“I don’t read a lot of blogs because, well, most of them are written by people who aren’t qualified to piss in the ocean,” remarked Ed Hamilton on his blog The Ministry of Rum on July 7th 2015. To say I was surprised at such a blanket indictment of the majority of the rum blogging community would be an understatement. He’s not the only one to make such a statement in the recent past: when I wrote a five part series on how to start reviewing rums earlier this year, in an effort to provide some advice on new bloggers who often cease operation after a short while, I got a snarling response from another writer, who suggested that there are too many incompetents writing as it is (myself among them) and more should not be encouraged.
I simply don’t understand this attitude. It originates from persons who themselves write a lot, opiniate even more, and have a large body of words on their sites (which obviously pass muster by their own definitions of “qualified”), yet they seem to feel that almost all other websites, discussions, opinions and reviews, are a waste of internet space. I can sort of understand Sir Scrotimus Maximus in Retirement Land, since he despises everyone (and spews a vomitus of condescending and negative opinions just about every day), but Mr. Hamilton, for whom I have a great deal of respect, is a more puzzling enigma. Especially given his well-known dedication to rum, and the oft expressed moan abut rum not having enough visibility and fighting an uphill battle against other more established tipples.
To make my own position clear: I myself have nothing but distaste for short, ignorant, non-knowledgable click-bait written by writers for online spirits magazines (see here, here, here, here and here for some examples). Too often they display an abysmal ignorance of rums in general, and make lists of rums that would be amusing if they weren’t so uninspiring. But I don’t think this is what Sir Scrotimus or Mr. Hamilton were referring to. Nor do I believe that they are talking about news stories. Or cocktail sites and writers for them. No, when they refer to monkey mutterings and blogs, they are talking about reviewers. And since I’m one of them, I think I’ll take up cudgels on behalf of myself and others in my field.
To begin with, who qualifies as a “good” writer? For my money, this would be someone who writes with prose that engages the reader; who has a good understanding of the industry; who crafts decent tasting notes on the rums that are tried; expresses an informed opinion; has a body of rums to refer to, and self-evidently is involved in not only increasing his own knowledge but that of his readers.
Are there truly none of such writers around? Sure there are. Henrik from Denmark keeps getting better all the time and that’s in his second language; Marco Freyr from Barrel Aged Mind in Germany is a historian par excellence with enormously detailed articles on the rums he tries; Josh Miller of Inuakena writes well, tastes well and goes far afield whenever it pleases him; Cyril from duRhum fills in with great reviews of more obscure fare, especially agricoles; Steve James of Rum Diaries writes great reviews in depth; The Fat Rum Pirate writes accessible notes for the common man with lots of opinions and off-hand facts, primarily for the UK crowd, and lovingly tends to the low-end and mid-range. I enjoy Laurent’s work on Les Rhums de l’homme à la Poussette. Dave Russell of the Rum Gallery is a long running stalwart, and while Chip and I happily trade emails back and forth about our differences in opinion, the man does put out a welter of rum reviews that North Americans in particular take seriously.
Why do we need more of such people?
Because, dear reader, there still aren’t enough. Not really. Excluding cocktail blogs which speak to rum as a secondary enterprise, there are less than twenty focused rum reviewing sites in the whole world. I can’t think of many which are run on a commercial basis. And yet we constantly complain about rum taking second place to whisky in the minds of the tippling class, not having exposure, people not “getting” the variety it represents. Well, having more writers who raise the profile would therefore be a good thing, wouldn’t it?
It is online writers like Johnny, Cyril, Dave and Wes who are spearheading the fight against improper labeling, undisclosed sugar and additives and outright deceptive marketing practices. Would less reviewers have the same effect? Not at all. Because then we’d just be left with the polarizing negativisms of Sir Scrotimus.
We also need more writers because they are the ones who call attention to the rums of the world in a time of declining advertising budgets and quality magazine writing about rums. Yes there’s the RumPorter, and yes there’s Got Rum…but there are scores of such publications on whisky or wine, so we’re supposed to be happy with a mere handful on our tipple of choice? Hell no. We need dozens, not just a couple. Reviewers, bloggers and online writers fill this void. You can disagree with what they write, but at least they’re out there providing information. Why would having fewer somehow be seen as better?
Even assuming the statements of these two gentlemen were correct (and I dispute that) they both ignore the obvious question: where are the “qualified writers,” if the ones I mentioned above aren’t representative? No please, educate me. Who are they? For whom do they write? What are their blogs? Are they active and engaged in the rumworld? Are they the few book authors who exist? To toss out generalized comments about the chattering underclass who supposedly don’t know what they’re doing seems grossly unfair to me, without listing them and their opposite numbers who are worth reading. If you are going to use your platform to diss someone, by all means provide a list of those who do fit your personal criteria. More than two, please, and in the same post as your takedown, not elsewhere on your site. Negatives are one thing, but if you have no positives to contribute then your argument lacks substance. More, there’s a puritan ethos of understated censorship wafting through those two comments I find disturbing…y’know, Write what I like, or you’re an idiot.
I think that part of the issue is that such qualified reviewers are somehow expected to spring to life overnight like Athena from Zeus’s brow, and wow us with their Kiplingesque prose, incredible depth of knowledge and scintillating wit, right out of the gate. But in a world where nobody (well, almost nobody) gets paid for writing about rum – and to my mind the greater proportion of rum writers write for love, not money – I think it says a lot for the dedication and devotion of rum aficionados who are also reviewers that they do as much as they do for free. This is somehow a bad thing?
So it’s my considered opinion that the two comments above do the writing community a disservice. Yes there is an unmet need for more writers who provide their own perspective and writing style and knowledge. Yes we could use some more professional authors who do more than just blog about cocktails and the tiki culture. We could have more reference materials and other information out there that raises the bar for the expected knowledge of a rum blogger. We need that kind of talent for those who write about rums specifically, not as an afterthought or a sideshow. And the reviewers and bloggers that are so casually dismissed, are the ones that provide, as best they can, this level of commitment and growing expertise. Because nobody else is.
In summary, it’s a shame that opinion makers and commentators like these two, instead of trying to raise the bar with mentorship and good advice for the new blood and existing writers, resort to such unfortunate takedowns. But you know, Mr. Hamilton called it right: he doesn’t read those he doesn’t like. Maybe there’s a word of wisdom for us all in that.