Making the most of it
This time last year, the thought of organising an online tasting wouldn’t have crossed my mind, says Bob Wenting (pictured above), SMWS brand ambassador for Benelux. Then, of course, a small virus radically changed the world. So how has he coped and what has he learned from moving to a virtual whisky environment?
MAIN PHOTOS: 1923 CREATIVE AGENCY
The pandemic has made physical tastings the exception rather than the rule and born out of necessity, we started organising online tastings and club meetings a little less than a year ago.
Now, looking back at the strangest of years, it feels like time to take stock. What is it like to do online tastings and meetings? Is it less fun? Will I keep on doing online tastings when things go back to ‘normal’? Do I miss the physical tastings?
NO SUBSTITUTE FOR REAL LIFE
Let’s start with the last one – and as you probably won’t be surprised to know, it’s a definitive YES! I miss the physical tastings, the festivals and more generally the direct contact with the members on all of those occasions. I miss going to a partner bar, meeting members there and welcoming guests with the owner and staff. New faces and old acquaintances. I miss having casual chats and then slowly start the tasting.
The smell of the first whisky being poured. Tasting the whisky and spirits together and experiencing the direct reactions of people. From pure ecstasy to grumbles of disagreement. People agreeing on tasting notes or passionately arguing. The buzz of a room full of people talking together about the dram they are tasting. And then talking together afterwards, welcoming new members, established members “fishing” to see if there is any news about the Society and bottlings to come. In short: I miss all of you people enormously!
ARE ONLINE TASTINGS LESS FUN?
I wouldn't say that. They are different, for lack of a better word. They are more focused on the subject, so sometimes a little less spontaneous, but certainly no less fun. And although chatting is a bit more challenging, and I cannot hear the buzz, I have noticed that members have found their own solutions for this and, for example, discuss the whiskies together in app groups during a tasting. Or they react online via the social channels.
Getting together online has also created new opportunities. During the Friday afternoon drinks we organise monthly, members from all over Benelux meet online, without having to factor in the expense or time it takes to travel, and joining us in a very relaxed manner. The online tastings via social media reach many more people than the physical tastings. And, in addition, we’ve been able to hold online tastings that we could not physically have organised in the same form – the online blind tasting in December and January as an example. And the Friday afternoon drinks, where all members from Benelux are welcome and can easily connect, would be more difficult to realise physically than online.
THE FUTURE ONLINE
I sincerely hope that 2021 will be a marked improvement on 2020 and that we will be able to physically get together again. Of course, in a safe way and hopefully fairly carefree. Getting together online is ultimately not a match for old-fashioned live chatting about whisky and other topics in a partner bar, and really meeting people!
But having said that, I think I would also like to keep a few things. The online Friday afternoon drinks have ensured that I have met members I might not have met otherwise and, to be honest, I look forward to it every time. So, it really adds something. For members who have not yet tried it, please feel very welcome to join a VrijMiBo* or online tasting. It might be easier and more fun than you think. And whatever life throws at us – we have to try and make the best of it.
* Vrijmibo is a very civilised Dutch tradition meaning ‘vrijdag middag borrel’ which translates to ‘Friday afternoon alcoholic drinks’. The Benelux VrijMiBo Friday afternoon drinks are announced in newsletters and on social media. It’s members only, so you have to register in advance through an online form, which you can find on the Benelux Facebook page