Whats the Score?


You may be from the ‘I like it a lot, like it a little, its fine, I don’t like it at all’ school of scoring or you may find scoring your tastings a key part of your enjoyment of whisky.

My wife can readily identify peated Islay malts which she indicates by gagging loudly but beyond that she sips, smiles and makes appreciative noises for my better Speyside malts.  She is not a scoring devotee but she knows what she likes and dislikes and can spot these from the nose.

You may think its all nonsense it tastes like ‘whisky’.  Many regard tasting and scoring as a key component of appreciating our dram.  

An effective scoring system:

Can improve your ability to taste

Will improve your buying decisions

Will enhance your knowledge and enjoyment of whisky

Scoring is a funny thing.  We sometimes use it to justify a decision rather than to help us to reach a decision.

Have you ever created a decision table listing options and the features of each which you score.  More often than not the score justifies a decision you have knowingly or unknowingly already  made.  If it does not you hastily rescore some features to make it so… sound familiar?  Whisky scoring differs being exclusively for your own purposes although you might be justifying a expensive purchase if only to your self.

Effectively scoring whisky is done for different motivations.

Scoring is useful to compare whisky you have bought for future reference and to provide some memory of that tasting, long past the bottle being emptied.

The most common system scores nose, taste, finish and body scoring out of 25 marks for each and a total out of 100 marks.  This system most notably is adopted by Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible by some social media reviewers, retailers and some whisky apps.

I suggest by scoring you are trying to rank whisky against your own taste preferences not someone else and that a 100 point system may not best serve your purposes.

Can you differentiate a nose you once scored 24 versus one you scored 19?  Would you score the same whisky the same score in a blind tasting on a separate occasion?

Can you readily recall the nose or taste of a whisky you scored 87, 65, 94, 77?  If not how can you consistently score a new whisky?

Scoring Quality

For most of us and certainly beginners there are just too many scores points i.e 1-25 on each factor to have a good taste or nose memory.  I suggest that you use considerably fewer score points.

I score Nose, Taste, Finish & Body in half marks between 0 and 2. i.e 0, 1/2, 1, 1 1/2, 2- where 2 is an extraordinary nose, 1 1/2 a memorable quality nose, 1  is good, 1/2 where the nose seems more limited and 0 where it just does not rate giving a score.  This results after scoring Nose, Taste, finish and Body in a score out of 8 for any given whisky for its quality; using this system I can readily recall in my mind the nose of most of my favourite whiskies. This now gives 20 separate points of comparison. 

As your tasting memory improves you might want more taste points but I suggest that  initially you divide your scores into the different regions, Islay, Speyside, Highland and Islands, Lowland and finally Campbeltown (not so many whiskies to compare but all worth the effort) .   Your scores will still be comparable across regions but clearly the nose, taste, finish and body are very different from Region to region generally though not invariably.  The point is to remember a 1 1/2 point islay is a useful benchmark to score you next Islay, likewise recalling a 1 scoring Speyside will give you a benchmark to try a new Speyside.

Before moving on you ought now to be able to recall  these 20 points for each region. Do you really need more?  If your ability to taste and score is moving on rapidly and indeed some people have more ability that others you could start by introducing the quarter points between 0 and 2 adding 4 more scoring points to each scale.   I don’t, my scoring would cease to be consistent.

Scoring Value

For my part my next scoring activity to reach my final score is to assess Value.

I introduce a price score by converting the price paid per 70cl by dividing it by 100 and deducting it from 2.  Sounds complex but for example:

a £100 bottle scores 1 [£100/100 = 1, 2-1 = 1]

a £50 bottle scores 1.5,  [50/100 = 0.5, 2-0.5 = 1.5]

a £25 bottle scores 1.75  [25/100 = .25, 2-0.245 = 1.75]

I take my quality score and I multiply it by the price score to give my final score.

So a quality NAS expression I scored 7 for quality, costs me £65 so my final score of 7 x 1.35 = 9.45 out of a theoretical maximum 16.

More expensive bottles do worse on this system than lower priced high quality age statements for example.

This does not stop my buying what I describe as Indulgent bottles at higher prices or trying one off bottles which interest me, irrespective of their value score.  If i bought purely on value I might only buy my favourite £30 bottle.   Your budget may be higher than mine so you can be less bothered about the value score.

When I do try my indulgent bottles I have a great benchmark in my mind against which to assess their quality especially compared to others from the same region.  Most of all it enhances my enjoyment of the whisky. 

Sure, there are many times I just get on and enjoy my dram without scoring or even musing over what flavour or nose notes that exist.   

As I sit editing I can bring into my memory a wide range of nose, taste, finish and body from malts from each region.  This is vital to consistently score a new malt and also to score the same malt over time although that is undoubtedly more difficult but at least I have a starting point.

I encourage you to give this a go and let me know how you get on.

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