Friday, 24 February 2017

Why I Will Start Rating Whisky

It's been a long time since I last published a post on this blog but now I'm back and there will be some changes. Over the course of the last few months I was thinking a lot about the state of whisky today and also the state of whisky blogging and there are a few things that are bothering me to a certain extent. Now note that this will not be a rant on what is wrong with whisky nowadays but there are a few points that I would like to address.

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


  1. Great article, Julian! I was just thinking the other day that I haven't heard much from you lately and voila, here you are in full force! I have a few thoughts and opinions, in no particular order! Whisky magazine comments that the tasters taste the sample by itself over the course of a week. I like this idea because as you said, you may have other factors affecting your opinion in any given moment. I know for myself, and I have asked others who also have this happen, sometimes my tasting is off and all I can taste is the alcohol. I will drink something I know I love and I can't find any good flavors! I also realized at one point that I was eating peppermint gum on the way to a tasting and that was throwing off everything! So yes, there are many factors that will make you taste the whisky differently. I love your main point, though, in that sometimes you don't know how good or bad something may be if you have no context in which you can put it. All tasting is ultimately subjective. I read an article once that said you should find a review of a whisky that matches what you think of that whisky and then see if that reviewer and you agree on others. This way you can find tasters and reviewers who have a similar palate and sensibility as you and when they review a whisky you are interested in, this may be the best chance you have of getting a good sense of it ahead of buying it if you can't taste it before you buy. My thoughts about writing honest reviews, and less than great reviews, is that you do lose credibility as a solid reviewer if you aren't giving less than good reviews sometimes. I could never be a reviewer because I can't handle having to give bad reviews. This is why I don't go in for sports or public competitions much because I always feel sorry for the losers. But I am so happy that not everyone feels the same way I do. We need all sorts of people in the world, and we need brave souls who are comfortable giving their honest opinions in a public way. It is a great service to the rest of us. Thank-you for stepping up and doing that. I do think that Social Media and blogs and comments on the internet get a bad reputation for meanness and bullying. I often hear this when I encourage people to join the whisky fabric. I am proud that we make an effort to be courteous and supportive. I think there is a way to express your opinions respectfully, and there is a difference in giving an honest review and just being mean. Finally, not all whisky bloggers are whisky reviewers. There is room for all kinds of whisky blogging. We get to make our blogs into whatever kind of forum we want! I support you in focusing your blog on rating whisky and sharing your opinions about it! I have no doubt it will be fascinating and informative. I have enjoyed your blog and opinions since the beginning and I am glad you are back! Thanks for devoting your time and energy to helping all of us enjoy more whisky! That is a terrific service to the whisky fabric, and the world.

  2. Ich finde eine Whisky zu bewerten irgendwie schon gut. Ich interessiere mich dabei nicht für die Punkte die vergeben worden sind. Am spannendsten finde ich wenn die Personen beschreiben was sie riechen und empfinden. Da kommen die Unterschiedlichsten Verkostungen heraus. Einer riecht Krankenhaus der andere Alte Socken oder sonstige Kuriose Dinge :-)
    Ich selber kaufe Whisky nicht nach Punkten sondern nach der Beschreibung eines Bloggers.

    Was ich aber sagen muss, das es auch spannend ist, wie verschiedene Renommierte Whisky Blogger einen Whisky bewerten z.B Ralfy und Serge

    Also bitte bewerte auch du deine Empfindungen bei der Verkostung und gib deine Punkte ab. Find ich spannend und ich werde sie alle lesen :-)