Malt Madness. Johannes van den Heuvel was the founder of the Malt Manics collective (he stepped down a couple of years ago over philosophical differences over the direction of the group). Malt Madness is his labour of love, and while he hasn’t updated the site in a while, it remains, hands down, the most comprehensive introduction online to malt whisky and the distilleries of Scotland.
Whiskybase. The crowd-sourced whisky ratings database run by Menno and CJ, who’ve since opened a whisky store of the same name. As with all crowd-sourced review sites you have to learn how to read the scores, but for bottles with a large number of ratings it is very reliable indeed, and, warts and all, is the most comprehensive ratings site.
The Whisky Monitor. This is the database of ratings by the Malt Maniacs. Its strength and weakness are the same: a much smaller pool of ratings/reviewers than at Whiskybase. The pool of reviewers is not as strong as it once was–I am not alone in thinking that the collective has gotten a little watered down in recent years–but it’s also much easier to filter the signal from the noise here than on Whiskybase. And I really like that more and more tasting notes are being added to it these days.
I’m afraid that being the kind of narcissist who has a blog I don’t read very many blogs written by other people. In fact, the only blogs I read on a regular basis are whisky blogs, and I read very few of those. Here are the ones I do read, either because the reviews are very good and enlightening and/or because they review interesting whiskies that I am unlikely to encounter on my own; in some cases because they provide interesting insight into the industry and the state of whisky blogging itself. This list will be updated from time to time as new blogs crack my rotation or older ones fall off.
Whiskyfun. Serge Valentin’s excellent blog. Serge is the most famous and influential of all the amateur malt whisky reviewers, and more influential probably than most of the professionals (he is also the current de facto leader of the Malt Maniacs, and certainly their public face). I find his nearly-daily reviews consistently entertaining even if I don’t think I have ever been able to smell or taste more than 50% of the notes he finds in any whisky (and even if I don’t agree with everything he does–see this post and the conversation in the comments).
This is the only must-read Scotch whisky blog there is. Warning: this blog, and the curiosity about arcane bottlings that it may inspire, has been the gateway through which many casual drinkers have passed into ruinous obsession.
Sku’s Recent Eats. Probably the American blog that comes closest to matching Serge’s influence and reach. His blog, which has almost nothing to do with eats, recent or otherwise, is largely bourbon-centered and is always interesting reading. He doesn’t post daily but there’s usually an interesting conversation in the comments. The problem is that Sku believes he is very funny, in much the same way that Brown-Forman believe they make excellent bourbon. And like Brown-Forman with their bourbon he is not shy about inflicting his humour on us.
I kid, I kid: it is true that Sku is one of the funniest whisky bloggers around–it’s just that it doesn’t take very much more to be the funniest whisky blogger than it does to be the most stylish physicist or the smartest person at a Tea Party convention. What is undeniable though is that Sku is independent, principled and always fair. Okay, fine, he’s funny too. Sometimes.
The Whisky Sponge. Speaking of funny, there’s the Whisky Sponge. At this point one might think the whisky industry does a pretty good job of parodying and satirizing itself but their hacks don’t write as well as the Sponge does.
Slightly Less Frequent Stops:
Spirits Journal. Also funny, but far less intentionally, is the blog operated by David Driscoll, the lead Spirits buyer at K&L Wine, the California retailers. I applaud David’s enthusiasm for bringing interesting whisky to the US (along with his colleague David Othenin-Girard) but, as regular readers know, I have all kinds of reservations about the degree to which they often get carried away in hyping their exclusive bottlings etc.. Still, this blog can be a very interesting window into the industry–though there’s less and less of that these days, which is regrettable. I have to admit though that at this point I read it mostly to see if he has any new material for me.
Diving for Pearls. Michael Kravitz and I have a similar sensibility–though not identical palates–which is what draws me to his blog, but his posts are always interesting and his views independent and idiosyncratic. We have become quite friendly over the past year and have swapped samples, split bottles, and posted simultaneous reviews. He is a consistently entertaining writer, passionate and never unwilling to hang himself out to dry. More people should read him.
Whisky Notes. This is Ruben Luyten’s influential blog. Like Serge, Ruben is based in Europe and his reviews are slanted towards EU releases. I don’t always agree with Ruben’s tasting notes, but they are concise and precise, and his blog is a good source of information on new EU-only independent bottlings. As with a number of influential UK and EU bloggers he seems fairly well-connected to the industry but does not always seem to me to be as transparent about this as he might be. If you’re interested in esoteric European bottles, however–even if only theoretically–this is a necessary read.
The Chemistry of the Cocktail. Jordan Devereaux is a chemist by training (as in a graduate student in chemistry, not a pharmacist) and so he often has the advantage over most whisky bloggers in that he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to production issues. He’s also consistently interesting when he is reviewing or writing about whisky, rum, cocktails etc. or reporting on his distillery visits.
Dramming. Malt Maniac Oliver Klimek’s blog. Sometimes suffers from taking itself a little too seriously and some of the articles sometimes feel partially recycled/reconstructed, but is generally interesting. Oliver is one of the few big name whisky bloggers willing to be critical of the industry in anything but a bland sort of way.
Whisky Science. Teemu Strengell’s excellent blog is perhaps the best online compendium of resources on the science of whisky. It’s only an occasional stop because, as with Tim R., he doesn’t post very often. But you should read everything he posts and has posted. If you follow him on Twitter you’ll get a more regular stream of succinct and pointed whisky reviews.
Whisky-News. Not a very attractive interface but a very good source of capsule reviews with a tough (and in my view, consistent) rating system. A model, I think, for the kind of tough and economical reviewing that I consistently fail to do.
The Chuck Cowdery Blog. Cowdery is a bourbon historian and, unusually for professional whisky writers, a very good writer. I’m not quite as convinced by his standing as a maverick as I once was–while he sometimes critiques the industry, at other times he seems to be happy to provide quasi press-releases–but his posts are always interesting and well-crafted.
Bourbon Truth. The blog of the notorious “Lloyd Christmas” (don’t you hate anonymous bloggers?): high on attitude, low on editing, the man they call Bourbon Truth is always entertaining, always fires from the hip (often with a shotgun) and rarely takes prisoners. If I didn’t follow him on Twitter I’d stop by every day, but I don’t want to overdose and be forced to give up the habit.
All Things Whisky. I stop in at Curt’s blog from time to time. He has a good palate and the discussions in his comments are usually interesting.
The Coopered Tot. The blog of the indefatigable Josh Feldman. Josh is a nice guy who is engaged in a somewhat quixotic permanent campaign to knit the wide world of whisky blogging together, malcontents, pollyannas and all. I can’t say I’m always in agreement with Josh or endorse his many enthusiasms but his blog is one of the key nodes in the American whisky blogging network and he is always generous in his dealings with other bloggers.