Monday, August 6, 2012

To Blog or not to Blog

In July, Whiskyfun, the grandfather of all whiskey blogs, turned a remarkable ten years old. It's mind boggling to think how many whiskey blogs have started since Serge first put finger to keyboard ten years ago or even since I started this blog, a little more than five years ago. The search term "whiskey blog" on Google yields a staggering 149 million results.

Given all of this blogging, it's not surprising that I frequently receive emails from people who are interested in starting a blog or want feedback on their blog idea. Since I've responded to this question many times, I thought I'd post my thoughts.

Dear Sku, should I start a whiskey blog?

Given the massive number of whiskey blogs, the most important question I always ask in response to this question is, why do you want to start a whiskey blog? As with anything, there are good reasons and bad reasons.

Good Reasons to Start a Whiskey Blog

  • I want to share information and reviews with friends. Well, this is what it's all about. Not every blogger needs to have ambitions of global domination. Many blogs cater to a club or group of friends who want to share reviews or publicize club events.
  • I want to learn about whiskey. You can learn about whiskey without a blog, but blogging, if you do it with care and take pride in your work, will force you to learn. You may even find yourself reading the SWA or TTB regulations in your spare time.
  • I like writing. It should be obvious, but blogging is writing. No matter how much you love whiskey, if you don't like writing, you won't enjoy blogging, and why would you do something so thankless if you didn't enjoy it?
  • I offer a truly new perspective on whiskey. For all the thousands of blogs out there, most of them are pretty similar, offering reviews and occasional commentary on various whiskeys. While reviews can be very helpful, some of the blogs I enjoy most are those that come at the subject from a different angle. For instance, I love the K&L Spirits Journal because it gives some insight into a retailer's perspective on the whiskey world. I'd love to see a blog from a distributor, someone who works on the floor of a distillery (as opposed to brand ambassador fluff), a cooper or someone else with a truly unique perspective.

Bad Reasons to Start a Whiskey Blog

  • I want to make money! This is probably the worst reason to start a whiskey blog. Seriously, you are more likely to win the lottery than get rich on a whiskey blog. There are a few bloggers who have gotten industry jobs or freelance work from their blogs, but those are only the most prominent and well regarded bloggers. The very best scenario you can probably hope for is that, after a few years of tireless blogging, you get an occasional freelance gig that helps you pay your cable bill.
  • I want to get free whiskey! This is the second worst reason to start a blog. It's true that there is an upper echelon of bloggers who get regular shipments of free whiskey, but you're not them. I've been doing this for five years, and I can count the free samples I've received on my fingers, and a good chunk of those samples were so bad they weren't worth writing about. Seriously, do you really think that because you have a url, some distillery is going to send you a sample of its new 50 year old? It's not going to happen.
  • I want to start a blog for the everyday drinker that can't afford all the fancy, exclusive whiskeys in your snotty blog. I've got news for you, almost all whiskey blogs start this way, but you know what? Eventually, you'll taste all of the "everyday whiskeys" or you'll get bored with them. You'll be curious about what those more expensive, older, cask strength whiskeys taste like. Then you'll want to know what the whiskey from that famous closed distillery tastes like. Then you'll want to know what that whiskey tasted like 30 years ago, and before you know it, you'll be just another blogger reviewing high end, exclusive, snotty whiskeys.

After all of this, if you decide to start a whiskey blog, I would encourage you to read Oliver Klimek's 5 Tips for Whisky Bloggers at Happy blogging!


Ryan said...

Nice post, Sku. Having started and stopped a whisky blog in the past year or so, I can testify that your last bullet point is absolutely true. When I started the blog, buying a $50 bottle of whisky gave me cold sweats. Before you know it, I'm ordering bottles from the UK with a $30 shipping fee, and shopping $100+ bottles didn't even give me pause. After stopping the blog, I now drink the much more available and affordable stuff that I started out drinking, and I am much happier. But you definitely run out of that stuff real quick if you have to base a blog about it.

Dave Wankel said...

Nicely done SKU. The "free samples" reason is always my favorite. Everyone thinks all bloggers or enthusiasts get free samples. True, some do arrive now and again and maybe a visit from a master distiller or owner of an IB will show up to provide you with some new sample of a 40yo Glengoyne he will be releasing in a few weeks, but those seem to be few and far between. Well done my friend.

Tom said...

Great post. While you mentioned the fortune part as being unrealistic, I feel like the fame aspect should be acknowledged on the list of bad reasons as well. I expect a number of bloggers have high aspirations of one day becoming an influential voice in the industry, which leads them to write down tasting notes and become outspoken about every whisky they can get their hands on. Of course, this would ultimately lead to free samples and money... but satisfying the ego can end up being a strong influence in and of itself.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what you're doing wrong, Steve. I get free samples all the time. Furthermore I've become famous in a matter of months and have met the vast majority of my heroes. Many have drammed with me and plied me with the kind of whiskies I have previously only dreamed of ever tasting. Beautiful women now vie for my attention. Miraculously they seem oblivious to the blatant fact that I'm a titanic geek nerd who is overweight and wears glasses and is obsessed with the kind of minutia that usually sends "normals" running like deer.

Yes, I'm now getting gigs and money, fame, women, and whisky... all from some light hearted easy weekly blogging in my spare time. You'd have to be a total idiot not to blog whisky these days. It's like falling off a log. No wonder there are 149 million new whisky blogs in the past 21 months. It's a miracle that there aren't more. At the current pace of growth, everyone in the world will be blogging one topic or another in the span of 39 months more or less. Then the world will be an awesome place because everyone in the world will be enthusiastically friendly to everyone else because they will hoping they will put them on their blog roll.

It's almost utopian, really. I think you're becoming a curmudgeon with all your doomsaying and grousing these days. Clearly you sold out to Diageo just in time.

Full confession: not quite everything in the previous post is a lie.

sku said...

Dave, that sounds divine, but for that kind of thing, rather than blogging I would suggest joining a prominent tasting society.

Tom, good point, though fame and fortune are often part of the same delusional dream.