Why Editors Should Fact Check Whiskey Stories

My first bourbon story appeared in Successful Meetings in 2007. My first big bourbon interview was with Ed O’Daniel, then-president of the Kentucky Distillers Association. It started my career in the right direction.

I’m proud that I didn’t make too many boneheaded bourbon errors. But, in some other early writings, I took marketing myths hook, line and sinker and believed the unbelievable legends. But, I learned from my colleagues and studied the spirit I dearly love.

So, I’m a little more forgiving than many of my colleagues when it comes to factual errors in the mainstream media.

When the New York Times spelled Scotch whisky with an “e,” the famous newspaper was inundated with letters and emails for the misspelling. And when magazines or bloggers say bourbon must be two-years-old or can only be made in Kentucky, whiskey lovers jeer them on Twitter.

Although many blogs and newspaper articles inundate the Web with incorrect whiskey definitions, I encourage editors to seek the original government sources for fact checking vs. a blog or Wikepedia. And furthermore, despite how confident the handle-barred mustache bartender sounds, he may not always be right either.

Whiskey is becoming so popular that editors should judge whiskey words more like wine writing.

Although they are fewer, wine editors remain employed by newspapers and magazines. And the mainstream editors fact check wine stories harder than whiskey; take my 2009 Bankrate.com article on value wines, for example, where my editor filled my inbox with questions: “Am I correct then in understanding that there is no ‘Bordeaux’ grape? That all Bordeaux’s are blends …. and yet they can be reds or whites?”

Yet, in whiskey, editors let many errors pass without asking a question. They’ll misspell the origin’s whisk(e)y and refuse to capitalize bourbon, saying such spelling would be marketing for the spirit. Last time I checked, bourbon was declared America’s spirit in 1964. We capitalize the Declaration of Independence. Why can’t editors capitalize our cherished national spirit? I’ve lost the bourbon capitalization point so many times that I just gave up.

Inevitably, when I work with mainstream editors, I spend as much time educating their inquisitive minds on the product as I do implementing their edits. I love this part of my job, and I hope I’ve educated a few.

But, with whiskey’s growth, features and newspaper editors must take a proactive approach in understanding the grammatical, factual and historic nuances of whiskey and whisky. This category means something to its enthusiasts. We read about the history and expect to learn or at least not be misled by poorly written stories.

I encourage editors of every level to buy respected, well-reviewed spirits books as a desk reference. If you have the Food Lover’s Companion to fact check “foie gras” or Robert Parker wine books to compare Bordeaux’s AOCs, why not add a whiskey book to your collection?

It’s time we treat whiskey like food and wine, where good writing prevails and errors are not tolerated. In the end, a whiskey error equals a lost whiskey reader.

Stay In Touch!

7 Replies to “Why Editors Should Fact Check Whiskey Stories”

  1. Funny that you write about the capital “B” today. At a bourbon dinner I attended last Wednesday, one writer in attendance asked Fred Noe about the “B”, saying that Booker once told her that it was “the law” that the letter be capitalized. Fred was mystified, allowing that he didn’t use a capital and had never heard his late father say it was the law.

    If Fred Noe doesn’t capitalize, what chance have any of the rest of us with editors who still want to put an “e” into Scottish whisky?

  2. At Whisky Advocate, we don’t capitalize bourbon OR scotch, unless “scotch” is followed by “whisky.” We consider both as generic descriptors of their type.

    Heck Fred, you don’t even capitalize it in this post! Love the blog, BTW, and just discovered it recently.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Sam. In my Whisky Advocate stories, I file using the magazine’s style. I don’t think I’ve ever filed with a “B” spelled bourbon. But, I’ve trained myself to follow my clients’ styles. With that said, those styles even show up in my blog writing, which is why I didn’t use Bourbon here. This capitalization of Scotch & Bourbon comes from previous proper noun debate I had as an editor. I believe breeds of cattle, like Angus and Hereford, should be capitalized and so should spirits categories because their importances warrants proper noun usage, which simply means that the word’s primary application refers to a unique entity. Is Bourbon not unique?

      Of course, like you said, I didn’t even use Bourbon here. In my defense, the editor’s pen has beat me down. 🙂

      And, Whisky Advocates and Whisky Magazines of the world are not the editors who need to fact check whiskey stories. They don’t let misinformation pass. Well, heck, you know that!

      I’m mostly talking about the features editors who let poor information pass as facts, such as bourbon must be aged two years and only comes from Kentucky. This post originated from a non-whiskey editor asking me really hard questions about a story that will soon be published. Between his questions and a friend talking about how poorly non-whiskey writers write about whiskey, I realized whiskey is not treated like wine. I think the greatest example is the New York Times article using “Whiskey” for Scotch.

      In wine, even an average features editor knows to double grape spellings, AOCs and terroirs. They thoroughly research before publication and let each region’s spelling dictate the spelling in an article. Take Tempranillo, for example. This grape In most parts of Spain, Tempranillo is the spelling for the grape, but in La Mancha it’s Cencibel. In Portugal, Tempranillo is called Tinta Roriz. My point is two fold. Grapes are almost always capitalized, and editors would double check a Spanish Tinta Roriz and catch a possible error or find a rogue Spanish Tempranillo producer.

      Perhaps, my spelling of Scotch and Bourbon was not the best example for this rant. But, how many errors do you see in features articles published in non-whiskey publications? All I’m saying is the fact checkers are all over wine stories, but they’re nowhere to be found for mainstream whiskey pieces.

  3. My own personal preference (and therefore, the style we use at WhiskyCast.com) is to capitalize Bourbon and Scotch, just as one would capitalize Bordeaux, Chardonnay, Reisling, and the different wine types and regions. Before anyone goes through the site and starts nit-picking, though…that’s a recent decision and follow-up copy editing is still underway on older pieces. 😉

  4. Hi Fred,

    Hmmm . . . for whisky and whisky I see absolutely NO difference. Just different ways to spell the same word with o nuance of meaning. If you write for a US publication spell it whiskey if you want, for a British one, whisky. The Scotch Whisky Act for a long time spelled it whiskey. I haven’t checked recently so perhaps it still does. Many official Scottish government documents use the “e” spelling also, and some use both spellings. Irish distillers used both spellings until all but one of them went out of business. Bourbon is unique to the US now but it wasn’t always.

    Once we standardize (standardise?) storey/story, cheque/check, flavor/flavour, tire/tyre we can worry about the spelling of whisky. To me it is just a bit too precious and I think the NYT was wrong to let their readers browbeat them into declaring no e for Scotch.

    See my ancient rant on this subject here: http://www.canadianwhisky.org/news-views/let’s-call-the-whole-thing-off.html

  5. Well, boys and girls, it may well be that not all bourbon comes from Kentucky. We don’t dispute that since it doesn’t matter. The only fact that matters is that all good bourbon comes from Kentucky.

Comments are closed.