In lieu of a fresh tasting note today (I have a long day and then a long evening ahead) here are some sketches by my friend Stephanie Cox of our local whisky tasting group. All sketches are used with permission of the artist and of those represented in the sketches. Use of these images without permission of the artist is forbidden and will lead to the disintegration of the corks in your most prized bottles.
More sketches will be added to this slideshow soon, so if you enjoy these you should check back again. And if you’d like to contact the talented Stephanie you can do so at “stephaniemcox at hotmaildotcom” (replace “at” and “dot” with symbols, of course).
Read on if you’re interested in how our tasting group works:
There are 14 of us in the tasting group, of whom 8-12 make it to each monthly tasting. We mostly drink single malt whisky, but have also done one night of American whiskies (recorded in one of the sketches in the slideshow). The tastings are conducted blind (for everyone but me)–over the course of three hours we taste an ounce of each of four whiskies, discuss and compare notes and score them out of 40 points (10 each for the nose, palate, finish, and 10 wildcard points). Once the scores have been tabulated I reveal the identity/age/cask type etc. of each whisky. Despite all this these are really social gatherings with whisky involved. For each component of the total score, 5 points is the “happily drink again” point and 8 points tends to be the “man, this is great stuff” point.
Usually, the highest scoring whisky at a tasting will be in the neighbourhood of 30 points, and the median is around 26. The highest aggregate score we’ve ever given is 32 points to the Tomatin 30, 1976 (49.3%), which I guess I should review soon. And the lowest aggregate score we’ve ever given is 10 points to the Balcones Brimstone, which I am going to review as soon as I can screw up the courage to have another pour. These scores don’t map exactly onto the 100 point scale I use here: 32/40 at our tastings would be 80% but would get 90 points on my 100 point scale, and 20/40 would get 80 points. Yes, this doesn’t make any sense.
Our scores tend to vary quite widely, and on any night most whiskies have at least one person award it the highest aggregate score. And as we track the nose, palate and finish separately, it’s also interesting (to me anyway) to see how the different aspects of a whisky fare in the scoring. The wildcard score is exactly that: a wildcard. Some people use it to reward consistency, others to reward dramatic changes–pretty much anything that isn’t covered obviously by the first three categories: for instance, I gave the Balcones Brimstone 3 points on the nose, and 1 point each on the palate and finish, but 5 points for the wildcard to salute the chutzpah of the distillers who nosed and tasted this foul whisky and said, “fuck it, we’re going to release it anyway!”*.
If you are a resident of our town and you’re interested in participating, I am sorry to say that “membership” in the group is currently closed. Each tasting is restricted to 12 people, and we’re already over-subscribed. If you know someone in the group (or recognize them from the sketches) you can let them know of your interest and if anyone drops out of the group we might get in touch.
*Yes, I know that a lot of people (including people I respect) have said very positive things about this whisky, but our entire group thought it was vile all the way around (and we rarely achieve anything close to unanimity on any whisky)–perhaps our bottle was from a particularly terrible batch.