2 examples are:
(89) Balvenie Port Wood 21yo 43% Speyside It gets points for age
Color: Deep amber/copper
Nose: Dusty leather, Apricot, wet horse, bourbon-y spice
Palate: Over ripe fruit, oak, stale wheat, vanilla extract
Finish: Super-rich, walnut aftertaste
Quote: This is my first “aged” malt, meaning over 20 years old. If they all have this old shoe leather and rotten fruit profile I think I’ll stick to the 15 to 18 range. You can taste quality, but over ripe bananas are only good for nut bread, so I don’t see me treating myself to this often. Distinct, yes, but not at all my style. Revise: A special quality that has continued to impress with time.
As you can see I enjoyed discovering it's qualities, but I rarely reach for it. Next:
(90) Mortlach 10yo C/S Hart Brothers (’89-’99) 58.8% abv Highland Whoa, what a kicker. Replace soon!
Nose: Lemon zest, grassy, cotton candy, banana cream, sherry. mustard, herbal
Palate: Sweet, peppermint, hot middle, tangy rush, caramel, charred wood
Body: Thin, fading
Finish: Powerhouse, clean, sappy, numbing, grassy, but not at all bitter
Quote: The cleanest palate ever and not the usual bitter finish that goes with most young, clean malts. I can get used to this one even at these C/S levels. Revise: taking on the characteristics of a strong Clynelish. Revise2: Loving the balance and complexity. Definitely a favorite.
Yes, I know, there is only 1 point difference between these, but the way I discribe them is totally different. I didn't realize until I reread some notes that I had a passion in some and not in others although they scored very similar. Knowing full well that this is subjective and not all that important, I thought I'd make my first poll a confusing one to spark opinions, so fire away.
Take Macallan for example. I love Macallan, and I generally love good sherried malts. I will reach for it on the shelf, because I'm attracted to that particular flavour profile.
I have recently conducted fairly serious assessments of the Macallan Fine Oak 12 and 18 year olds. It would have been far too easy to pick the sherry in these bottlings and score them highly because (a) they were Macallan, and (b) the flavour profile didn't waiver far from something I like.
But.....I didn't actually think they were particularly great whiskies. Sure, they were okay, but they weren't great, and that is precisely what my preconceived preference would have otherwise led me to think.
So in the end, I scored them down considerably - they were scored on their own merits, rather than relative to how good I think a sherried whisky should be, or relative to how good I think a "Macallan" should be.
First of all, I don't really "rate" whiskies--that is, I don't score them. I like them, I really like them, I really really like them, I don't like them, I could take or leave them.... But I could not for the life of me say that this whisky is an 84 and that one is an 87, and therefore that one is three points better than this one.
I don't see how it could possibly be not subjective. Even in the example you give, Admiral, you are still rating on the basis of what you believe is or is not a good whisky. It's your opinion.
You can quantify and qualify all the "objective" criteria you want. De gustibus non est disputandum.
I take it that none of us is a professional whisky writer nor is there a master blender among us.
So: How should we be objective in evaluating a whisky? We all have sampled our share of the whiskies of the world and we have given them a rating somehow even if it is just "like it" or "don´t like it". I just don´t see how you can take out your personal preferences out of this process. I would venture to say that even a professional taster can not do this. He or she might come to a objective evaluation of any whisky or drink thrown at them but that comes from training alone. I think if you ask the professionals "You gave whisky xyz 88 points, so you think it is pretty good. But did you like it?" the answer could often be "No."
In my line of business you learn that try as you may there is no such thing as objectivity. All you can hope for is consistency, meaning that the bias you have stays within constant parameters and does not oszilate too much. What you can do is practicing and learning how to reduce this bias. At the end of this process, as far as it can go, you may be connoisseur or even a master blender. But there is no way of getting the personal bias down to zero.
Because of that we have no reason to despair if the whiskies we love keep changing on us.
I try to be analytic to a certain point, but then my personal opinion gets very much involved.
But then ratings perhaps should be just 'personal'. Perhaps if 99 out of 100 rates a whisky high, it can be relevant. Still, sometimes I find totaly overrated whisky out there. And the score should be set after a blind tasting, so the lable doesn't affect your opinion.
I've noticed that some of the popular brands very often get high scores. Could this be a result of the sheeps following the shepard??
Well, why do you think they're popular?
Sometimes, (not always) just because some guru said they were good, and all the sheep followed...
I think people are afraid to think for themselves sometimes.
Take the Islay-phenomenon for an example....
When I started to drink whisky, Islay wasn't that popular. They have a boom right now, but I think it's as much marketing as for good whisky. No one back in the days started to buy a Ardbeg or a Lagavulin. They begun in Speyside. (Probably marketing as well)
And Lowlanders? Some people doesn't even now they exist, even though some of the finest whiskies origin from that region.
So, as a conclusion, my belief is that sometimes the label gives some whisky a better reputation than it deserves.
When judging a whisky (or anything else for that matter) one is always subjective, no matter what one tries to be. Taste is individual, and so the results will differ from person to person. I found that many whiskies that have been highly marked by experts such as Michael Jackson, Dave Broom and others don't agree with me at all.
One should allways be careful while reading tasting-scores by other people - sample the whiskies and make up your own minds.
As for marketing. I don't think the Islay-phenomena was purely marketing (although Laphroaig's No half measure helped), but for me the good 'ol Laphroaig was a perfect entry malt, nonsens - a simple, clean and crips flavour without the enormous depth som whiskies have. I used to say I didn't like Speysides until I went to the Speyside-festival the first time (the Speyside-assortement in Norway at that time was ludicrus to say the least), but now I just as often reach for a Mortlach, Linkwood or Aberlour as for a Laphroaig or Ardbeg. (Note: during the long, cold Norwegian winter this changes and the hot, peaty drams are preferred).
