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  • Writer's pictureSean Kincaid

When a “Whisky of the Year” Raises Eyebrows - Integrity in Whisky Writing

So, it's that time of the year where calendars are flipped or replaced altogether, the Christmas feasts are devoured for days on end, and everyone and their dog are releasing their top picks of bottles they have tried over the past 12 months. I myself, went a little crazy this year and broke it down into a ton of different categories that have a top 3 in each and culminating in an overall top 5 best whiskies for the year. Some people have very specific rules they adhere to when making their choices, and some, like myself, have fairly loose rules, but still try to follow some semblance of structure.

As I have started to see more and more of these lists and picks show up across my feeds on social media and various corners of the internet, one thing I picked up on right away was how drastically different peoples opinions were on specific bottles. I had close friends pick a release from their favourite distillery, while others picked from categories I wouldn't have even thought for a second they would look at. Therein lies the beauty of the whisky world, that so many people have such different palates and I firmly believe that is one of the absolutely special characteristics of the whisky community. Everyone has different opinions and tastes. Imagine if everything was universally liked or disliked…whisky would be fairly boring to have as a hobby.

It's not a secret anymore that a few online and magazine brands have released their lists and a peculiar name has found its way to the top of those lists. To say this raised some eyebrows across the whisky world would be an understatement. But one thing it did for sure was make a LOT of people question the integrity of the list and the people behind the choices. There has always been whispered rumours whenever a questionable “best of” choice was made by a fairly popular and widely viewed, that a monetary exchange was made to help boost the winning brand to capturing the top spot. A lot of times the whisky community as a whole have tried these so called number ones and have almost entirely panned them, or in the best cases, mentioned they are decent enough but never at the level of being a best of the year choice. Almost every single one has said (myself included) that it wasn't a bottle worth buying.

The question then becomes one of why? Why, every year, do we see these lists from various corners of the whisky world with very questionable choices sitting atop the piles of bottles that were supposedly tasted against each other. Money. As far as I can tell that would be the easiest and most logical solution. Now is that cash money, or money agreements for advertising, or maybe even just an agreement between two parties to help raise the consciousness of each other's public perception. The plain and simple truth is how does a whisky publication objectively review a product from a brand/label/producer that they also receive a large advertising budget from those same companies that allows the publications bills to be paid? Whatever it is, it stinks and I am not a fan of it.

I have always prided myself in the fact that no matter who is asking, or what they are asking about, if I am asked for my personal opinion, I will state it as truthfully and unbiased as possible. Integrity means way more to me than any free bottle or any “shout out” could ever be. If I am asked to review a whisky, I will gladly accept the whisky to try, but it will never influence how I personally feel about or affect my review of said whisky. If I provide a list of my personal best of’s for any particular category, know that I honestly feel that they are worthy of being chosen and nothing else. Integrity in the whisky community is needed now more than ever. Especially from the people, brands, influencers that have a further reach than most.

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