Tasting Notes and Marks

Reviews on this blog will, in general, use the reviewing scheme adopted by the LA Whisk(e)y Society. Tasting notes are broken into three categories: Nose, Palate, and Finish.

As for marks, I use roughly the same metric that LAWS does:

  • A+ Perfection.
  • A: Almost perfect. At the right price, buy two bottles.
  • A-: Excellent. Seek out.
  • B+: Great. Own it at least once.
  • B: Good. Should probably own once
  • B-: Good. Worth buying a sample bottle. Range from good one-dimensional whiskies to complex-but-rough-on-delivery whiskies.
  • C: Either boring neat, or somewhat complex with a rough delivery and one or two off notes. Maybe worth buying a sample bottle. A fine drink if you don’t want to think too much about it.
  • D: Unpleasant neat. Would probably be a fine mixer. Would probably pass as a cooking scotch. 
  • F: Awful. Avoid, even if free. Would spoil food if used to cook with.

It may seem like a coarse metric, when compared to the 0-100 scale that Ralfy, connsr.com, and All Things Whisky (among others) use, but I find it does the same job. I’ve used the 0-100 metric before, and found that the difference between an 89 and a 90 seems negligible and hard to discern the difference. Grades at that margin, for my level of whisky experience, could (and have) varied based on the mood I was in. It seems to me, too, that a number of reviewers tend to mark almost exclusively in the 80-95 range, and so the classic alphabetized rankings seem to give the same level of variation.

I should also note that my whisky grades for a particular whisky vary as a try more of it, so I tend to avoid giving a grade until I’ve had at least a few drams, as it can take some time to learn how a whisky is best enjoyed. For a good example of this, see the Springbank 12 Claret Finish review. There are reviews based on a single tasting (some, of whiskies that I have no intention of owning) and these are in italics in the rankings section.

For students who read this who are not yet in Graduate school, (i.e. to those who think marks still matter) a B may seem like a rather mediocre grade. To further clarify, anything that gets at least a B-, I recommend that everyone probably own at least a sample bottle once to try it (considering that I believe a real honest try takes at least a 20cl sampling bottle). Anything B+ and higher, I’d strongly recommend owning a 70cl bottle to enjoy the full experience that a few drams of this whisky will take you on.

One important thing to remember, too, is that the tasting notes are the most important part of a review (as Ralfy has so elegantly put it, many times over). I’ve found the Laphroaig Quarter Cask rated at the equivalent of a B- in several places, where as  I’ve seen A- in other places (closer to my personal rating). This usually leans on whether the reviewer likes the briny, licoricy peat or not. Thus, if the notes suggest flavours you’d like to find in a whisky, then (provided that you don’t find overwhelming data that the whisky is a solid D,) it’s probably worth trying, even if it’s rated a C+. As an example, I like Auchentoshan 12, while many people find it too simple.

I have kept one tradition of the academic grading system, and that’s that low marks need very little variation. Once they’re in the and ranges, they’re not really worth drinking neat, so I’m not going to spend much time differentiating between them. The notes on these are far less complex either by nature of the whisky, or lack of desire on my part to afford it the attention it requires to actually characterize all the unpleasant features.

Lastly, price is important, but it is not reflected so much in my rankings. That is, a C+ for an inexpensive bottle like Glenfiddich is a good buy, especially for a daily dram. On the other hand, $120 for a B Edradour would probably be a poor choice against a B- Ardmore Traditional Cask (~$45)—that is, if price is an issue.

A tasting-note-free ranking of my marks is available in the “Rankings” section so you can get a sense for my overall palate preferences, and match it to yours.

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