couple

A couple of months ago at a whisky festival in Europe I was stopped dead in my tracks by a gentleman who complimented me on my work with a certainly kindly intentioned but rather strange remark: “You really write nice books Mr. Offringa, but what do you do for a living?”

I smiled while I wracked my brain for an appropriate answer. Should I tell him I’ve been a professional writer for more than 35 years? That I’d written a couple of novels and historical books on various topics before I dedicated my writing skills fully to whisky and in doing so was able to blend my passion with my profession? Or that to date I have published more than 20 books on my favorite topic and translated seminal works from my fellow writer friends Dave Broom, Michael Jackson and Charles MacLean? That I annually write between 80 and 100 articles or columns for publications across the globe and thereby commit to a deadline every three or four days throughout the year?

Such an answer would be a bit of overkill and rather condescending, so I decided to be funny, told him I actually was a brain surgeon and left him startled with dram in hand, pondering if that were really true.

Thinking about overkill and what is true or not, brings me to the plethora of whisky books, blogs, vlogs and self-proclaimed “whisky experts” that have entered the stage in the last decade, during which more books on whisky have been published than in the past two centuries. Some better than others, some great, some utterly a waste of resources. I don’t like the moniker “whisky expert” anyway; I am first and foremost a full time (whisky) writer and for me the real expert is the guy or girl who actually makes the whisky at the distillery or in the blending lab.

I observe that more often than not opinions are presented as facts — for instance by people who recently enjoyed their first whisky tastings and view themselves as very knowledgeable on the spot. Among them are excellent window dressers with a slick digital presence. Whisky producers may be easily enticed by what soon turns out to be meager and mediocre content, shallow knowledge and sometimes even blatant plagiarism — I think of World Whisky Day, a commercial rip-off of International Whisky Day, launched in 2009 as a charity for Parkinson Disease Society and endorsed by many influential in the whisky industry at large.

Marketing departments at various production companies outsource copy writing about their products to obscure advertising companies that don’t know their whisky from their whiskey. Packaging may confusingly refer to a single malt matured at the same time in a barrel, a hogshead and a butt, depending on what paragraph on the packaging you are reading, whereas the professionals in the industry emphasize the different types of oak containers to express certain maturation facts and differences. For the record I am not referring to a triple wood expression here!

It pained me to read an obituary for a distinguished Scottish whisky consultant in a renowned Scottish magazine, written by a pretentious upstart who blatantly states in the first paragraph he never knew or even met the person in question. The editor of said magazine apparently did not even bother to approach a mature and respected Scottish writer-in-the-know and do honor deserved to the deceased.

Don’t get me wrong: I am the first to welcome new scribes in our world and happily support upcoming talent. And mistakes will be made, as I have learned myself throughout my career (and am still learning). However, I would like to break a lance for validation and thorough research before committing a piece to paper or firing away words and images into the electronic void. A good four decades ago, as a young and inexperienced beginning proof reader and copy editor, I was taught the value of triangular research, or triple-check before you publish. It’s not that difficult with the vast digital encyclopedia that is at each writer’s fingertips in the 21st century. That is one of the big benefits nowadays — in 1974 I didn’t have those resources. But the same adage goes for both, so to any aspiring writer out there I’d like to say — use your resources well, don’t neglect contradictions, try not to plagiarize and be original.             For what it’s word (pun intended)!

 

            Slante mhath,

 

            The Whisky Couple

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.