I don’t read tasting notes.
“What?! But you’re a blogger – surely you must spend ALL DAY reading tasting notes?”
Yes, I actually avoid reading tasting notes. I find they only do two things for me, neither positive. One, they color my perspective. If I read that a whisky has “herbal green notes” before I taste it, then the entire glass tastes to me like blended lawn clippings. Suggestion is a very powerful thing, and works multi-fold upon the subjective senses of taste and smell. Two, it causes me to question my own impressions. If I think a whisky has very heavy banana notes, but a blogger whom I hold in high regard talks only about its “toffee” and “caramel” notes, I begin to wonder if I know what the heck I’m talking about. Seriously, this guy has been tasting whisky since I was in diapers. Who am I to disagree with him? This causes a downward spiral of shame and feelings of inadequacy which are quite unproductive.
So, I just don’t read them.
This may seem highly disrespectful to the community – after all, it is tasting notes that allow us to compare and contrast our feelings on products that can only be discussed in paltry words – but I think it frees me to write tastings notes how they occur to me without the tendency, I hope, to standardize terms and end up talking exclusively about Christmas cake and treacle. It also frees me to read about the objective aspects of whisky that really sink in for me. You have no idea how much I geek out over the discovery (usually on a blog) of some snippet of interview transcript with some now-retired master distiller who reveals that whisky X was using sherry barrels all along, or stopped chill-filtration when they upped the ABV to 46% without telling anybody, or whatever. THAT puts me in direct emotional and intellectual contact with a whisky far more than discovering that someone else tasted strawberries in it. I never taste strawberry in whisky, so what does that mean to me?
Don’t read my tasting notes.
Seriously. I would be totally unmoved to discover that my readership did me the same disservice. I don’t expect my detection of cotton candy notes in an aroma to influence my reader either way. If you go out and buy a bottle, taste it, and are totally unable to associate it whatsoever with cotton candy – will you be disappointed? I don’t want that. What I do want is to be able to dissuade you from buying Macallan 12 when you could be buying GlenDronach 12, or to try Balvenie DoubleWood instead of yet another bottle of Chivas. I want to share those juicy little tidbits – like the 25% sherry maturation in Green Spot – that will really make a difference in your appreciation of a whisky. I want you to taste it and say “Yes! I CAN tell this was partially sherry-matured”, not “Oh right, there’s the raisin and plum notes”. I think the first more directly impacts your own journey of whisky appreciation. The first one you (and I) can learn from.
“Then why don’t you give ratings?”
I still get asked this. The typical rationale for dropping ratings is that the writer wishes to convey his or her thoughts about a whisky via tasting notes instead of a cold, hard, factual number (which is generally neither hard nor factual, but appears that way). You come to my blog for two reasons (I suspect). One, to learn about whisky appreciation and to expand your knowledge about what whisky is available in the market. Two, to let me tell you what to buy, and what not to. I suspect you don’t really care if I taste strawberries or not, as long as I can tell you whether or not to drop $50 on that bottle. My non-numeric ratings, therefore, are a wholly subjective wrapping-up of the answer to the question “Should I buy it or not?”. Usually the answer falls unsatisfactorily in the middle: “Some of you will like it, some of you will be ambivalent” is not a very good conclusion, but can safely be applied to 90% of the bottles on the shelf. It is therefore my hope that those of you looking for any reason to buy the whisky in question will not be dissuaded, and those of you looking for “The Best” will avoid wasting your money. In both cases, my unearthing of cotton candy aromas is immaterial.
What about you, dear reader, do you read the tasting notes, or skip over them?