Aug 252015
 

Bloggers 1

Bloggers 2

 

“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.


  8 Responses to “Opinion: In Defense of Rum Bloggers”

  1. Maybe Mr. Hamilton would talk differently about bloggers, if he had read blogs like yours or barrel-aged-mind, for example. But it seems that he does not make a great effort to at least look at them a bit more carefully. Which to me seems quite arrogant.

    I’ll say this: I really like independent bottled rums a lot. I prefer them to the standard bottlings by far. But it weren’t books written by professionals who pointed me towards those bottlers. It was on your blog I learned about Velier. (My wallet really suffered since then.)
    It was on Marco’s blog I found the greatest article about Demerara rums and their history. No book I have read so far comes even close. Just two examples.

    So thank you very much for your efforts and let those comments not discourage you. I completely agree: there is by far not enough useful information about rum on the internet and I am glad that bloggers do something about it.

  2. You do realize that Ed may have been making a general comment about all blogs, not just those about rum, don’t you? He never actually stated that he was talking about rum blogs.

    • I thought about it, then discarded the idea.

      Mr. Hamilton is famed for being a rum evangelist. He posted it on his website, which is all about rum, and then recommended a spirits blog and a rum article as an example of what he did like. The inference is there.

      I can’t speak to his reading habits, but the chances that he reads many blogs *not* related to spirits in general and rum in particular, is small.

      The weight of the evidence is therefore that he was talking about rum bloggers.

  3. Ed undoubtedy raised the profile of Rum in the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s. However his website Ministry of Rum is really to all intents and purposes pretty much dead. A more active community is the Ministry of Rum on Facebook.

    Ed rarely comments or contributes to either. His most recent interviews have consisted of name dropping his own rums (Neisson) and the “Hamilton Collection” into the mix. In the US he is seen as a rum god. In the UK less so.

    He no longer keeps the MOR active or upto date he is busy doing other things. Busy not reading other peoples blogs or finding out what younger, enthusiastic writers and enthusiasts are doing. His choice

    Doesn’t worry me one bit as I am as an active and as visible as any other rum blogger. I’m not worried about getting the approval from the old guard or even other bloggers. I do what I do and I put it out there. Yes there has been criticism but this has been overshadowed by the positives.

    His comments and comments from others have not in anyway shaken my belief in what I am doing.

    • It’s not so much a question of hurt feelings or a shaken belief in what we’re doing, Wes. It’s that when remarks this cranky and all-encompassingly negative are made, implicating all of us in some delusional conspiracy of incompetence, we have to stand up and confront them and say, simply, unmovingly, firmly, “No. You are wrong.”

  4. My 1c (not even 2c worth) is that the more blogs there are, the better it is. Some bloggers might be captured by the industry but from my perspective I am happy that there are many blogs giving opinions/info (specially on IB bottlers).

    And there seem to be lots out there now which is fantastic. It allows me to buy something with the knowledge that it could be ok (ok there are no guarantees but beats buying without having any opinion at all).

  5. I really appreciate these blogs. Keep up the good work, these discussions raise the profile of rum hunters. Lance, you have introduced me to a few new rums. My wallet is lighter – thanks for that.

    Your discussions and engagement when we ask questions helps form and support us as a community.

    So much so on another site in the UK (Wes) I’ve sent a taste sample to a blogger to get their feedback.

    Without your sites the independent bottlers would be harder to find and there would be less of a willingness to try more expensive products.

  6. I’m a relative newcomer to online rum reviews, so it took me a little while to figure out the identity of ‘Sir Scrotimus’ but once I did, there was no mistaking him for anyone else. What a sanctimonious assclown. I read a couple of his hatchet jobs and noticed a couple of things:

    1) If you give Mount Gay XO a less-than-glowing review, you’re on his shit list for life.

    2) He would have you believe that he, and about four other guys, are the only people in the universe qualified to speak about rum. Differences in preferences and palates be damned!

    The arrogance of this guy is astounding. However, I’d heartily recommend his site to anyone who wanted to hear Dave Broom’s reviews parroted by a lesser writer. Anyway, there are plenty of rum blogs I do enjoy, this being one of them. Keep up the good work!

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