Back in May of 2017, I wrote a piece called The Life and Times of Whiskey Reviewer. The purpose was to tell you what the four worst questions folks ask us and what’s going through our minds when you ask them.
Here we are, three and a half years later, and I find myself with a slew of questions and assumptions that should be addressed en masse. Some come from readers, some come from distillers and producers. No matter who is asking, these questions are more common than you’d think.
How Much Does A Review Cost?
If you’re dealing with a legitimate reviewer, the cost of a review is a sample of what you want to be reviewed. The exception to this rule is what’s called Sponsored Content. Sponsored Content is an advertisement. In the name of transparency, a reviewer should make it unmistakably clear that what is being written was bought and paid for by someone and the reviewer should divulge who the sponsor is.
I can’t speak for other reviewers, but when I do a Sponsored Content piece, it is an informative article and never a review. I have been known to write reviews about the Sponsored Content subject matter, but it is done outside the scope of the Sponsored Content and I make it abundantly clear how I obtained the bottle.
Can you Review [Whiskey Brand]?
This is one of those squirrely questions. The short answer is, “Perhaps.” The long answer is, while (at least) I have a #DrinkCurious philosophy if I have to go out and buy the whiskey to satisfy your curiosity, your request becomes less exciting. Not to sound like a jerk, but I’ll go out on a limb and suggest most of us aren’t sitting around with money burning holes in our pockets. Whiskey is an expensive hobby, with some bottles that can cost hundreds of dollars or more. We realize you often look to us to save you from wasting your money, but there’s a point where reality sets in.
Again, I can’t speak for other reviewers, but if someone sends me a sample, I’ll review it. My guess is most other reviewers would do the same.
This Whiskey Isn’t Even Released Yet! How Could You Have Already Reviewed It?
Sometimes a brand-new whiskey has what’s called an embargo. That means the distillery (or producer) is requesting that no review is published before a specified date. The fact that something was just released an hour ago and we’ve already published a review doesn’t mean we’re faking it. Rather, it means that in exchange for a sample of the upcoming whiskey, we agreed to honor the embargo request.
You Reviewed [Scarce Whiskey], Can You Get Me a Bottle?
Whiskeys such as anything Van Winkle, BTAC, Birthday Bourbon, and others are in high demand and limited supply and with everyone scouring every retailer daily, they’re damned hard to acquire. It is an amazing privilege to have an opportunity to get a sample of those from a distillery. But, we aren’t retailers, we aren’t distributors, and we don’t work for the distillery. Even with Sponsored Content, we’re simply freelancers. We have no magic button for acquiring allocated bottles. If we want it, we’re hunting for it the same as everyone else.
Where Can I Buy This Whiskey Locally?
This is a tough one. There are times that a distillery will tell us what states (or countries) something will be distributed in. But, aside from that, we honestly have no idea. Many times even the distillery has no idea. Thanks to the pure Hell that was Prohibition, we’re stuck with the antiquated three-tiered distribution system. The distiller, producer, or importer sells the whiskey to their distributors. The distributors, in turn, sell those to the retailers. The retailers then sell them to you.
The exception to the rule is the private barrel pick. If a store, restaurant, or bar is buying a barrel, and if Crazy Naz doesn’t snipe it, we can safely tell you what store, restaurant, or bar will have the bottle in question.
Why Are You Calling [Whiskey Label] a [Whiskey Category]? That’s Not Legal According to the TTB!
There are a few things to say about this question. First of all, if you’re unfamiliar with the TTB, that’s the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. They are the governing body that, amongst other things, (allegedly) reviews proposed labels to ensure truth in advertising. For example, Bourbon must adhere to very strict rules. If a distiller or producer submits a label claiming it is Bourbon, but the whiskey doesn’t meet those rules, the TTB is supposed to reject the label and have the distiller or producer submit a corrected one.
Reviewers don’t get to make those calls. We aren’t part of the TTB. It isn’t our job to fight the TTB or the distiller/producer. If you believe that something is mislabeled and the TTB dropped the ball (and, to be fair, it happens), directing your attitude at the reviewer is both stupid and unfair. When you attempt to “school” us, you will likely come across as a jerk. If the label says “Bourbon” we call it “Bourbon.” If you are so offended by what’s on the label, then please take that up with the TTB and the distillery or producer.
How Could You Give [Whiskey Name] That Rating?
No two people have the same palate. My advice for years has been to find a reviewer whose palate closely matches your own because that’s the way you’re going to find recommendations you can trust. If we’re honest about the reviews we compose, we call them as we taste them. If something is good, we should tell you it is good. If something is not, we should tell you that, too. A rating should never, ever be based on a fear that the distiller won’t send any more samples if a bad review is given. And, an honest reviewer should never refrain from publishing a negative review. Not every whiskey is a winner, even if it is your favorite. The same goes with something you hate – it doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t enjoy it.
I hope this gives you a glimpse into the types of questions that we’re asked. Many of us relish interacting with our audience. We don’t expect you to always agree with us. Just don’t be a keyboard warrior about it.