Wednesday, September 23, 2020

L'Affaire de Murray, or Why Now, What Now?

Anyone connected with the whisky community is likely to have seen some of the furor raised by Jim Murray's latest edition of the Whisky Bible. While he has developed a reputation for sexism over the years, the florid prose of his latest edition has taken that to new heights, drawing comparisons with the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards. A full-throated denunciation by Becky Paskin and a piece in Forbes by Felipe Schrieberg kicked off a wave of responses, both from individuals and companies.
Murray's response has, unsurprisingly, leaned into the now stock language used when people are called out, referencing 'free speech', 'cancel culture', and 'trumped up charges'. While his dignity seems to have taken a body blow, there appears to be very little self-reflection about why using overtly sexual terms to describe whisky might be off-putting or exclusionary for others. Equally unsurprising, there have been any numbers of whisky fans who have also leapt to his defense, calling anyone bothered by the language 'SJWs' or humorless. Others have been accused to using the situation to take Murray down a peg to promote their own work.
Sometimes in a less reactionary fashion, some have asked simply "Why now?" While his language is perhaps more overwrought that before, it's a difference in degree rather than in kind. This partially elides the fact that he is now forced to self-publish his work and has been progressively banned from whisky events, but it can be explained by Broken Stair Theory.

Especially in insular communities, it's very common to have problematic people who are explained away with "That's just how they are." New entrants may be quietly warned and the problem person may be slowly disinvited from events, but the majority either actively supports them or simply accepts their presence and learns to work around them. It's not until someone is willing to speak up and say "This isn't right. Why is this person still here?" that you can trigger the avalanche that finally leads to change.

What this really comes down to is who we want to be in community with, because there is exclusion in either direction. For decades the enthusiast community has tacitly allowed or even supported sexist behaviors, all the way from overt harassment to the all too common jokes along the lines of "Don't let my wife find out how much I've been buying". Assuming that women are less knowledgeable than men, describing whiskies in overtly sexualized terms, labels with scantily clad women - we've all seen this at some point or another and sighed, knowing that every single instance made women feel less welcome to participate.

The only solution is to make that kind of behavior unacceptable. You can't always change hearts and minds, but you can change behavior. No community can survive intact without moderation, because without filtering mechanisms the most boorish individuals will inevitably come to dominate. If we want to make the community inclusive, we're going to have to be a little bit exclusive. 
That doesn't mean dismissing people for the smallest infraction, it means that if people want to remain after making a mistake they have to be willing to own up and make genuine efforts to change. There will absolutely be a hue and cry, especially in the current political environment, but we have to make a choice. Opening up the community to the broadest possible slice humanity means that we can't keep the people who create an actively hostile environment around.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Madeira Review: Rare Wine Co Boston Bual

While malmsey was my introduction to madeira, bual was not far behind. While I wasn't overly impressed by Blandy's 5 Year Bual, this should be much older and hopefully more complex.

While not as sweet as a malmsey, this should be much sweeter than a verdelho or a sercial. This wine is fermented to more than 50 g but less than 100 g of residual sugar per liter, fortified, and aged in oak in a traditional canteiro system. The blend is put together from 85% bual grapes aged for 15-20 years with 15% tinta negra mole grapes aged for 40-60 years, then bottled at 19.5% ABV.

Rare Wine Co Boston Bual

Nose: big dried fruits, fresh grapes, raspberry, plum, melon, a sour top note, floral, a little fresh wood, soy sauce, and bubble gum

Taste: moderate grape sweetness up front, apples, pears, and berries in the middle, a moderately tart finish with tea tannins and lemon peel

Finish: a little thin, citric/vinegar tartness, grape sweetness, a little bit of vanilla roundness

This is definitely the transition point where the madeiras switch from being aperitifs to dessert wines. While there is still plenty of acidity to counterbalance the sweetness, it has firmly switched from being dry to sweet.

My first impression was that this was something of an awkward middle. It didn't quite seem to have the complexity of the sercial or verdelho, but it also didn't have the magnificent sweetness of a malmsey. Subsequent tastings have improved that impression, so I feel like it holds its own in the lineup. I can also see some parallels with the Blandy's Bual I mentioned above, though as I hoped this has more complexity. It makes a solid after dinner drink for a not overly rich meal.