How I assess whisky

In the interest of providing some backdrop to the scores I give and the notes I write, I thought I’d give some insight into what whisky I like, how I arrive at my scores, what I find important in whisky and the assessment of whisky and where my bias lies. I will keep this page up to date with my current views, as they do tend to change over time.

Scoring

I score on a scale of 1-100, but follow the widely used version of this system premièred by whisky writer Michael Jackson, which means that I rarely score below 70 and very rarely score above 93. When tasting a whisky, I first narrow a score down to a range, then try to find the exact spot in that range which the whisky I’m tasting inhabits. The ranges are as follows:

0-60: Very poor quality, low complexity, very poor balance, not pleasant to drink (though it may still be interesting)

61-70: Poor quality, low complexity, poor balance, bland or mildly unpleasant.

71-80: Decent quality, low to average complexity, average balance, basically pleasant.

81-84: High quality, average to high complexity, well-balanced, pleasant.

85-89: Very high quality, high complexity, well-balanced, very pleasant.

90-93: Extremely high quality, very high complexity, well-balanced, extremely pleasant.

93+: The best the whisky world has to offer. Mead of the gods.

In these scores, there are two largely subjective terms (quality and pleasantness) and two more objective ones (complexity and balance). I tend to let the balance and complexity determine the score within 2-3 points, then fine-tune it based on the more subjective ‘gut-feeling’ terms, which are essentially saying: ‘How much do I like this?’.

Extreme values on one term may compensate for a lack of another (a highly complex dram which is totally unbalanced may still score in the high 80s based on the complexity, for instance).

Bias

While I try to compensate for my bias (at least that which I am aware of) in my scoring, I feel it is beneficial to you, my reader, to know where my personal preferences lie. This way you can better place my notes and scores within your own frame of reference. The below picture is painted in very broad strokes, there are always exceptions, and often these are the whiskies I like most.

Maturation

I have a pretty universal like for all types of whisky, but tend to prefer ex-bourbon-matured whiskies to ex-sherry-matured ones.

Age

On average, I prefer whiskies in the range of 15-25 years old. Older whiskies (especially sherry-matured ones) often have too much tannin dryness for my taste. Compared to others I give good younger whiskies (and even new make) above-average scores.

Peat / smoke

On a whole I find (especially younger) peated whiskies tend to have less complexity than non-peated, which is why I tend to score them slightly lower. Older peated whiskies, on the other hand (where the peat has receded somewhat to reveal more complex flavours), I tend to score on par with their non-peated brethren.

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