Pour Judgement: Reviews & Ranking

There have been some articles over the past several months by whisky bloggers and writers that deal with the subject of whisky evaluation (really, great stuff). Generally, they comment on the state of the review industry – both professional and amateur, however you want to define those terms – and an examination of what they do, usually spurred by a change they are themselves making. We can’t and aren’t going to speculate about other writers’ motivations for blogging. They’re doing their own thing (or not, at least as much), just as we’re doing our own thing here. 

Because we still feel pretty new in our whisky journeys, we aren’t going to bemoan ye olde whisky days of yore, when you could buy a bottle of X for $30 and a song or that the 10 year old malts from Y distillery were so much better back in the 80s. If you can, we salute you, but we have to deal with our current whisky reality and experience. What does deserve attention, and indeed provided the impetus behind this article, is Julian Mächle’s post at Whisky-U on why he is beginning to rate whiskies, whereas previously he had not. It’s a great read. Draw your own conclusions about whisky bloggers in general and the choices they make in particular, but it drove home the point that we don’t have a detailed, transparent place where our explicit aims are stated. So, in an attempt to help define what Scotchology is and is not, the following are offered with no apologies whatsoever.

**We are a group of friends who meet monthly to share a bottle of scotch. We each chip in a little and the bottles are owned collectively. Sometimes we bring in bottles we’ve bought individually to be reviewed and shared. We have no desire to review 150 whiskies a year, because our purpose is chiefly about getting together and sharing something special like a bottle of scotch with one another.

**Though we can’t sample everyone who visits our site, we do have a target audience in mind. As might be guessed from looking at the whiskies we’ve reviewed already, we are not seeking super rare or expensive malts. Almost everything we’re reviewed so far has been under $100 in our market. $100 is expensive to a lot of people for a bottle of alcohol, you might say, and you’d certainly be right. We also know that the bottles we might get cheaply here are much more expensive in other markets. We can only play with the toys in our own yard, so we do. What we don’t want to do is review a whisky, praise it to high heaven, and then break it to the reader that they’ll never be able to get their hands on it for whatever reason. We’re not sure if that counts as whisky sadism or whisky porn, but it’s just not something we’re interested in doing. Might we be a little elastic with our own guidelines? Absolutely, and we won’t feel sorry about it, but we want for the most part to concentrate on commercially available whiskies of at least moderately attainable price and availability, so readers can use it as an immediate guide in the current market. If we sometimes come across a single barrel bottling or other type of splurge, consider it our encouragement toward self-exploration. 

**We do not ask for samples from the industry. Honestly, we’ve thought about and maybe we’ll decide to go down that road one day in the future. That day is not today. If we are given anything free of charge, we will be very clear about it.

**We’ve noticed similar taste preferences over the years, as a group. We gravitate toward single malts, for one. That doesn’t mean good blends and other whiskies aren’t made, we simply enjoy some more than others and are unapologetic about it. Also, we’re apparently not the biggest fans of Indian whisky?

**Because we are buying whisky by the bottle, we almost always try to sample it beforehand so we know a little of what we’ll be getting into. For the kind of money a bottle of scotch costs, we aren’t going to lay down money for something we know we’ll all detest. Life is too short for silliness like that. It might be a service to the rest of you but is certainly no favor to us. If any of us were being paid for these reviews by a publication or website, then things might be different. But we’re not. Besides, not everything we’ve reviewed has been universally loved, and we’re usually not shy about calling it out if we don’t like something.

**We are not a whisky news site. We don’t track swings in auction prices. We don’t stay on the pulse of the industry. There are podcasts and a bevy of talented writers who do this very thing, and we don’t take anything away from them. If you’re interested in that material, look to them. Scotchology is focused almost exclusively on reviewing whiskies. We will on occasion share things via our Musings section like tastings and interviews, but this content is in the minority.

**We decided very early on not to score the whiskies we review. While it can be a nice shorthand to look at a numerical tally or letter grade and not have to bother reading the actual words in a review, synthesizing the whole experience of a scotch down to a number or star rating feels in some ways like a disservice, regardless of the merits of the drink. One of the deciding factors against reviewing, beyond the transitory sense of season, place and company that might influence a rating, the reality before us was that these reviews are the input of a collective, and what happens if we all feel very different about a given whisky? Do we average the scores? What if we don’t? It seemed ludicrous then to try and still does now. Maybe it would be different if this site were the voice of one person, but it is not and therein lies one of our strengths. You should be able to read our reviews, with all our potentially differing reactions, and come away with at least some sense of how you might react to it. While we try to apply a little polish, we also don’t hide our feelings behind too much politeness. We do feel calling a whisky universally bad is very different from saying none of us liked it. We feel more qualified being subjective rather than flat out declarative.

**We are not professionals. We respect professionals, for the most part. Some of us are still very new on our prospective whisky journeys. While we want to try and accurately describe what we’re experiencing to the best of our abilities, we also don’t want to get into using the gimmicky language seen in a lot of marketing and even whisky publications sometimes. Mostly for the reason that we couldn’t say some of those terms or concepts with a straight face. But who knows? As we get better at identifying the sensations we’re experiencing, you might notice our language becoming more descriptive and refined. We all grow.

Please remember, the above is not meant to critique a blogger or reviewer for the choices they make. They are entitled to their own methods and honestly many of them work very well. The point of the above is to be very clear what we at Scotchology are doing and why we’re making the acquisition and review choices we do make. One of the great things about our whisky journeys so far is how we each evolve over time in different ways. We feel the above accurately reflects the spirit and process of Scotchology now and the foreseeable future. Cheers!