When reading about whisky awards these days it’s easy to take them with a pinch of salt. There are so many now it can be difficult to determine which are relevant. So when reading that the blended Queen Margot 8 year old whisky from supermarket Lidl had won something, it barely registered with me.
But something was different. More articles appeared, plus numerous pieces of commentary on my Facebook feed about the humble £13.50 bottle of Queen Margot. Non-whisky friends even asked my opinions – had I tried it? Was it ‘really the best in the world?’ Uh-oh, I thought, we have yet more fake whisky news.
Firstly, to define ‘best’ is tricky. My version of ‘best’, be it whisky or anything else, will differ from yours due to personal preference. At the prestigious World Whisky Awards (the competition in question) this whisky did the best in its product category (Blended Scotch Under 12 Years). But that does not necessarily mean it is the best, nor ‘the best whisky in the world’.
Competitions like the World Whisky Awards are arguably the most accurate of any. The judges are industry experts – whisky distillers, master blenders and writers – who know their whisky and which qualities elevate one above another. Everything is tasted blind to avoid brand bias and is marked to strict criteria.
Therefore, you cannot deny that Queen Margot did well to beat off significant competition, including big household names, to win its category. But let us get something straight – it did not win the Best Whisky prize or even the Best Blended Scotch. Both are still to be announced at a big awards ceremony.
So what happened? Lidl sent out a press release announcing their whisky had done well in the competition. Nothing wrong with that – many whisky brands do similar.
Someone spotted that a budget whisky from a budget supermarket had beaten well-known names. Cue the lazy journalism: the online stories crucially failed to mention it was simply a category win within the competition, more people read and reacted, and suddenly the original facts had morphed into Queen Margot being the best whisky in the world. To be fair, Lidl responded well and reiterated the original information.
Lazy journalism, where zero research seemingly takes place and full stories are not explained, bugs me. Something is essentially created out of nothing and then sensationalised into something to drive people to websites, articles or social media accounts. Surprisingly big publishing names were guilty of this regarding Queen Margot.
This is not the first time we have seen similar laziness in recent times – when the influential Jim Murray announced a Japanese whisky as his annual Whisky of the Year proclamations that the Scotch whisky industry was dead were dished out all too easily. The same happened when a Canadian whisky won the same accolade a couple of years later.
Some argue that any stories about whisky are good exposure and help to highlight the drink to a wider non-whisky audience. This story has certainly done that and sales of Queen Margot have reportedly skyrocketed. Others say they are fake news and clever marketing ploys by PR agencies employed by a brand.
Only you as the reader can decide what you believe. Sadly, lazy journalists will never make that an easy decision for you.