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
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.
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.
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!)