Whisky Review Preamble: My Tasting Process

My goal with this series of “Whisky Review Preamble” posts is to paint a clear picture of me and my whisky tasting process so you can decide on how much value to place on my whisky marks. A rating of 95 can only be useful if you trust the reviewer!

How I Experience Whisky

I like to experience everything a whisky has to offer. This includes packaging, the distillery website, and other people’s experiences of the whisky (including tasting notes, but also by sharing the whisky with others when I can). My experience with a specific whisky usually starts before I buy it. I’ll hear about it from a friend, from Ralfy, or on a blog somewhere. I will sometimes look at the distillery website before buying the whisky, but I usually end up exploring the website after purchase (I am usually a bit frustrated with the heavyweight marketing on distillery websites).

I will rarely buy a whisky on impulse. If I do, it is usually a cheap blended whisky that is on sale.

My tasting notes are the result of two sets of steps. The first is the “bottle break in” where I get to know the whisky, and the second is the creation of tasting notes and a rating.

Bottle Break-in

  1. Discover the whisky – usually on the internet, sometimes through a friend, sometimes in-store when one is on sale.
  2. Decide to buy the whisky. This decision is usually based on some combination of price and perceived quality (from reading/watching reviews).
  3. Once purchased, a whisky will usually stay on my shelf for a number of month before it feels like the time to open it. My perception of the whisky can change in this time.
  4. Decide to open the whisky.
  5. Experience the packaging. This does not change the taste, but it can change my expectations and perception.
    1. The box
    2. The bottle
    3. Pack-ins
    4. Possibly the distillery website (in the case of Laphroaig, for example, every bottle comes with points you can redeem on their website).
  6. Open the bottle, pour a glass, take a picture. I am a relatively skilled hobby photographer, and like to take a nice picture of the whisky for later.
  7. Enjoy the whisky without writing anything down.
  8. Continue enjoying the whisky for a few weeks (or months, in some cases) until I feel comfortable enough with it to create tasting notes.

Writing Tasting Notes

I decide to create tasting notes when I feel comfortable with the whisky or feel that I won’t get anything else out of it (in the case of poorer quality whiskies). This is arbitrary and will change as I get better at tasting. My process when creating tasting notes is as such:
  1. Pour a glass of the whisky.
  2. Prepare my tasting notes. I have a template  that I fill in with things like the name, age, alcohol percentage, purchase date, and other information.
  3. As a part of preparing my notes, I observe the color. I use the following chart (a slightly edited version of a common amber scale):
  4. Without water, nose the whisky. Take notes.
  5. Without water, taste the whisky. Take notes.
  6. Observe the finish of the whisky. Take notes.
  7. Add distilled water as appropriate.
  8. With water, nose the whisky. Take notes.
  9. With water, taste the whisky. Take notes.
  10. Observe any changes in the finish.
  11. Decided on a rating. Usually by the time I have tasted the whisky with water, I have decided on a range for the rating. I review my notes and then finalize my rating.
  12. Write a conclusion. Generally just any thoughts I have about the whisky. A lot of the time I think about how the whisky compares to others, and if it is really worth the price to me.


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