Take that finger off my bottle

I just came back from Whisky Lounge Manchester and what an amazing and utterly knackering show is was! I was manning a stand there, oozing charm, answering questions and smiling at everyone like I’m out of my mind. I love it. Whisky shows are great fun and the easiest job in the world from my point of view (good whiskies sell themselves, all you need to do is give them that little bit of support). People who go to whisky shows to have a look around, chat to distillers and sample the goods are by and large a great bunch and talking to them is pure pleasure. I could do it every day.

And so it hurts even more when someone acts like a prick.

Few things make me more angry than ‘whisky experts’. I know a few real ones and they would never call themselves that. They are likely to say ‘I know this and that’ or ‘I try’ when asked about it. Top industry guys are much more interested in listening to what you have to say than in talking themselves and that’s great, it’s a mark of a true pro. At whisky shows, however, you always meet a few home grown ‘talents’ who know everything about everything. If they are by themselves they are likely to walk up to the stand, ignore your ‘hello’ and just point their finger at the bottle with the highest age statement they can spot (always, invariably). You pour them a dram while trying to start a conversation with the standard friendly ‘have you tried our whisky before?’; they look at you slightly annoyed and with an air of unquestionable superiority, murmur a quick ‘yes’ in response and then show you their back. They are at their best, however, when they have an audience – friends who don’t know much about whisky. They walk up to the stand, and start touching the bottles with their index finger, commenting as they go along: ‘this is shit, this is shit, this one is OK and this one is actually good’ (always and invariable the ‘actually good’ one is the one with the highest age statement they can spot). It makes me boil inside with rage. Hundreds of years of expertise, passion and devotion, some of the tightest quality control known unto Homo Scotus, vast amounts of talent at every stage of production and product development and that prick just called this absolute classic and one of my favourites ‘shit’.

What to do? Mount a passionate defence? Get theatrically offended? Just smile and nod hoping he’ll go away? Let me know what you think and whether there are people who annoy you at whisky shows.

Lucas

Comments

  1. There will always be that type of person at every show and while I do share your distaste for them I find the best way to handle it is just smile and nod. They will continue to limit their tastes with their minds and nothing we say can help them to experience a great whisky.

  2. Thanks, Justin. Smiling and just letting it go sounds like a good solution but it’s damn hard:/

  3. Call them out on it. Start talking tasting notes, expressions and so on and you quickly see people panicking as they’ve been outed as idiots. One q always floors them: “What notes are you getting from it?” And you can follow that up with the water/no water stuff.

    See also blend v malt snobs.

  4. Good shout, Craig. Thanks.

  5. Take along a few 100ml sample bottles with very high numbers on them, fill ‘em with Teachers, and watch them all coo and fawn over the secret cask samples? [What? Who said that?]

    I think there’s an important disconnect between quality and exclusivity. It’s only human nature to want to try something that’s rare, or usually unattainable, and I think that ‘we in the industry’ often forget that.

    I personally never smile and nod. Can’t do it. That’s probably just me though :)

  6. As a regular to these events it’s great to hear from someone behind the stand!

    I have once been guilty of going for the oldest first. I just couldn’t help it – Glenfarclas were at the Newcastle whisky faire, and I have owned/tried all of the other ages and loved them but they had the 40 available – I just couldn’t resist.

    It was the first whisky of the day as I didn’t want my pallet dulled (which inevitably happens!) whilst trying such an old whisky. Ironically whilst it was a very pleasant dram I think the 15 (and the 105 actually) is just unbeatable – but I just had to try!

    I know from his face he wasn’t very happy with me jumping straight to the oldest, but I just couldn’t wait :-)

    Anyway, I love the Whisky events organised by Eddy and I hope this doesn’t put you off! Whilst you do get pricks there (there are plenty of them everywhere!) you do get people who understand there is so much to learn! I have always found the people behind the stands incredibly patient and helpful! I’ll be a tad more weary when someone pulls out a bottle from below the stand next time however!!

    @Craig: blends v malts snobs – I do find myself in that category. I’m sorry :-( . But I think it’s an education thing – I HATED Islay whisky when I first started enjoying whiskys, then I discovered Talisker and I now quiet enjoy an occasional Lagavulin. I haven’t yet discovered a blend I like – but I have avoided them. I know in time that will change, but for now there are still plenty of single malts to discover/enjoy.

