Monday, 15 October 2012

Bourbon Ratings

As I revise the blog, I'm removing some of the older notes on how I rate bourbon and replacing them with hopefully more succinct and understandable ones. Early blog entries from 2011 break down my own personal system for rating bourbon; if someone manages to steal one of my tasting notebooks, that's what they'll find. For you folks, be you a thirsty LCBO shopper, one of my patrons at 3030, or just a curious internet citizen, I want to make things more simple.

When you break down a ranking into something exact, you are basically calling yourself an extreme expert -- after all, what is the difference between a 93 and a 96, really? Bourbon makers, especially, aims for a specific flavour profile, and thus have fewer "colours" to play with their palette, so quality is often a matter of degrees. Additionally, a large part of enjoying whiskey, like enjoying any sensory experience, comes from the ambiance and situation.

So, my rankings will break bourbon down into general categories -- taste and value. Taste will be a simple score out of 5, with half points if my personal rankings require them. A zero is undrinkable, a two is average, and a five is among the best whiskies I have ever had. As per my previous ratings, I have very little desire to make ratings look great, so expect a lot of stuff around the 2.5 average mark.

The more important ranking will be value, and it will also be on a basic four tier descriptor -- Terrible, Poor, Good, and Great. What do these rankings that mean? Well, it's pretty much an all-inclusive, non-mathematic judge of how grumpy I am to buy this whiskey from the LCBO. Some whiskies, like Old Forester 100 Proof, cost three to four times more at the LCBO than at an equivalent store in the US. Sometimes, this could be due to overall rarity, but too many times it is just due to the LCBO bringing things in at lower volume. I tend to be fine with paying $10-15 more for a bottle of whiskey here in Canada than in higher-cost areas of the US (comparing prices to Kentucky prices would just be cruel). $45-55 more (like the ridiculous initial price for the already-odd-and-mediocre Bernheim Wheat Whiskey) is just outrageous. I also try to take into account things like general availability in the United States -- Sazerac and Rittenhouse Rye have a pretty standard $15 or so mark-up here, but they can be so difficult to find in the US that they are actually a pretty good value here.

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