By Jim Murray

Consultancy or scam?

Jim Murray, spurred by a reader's letter, considers alleged conflicts of interest
Many years have passed since I first discovered that embracing the whisky cause could be (believe it or not) a painful (both physically and emotionally) and thankless duty. People find it very hard to understand that there can be a sense of fulfilment more important than money in leading converts to a dram. I discovered this in the early 1980s. Each year I would make pilgrimage to Islay off the west coast of Scotland. And while there I would do a deal with the manager at the Co-op at Port Ellen for me to bring back a case, or two if they had it, of pungent and quite incomparable Ardbeg.This was the only shop in Britain I had ever found it for sale. And as I preferred Ardbeg to any other whisky I had ever tasted (and still do), I was determined to divide my catch with friends and colleagues at the newspaper where I worked at that time. After all, what's the enjoyment of having a secret if you can't share it with someone?Unfortunately, one colleague could not believe I wasn't profiteering. This resulted in a right hook that sent me crashing from my chair and rendered me speechless for a full five minutes. My crime? I used to sell those bottles for £10 each; exactly the same as I paid for them. Nowadays identical bottles fetch £100-£125 apiece at Christie's whisky auctions, such is the price of martyrdom. I recalled this when I received a letter from Ms Valincia Wagner, passed on to me by Whisky Magazine. 'On page 8,' she said,' I noticed in Mr Murray's piece, "See You In Court" [Issue 2] that he admits to being a consultant to one of the companies central to the piece which just happens to produce a brand of bourbon he regularly touts. I have on several occasions read of Mr Murray's preference for this particular spirit, but this is the first such mention I have seen that he was in the employ of the company whose product he was recommending. How can this be considered a credible article of taste with such an obvious conflict of interest?'Realizing that Mr Murray, like the rest of us, has to make a living, might I suggest to him and to you that in his writings where product endorsements occur that there be full disclosure of potentially compromising consultancies. There at least the scam is disclosed.'Scam, indeed! I hasten to point out, Ms Wagner, that I stated I had done consultation work for both companies mentioned in the piece, and in fact have done far more for the company I was having a swipe at. I have worked, in my entire lifetime, the grand total of one hour for Ancient Age. But Ms Wagner has raised a good point. Where does independent journalism end and consultation begin? Given the relatively small world in which we all work, it is not easy to say. It is a fact that a great many well-known writers in the drinks industry do consultancy work.But then, one of the reasons I enjoy writing about whisky is because I can also spend my time blending new brands, giving tastings and earning the money (though never on sales) that takes me to smaller, unknown distilleries that I would otherwise never be able to write about.Though why we writers should always be singled out I don't know. Perhaps this magazine should also refuse to take money from advertising in case that is deemed as being potentially compromising.You see, I am fiercely independent. As indeed, is this magazine. And no proffered pot of gold, however big, will ever buy or even sway my opinion of a whisky. n