There are a lot of people who write engagingly and have an interest in rum, and some of them, not unnaturally, want to start their own website regarding matters of the cane. Some want to review rums; others want to blog about cocktails; in other cases the new bloggers address themselves to spirits in general. After a while, hits go up, production goes up, and the site takes off. And then, in some cases, it slides into a moribund state of somnolescence.
It’s because I wish we had more rummies out there that I decided to put together some thoughts on what it actually means to set up and contribute to a review site. Because fair is fair, it’s always great to have new blood constantly providing their input – but I would like to have longevity as well.
See, it’s hard to stay the course for more than a few years. It’s easy to get sidetracked, and life has a way of getting in your way: it just…happens. So the interest is sometimes just lost, the new baby is born, the job gets more intense, the attacks too depressing, the expenditure too high, the site-hits too few. But you can always recognize the consistent long timers and know their websites, because not only do they turn up on every search you have, but they frequently blogroll each other. Somehow they’ve achieved balance and harmony…zen you might say.
Anyway, the points here strike me as reasonable recommendations for those who are thinking of starting their own rum reviewing site. It’s long, so I’ve broken it out into five parts. Feel free to comment on your own ideas, from your own experiences.
- Part 1 – The Philosophy, and getting started
- Part 2 – The website, the writing and your postings
- Part 3 – Sampling, and the review itself
- Part 4 – Which rums to start with
- Part 5 – Keeping things going
1. Have a sense of how you want to write – clearly, concisely, briefly, starkly…or perhaps something more lengthy. The briefer you are, the more frequently you will almost be expected to write. Also, what do you want to write? Just tasting notes, or something more? Opinion, price, star rating, distillery info…get this straight in your head first.
2. Understand why you are starting the journey. Do you do this for love, to share your journey, for money, for freebies and the personal back bar, for street cred, to educate fellow rum lovers, to get a job, to round out a profession, to enhance your bartending skills…or simply because you enjoy writing and rum equally? I know examples of all of these types. Be honest with yourself about why you started, because that impacts on both your writing style and your longevity. And your personal life, surprising as this may sound.
3. Be clear in your writing about your intentions, and, by extension, be honest when you write. Your remarks will be valuable to others seeking assistance and clarity, but they will also want to know when you’re stating a fact, or expressing an opinion.
4. All impressions to the contrary, this is not a cheap hobby or pastime (and it’s my personal belief this eventually sinks a lot of potential bloggers who begin with such great hopes and intentions). In spite of what you may think, store owners and distributors will not immediately rush in joyous exuberance to your house in order to ply you with samples, and your friends and family usually won’t provide you with the really top tier stuff. So it will cost you money. If you are coming at this from the perspective that you’ll get free bottles to amend your purse and expand your home bar, that you will be invited on junkets to tour distilleries and attend tastings on someone else’s coin, well, you could be…eventually (or if you actively and aggressively engage with industry). But you won’t get as many as you think unless you really write a lot and well. So if you’re committed, you’ll be spending quite a bit of your own money at the inception in order to populate your site with reviews that hopefully others will find irresistible. My own recommendation would be to start small and see if you can keep it up (and to see if the spouse objects). Don’t go spending hundreds of dollars or Euros or whatever, on top-tier rums just because you can (see also part 4, regarding where to start).
5. Following from that, establish your personal policy towards free commercial samples early on and stick to it. This is always and only a matter of objectivity and perceived conflict of interest. It’s human nature to distrust of positive reviews written about a company-supplied sample. At end, it comes down to whether you, in all honesty, feel you can write objectively about a rum – especially something that sucks – when presented to you for nothing by an industry rep (I do not speak of friends or family). Some of my friends see this as a way of defraying the inevitable expenses, others adamantly defend their objectivity, and this is fine – it’s their writing, not mine. I simply feel that if you do accept an industry sample (or the guy who runs your local liquor shop), then just be honest and state it in your review.
6. And you really should have a scoring system from the beginning (whether you publish the score or not). There are quite a few different methods out there. Pick one that you think you can work with for a long time, and start from your very first review (though I would also suggest sampling ten or twenty rums, then scoring them against each other first, just to see how the system works). This is more important than you think, because people really pay attention to scores and will ask questions; also, you can band your reviews together in ranges, as the body of work grows. (See also Part 3 where I go into scoring a bit more).
7. Don’t stop. Build a rhythm and stick to it. I’m not entirely sold on today’s blogworld where if nothing gets posted for three days, the site dies…on the other hand I do believe in regular updates. The RumHowler can do three a week, the FatRumPirate is going great guns, and I try to do one a week, but no matter what, just keep ‘em coming. And after you pass fifty, then a hundred, then even more, don’t get bored or discouraged, just keep on doing it (if you must take a break, as many of us do, put up a note saying ‘Out of Office’ for the faithful readers). This has implications for the development of your personal style, your persistence, and your longevity – if you can’t keep up the programme you’ve set for yourself (whatever that might be), then maybe how you write has to be adjusted.
8. My personal taste is for adding information on the maker as part of the overall review. Obviously this makes for a longer essay and gets redundant when you’ve reviewed several products by the same outfit. If you are a master of the short form, then this method won’t fly. For myself, it adds to my knowledge and, I feel, that of the reader. If you decide to go this way, ensure you state outright where your info is sketchy (especially when several sources are contradictory, as often happens)