As an amateur whisky taster I have some experience largely in wine but increasingly in whisky. It amazes me how many more flavours are found in whisky than in wine. I have tasted often in the company of a friend of mine a former professional taster so I know what an extraordinary palate he has compared to the majority of us mere mortals and even he would acknowledge some of his colleagues and peers particularly women master blenders have even better palates than he has.
I have faith in my palate and acknowledge its shortcomings but I notice that there is a big difference between how I might score some malts in comparison with some professional writers and bloggers and conversely others whose taste seems to align with my own.
Taste is not a homogeneous experience science advises us. Different individuals experience flavour differently and indeed our flavour preferences never mind experiences diverge substantially – for example with peat, tar and smoke – famed for dividing whisky drinkers.
There is a Japanese whisky the FujiKai 10 year old which was released with some hype and which seriously divided opinion. I believe the bottle I had had a serious manufacturing flaw, certainly insufficient exposure to copper (if indeed as friends have questioned it even saw copper at all), otherwise it appeared to be perhaps a bad cut. Now if you look at reviews you will find about 90% of reviewers agree with my view however the remaining 10% hailed it as a wonderful whisky.
This has me thinking. The difference in opinion could occur from many different reasons.
I could be way wrong or just have odd preferences. I could indeed!
It may be down to others distinct taste preferences. There are some who high score Islay over all or most others. I love Islay malts so would not decry this as their personal taste preference. I still love Speyside and elsewhere. I confess that I am not a great Lowland fan and I generally have avoided reviewing or commenting on these as it just would not be fair. I know an industry professionals who holds a Lowland malts his favourite drams. One might argue that a sherry bomb Speyside cant be compared on an equivalent basis to a smoky peaty Islay as they are such substantially different drinks, almost like comparing Rum with Brandy or indeed Cinzano with irnBru. Not Better or worse just different. Viva la Difference!
The professionals on review may have had a sample with constituents from a bad cask, sulphur or butyric . Frankly they should know that and simply not review the whisky on that occasion. I must at this point give credit to Masters of Malt who I buy my samples from. I recently received a 25 year old Glenfarclas sample which was thus tainted. Had I reviewed it as it stood it would have been a very poor review but after Masters of Malt immediately replaced it I enjoyed a stunning Glenfarclas completely beyond reproach. Top marks go to Masters of Malt for their customer service and to Glenfarclas for this wonderful dram.
I could always taste any hint of a corked or bacterial contamination in wine much to my wife’s frustration at numerous dinners in restaurants and hotels, I have no problem returning off wines and have frequently done so. Just for information a leading Sommelier told me about 1 bottle in 12 is not perfect, thankfully in whisky the ratio appears much better. I can confidently detect the merest hint of sulphur or butyric acid in whisky also. I never rely on the tasting of a single sample preferring to sample at least 6 drams before reaching my conclusion. If it is sulphured I just leave it but will be prepared to revisit it sometime in future with an open mind.
Some writers have an acknowledged/entrenched position on NAS, chill filtration and the addition of A150e colouring. I prefer cask strength or at least 46% ABV plus, NCF but don’t care about colouring particularly. I am more interested in value for my money than NAS versus age statement.
Perhaps some writers are good writers with poor palates. Hmmm… not impossible but they do have lot of experience and access to more samples and often a sample library to compare which does give them a big edge. There are a few I do consult and enjoy but I do not take their opinion as gospel. Sorry guys and girls but even you don’t get it right all the time or at least you have a different view of taste to me.
Perhaps some are dependent on distillery support or at least the acknowledgement of their peers so they seldom if ever rock the boat. That would also be a pity and were this the case they do themselves and the rest of us a disservice.
Let me name some names so as not to appear coy:
Jim Murray provides in his whisky Bible an invaluable and extensive resource which I refer to often. I frequently disagree but more often agree and acknowledge his extraordinary experience. Jim appears to favour Islay and to my mind underscores some Speysides and Highland whiskies. I have not the experience to question his non Scottish reviews so remain unconvinced, as too often they leap to the top before dropping down in later years.
i don’t subscribe to his top whiskies lists they could be too readily classified as headline grabbing which is I guess good marketing, if nothing else.
Ralfy, I am a huge fan of and am happy to support him through Patreon. I enjoy his reviews as pure entertainment and acknowledge his expertise and authenticity. He only reviews his recommendations and I would like to see some negative reviews to broaden the field. Ralfy. Thank you.
There are a lot of reviewers who I just enjoy for their love of whisky and their honesty and enthusiasm. Scotch4Dummies and Scotch Test Dummies are fun and often spot on to my taste. Sophie-Ann The Whisky Lady has great overall knowledge of the industry and is often highly informative on a variety of topics. I must also credit Ian Buxton 101 Whiskies to drink before you die. I love his approach and his choices. I apologise to those I have omitted of which there are many and I appreciate your expertise and passion and acknowledge all and thank all of you for your commitment to our shared love which you contribute freely to my ill informed enjoyment of. Thank You all
i would really only be missing something if I failed to incorporate others reviews in my enjoyment of whisky as my passion. I have said before we must revel in our differences.