I totally agree that the longer and the more you taste whisky, you get more and more subjective. If you know in what type of cask a whisky has matured and you know how that cask influences the taste you are already biased before you even nosed the dram. Just by knowledge alone!
It was one of first things that shocked me when reading JM Whisky Bible, he states there that with his experience he has certain expectations for certain malts. Initially I figured that was as subjective as can be, but then I started to realize there is no way to get round this!
However, You can still try to stay objective and score on quality of the malt itself then by your own personal standards. It is only hard in the beginning when you have no material to compare, but when you have sampled alot of different malts you do have material to compare and a quality measure you can use with any malt.
An example: I scored the Glenfiddich 30Y old quite high, even though i personally dont particularly like the taste. From time to time that makes me wonder if i was correct in rating it that high and i resample it; but everytime the opinion is the same: though it is not my favorite flavor, it IS a very good whisky!
Therefore I voted that i score as objective as i can and rate a whisky on its own merits. If I didnt, then all my notes and scores would be useless from the second my own personal taste makes another evolution.
Wow! Why would I every drink anything else?
Great whiskey! Always have a bottle open!
Great whiskey. Try to always have a bottle on hand.
Good whiskey. Try to have a bottle on hand. If it is on special, buy a bottle.
Good whiskey, but no hurry about replacing it.
Good whiskey. If offered it I wouldn't turn it down. I might buy a bottle again someday.
Good whiskey, if nothing else is available.
Okay whiskey, but is there any beer? (Not that I don't sometimes prefer a good beer to whiskey.)
Um. No thank you.
I sometimes use the word "Stellar." That would cover the top three. "Wonderful" would include number four. "Really good" would include number five maybe six.
There are a few side ratings. In no particular order.
Hmm. I don't know.... I am still thinking about it.
I really like it, but this or that bothers me about it.
I really liked it when I got it but there it sits, unvisited.
Great stuff when I am in the mood for it, but undrinkable otherwise.
Too precious to drink. (There a whole host of reasons for this that I won't get into here.)
First impression is that I don't like it, but it is starting to grow on me.
First impression, I like/love it! Second and third impression, what was I thinking? Well, better try it again...
As to tasting notes, I am hesitant to post them. I am so focused on the subjective enjoyment of the pour that I often don't want to try to tease out the various flavors. It is the balance and interaction of flavors and scents that interest me most, rather than the presence of a particular flavor. I would like to be able to better identify the component sensory data someday, but it isn't that important to me.
Reading other peoples tasting notes is sometimes interesting, but fundamentally frustrating. I feel that the dominate notes are often passed over and the haunting hints of almost subliminal whatchamacallit get the most attention. And that is fine. That is all part of the fun of teasing out the flavors in your glass. I do it too, on occasion, and enjoy looking for those notes when they are pointed out by others. However, the dominate notes should always be mentioned and named as such. Progressively fainter notes should be mentioned as well, but their relative strength should also be noted.
My two cents.
I like your system and I probably would use something similar if it were on a smaller scale, but I got overwhelmed in a hurry by the discrete differences and length of stay for some bottles that I had to start documenting things or I would forget what I thought about this or that last year. I never, ever thought I would be a precise note taker, but here I am completely absorbed by this. Now, it's just something fun to do whenever I open a new bottle. I understand those who don't wish to get that extreme with it and just enjoy there dram, but for me it has become an integral part of the process.
Also, my 2 examples above kinda explain why I started this thread, you can be objective and descibe something in a positive manner even though you don't necessarily prefer the style. Ratings be damned!
I like your system and I probably would use something similar if it were on a smaller scale, but I got overwhelmed in a hurry by the discrete differences and length of stay for some bottles that I had to start documenting things or I would forget what I thought about this or that last year.
Smaller scale? Well, if I hadn't gotten involved in maundering on about it it would have been smaller in scale!
As to getting caught up in the detail side of things and writing it all down so you can remember it all, well, I should be doing that too. It is still early days for me. I have been investigating a fairly large array of whiskies, but for a rather short time. Who knows what I will be doing in a year? I certainly hope to be able to trace the flavors out in greater detail. Still, I expect my "ranking" system to remain largely intact.
Wow! Great! Really good! Pretty good. Good. I can drink it. Um, no thank you.
Ps. When I read Jim Murray's notes I am always referring back to the verbal descriptions inside the front cover to see what he really means!
As for tasting notes, I greatly enjoy reading them, but also get frustrated at my inability to perceive all the subtle flavors and scents. I get the big things, for the most part, but I really cannot tease out the minor notes. I simply do not get coconut in Springbank, chocolate in Ardbeg, etc. So this means my enjoyment of a whisk(e)y is like enjoying a painting in a museum or listening to a symphony orchestra: I enjoy the whole, mostly as a whole, and do not dissect it into quantifiable pieces. No problem if other people do so and enjoy it: I envy that. And the Malt Maniacs web site is fanatic about assigning numbers to malts, which I quite enjoy reading. But I also enjoy just being in the moment with the whisk(e)y and not having to know everything about what makes it tick as a "tincture of oak." For a chemist, that is a sweet blessing in itself.
Great posts in this thread, but Ed's is so dead on my own modus operandi as to be amazing. Thanks! Ed V.
From now on, my rating of any given whisky will be "It's got a good beat, you can dance to it, and I give it a 95."
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