A couple of months ago at the Whisky Festival Northern Netherlands, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a gentleman who complimented me on my work with a kindly intentioned, but strange remark, "You write nice books Mr Offringa, but what do you do for a living?"
I smiled while I wracked my brain for an appropriate answer. Should I tell him I've been a professional writer for more than 35 years? That I'd written a couple of novels and historical books on various topics before I dedicated my writing skills fully to whisky and in doing so was able to blend my passion with my profession? Or that to date I have published more than 20 books on my favourite topic and translated seminal works from my fellow writer friends Dave Broom, Michael Jackson and Charles MacLean? That I annually write between 80 and 100 articles or columns for publications across the globe and commit to a deadline every three or four days during the year?
Such an answer would be a bit of overkill and rather condescending, so I decided to be funny, and told him I actually was a brain surgeon and left him startled with dram in hand, pondering if that were really true.
Thinking about overkill and what is true or not, brings me to the plethora of whisky books, blogs, vlogs and self-proclaimed 'whisky experts' that have entered the stage in the last decade, during which more books on whisky have been published than in the past two centuries. Some better than others, some great, some utterly a waste of resources. I don't like the moniker 'whisky expert' anyway; I am first and foremost a full time whisky writer and for me, the real expert is the guy or woman who actually makes the whisky at the distillery or in the blending lab.
I observe that more often than not, opinions are presented as facts, for instance by people who recently enjoyed their first whisky tastings and view themselves as very knowledgeable on the spot. Among them are excellent window dressers with slick WordPress driven digital presence. Whisky producers may be easily enticed by what soon turns out to be meagre and mediocre content, shallow knowledge and sometimes even blatant plagiarism, for use as a commercial vehicle or for personal gain.
Marketing departments at various production companies outsource copy writing about their products to obscure advertising companies who don't know their whisky from their whiskey. Packaging may confusingly refer to a single malt matured at the same time in a barrel, a hogshead and a butt, depending on what paragraph on the packaging you are reading, whereas the professionals in the industry emphasise the different types of oak containers to express certain maturation facts and differences. For the record, I am not referring to a triplewood expression here!
It pains me to see obituaries written about distinguished whisky people, by upstarts who never even knew or met the person they are writing about. Such pieces should, in my humble opinion, be commissioned to and provided by mature and respected whisky writers who were acquainted with the person and do rightful honour to the deceased.
Don't get me wrong, I am the first to welcome new scribes in our world and happily support upcoming talent; and mistakes may be made, as I have learned myself throughout my career (and still learning). However, I would like to break a lance for validation and thorough research before committing a piece to paper or firing away words and images into the electronic void.
A few decades ago, as a young and inexperienced proofreader and copy editor, I was taught the value of triangular research. It's not difficult with the vast digital encyclopaedia that is at our fingertips. That is one
of the big benefits nowadays - in 1974 I didn't have those resources. But the same adage goes for both, so to any aspiring writer out there I'd like to say - use your resources well, don't neglect contradictions, try not to plagiarise and be original... For what it's word (pun intended)!