Every newbie has done it. I sure did. When I encountered my first wall o’ malts at a good spirits shop, I crumbled in joy, then confusion. But wait, someone wrote a whisky book to tell me what to buy? I bought the book. I bought another book. I bought scotch. You know, sometimes the books were right. And sometimes… what the #$%? Please remember that reading a review is reading just ONE opinion. How many times have you seen a movie reviewed with widely differing conclusions? What if the reviewer doesn’t like what you like? Keep this in mind. There are alternatives…
Whisky Reviews Online
Here’s where I go. Even before I had a computer in my phone, I looked online. The best sites are a matter of opinion, and here’s a few of mine:
Malt Maniacs Malt Monitor – A ridiculously large list that just gives raw scores from a vetted group of reviewers. This is a data crunch but often the last resort for something incredibly rare.
WhiskyFun – This is the brainchild of Serge Valentin, one of the more (if not most) prolific Malt Maniacs. It’s a bit cumbersome to navigate, but once you figure it out, there’s a ton of well regarded reviews. He’s European, so most of his bottle reviews are too.
WhiskyNotes – A well done blog by Ruben Luyten of Belgium
LA Whisk(e)y Society – Not the Club I founded, but one that I attend. I’m biased since I post there (as do 20 others), but with 1500 bottles reviewed, and most with numerous members, I think it’s safe to say its hit prime-time.
Sku’s Recent Eats – Stephen Ury loves his American Whisk(e)y but will review a scotch if his arm is twisted a fraction of a degree (he’s a friend.)
The Sour Mash Manifesto – Jason Pyle dispenses video reviews about bourbon and rye that are longer than the time spent in the barrel.
Most awards are bunk. Many have few entries and charge participants who expect a gold plated diamond award for $25 swill that hasn’t changed since my grandfather sipped his first hooch. These contests are the equivalent of entering the same ugly pig in the state fair for fifty straight years and result in decisions that Don King could easily control predict. For fun, read about the International Whisky Competition 2011. Hilarious. Whisky book or magazine awards that are graded by one person aren’t really definitive. These awards are five times worse than having five Norwegian political hacks dictate who the world’s most peaceful person is. Blind tastings such as the Irondram Try-Athlon (shameful plug, beware!) are the only way ensure a fair decision. Most contests won’t taste anything blind because they’re just big brand advertisements under cloak. The only one of worldwide significance that maintains strict standards of blind reviews is the Malt Maniacs Awards. If you don’t know the Malt Maniacs already, you will if you love whisky. (Disclosure: a few “Maniacs” are friends of mine).
The Best Whisky in the Universe
What is the best whisky? That’s going to be as hot a topic as politics and religion. Let’s just say what it isn’t… something that’s in 20,000 bottles. Some pretty common bottles have gotten big awards. Don’t get excited and buy them because if it’s too good to be true it probably is. The sad truth is that you just can’t mass produce the magic of a good cask of whisky. Each cask is unique, and only the best one is the best one. Wouldn’t it be nifty if the best cask ever had 100 exact duplicates that could be bottled en masse as the single best whisky in world? Pigs will sprout wings and propellers when that happens. The “best whisky ever” will be a limited bottling from one or perhaps a few casks. It will cost what it’s worth, and it will never be a blend, because blends are inferior and boring. Did I just say that out loud? Oops, I forgot knocking blends was out of fashion.
I’m going to slink back to the table with all of the other unpopular kids now…
Coming soon (if I get my Christmas shopping done):
Whisky Notes Part 3: How I will do notes on Whisky.com (and perhaps some notes!)