  7. @Ross Good shout man. It’s 100% understandable that you want to try a particular dram first thing as you come in, I think we all do that! I don’t have a problem with that at all. It’s more the general rudeness that gets to me.

    By no means am I put off. There were 1000 people at the show in Manchester and we only got 2-3 misbehaving which is a pretty amazing result. Crushing majority of people are genuinely interested to learn about the whiskies and sample them with a little bit of help.

  8. BTW, my stand was voted as one of the best so I must have done something right;)

  9. :-) Congrats!

    York and Newcastle are about the only ones I can get to but I always have a great time!

    I generally prefer to be led through the malts by the person by the stand (perhaps skipping ones I have tried – there is only _so_ much whisky you can drink!). They know what works, and are generally very passionate about what they do!

    2-3 is not so bad I suppose – does leave a bitter taste in your mouth however. It’s thievery that really upsets me at these events. Hope it’s a bit better now.

  10. I think whisky seems to attract an insecurity in people, especially in the UK drinker. Some feel they ‘should’ know about whisky for some reason, even if they haven’t actually learnt about it yet.

    One other type that makes me grit my teeth is The Glass Wagger. Normally found at during the last hour of a show, often recognizable by their glassy eyes and wobbly legs. Its all you need when you’re knackered, no attempt at politeness but a glass wag wag wagging in your face. Sometimes accompanied by a point.

  11. Haha Lucas. Everybody who know you will always greet you with “What’s your oldest whisky?” whenever they see you on a whisky stand from now on :-)

    I could suggest a bit of variation “What’s your most expensive whisky?”. Last one doesn’t really works on fairs where you pay-per-dram, so save it for the free pours one!

    Steffen

  12. I recognise the type, Lucas, but not having been to a whisky show yet, I can only imagine, after hours of hard work and positive results, the marring influence of a couple of twats.

    For me, whisky is synonymous with people – the guys who made and make it right the way along to the people who sell and promote it. Why turn your back on such a great conversation and the rare opportunity to connect with the personalities behind the brand? These individuals should probably just stick to buying the stuff and leave the socialising to those who have a real interest.

  13. I have met these types, Lucas, and I agree, it can be frustrating. I admit, when I am at a Whisky festival, I may avoid the standard range from a distillery and aim for the stuff I haven’t tried before, but the key is to be polite to the person behind the stand. It is a minority of people who are rude, but they have an effect.

    This rant is aimed at the minority who get plastered, are rude and try to steal stuff at whisky festivals:

    It almost feels that some people have lost a grasp on how to be polite and friendly. When some friendly whisky stand person says to you “hi there, how are you today?” the apropriate response is not to grunt ‘whisky’ and point straight at a bottle.
    I don’t think some people realise that if the festival starts at midday, then more than likely, we whisky stand people set off at 7 am, so we could be at the venue for 9ish, get a quick coffee and then set up our stand. We get ourselves ready to be insanely cheery for 5 or 6 hours, don’t eat, hardly get a dram and then once finished at 6pm, we have to pack up our stand, try and stop anyone from nicking bottles and head home.It’s an awesome job, I love working at festivals, I love talking to the majority of people who are interested and friendly,I love sharing my knowledge and enthusiasm, but it is very draining too.

    It amazes me that (a minority of) people can be rude at these things, or even try and steal stuff. We are giving you whisky for crying out loud! A bit of politeness, drinking responsibly and not stealing, is all we ask. And maybe a willingness to listen.

    I don’t mind people getting drunk, but I would also suggest thinking about how drunk you get. These events are set up to taste as many whiskies as possible, but not to get hammered. Also, many people who attend whisky festivals harbour an ambition to get a job in the industry. If you do harbour an ambition to get into the industry, then whisky festivals are networking opportunities. Getting hammered at them may not be the wisest idea

    Rant over!

    Chris

  14. Haha, good rant, Chris. In fact the show lasted 9 hours and then we had to pack up and drive back to Edinburgh that night:) They can be intense affairs whisky shows, but still worth it.

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