If there is one topic that is constantly popular in discussions among whisky lovers, then it’s the question if whisky should be scored or not. Whenever there is a whisky competition or when a new edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible is released, the discussion is re-heated, and the same arguments that were used a year ago are being recycled.
There are a few things that are quite interesting to note nevertheless. Firstly the discussion is usually resurrected by people who are opposed to “sticking numbers to whisky”, then a few supporters will jump in to defend the concept. Those who are in favour of scoring whisky are hardly ever seen critizising writers who only publish tasting notes. If you give scores to whisky, you are almost guaranteed to meet situations where you have to defend your position.
But the pro and contra camps are not as clearly defined as you might expect. Recently we have seen one blogger starting to score whisky after a period of only publishing tasting notes – Gal Granov from Whisky Israel – and another one who dropped scoring altogether – Steve Rush from The Whisky Wire.
Popular Arguments Against Scoring Whisky
“You can’t measure things as subjctive as taste”
You are right, you can’t measure taste. But whisky ratings are not meant to measure the quality like the temperature or the alcohol content. They are just a way for the reviewers to express how much they like a whisky.
“Your taste can vary, and so can your scores”
Yes, right again! But ths can happen to anyone reviewing whisky, even without scoring. Your tasting notes will vary and your final assessment may be different as well.
“Why use a 100 point scale when all scores concentrate at 75 to 95?”
This is an argument often cited by people who are not opposed to scoring in general but feel that the commonly used 100 point scale is flawed.
But the fact that so many scores are very similar only shows that whisky in general is a pretty high quality drink. And isn’t that the reason why we love it so much? Still the scale has to be capable of handling bad quality whisky too. There are some absolutely awful drams out there after all. Just think of Loch Dhu or Cu Dhub. That there are – fortunately – so very few of those around should not be taken as an excuse to deprive the system of its capabilties.
If you dislike scoring whisky, you must never:
- Pay attention to the Malt Maniacs Awards
- Select a restaurant because of Michelin stars or Gault Millau points
- Watch boxing fights, gymnastics or ice skating competitions.
My Reasons For Scoring Whisky
Any Verdict About A Whisky Is A Score, So Why Not Do It Properly?
All writers who review whisky sum up their impressions in some way by telling you how much they enjoyed it. They may do it verbally with statements like “enjoyable”, “fantastic”, “mediocre” or anything like that. But even then this can be regarded as a rudimentary form of scoring because by this the whiskies can in fact be arranged by (perceived) quality.
The next step would be the ever-popular star rating (usually five), and the logical extension to this is the fine-grain 100 point scale which I personally prefer over all other systems.
It Helps Me To Be Organized
The more whisky expressions you have tasted, the harder it is to remember details. Evidently this is also the reason for writing tasting notes. But if I only relied on tasting notes, I could never find out what whisky of any given two I actually preferred, even if I had tasted them in the same session. I already addressed the issue of potential inconsistency, but for me a score is the best method to accomplish this.
A score is an added value to a tasting note
The one thing I agree with the opponents of scoring is that only giving a number to a whisky is pretty much useless. Tastes for whisky vary so much from person to person that tasting notes are essential if you intend to publish your scores in order to help fellow whisky lovers.
My personal approach is to provide the readers with a tasting note and a summary of my impressions much in the same way a non-scoring reviewer would do it. And then on top of that comes the score for those who care.
Perhaps unlike some other reviewers out there I have no literary ambitions in writing my tasting notes whatsoever, so they might read a little uninspired at times. But usefulness is my prime motivation; and as English is not my native language it is not my goal to be recognised as the Oscar Wilde of whisky writers anyway.