Monday, February 12, 2018

Rant: "Experts" Making Mistakes

Who can you trust?

The issue of trust is front and center lately as the public tries to determine which news sources are accurate. This is not merely an issue that affects politics and science, but also includes the realm of alcoholic beverages. You'll find many people claiming to be an expert of spirits, wine or beer, but can you trust them? Are they providing you accurate information?

Recently, I received a digital review copy of a new guide to the world of spirits, covering a wide range of topics, from Bourbon to Pisco, Gin to Rum, Baijiu to Shochu. It was written by an alleged "spirits' expert," who has written for a number of national spirit & wine magazines. It seemed authoritative, the type of book many readers would trust.

However, as I skimmed through the book, choosing select chapters of interest, I was dismayed to find a number of factual errors which should have been caught. They weren't obscure issues that could be possibly forgiven the error. I didn't even finish the book because the errors made me mistrust the entire book. Why didn't this expert catch these errors? Was it a lack of knowledge? A failure to fact check?

Let me provide just a few examples of the errors I found.

The book states that Bourbon must be "aged in new, charred, white oak barrels." However, according to the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, 27 C.F.R. 5.22(b)(1)(i), bourbon must merely be aged in "charred new oak containers." There is no requirement that it be "white oak." It is a simple error yet something that any Bourbon "expert" should know. It is also very easy to check and verify.

As another example, the book states that basically "... all mezcal is tequila with some tweaks, all tequilas are definitely not mezcals, ..." However, Mezcal experts understand that Mezcal long predates Tequila and that actually, all Tequila is Mezcal but not all Mezcals are Tequila. This is the opposite of what is claimed in this new book. Tequila was simply a Mezcal from a specific place of origin. That is another easy fact, supported by numerous sources, and a spirits expert should not have made such an error.

Though the book is about Spirits, there is a chapter on Port Wine and this chapter has a significant error. It states "Port is a blend of five distinct grape varietals--Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinga Roriz, Tinta Cao, and Tinta Barroca." This is inaccurate as Port can be produced from over 100 different grapes and not just those five grapes. Those five grapes are certainly the most commonly used to make red Port, but they are not the only grapes used. In addition, White Port is generally made from white grapes, and not any of those five grapes. It would have been easy to edit the book's statement to be more accurate, mentioning that those five grapes are the most common, instead of making it seem definitive that only those five grapes are used.

It is disappointing that numerous readers will likely read this book and accept its information as accurate. Some writers may use this book as a research resource, further spreading its inaccurate information. Just because a book or article is from an alleged expert, you shouldn't automatically accept its veracity. You should verify your sources as best as you can. Fact check! And fact check again! You can't always trust an "expert."

1 comment:

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