“The Audacity of Note” or “How I Will Review Whisky” – Whisky Notes Part 4

I’ll be doing a lot of reviews on Whisky.com so you’ll need to know where I stand. As I said before, there are a lot of rating systems out there, and I have to choose one.

The System

We’ll be using the A-F rating system here, and just like school, C is average, without merit or demerit (except for grad school.) Because I’m likely to review whiskies of significance, you’ll probably see a lot of reviews of B or more. If you’re like me, then you’re more interested in better whisky and that’s where we’ll focus. You may also notice that although a C isn’t bad, I might get a little bitter about it wasting my time and liver.

My Scale

As stated before there is a lot of number inflation with some of the more commercial reviews. I’m not going to get too critical about that since a lot of that is conformity with what has become a standard. For better or worse, my livelihood does not hinge on my whisky ratings, so I do as I want. Many whiskies that the pros rate in the “low 90s”, I will put in the “B” range. It’s not because I’m snootier or have more experience, it’s just MY own opinion on how I want to scale my ratings, and I do try to stay true to the spirit of the descriptors. It’s also nice to have a little breathing room in the A range for the truly great whiskies.


There’s the old adage, apples to apples, and oranges to oranges.  I hope I used the right fruit. Being VERY simplistic, there are two major types of whisk(e)y that have taken hold.  The first is the barley-centric old-world whisky that is found in Scotland, Ireland, Japan, and elsewhere.  The second type is the bourbon/rye whiskey that sprouted in the United States.  Because these are different animals, I tend to rate them according to their peers. BTW, some whiskies made in America are malted barley, and I will tend to group them with scotch and such.My Notes

I appreciate good long notes, and may get a little windy myself on occasion, but for Whisky.com, I’m going to try to be quick and opinionated.  Most readers just want to know whether a whisky is good or not, and I’ll make sure I deliver that.  “Hey, this is great!” is a good note; far better than just a list of obscure European jams.  I will say what comes to my mind, even if I’m describing how a whisky reminds me more of an experience than something that once landed on my tongue.  Anything that can put you in the moment I’m in when I taste the whisky is fair game for print.  My rating will be a final overall whisky experience.  I don’t parse and tally sub-scores because I consider it more of an art than science.  Of course the nose matters, the finish matters, and the mouthfeel matters, but I lump it all up into one big drinking experience.  Color… don’t give a rat’s ass.

Knowledge Bias:One tidbit I’ll always add is the knowledge I had about the whisky I reviewed.

• Blind:  The ultimate review.  Whisky is handed over in a glass with no information offered.  No bias is possible.  This is the best type of review.

• Semi-Blind:  The reviewer is offered a whisky and knows it is one of a limited number of possibilities but not specifically which one.

• Known:  The reviewer knows exactly what is being tasted.

Guest Reviewers:

I have numerous whisky drinking friends.  On occasion I will ask them for a review, often blind.  I won’t hold them to my notes standards but will ask them to consider the ratings guide.  The more notes, the clearer the picture.

Alrighty then, let’s get to my first review ever (here).  Remember what I’ve been saying for a few months about professional reviews?  Well I decided to take on the granddaddy review of them all, the 2012 Whisky Bible World Whisky of the Year, Old Pulteney 21, which wasn’t easy to find because it was the #$%#$ Whisky of the Year and was sold out.  My plan was to get as many BLIND reviews as possible.  Unfortunately I could only try it semi-blind because I didn’t have time to wait for a friend to surprise me.  I had never had Old Pulteney 21, and hadn’t had any OB Pulteney for many years, so semi-blind wasn’t a bad plan.  My friend, Fuji, poured 3 glasses, an Old Pulteney 21 and two other cask samples that I’d never tried.  Of course I attempted to guess which was the Pulteney… and got it wrong.  So here it is… the 2012 World Whisky of the Year:

Old Pulteney 21 – Andy Smith/semi-blind

• Nose: Freshly tanned leather

• Palate:  Starts dull, then quickly heads into a warm minty rubber.  Oily sawdust. Little else going   on.  B/B-

Old Pulteney 21 – Andy Smith/known (tasted while typing this)

• Nose:  Wow, there’s a lot of vapor.  Reminds me of the fake leather seats of my family’s 1977 Toyota Corona on a hot day.

• Palate:  Mint, but faint.  Carpentry.  There’s an oily or melted butter texture.  Balloon.  This is pleasant but a tad pedestrian.  The finish is bitter.

Old Pulteney 21 – Friend #1/Blind

• Nose:  Banana bread and sour cherries

• Palate:  Bitter cinnamon, anise seed, a little leathery warmth

Old Pulteney 21 – Friend #2/Blind

• Nose:  Bubblegum, cherry, hint of soap.

• Palate:  Spicy up front.  Turns to a dry grassiness (heather?).  Reasonable finish.

Old Pulteney 21 – Friend #3/Blind

• Nose: Initial heather with honey comb and malt. Plenty of floral with hint of lemon oil. B+

• Palate: Heavy and thick mouthfeel. Dense golden honey with light tobacco. Nice oak influence, grass and heather make for a solid balance. Long honeysuckle finish. “A dessert of honey” A-/B+

Old Pulteney 21 – Friend #4/Blind

• Nose:  Sweet fruits and flowers mixed with creamy malt.

• Palate:  Licorice, wax, and peppers.  Bit of citrus and saltiness on a medium finish.  B/B-

And there you have it, the 2012 World Whisky of the Year from a different perspective.  Did Jim Murray have it wrong when he gave it a 97.5 (his A or A+)?  Well, if he believes in what he wrote, then no, because it’s his opinion.  I’m comfortable taking his word on it.  I would, however, like to politely disagree, because in my humble opinion Old Pulteney 21 isn’t a winner… but we do like it.