Sunday, August 29, 2010


A critic, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is as follows:

1a:  one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique
    b one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances 

2. :  one given to harsh or captious judgment 

I put that there to remind us all what exactly a critic is. It was, some time ago, only relevant to the newspapers or magazines. You had your wine critics, your food critics, your movie critics, and your "insert noun here" critic. With the invention of the internet, many of these established critics have gone on to flex their opinions in the digital world. However, with the advent of the internet, it was quickly surmised that anyone could be a critic as long as they were willing to shell out a couple of bucks a month for a domain / hosting and a couple hours dedicated to writing. 

Critics have always bothered me. I have been in conversations with people about what my website is about and, during which, they ask "are you a critic?" I politely tell them no. I am rather an opinionated and curious journalist. This distinction is important. The reason why I refuse to dub myself under the "critic" moniker is because of #2 above in the definition of critic. To be a critic once meant exactly what #1 states: to give a reasoned opinion on a matter. It was done with courtesy and respect on both parties. Today, being a critic means the license to kill version of being a complete fucking asshole. And, in this two part rant, I'll explain why.

In the field that I'm in (beverages and cigars), there are so many out there that will absolutely lambaste products with absolutely no regard to anyone or anything. This breaks my goddamn heart. As you may already know by now (thanks to my gratuitious ranting), I'm going for my masters in Brewing and Distilling Science. In less than a week, actually. With the rough and cursory knowledge I've garnered from talking to people in the industry (both beverage and cigar), as well as visiting distilleries and shops, I know how much work goes into making the products we take for granted. That cigar you're smoking? That tobacco isn't a week old. It's not a month old. Not a year old. No. The tobacco in that cigar is probably older than your car. That tobacco was planted when Katrina first hit New Orleans. It was a wee babe when Pope John Paul II died. That tobacco is probably 5 years old. Someone, 5 years ago, had the foresight to plant the leaf that you're burning. The one that's burning.

Right. Now.

That cigar you're furiously typing up a scathing review of? The tobacco in it is older than some people. It is older than entire maternity wards. A generation may have been born during that cigar's lifetime. But you decide to be a dick.

That scotch you're drinking with it? That introductory level scotch you decided to try. Guess what? It was put into a barrel shortly after Microsoft 98 came out. It saw Google launch. The person that put it in a cask probably saw Saving Private Ryan the night before. That scotch, the one you're mulling over giving a 79 or an 80? It saw gas at $1.25 a gallon in the States. 

Critics, for the sake of objective review, ignore these things. They ignore the work, the planning. They refuse to take into effect the struggles it took to formulate the recipe or the blend. The work it took to get label approval. The fact that the whisk(e)y or cigar chosen was #126 of #334 blends or barrels. It's the equivalent of deeming a person moral or immoral just by looking at them. You are content to barely scratch the surface of a complex person; solely judging on face value. Many feel that this disassociation is necessary. I think that's bullshit. A critic can callously destroy years of work sitting in your office. With the swift stroke of a pen (or, realistically, a keyboard), a critic can annihilate years of work and planning. Entire lines of product can become financial disasters because a critic, say, smoked only an inch of the cigar (I'm looking at you, Cigar Aficionado), tossed it, and then gave it an 85. 

You probably don't believe me. You may think "give me proof". All in due time, my friends. All in due time. Check the next portion for some hard evidence. I'm bringing critics to trial.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting rant, although I'm left wondering "What is your alternative?" Should people think highly of a 15 year old Scotch even if it tastes like cheap moonshine? Should a crappy cigar be given a pass because it's a hand-made product and lots of people worked really hard on it? My work doesn't get judged by how hard I work on it, but by the end result. Big effort does not necessarily equal high quality.

    Of course, maybe the second half of your article will shed more light on the subject. Sounds like it could be a doozy...