How to Write Tasting Notes – Whisky Notes Part 3

Thanks for listening to me whine and moan for parts 1 and 2 about other peoples’ notes. Now we get to the good part where I stick my neck out and say how I think notes should be done and this is especially important because I need to lay down the groundwork for how I’ll do notes on this blog. Here we go…

When am I ready to do tasting notes?

Here’s a number I throw out, because it’s the number of unique whiskies I had before my palate settled to something I could rely on consistently: 300. Yeah, it’s a lot, but fine-tuning a palate to taste whisky takes time, especially to get over the whisky burn that many get starting out. When I first started drinking good whisky, I truly believed that some $50 bottles I tried were the best things ever distilled and scored them accordingly. As it turns out there is some fantastic whisky to be found (that unfortunately is rarely $50) and the bar was raised, so much so that I had to revise earlier ratings. Now, perhaps you have a buddy mentoring you and force feeding great whisky down your gullet. Maybe then you’ll learn faster. Otherwise take your time, 300.

What do I take notes about?

Here’s what most people talk about when reviewing whisky, in order of importance.

• Palate (taste)
• Nose (smell)
• Finish (what you taste 5 or 10 seconds afterwards)
• Viscosity (thick and velvety vs. thin and watery)
• Color

Palate: How it tastes.

Nose: Take a few whiffs, but not too deep or you’ll burn your nose. If it’s not strong enough, cover the top for a few seconds, then nose quickly when you pull the lid off. Some folks recommend rubbing whisky on your palm and sniffing that. I just end up smelling sweaty palm.

Finish: This is rather optional and can be included with the palate. Sometimes it’s not even worth mentioning. Your call.
Viscosity: The texture of the whisky. Again, this can be included with the palate. I recommend not mentioning it unless there’s a superlative quality.
Color: Who cares? People can see that by looking at the picture.

How do I rate whisky?

There are plenty of scales out there. Most go from 1-100, from 1-10 with decimals, and A-F. Sadly, we’ve never escaped the scoring dogma we learned in first grade. For most part, scores that are published and receive of lot of views fall into these ranges:

• A, 90-100, 9-10 Range – Fantastic. Typically (and unfortunately) high end or limited edition type bottlings. It’s hard to mass produce with this quality. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, but it’s hard.

• B, 80-90, 8-9 Range – Good. Quite frankly, most whisky that is a single malt scotch or whisky of comparable pedigree will fall in this range with the exception of some of the lower tier bottles. This is a bottle that a whisky drinker would never turn down.

• C, 70-80, 7-8 Range – Not good, but not bad. This is a whisky that you drink if you don’t care. It’s the ‘meh’ of whisky; the ‘there’s nothing better around’. You’ll find most respectable blends or introductory level malts here.

• D, 60-90, 6-7 Range – Bad. Something is wrong with this whisky. Either this is bottom shelf stuff intended only to cause inebriation, or a mistake was made and a bad batch occurred.

• F, 50-60, 5-6 Range – Terrible! This is something that has to be spat out. Undrinkable. A horrendous mistake was made and another horrendous mistake was made by allowing it to be sold.

Do you need to use these scales? No, it’s just an example of what’s out there. When trying to calibrate yourself, please keep in mind that all ‘professional’ reviews that are in any way related to whisky sales, indirect or not, tend to be a little be inflated; especially towards high volume moneymakers.

Be brave, offer an opinion

When I look at reviews, I skip all of the nuts and berries, and get right down to what I want to know – ‘Is it good and why’. Remember, this record is an invitation or warning to anyone interested in the whisky. Here’s an example:

• Whisky note: Peaches
My comment: Do you even know if I like peaches? Worthless.

• Whisky note: The gods compressed the essence of peach nectar and delivered this bottle as a gift for mankind.
My comment: Yum, I want it. Even if I don’t like peaches I’m glad to be warned.

• Whisky note: Ick! Turpentine soaking a rotten peach.
My comment: I’ll spend my money elsewhere. Thanks!

Have the courage to be honest

Sometimes I offer whisky to friends with the caveat ‘Feel free to say it sucks, I didn’t make it’. It’s natural to want to agree with someone or be upbeat. Fight the urge. Be honest. Disagreement is more fun anyway. Every time I failed to give an honest opinion, it’s backfired, badly.
It’s very rare that any two people get the same specific notes from whisky. Take notes with a friend but agree not to share until you’re done. You’ll probably identify different flavors, and the world won’t end because you disagreed.

Change your mind

Unless you’re running for president, flip-flopping is fine. Most whisky drinkers will admit that they’ve had a whisky that tasted differently than before. The fact is that there are a lot of factors that can affect your palate. Neither review is wrong. Include them both and average the score. Again, be honest.
Calibrate

Do you have a favorite bottle that’s always on the shelf? Memorize the taste and make it your calibrator. If you think your palate is off, swig the calibrator… maybe your tongue is having an off day.

Tastes like nothing

Sometimes you just can’t find anything to say. Unless you have a cold or have burnt your palate (see below) it’s probably just bland whisky. Perhaps there’s just nothing there. Maybe you can tell you’re drinking alcohol but that’s it. Write it down. Don’t try to find things that aren’t there and invent notes. That’s the distiller’s fault, not yours, if there’s nothing to write about.
Don’t try too many notes at once

Whisky ain’t wine. It will battle your tongue and win. Always. Even if you can enjoy good scotch or bourbon all night, realistically you can only handle detailed notes on 5 or 6 of them. If you try to do more, you won’t like what you find in the morning. I need to heed my own advice.

Taste it blind

Now that’s the ultimate review. Having no preconceptions gives every whisky a fair shake. Let’s be honest, we naturally don’t want to review the cheap bottle well and the expensive bottle badly. Let it happen. I do that all the time. I smile and go purchase the cheap one. Yay!

Oh no! I’ve dragged on too long. I suppose there will have to be: Whisky Notes Part 4 – “The Audacity of Note” or “How I Will Review Whisky on this Blog”

Burns Night Supper at Beckham Grille

Robert Burns, Scotland’s most lauded poet, penned famous words about whisky and women at about the time that America won its independence. He’s probably best known to us as the author of Auld Lang Syne, that New Year’s song that’s never been sung sober or in tune. “Robbie” died young but somehow became more famous in death because the Scots felt as if he was the embodiment of the Scottish spirit. They honor him on his birthday, Jan 25th, with a Burns supper.

The Burns supper is a relatively formal dinner that may include, but isn’t limited to supper, a reading of ‘To a Haggis’, the sharing of Haggis, pipes, poetry, scotch, and finally a singing of Auld Lang Syne to close the night.

Everyone makes the Burns Supper into what they want. The Burns Supper with the LA Scotch Club concentrates on that liquid with fueled Robbie’s passion, scotch. So, on January 25th, the LA Scotch Club will be having its 3rd infamous Burns Night Supper at Beckham Grille in Pasadena. Like last year, there will be a drunken poetry contest where wit meets whisky (or is defeated by it), haggis, a fine British supper, and of course lots and lots of scotch.

Slainte!