Before I start explaining you what is bothering me in the current world of whisky and especially blogging I will have to explain to you what why 2016 was an amazing year for me from a whisky point of view. It all started in January of 2016 when I discovered a Swiss online forum for whisky where likeminded people can discuss make bottle shares and chat over their shared interest which is of course the water of life. I immediately registered and like it is custom in said forum I opened a thread to say hello to everyone and to introduce myself. As a result I got a lot of reactions from people who introduced themselves to me and welcomed me to the forum. One of them even went to visit me in the whisky shop around a week afterwards which was really cool. Through the whiskyforum I learnt that a lot of those people regularly attend a tasting that takes place every 2 months. I then decided to attend this tasting too to get to know more people from the forum (and of course also because I love to go to whisky tastings).
The tasting was absolutely mindblowing and if you want to read more about it then read this write up. The coolest thing about it wasn't the official line up itself but that everyone took some samples of some of their own bottles with them to show to the others. A lot of the guys that I met that night are real enthusiasts who started drinking whisky a long time ago when you could get some absolutely amazing stuff for relatively little money. I liked the tasting so much that I now attend the events regularly too and hence I got to know a lot of people from the Swiss whisky scene whom I now also meet at events like the whisky ships in Zurich and Lucerne and other whisky related events. Through these connections and because of the amazing generosity of these people I got the chance to taste some absolutely legendary whiskies like Ardbegs distilled in the 70's, Brora, Port Ellen, old Springbanks, Tomatin and BenRiach distilled in 1976, Caperdonich distilled in 72, a lot of the amazing independently bottled Irish whiskeys distilled in 1991 and various other legendary sips.
Because of these whiskies that I was lucky enough to sample I started to realize that the whisky industry has changed a lot since the 70's. I am not saying that everything was better back then and I realize that because of the skyrocketing demand distilleries and bottlers aren't able to choose the absolute best from a vast number of well aged casks anymore but I think a lot of people that had the chance to try or even own such bottles will agree with me when I say there were more "legendary" (i.e. absolutely great) malts being produced back then. Also this is not intended as a rant about how bad whisky is nowadays (because I think there is still great juice being produced). My point is that by tasting these legendary bottlings I started to develop my palate and I also started to realize that not every whisky is that great.
This now brings me to the point that bothers me in the current world of whisky blogging. I don't want to generalize or to point my finger at someone but nowadays there are a lot of blogs that barely ever publish a bad review. This can be caused by different factors. One being that some bloggers seemingly almost exclusively review whiskies that they recieved as free samples from companies. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that a whisky blogger shouldn't accept free samples or that they will automatically write a favourable review for that sample that they got (which would be very hypocritical since I too have accepted free samples in the past and I will continue to but I want to make sure that only a small proportion of the whiskies that I taste are corporate sponsored) but I think it can get problematic if a blogger almost exclusively reviews stuff that he got from companies themselves and that he didn't acquire himself either as full bottle or as a dram or sample at an event or in a bottle share. (I also think there is a huge difference in recieving a sample from a company or from a friend). In my opinion bloggers that only review stuff they got for free from distilleries or bottling companies are more likely to write a good review (or one where they avoid saying that the product is bad) so they don't piss off this company.
Another reason for the lack of bad reviews could be the fact that some bloggers might not have been as lucky as I was and hence haven't had the chance yet to get to taste some legendary whiskies at an event, through a bottle share or through the generosity of others. I hope I don't sound arrogant or something and I certainly don't want to say that I have a better palate or nose as other bloggers, as a matter of fact the contrary is the case because of my young age my sense of taste hasn't yet fully developed. All I am suggesting is that maybe some bloggers just don't have that big of a horizon. A year ago when I haven't yet had the chance to sample those iconic whiskies I thought a lot of malts were great which in hindsight or by retasting them I now can't confirm anymore.
Last November a blogger that runs a quite successful page published an article where she wrote that if she doesn't like a whisky she doesn't publish the review but rather writes the provider of the sample what she didn't like about the product. The reason for this is that according to her she doesn't want to demolish the whisky in public. I totally agree with another blogger called Whisky Rover who said in his article relating to the exact same topic that "Simply sticking your head in the sand and refusing to acknowledge the existence of poor or mundane whiskies isn’t a valid approach".
In my opinion the most important virtues of a blogger are honesty and transparency. Be it to declare that a sample for a review was provided by a company or to have the guts to write a bad review if the product is in your opinion in fact bad. In a time when people and especially bloggers are calling for more transparency in the industry it is of utmost importance that a blogger is courageous enough to stand up for his opinion even if it means that he might hurt some feelings. After all it is the very nature of a blog that they are the personal opinion of someone and the author should have the pride and self esteem to value his opinion enough to publish it.
As a result of these thoughts I decided that to make my opinion more transparent I will from now on start to rate the whiskies that I am reviewing. Rather than just giving my tasting notes and overall thoughts I will provide points on a scale from 1-100. This is the system that I think is being used the most and I don't want to reinvent the wheel. Of course I am fully aware that this system has its flaws. For example you won't see a lot of whiskies being rated below 70 points and even less below 50 but the strength of the system is in my opinion to compare different whiskies if you put a focus on the range from 75 to 95. Also it might be true that how I will rate a whisky might depend from different external factors like the mood that I am in, what I have tasted before and even what I ate on that day. Therefore it is important to note that this rating is a mere snapshot and that if I revisit the whisky I may come to a different conclusion. Nevertheless I think (or at least hope) that I am capable of maintaining a certain consistency and that over the course of time you readers will be able to understand what I am trying to say with a certain rating. I just feel that I will be more capable to give a transparent opinion on products that I try and furthermore make my reviews comparable.
Please tell me how you feel about rating whisky and if you agree or disagree with the views that I expressed in this article.
Slainte mhath, U