Whisky Books, Whisky Awards, and The Best Whisky in the Universe – Whisky Notes Part 2

Whisky Books

Every newbie has done it. I sure did. When I encountered my first wall o’ malts at a good spirits shop, I crumbled in joy, then confusion. But wait, someone wrote a whisky book to tell me what to buy? I bought the book. I bought another book. I bought scotch. You know, sometimes the books were right. And sometimes… what the #$%? Please remember that reading a review is reading just ONE opinion. How many times have you seen a movie reviewed with widely differing conclusions? What if the reviewer doesn’t like what you like? Keep this in mind. There are alternatives…
Whisky Reviews Online

Here’s where I go. Even before I had a computer in my phone, I looked online. The best sites are a matter of opinion, and here’s a few of mine:

Malt Maniacs Malt Monitor – A ridiculously large list that just gives raw scores from a vetted group of reviewers. This is a data crunch but often the last resort for something incredibly rare.

WhiskyFun – This is the brainchild of Serge Valentin, one of the more (if not most) prolific Malt Maniacs. It’s a bit cumbersome to navigate, but once you figure it out, there’s a ton of well regarded reviews. He’s European, so most of his bottle reviews are too.

WhiskyNotes – A well done blog by Ruben Luyten of Belgium

LA Whisk(e)y Society – Not the Club I founded, but one that I attend. I’m biased since I post there (as do 20 others), but with 1500 bottles reviewed, and most with numerous members, I think it’s safe to say its hit prime-time.

Sku’s Recent Eats – Stephen Ury loves his American Whisk(e)y but will review a scotch if his arm is twisted a fraction of a degree (he’s a friend.)

The Sour Mash Manifesto – Jason Pyle dispenses video reviews about bourbon and rye that are longer than the time spent in the barrel.

Whisky Awards

Most awards are bunk. Many have few entries and charge participants who expect a gold plated diamond award for $25 swill that hasn’t changed since my grandfather sipped his first hooch. These contests are the equivalent of entering the same ugly pig in the state fair for fifty straight years and result in decisions that Don King could easily control predict. For fun, read about the International Whisky Competition 2011. Hilarious. Whisky book or magazine awards that are graded by one person aren’t really definitive. These awards are five times worse than having five Norwegian political hacks dictate who the world’s most peaceful person is. Blind tastings such as the Irondram Try-Athlon (shameful plug, beware!) are the only way ensure a fair decision. Most contests won’t taste anything blind because they’re just big brand advertisements under cloak. The only one of worldwide significance that maintains strict standards of blind reviews is the Malt Maniacs Awards. If you don’t know the Malt Maniacs already, you will if you love whisky. (Disclosure: a few “Maniacs” are friends of mine).

The Best Whisky in the Universe

What is the best whisky? That’s going to be as hot a topic as politics and religion. Let’s just say what it isn’t… something that’s in 20,000 bottles. Some pretty common bottles have gotten big awards. Don’t get excited and buy them because if it’s too good to be true it probably is. The sad truth is that you just can’t mass produce the magic of a good cask of whisky. Each cask is unique, and only the best one is the best one. Wouldn’t it be nifty if the best cask ever had 100 exact duplicates that could be bottled en masse as the single best whisky in world? Pigs will sprout wings and propellers when that happens. The “best whisky ever” will be a limited bottling from one or perhaps a few casks. It will cost what it’s worth, and it will never be a blend, because blends are inferior and boring. Did I just say that out loud? Oops, I forgot knocking blends was out of fashion.

I’m going to slink back to the table with all of the other unpopular kids now…

Coming soon (if I get my Christmas shopping done):

Whisky Notes Part 3: How I will do notes on Whisky.com (and perhaps some notes!)

Whisky Notes Part 1: Suggestions About Tasting Notes
Whisky Notes Part 2:  Whisky Books, Whisky Awards, and The Best Whisky in the World

Whisky Notes Part 1: Suggestions About Tasting Notes

Whisky Notes Part 1: Suggestions About Tasting Notes I’ve barely started this blog, but I’m ready to start teeing people off. Here goes!

With the thunderous sound of a no.2 pencil scratching a Wal-Mart note card, our tasting notes ring out harsh and swift judgment upon a trembling malt. We defy the whisky ambassadors and their rehearsed dogma, we eschew the notes suggested on the box, and we thoroughly scoff at the weenie at work who thinks he knows his scotch. Then we bury our notes in a random pocket, comforted at our permanent and valuable contribution to the annals of whisky history.

They’re probably worthless; as in ‘no value’. But what value can tasting notes have anyhow? Well, let’s get down to the main purpose (and I will be oversimplifying). Tasting notes are a recommendation or warning to someone, even yourself. I’m sure we’ve all dreamt of our notes etched in stone and displayed in a museum , but that ain’t gonna happen. The best they’ll ever be is a public recollection; the worst, a big fat waste of ink and fuel for my someone’s fireplace.

Here’s a few ways that tasting notes become worthless.
1) No one reads them, including the writer
2) No judgment or opinion
3) Bias

1. No one gives dram.
Do you really REALLY want to do whisky notes? Will anyone care? Will you care? Whisky notes can be a pain in the ass and can ruin a perfectly good night of dramming and socializing with your friends. Plus, you’ll feel guilty anytime you drink something new without taking notes or at least snapping a blurry dark photo from your phone. Some of the most experienced tipplers I know shun notes. Think of the benefits! Freedom! So ask yourself again “is worth it?”
But then again, sometimes it is. When you take notes you pay more attention, and may notice some flavors you wouldn’t have if you were sipping during a MarioKart race. Those notes will come in handy if you or a friend needs a recommendation in the future.

2. So, did you like it?!
You can list 10 berries that aren’t in my supermarket, you can tell me it smells like Neptune in autumn, and you say the bottle is reminiscent of your favorite 18th century sculptor. But did you like it? Did you hate it? Is there any indication of whether I should waste time and money adding it to my whisky shelf? Adding a grade (number or letter) is a way to save on ink and adjectives.

3. Bias
Bias in some form is inevitable. Even if a friend hands you an unmarked glass and asks you to taste, you’re still looking her in the eye to know something. That’s forgivable. Unfortunately, some reviewers have a major interest in the outcome. Many make a livelihood selling ads, and many have friends who had a hand in making the whisky, or had a hand themselves. I can’t say that they should be dismissed, but consider that ratings may be inflated, even if it was an unconscious act. Ignore label notes for anything other than the most basic idea of what the malt is. You’ll get a better idea from the distillery, age, cask, and ABV information.

I’ve been poured really old and expensive scotch. I liked it. I reviewed it well. When I received it blind at a later time, I thought less of it. I didn’t think I would be biased, but I was. Now imagine if the person pouring the scotch paid my bills and fed my family. I bet it would have been the most delicious whisky ever!
Try to taste things blindly. Get a drinkin’ buddy to help. It’s nerve wracking but a true exercise at studying a malt. The good news is that no matter whether you like it or not, you’re right! It’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it.

Thanks for reading this far into a grinchy article. I’ll pick on some other folks in Part 2 so that EVERYONE hates me, but I’ll be a stand up guy and offer constructive advice in Whisky Notes Part 3. I’ll also include the method I’ll use to review whisky, which I plan to do a lot of in the coming months.
Coming soon:

Whisky Notes Part 1: Suggestions About Tasting Notes
Whisky Notes Part 2: Whisky Books, Whisky Awards, and The Best Whisky in the World
Whisky Notes Part 3: How I will do notes on Whisky.com (and perhaps some notes!)