A+. 95. Nine thumbs up. What does all this mean?
Sure, they provide a frame of reference to someone. But who?
That point of reference can only be in relation to the palate of the reviewer. Therefore every rating system out there is predicated on the tastebuds of the provider, and who's to say that your tastes are aligned with theirs?
Over the past several months I have been asked many times why we don't use a ratings system here at ScotchBlog. I have thought about that long and hard. I've raised it at meetings. Hell, Scott and I even devised a carefully constructed mathematical formula whereby a perfect rating would be 12.7. But that's just as absurd as anything else because it is only built on the tastes and predisposition of the writer, thereby rendering the rating entirely useless to anyone but themselves.
After all, rating an Islay whisky at 97.5 means nothing if the person using that rating to guide their purchase can't stand peat and knows little outside of the big names from Speyside. All this ends up doing is unfairly turning someone completely off that whisky, distillery, and ultimately one's rating system, leaving the consumer more confused than ever.
I feel it is our duty as whisky writers to help educate the masses. To do so is to teach the uninitiated about the glory that can be found in a glass of something that has been so carefully matured and developed over years, even decades, and borne of a craft that has been honed for centuries. There is a passion that goes into creating a liquid with such care to deliver an intense complexity of flavours so deep that it takes 40 minutes of sipping to just begin to figure out that this one provides vanilla, citrus, and spice notes that morph into something reminiscent of a Christmas cake. To deny that passion its due respect is simply unjust. To distill this craft down to a number based on one's preferences for one style of whisky over another is to ultimately deny the consumer a tool they can truly use to make a decision as to whether or not this is a whisky worth their hard earned money.
That should be what it all comes down to in the end. Providing the person spending anywhere from $30 to thousands of dollars on something that they are looking to bring them enjoyment, a means of making that decision based on a something they understand. Their own palate.
Yes, I fully understand and even appreciate the argument that whisky (especially single malt Scotch whisky) is seen as a luxury good. But shouldn't anyone looking to get the most enjoyment out of their hard earned cash by spending it on a whisky be at least given a chance to know what is in the bottle in terms of flavour? Rather than having just some number arbitrarily slapped on that product by someone who feels that they know more about what makes one whisky good and one whisky great?
That is why I am abstaining from using a rating system. I don't see them as fair to the whisky maker, the distributor, and most certainly not to the end consumer. You know, the one whose purchases of whisky make all of the careers and good products available by maintaining demand.
So here's what I will do instead. I will continue to do what I have always done: give you my best attempt at describing the flavours, scents, and overall experience derived from opening that bottle, pouring the whisky into your glass, and sitting back to enjoy it. I pledge here that from this point on I will attempt to highlight the three or four core elements in a whisky's flavour profile in my final analysis. Will there be opinion in my reviews? Of course.
But will I tack on some number or letter in an attempt to sell myself as some sort of judge of your palate as a consumer? Absolutely not.
The NFL can rate their quarterbacks on a 158.3 point system, but that is based on raw, verifiable statistics. Scotch is an art form and even the biggest proponents of rating systems would have to admit that number ratings are simply a tool that can be used to augment a taste profile. A number rating cannot capture the essence of a spirit, nor can it serve to educate the consumer's palate.
But how do the readers feel? Give us your take in the comments.]