How everyone evaluates whisky–and the concequencesOctober 6th, 2009
Several of my blog postings have lead to drifts in the comment thread to how whiskies are evaluated, including my posting here yesterday on Jim Murray’s “World whisky awards for 2010”.
Let’s get it out in the open and discuss it.
There are A LOT of people reviewing and rating whiskies–more now than ever, thanks to the explosion of whisky blogs, forums, tweets, podcasts, videos, etc. Problem is, we all review whiskies differently, and HOW we review whisky has a big impact on our ratings and opinions of whiskies.
Is there a right or wrong way to evaluate whisky? Can you really evaluate a whisky properly if you are just nosing your way through a hundred samples without tasting (like blenders do), or if you are evaluating a dozen or more whiskies and just spitting without swallowing (lik many reviewers do and many spirits competitions necessitate)?
Can you be unbiased if you don’t taste blind? Should you review a whisky in groups of a whisky peers or by itself? Should you assign a rating to every aspect of the review (e.g. 25 points for aroma, 25 points for taste, etc.) or is it best to give it one overall score at the end? Should you use a 100 point scale? 10 point scale? No scale at all?
Since I always try to be open and honest with you (and more approachable than other whisky writers), I will tell you how I rate whiskies. Is it perfect? No. It’s just the way I do it and have been doing it for years. I’m sure that some of you won’t be happy with some aspects of it, and I’m okay with that.
I always try to taste a whisky at least twice before rating a whisky. This means I won’t be reviewing as many whiskies as some other reviewers, but that’s okay with me. The first time I taste a whisky is probably just like the way you taste a whisky. I pour myself a measure, nose it, taste it, and drink a little bit of it. This give me a general overall impression of the whisky, whether I like it or not, how much I like it (or dislike it), and why. I’ll usually jot down some general notes.
Then, at a later date, I’ll review it more formally. I’ll line up this whisky with a group of its peers (or previous bottlings from that distillery) and review it at the same time as my other formal reviews, in the same room as my other formal reviews, using the same nosing glasses as my other formal reviews. There’s usually no more than a half dozen whiskies.
I nose and taste the whisky at bottle strength, jot down my thoughts, and combine them with my notes from the first tasting. Then I add water to the whisky and repeat the process. Finally, I rate the whisky. (As you can see, I don’t usually taste blind, and I know that some of you disagree with that.)
Oh, and one final note about how I review whiskies: I try to keep my tasting notes very simple and straight-forward without a lot of fancy words and descriptor. (Okay, sometimes I get a little carried away.) This is by design. I feel that reviews are supposed to help you, not alienate you.
So, lets hear what you have to say. Speak up.
(Note: If you already posted your thoughts on this topic on a different comment thread previously, if it is pertinent here, please feel free to re-post your thoughts here.)