We here at The Whisky List have a love/hate relationship with scoring whisky. Partially because we mostly just like to enjoy drinking and sharing it, and don't often want to 'evaluate' a whisky. Also partially because we are quite aware that the enjoyment of whisky is super subjective to each of us and can even vary with time, place, mood and even company. And maybe also because the traditional way of scoring tends to be based exclusively on nose/palate/finish (and maybe balance) and don't really tell us much about the experience of tasting the whisky.
However, over the course of the last few years at our monthly local whisky club (and maybe a few more other small gatherings of course), we started to notice a pattern in how we somewhat thoughtlessly shared our experiences of the whiskies we were trying. They tended to go something like this:
"It's very thick, almost fully coating my mouth" or "It's a bit thin and watery"
"It has a very nice, long, lingering finish" or "The finish is pretty short"
"For such a strong whisky, there's very little burn" or "Wow, that's hot"
"There's so much going on here, it's hard to pin down all the different flavours" or "It's kind of one-dimensional, there's not a lot going on"
"It's quite oily, not at all over-oaked or tannic" or "Ok, that's dry"
"It all just works together nicely, the spirit is still quite present and while the cask has really refined it, it hasn't overpowered the spirit" or "The port influence from the cask has just completely overpowered the spirit"
"Nothing wrong with this one!" or "There's a lot of sulphur coming from this one"
"I could just sit and smell it all night" or "Not a huge amount of flavour on the nose"
"Bloody hell, that tastes good" or "Tastes ok, but expected more from it"
"Ok, how much is a bottle, I want one" or "Yeah it's nice, but doesn't blow me away"
So, we sort of stumbled on a way to communicate both our enjoyment and experience of a whisky in a way the seems to be more relatable between people as it doesn't focus on the specific flavours, or 'tasting notes', which are very subjective and unique to each of us, but rather the experience of the whisky, broken down it to some of it's natural parts.
And so, to hopefully help people understand what it might be like to try a whisky, we'll be scoring a whisky with categories based on our observations above. We've created 10 categories from these observations, each one worth 10 points and having a score of 0-10 making it a proper 100 points scale.
Here are those categories:
Body: A textural evaluation of a whisky, describing the weight of a whisky in the mouth. Thin feeling, light weighing, watery whisky would receive lower points while thick feeling, heavy weighing viscous whisky would receive higher points
Length: Part of the palate evaluation of a whisky, length describes how long the flavour of a whisky continuous to deliver through the palate and finish. Whiskies where the flavour dissipates quickly would receive lower points, while a longer, lingering flavour would receive more points.
Burn: A critical evaluation of a whisky is the intensity of the feeling of alcohol burn relative to it's ABV. Higher ABV whiskies should have a proportional amount of alcohol sensation, as they should be punchy, but not have a burning sensation which overwhelms the palate. Lower ABV whiskies should quite obviously have less alcohol burn and so be evaluated based on that expectation. A whisky with more burn than is to be expected would receive lower points while one with an expected level (or even better, lower) should receive higher points.
Complexity: Measures the variety of flavours across nose, palate and finish. A simple whisky, one with fewer distinguishable flavours would receive lower points, while a more complex whisky with a wide variety of flavour would receive a higher score.
Texture: Measures how will the viscosity of a whisky holds throughout the palate. A whisky that gives way to too much dryness or tannin would receive lower points, while one holding a solid, balanced structure of viscosity and/or tannin would receive higher points.
Balance: Measures how well the flavours work together; from spirit, time and oak. Conflicting flavours, where individual flavours overly dominate a whisky or where the spirit or cask influence is too domineering would receive lower points, while a whisky where the flavours work together well and the spirit and cask have integrated nicely would receive higher points.
Flaws: Measures the absence of major flaws in the whisky. The existence of sulphur or rubber flavours on the nose or palate, being over-oaked, too young & malty or sawdust flavours would be flaws. Whiskies with fewer flaws receive higher scores.
Nose enjoyment: A summary score of the overall enjoyment of smelling a whisky. The longer you want to sit and sniff, the higher the value.
Palate Enjoyment: Does sitting back and simply tasting this whisky give you that old fashioned, tingly feeling. If so, high marks!
Overall enjoyment: All things considered, do you love it or hate it?