Whisky scores: How are whiskies rated?

Whisky scores is a subject that has been heavily debated through the times and is often picked up again when the ‘pro’s’ give what others think is a low rating for something they enjoyed. My first advice is: Don’t take it too seriously.

Like many other whisky aficionados, The DramJazzer’s scoring system is based on the Malt Maniac’s. This scoring system is not really one that the average whisky drinker base their ratings on. They often throw a 1 or 100. – Or a 50 for what they call an ‘pretty nice whisky’. But 50 is normally regarded as pretty awful amongst the frequent whisky sniffers, and not really ratings you encounter from them a lot, since they often like ALL types of whiskies, while distillery knowledge, methods, ingredients etc. also have improved the taste of whiskies a lot during the last generations.

Still, it might help the reader if I disclose some of my preferences, which are:

  • All types of whisky. – Yes, I like the peat monsters, sherry monsters, the extremely dry and the extremely sweet ones as well as the fragile, light and gentle drams – and everything in between.
  • Long finishes. This is biggie for me as well as many other whisky aficionados – and the reason why blends are often disfavored for single malts, since the purpose of blends most often are to create something that is easy to drink a lot of (there are exceptions, of course).
  • Balanced whiskies. Some whiskies can’t take any sulphurous off flavors, while a little benefits many others. You just know when something bad happened to a whisky, like you know wearing a pink shirt and butterfly at a funeral doesn’t match.
  • Complexity. When your mind just keeps going on supplying you with pictures of a wide variety of stuff like fruits, beach bonfires, coconuts, figs, sage, lilies, honey etc. – it gives you a much more stimulating experience, and is usually an indicator that the producer put a lot of effort in the whisky.
  • Pricing. What? This shouldn’t affect the taste, you say? But to me – and I suspect many others – it actually sometimes does. Why? Because you simply get thrilled when you buy something cheap and discover it tastes great! Another reason is that very old whiskies are enormously overpriced if you compare to the taste. And what a disappointment it is to buy something for $400 and discover it doesn’t taste any better than what you paid $40 for. Scoring a whisky is about the overall feeling you get at that moment.

But still, this doesn’t mean you can’t decide completely as you like. A score is a score based on your SUBJECTIVE opinion. There are no noses alike, and especially since we discovered that smells can trigger memories from our childhood – good and bad – we know that some whisky will actually taste horrific to some while others might find them heavenly tasty.

The DramJazzer’s scaling system

  • 90+ points: Exceptionally great whiskies, and often very rare. You almost never see a whisky aficionado give a 100.
  • 85-89 points: The highly recommendable whiskies, usually saved for special occasions.
  • 80-84 points: The recommendable whiskies, perfect as a daily sipper if the price is right.
  • 75-79 points: Better than average whiskies – compared to other single malt whiskies.
  • 70-74 points: Below average – compared to other single malt whiskies.
  • 65-69: Not very good neither very bad whiskies.
  • Less than 65: Not something I would ever drink nor write about here. Also pretty hard to find because of improved modern equipment, methods and know-how.

Remember: A score should reflect your general sense of feeling when having your dram. Not objectively scoring the number of smells or a long finish higher (unless that makes you happy!). It might as well be you feeling great for buying a whisky you never heard about on sale, and being positively surprised on how well it tasted you – at that moment!


Also read: Whisky flavors: What does whisky taste like?

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