I generally will publish 2 types of reviews, full reviews and what I call fast reviews. My reviews are all independent.
Each whisky that I fully review is based on a composite of three tasting sessions, and will go into much more depth than the fast reviews. The fast reviews will be based on a limited tasting condition – perhaps a limited sample or a single tasting or a situation which is not ideal for tasting. These provide a fairly reasonable approximation of what my actual rating for a whisky might be, although it might change if I had time to fully review it. At the least, it will give you details on nose, taste, finish, and what I think.
I rate whiskies in order to be able to compare them and portray in a concrete way the worth of the whisky. Essentially, ratings describe the enjoyability of a whisky – and I have found the following scheme suitable for ranking my favourite whiskies, though other models are out there. I grade based on the following factors:
Nose: Generally, I smell a whisky much more than I taste it…the nose describes how complicated the smell is, how it evolves…the balance, breadth, and depth of nose. Balance and depth are more important, but breadth certainly helps. A great nose serves to let you create anticipation for the spirit – the opening act for a play, if you will. This accounts for 30% of the overall score.
Taste: How it tastes – the complexity, balance, and experience of the whisky as it is in your mouth. This accounts for 30% of the overall score.
Finish: This is what happens after you’ve swallowed the whisky – how long the flavour remains, how it is structured, and how long it lingers. A great finish serves to remind you, continually, and sometimes for hours, how great the whisky you just drank was. This accounts for 20% of the overall score.
Conclusion: This is, essentially, reading between the lines. It takes a step back out of the compartments of nose, taste, and finish and looks at the whisky as a whole. It is where unique, interesting, and new components of whiskies get rewarded. I find great whiskies evolve more upon the second, third, and additional tastings beyond that as you get to know different parts of them. This is where that can be taken into account. This accounts for 20% of the overall score.
I’ve found anything that I rate above a 75 is a whisky which I enjoy sipping on its own. Ratings above 85 are certainly good whiskies which demand much more of my attention. Ratings in the mid and higher 90s are absolutely excellent and worth saving for a special time and spending some time getting to know. Everyone will grade differently and with various degrees of harshness. I try to stay away from grade inflation, but roughly, see the report card for an A/B/C interpretation of my review marks. To read more, I also wrote up a quick piece detailing some of my rating distributions here.
*Initially I also included 5% of the review as a bottle and presentation score. While some might not say that all that matters to a whisky is the taste, I consider this important for two reasons. First, I am affected by a whisky brilliantly (or horribly) presented. Second, whisky is often quite an investment, and I don’t want to spend money on something I don’t want to show off to my friends. Great whisky deserves great presentation. Presentation does affect my enjoyment of the whisky. However, as I experienced more heavily marketed and expensive whiskies, I found I cared less and less for how it is presented – it’s all about what’s in the glass. And, frankly, most whiskies are pretty well presented (other than good information on what actually makes up the whisky, and how it was crafted!).