Tasting Notes and Scoring for Scotch Whiskey
When in the store shopping for something to sip on later that day, many of us might encounter a bottle that has a tag or sticker on it that says something similar to "93 points" or "Awarded 94 Points in 2019!". For the majority of the daily shopper, this really doesn't tell us much; what does 90-something points tell me about a bottle of alcohol when I don't actually have any idea what it means? Well the answer is quite simple, although the process behind it is slightly more complex. It's really all about tasting notes and scores to judge the spirit's characteristics.
Tasting notes and scores help us tell you what we really think of a whiskey, whether it's a new release, an old favorite or a rare bottling. Tasting is different to drinking. Tasting involves the painstaking analysis of the aromas, flavors and texture of a whiskey. This process takes a lot of time.
- Nose and taste neat. Take notes.
- Add water and repeat the process. Give an initial grading. Take a break.
- Re-taste. Experience shows that there will always be one or two whiskies, overlooked in the first pass, that come steaming up on the rails.
- Nose and taste once more, then give conclusions.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
POSITIVES: balance, complexity and character. If it’s a single malt, is the distillery character still in evidence? All whiskies should have these elements.
NEGATIVES: everything which actively removes balance, complexity and character. For example, immaturity (aka Knackered Cask Syndrome), over-cooking (too much oak), butyric (the smell of baby sick), soapiness.
THE RATING SYSTEM
98 – 100 (A+) = TOP SHELF - Number One
This is whiskey heaven where nearly every human sense is satisfied and, unless it’s a perfect 100, you have to really search and nit-pick for something wrong with this whiskey because it’s so on point.
93 – 97 (A) = EXCEPTIONAL – Superior in Every Way
These are some of the best of the best and within spitting distance of bliss. They embody everything that this sub-category of hard liquor is all about and then they take it to the next level. These are the most popular spirits due to the fact that they are high quality, great tasting and they fit your budget better.
90 – 92 (A-) = EXCELLENT – Draws You In for More!
Whiskeys achieving this rating are especially awesome. Delicious and complex, loaded with flavor and very affordable, these tend to be some of the most commonly purchased spirits. For daily drinkers, this would be the category of scoring that I would recommend.
87 – 89 (B+) = GREAT – The Go-To Bottle
Sometimes a drinker has to make a quick emergency run to the corner store and can't get his or her favorite brand of alcohol. What's the fall back? This category would fit nicely! There's room for improvement in this section, but the great part of it is, the majority of whiskeys in this section are not craft whiskeys or mid to top shelf whiskeys that regularly put out new products to boost their quality rating overall. This section is prime for fall back whiskeys and go-to brands.
83 – 86 (B) = GOOD – Not My First Choice, but It'll Do
You're going to find a large number of lower shelf products that fall under this category of whiskeys. Don't misunderstand - it's not that they're bad whiskeys. These are the whiskeys that you typically grab if you have no other choice, or if you ask a friend to grab a bottle on the way over and this is what they grab. A bottle between 83-86 points isn't the end of the world, it's just no reason to get excited.
80 – 82 (B-) = NOT TOO BAD – No Major Flaws, Worth a Try
Plan on going to a local bar or club soon? While you're there, ask for a shot of this brand of whiskey; specifically the way you'd like to drink it when you would buy the bottle and take it home to drink. This way you can tell if you like the spirit without having to spend the money for the whole bottle. Another way to try the whiskey first is to see if your local corner store(s) have 50 ml shots of the same brand. You can also opt for the 200 ml or the 375 ml size if you're feeling up to it.
77 – 79 (C+) = AVERAGE – Not Good, Not Bad... In-Between
Okay, this whiskey isn't going to curl your toes, but it won't knock your socks off either. Literally, this is the lowest category I would recommend anyone going to when it comes to drinking whiskey. Anything lower than this and it might poison your opinion of whiskey (temporarily or permanently). The best you can hope for here is getting intoxicated from the A.B.V. content - that's about all.
73 – 76 (C) = BELOW AVERAGE – Drinkable; Better Used as a Mixer
Need something to throw into the mix? Looking to grab the cheapest whiskey for a monthly office party? Here ya go! These whiskeys are truly meant for those who seek a spirit for blending or mixing with other liquors to create cocktails. You'll often find these whiskeys at large parties, weddings, get-togethers, and so on. I do not recommend this category for merely sipping or drinking by itself.
70 – 72 (C-) = NOT GOOD – Why Did They Bother?
Sometimes you pick up a bottle to try, or someone will recommend a bottle, then you get home and crack that baby open just to discover that it seems somebody played a joke on you. Did a major distiller really manufacture a product like the one that I just bought? It happens; it happens more often than you might think. For the aficionado or the connoisseur, this is expected along the journey of unraveling new and novel whiskeys. The key is not to purposely choose these product, as they not only disappoint the palate, but they tend to leave a nasty hangover.
60 – 69 (D) = BAD - This Belongs in my Gas Tank
Ran out of gas? Just grab what's left in that hideous $8 bottle of swill that you decided to buy a couple days ago and toss it in the tank! No, seriously - don't actually do that. I'm just saying that since whiskey under this rating isn't even worth putting up to your lips, you gotta find another use for it. If you see products on the shelf that match this score, look away my friends!
59 – 0 (F) = VERY BAD – Essentially: "Made in Chernobyl"
This stuff is so horrific, that I heard that if you stand long enough and watch one of the whiskey bottles, they will actually start to change color! Good heavens people... AVOID AT ALL COST!
Always remember that this scoring system is set up merely as a guide to help and assist drinkers define and categorize the quality and characteristics of whiskey. This rating schedule, although commonly used worldwide, is not designated as an official system of scoring. However, as the liquor market has adopted it and is now regularly using it here in America, we have offered this blog to provide you with some insight and a means of understanding the scoring system for when you shop in-store or online. Enjoy your future whiskey experiences!