King of the blog

King of the blog

In the latest in our series celebrating some of\rwhisky's lesser known personalities,Dominic Roskrow talks to Kevin Erskine,founder of\
Dominic Roskrow

27 February 2009

Publication: Issue 78

Does anyone know what happened to personality?You know, those larger than life characters who bestrode public life and actually had a view on something beyond the preprepared press release they’re obliged to trot out every time they have something to promote.We live in bland times. Where there seems to be very few people prepared to put their heads above the parapet or shoot from the hip.Too much fear of being marginalised, you see.So meet Kevin Erskine. He’s the creator of the quite wonderful,an entertaining and fresh blog site that speaks its mind and brings whisky to life. It successfully balances a need to treat whisky seriously with an ambition to make it inclusive and unpretentious. It is honest and opinionated and doesn’t pull any punches so you wouldn’t expect Erskine to. Here he is talking about the whisky industry in general: “Whisky is a great drink to be enjoyed at any time,”he says.“However the industry continues to allow public relations firms to position the category as a snobbish posh drink and continues to exclude women and ‘regular people’. The beer industry has done a good job (inadvertently) of stratifying and providing different products at different socio-political levels.“The whisky industry as a whole continues to market almost exclusively to the high end. They’ll see the mistake of this in this economic downturn.” Nor does he totally buy into the view that whisky’s in a bubble and is booming despite what’s happening elsewhere.“Booms are bad things,”he says.“They are trendy and faddish. The industry doesn’t want a boom, they want to take their rightful mind share. That’s what gives a product industry safety.“This is going to be a tough year. The industry has spent too much time building up premium brands and prohibitively expensive one-offs and let the low end flounder. Now with a worldwide financial crisis people will continue to drink but they’ll want reasonably priced bottles.The companies need to go back and develop lower end marques.And when people aren’t feeling financially solvent they aren’t going out as much. How do you get the average person to consider a dram at home?“Bottom line, the whisky industry has never been great at promoting the category to anyone but the whisky lover. This is an opportunity to figure it out.” Erskine’s passionately held views have to be seen in the context of his website. Spend time browsing through his intelligent and knowledgeable postings and reviews and it’s clear he’s a man with a deep love for whisky.His interest in whisky stemmed from a love of beer. As he learned more he was asked by others to teach them. The result was The Instant Expert’s Guide to Single Malt Scotch,written five years ago,and to promote it he launched a blog.Since then Erskine has established a good reputation among whisky drinkers who enjoy his accessibility and unpretentious approach and the many within the whisky industry itself,who understand his passion and tolerate his irreverence.“Well I don’t know how respected I am, but I publicly stated from the outset that yes I get free samples but if I don’t like something I say so or don’t write about it, and I’ve stuck to that,” he says.“Even my very public rows with companies have been about the practices,never about the liquid.And although I actively support small entrepreneurial companies I’ve never done it at the cost of saying I like something when I don’t. Also having been fairly vocal about some people not being independent it’s been a good motivator to make sure I am not perceived as partisan.” Erskine’s opinions aren’t just confined to Scotch. Irish whiskeys feature, too. He has a healthy regard for the new whisky nations, too, but he has a word of warning for producers of Scotch.“My fear is that they will remain so entrenched in tradition that these new world whiskies will leave them in the dust,”he says.All power to his keyboard.

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