I got into whisky by accident. I was attending a funeral in the highlands and a dram of 12 year old Highland Park was handed out to attendees of the wake. Not wanting to appear rude, I took one and quickly made my way to a quiet corner to sip timidly upon the glass and hope that no-one saw me retch.
Within a month of that sip there were four or five bottles of malt in my cupboard at home and from there it snowballed. I scoured book shops for whisky volumes and discovered dozens of bloggers and vloggers who shouted passionately into the void, covering every conceivable facet of the industry. I attended as many whisky tastings as time, money and my liver would allow, soaking up as much data as people were willing to send my way. In 2014 I took a course, led by Master of Malt and renowned writer John Lamond. Two years later I took the ‘Whisky Ambassador‘ course. It was apparent that what was once a hobby, had become something of an obsession.
I always enjoyed writing and felt like I understood it from a fairly young age. English was the only subject at school that I seemed able to pass without putting any real effort into it (and effort was fairly low down in my list of priorities back then).
Having said all that, the possibility of ever doing anything about it never entered my head. My late teens and twenties were mostly spent in a dazed and confused state in the Glasgow club scene with all my resources plowed into that and my passion for DJ-ing.
When I moved into my thirties however, the notion to write returned. I tried to write about club culture but to be honest, my enthusiasm for the subject had started to wane and it came to nothing. Then at 34 I found out my wife was pregnant and did what any man would do. I shit myself. I tried to address my fears by writing about my impending fatherhood but when I read it back it sounded pathetic and whiny so it too was scrapped.
Then about two weeks before my daughter was due, I visited Auchentoshan and it struck me that I could write about whisky. Who knows why it hadn’t occurred to me before but I started writing and four years later I’m still going.
When I was new to the world of whisky I had found it a little disheartening to frequently hear countless online reviewers lament how good the spirit used to be and while they may have more knowledge and experience in their finger than I could amass in a lifetime, I still felt I had something to offer.
I felt I could produce a blog that reflected the enthusiasm of those early days of a new hobby, encouraging newbies to delve deeper rather than shaming them for not knowing enough. A blog that would be for the good of both the reader and the industry, because I wanted scotch to thrive. I wanted it to retain its status as the king of spirits and in an era of new distilleries opening every month, it’s important that the scene be as welcoming to new entrants as possible. That is not to say that I praise bad whisky of course, just that I would aim to take everything in context and understand the intended purpose behind a particular expression. A £15 blended scotch was never intended to compete with a £40 single malt for example, and its success or failure cannot be judged in the same way.
When considering the factors that hold people back from trying whisky there were two things that stood out for me. First is price. Whisky is expensive. There’s no way round that BUT great value can still be found, and it doesn’t have to come from cut-price supermarket shelves. I wanted to target the people who relied on the same brands again and again, showing them that a whole world was out there and they didn’t need to pay a fortune to access it. Arming them with the confidence to leave their supermarket and venture into the admittedly daunting world of the specialist retailer.
The second issue I wanted to address was the liberal use of pretentious tasting notes that to the outsider made whisky fans a laughing stock. Now, that is not to say tasting notes aren’t useful. They are a handy tool for describing a spirit to the reader but I didn’t want them to form the backbone of my reviews. Instead, I wanted the review to act as a jumping off point to discuss the fascinating story of scotch whisky and the people and places that make it. The written equivalent, if you will, of sharing a dram and a chat round the fireplace.
As a result of all this, my reviews tend to focus on the more affordable side of the market, with the majority falling around the £40 – £60 price bracket. I will however cover the occasional luxury item, as well as raiding the bargain basement from time to time.
Under no circumstances is this a criticism of other bloggers for their way of doing things. It’s not ‘I’m right, they’re wrong’. There are guys and girls out there who are much better than me at analysing a dram. Indeed, without them I wouldn’t be here and I continue to be inspired by their knowledge and passion today. I just wanted to find my own way of working and felt there was room for a blog that took perhaps a more optimistic view. In the end, I just hope that the joy whisky brings to me comes through in my writing and that it feeds the same joy in you, the reader.
Thanks for being here.
Neill Murphy, writer and owner of WhiskyReviews.net
WhiskyReviews.net is a free service and always will be. However, if you would like to support the author and the maintenance of the website you can make a small donation of your choice via Paypal below.