It almost seems odd to mention the words whisk(e)y and Internet in the same sentence.
One adheres to traditions and old world methods that have changed little in hundreds of years – while the other term refers to a new frontier of communication and being connected to information by technology like never before.
What happens when the old world of whisk(e)y meets the social media driven community of the Internet? Well, what did happen was an absolute explosion of online content.
High powered content too.
Everything from video reviews by half cut guys in silly hats sitting at their kitchen tables professing their opinions on the latest Jim Beam or Bruichladdich that can easily be shared and posted anywhere a link can be posted – to sites with hundreds of pages of whisk(e)y forums where people bicker on and on about everything from their favourite drams and distilleries.
All of it searchable, shareable, great and wonderful content. But it’s also created a wasteland of imperfect knowledge being dumped by everyone willing to strike the keys with their opinions.
While the distilleries remain for the most part mostly silent. For the most part.
But for distilleries – this level of interactivity has certainly changed the game a little.
Gone are the days where distillers could hide quietly in the shadows producing whatever product their heart desired. No, not anymore. Now the people demanded their cask strength versions of old favourites. And they want it finished in sherry. No – demand it. And make it Pedro Ximenez Sherry finished.
All of this has certainly put pressure on distillers – but it’s also all invaluable feedback with which they can choose to act upon or not. And there’s no shortage in opportunities to get people talking about your whisk(e)y.
But in general – and most importantly – the general public now armed with the online toolkit now has basic information about how whisky is made, where in the not too distant past, whisk(e)y was shrouded in history and covered in dust and shadowy truth.
And now that people know a little bit of the truth to how whisky is made.
They want more.
For example – what cask is this matured in? What finish is it? What’s the deal with no age statements all of a sudden?
Just what exactly is in my whisk(e)y?
And now with social media – asking these questions doesn’t necessarily involve storming over to Scotland and banging on a distillery door. These days – it’s much more instantaneous.
Jim in Chicago may Tweet that the label on his favourite whisk(e)y has changed, and all of a sudden it tastes different. Which is read by Mark in Ottawa, and Re-Tweeted – because he’s thinking the same thing. Which to Mary in Ohio, is outrageous – and so it’s ‘favorited.’
And within minutes – hundreds of people no longer trust that brand anymore, and start asking questions. And it’s up to distilleries to address these questions or not.
And the question remains how do distilleries deal with these questions? Do they pony up all the details for all the secrets for how their whisk(e)y is make for all to see? Or do they keep the secrets behind their whisk(e)y just that – a secret.
There are more and more discussions regarding the need for transparency and disclosure, and the whole idea was wisely capitalized upon by Scottish distiller Arran Distillery in creating the packaging for The Devil’s Punchbowl.
The whisky, released to North America in 2012, was made from a combination of 24 unique casks – all of which were fully disclosed.
There was no age statement – but all the details including listing the barrel were listed on the inner flap of the packaging – giving people full disclosure on what was in the bottle – regardless of the fact it was a no age statement offering – it is receiving great praise in the social media as a great example of full disclosure such as in these comments following a discussion on the lack of transparency when dealing with age statements.
But a perfect example of a consumer’s perspective on the growing need for transparency comes from a Bourbon lover’s blog post here on a Bourbon subcategory Reddit page, and shouting out about their thoughts to 9,000 or so users on the need for transparency in American whisky.
But at the heart of their discussion was this question. Should consumers care at all that Bourbon lovers are often told that their Bourbon was made at distilleries that don’t even exist?
Should they care that the brands they are so loyal to, aren’t even being transparent enough to tell them who actually makes the product?
And in fact, many people did care, and several made very clear to state that they would think favourably in the discussed distilleries being a little more up front with the information they’re providing about the brands they love.
But there are many more areas in Whisk(e)yland, whether American, Canadian, Scottish or Irish, in which the marketing machines behind distilleries are not being transparent.
Whether it’s not being upfront about declaring on the label the addition of E150A, a variety of spirit caramel used to adjust a spirits colour, or it’s disclosing cask types, the barley sources, water sources, age statements for that matter, it’s clear that there’s a lot of details still left uncovered by the social media storm passing overhead.
And it will be interesting to see in the years to come, as people keep digging for information, how distilleries will deal with consumers looking for total transparency. And how whisk(e)y lovers will respond once they get it or don’t.
Until regulations change what must be stated on a bottle, how transparent to be with their product is the distillery’s choice.
And how transparent will they be?