My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Most Recent Whisky

Most Recent Whisky Review

Elijah Craig Small Batch

This "no age statement" expression replaced the 12 year old Elijah Craig in 2016.  The nose has vanilla, popcorn and toasted oak.  Oily and peppery on palate, a little honey but not as sweet as nose suggests. Not as balanced as I would like but a little water helped and brought up some caramel sweetness and apple tartness.

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  • Friday, 13 January 2012 17:52

    Whisky Tasting Grades… Are you a Black Belt?

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    As I look back on my first 100 plus formal tasting notes and reviews I am ready to grade myself and now you can use my system below to grade yourself.  Welcome to the whisky dojo…  hajime!

    My first grade is a white belt.  If you drink alcohol and know what whisky is you can award yourself a white belt.  If you don’t drink alcohol or have no interest in whisky I am not sure why you are even reading this.  What does white belt mean?  It means that your trousers won’t fall down.

    The next grade, yellow belt, is awarded to those who like and enjoy the taste of whisky.  As I mentioned in my first blog, everyone seems to skip over this rather basic step.  Whisky tastes like whisky, and you should like it to reach yellow belt grade.  If you don’t like whisky then you stay at white belt grade (and probably need to surf along to a new website).  

    The next grade is all about the basic split in whisky types, whether it is the old world genre, primarily Scotland, Ireland and Japan (ie usually malt and grain whiskies) or the new world such as USA and Canada (ie usually bourbon, corn and rye whiskies).    There are often noticeable differences in the tastes between these two types which I believe most whisky drinkers can differentiate on their nose and palate.  If you can usually tell the difference between scotch and bourbon, award yourself an orange belt.

    The green belt grade in tasting is awarded to those who can identify further subdivisions of these two main types, and I would call it the style of whisky.  A peaty Islay single malt is very different in style to a triple distilled Irish blend.  Rye whisky can be very different from wheated Bourbon.  The green belt requires some experience and knowledge, this grade starts to separate the whisky drinker from the whisky taster.   I suspect people who claim to have a favorite style, “I like peaty whiskies”, “I like bourbon”, “I like Irish” or even express a specific brand preference, “I like Johnnie Walker Black” are probably green belts.  This was my grade when I moved to Scotland in 2009 as “I liked Irish”.

    I would now grade myself as a blue belt (on a good day).  I am now tasting the whisky and looking for specific aromas, flavors and notes.   However I have noticed a tendency to refer to a “pool” of certain flavors of about 20, including peat, smoke, caramel, vanilla, malt, honey, pepper, spice, oak, toffee, dried fruit, citrus and sherry.  However there is still an endless combination of these major tastes and aromas and I find it is possible to define most whisky uniquely with these descriptors.  If you can do that as well, welcome to the blue belt grade.

    The brown belt is the grade I aspire to, but I am also reconciled to the fact that I may not have the palate to reach, and is the grade many of the professional writers have achieved.  They draw on seemingly endless analogies and variations, breaking “dried fruit” down into specific types of dried fruit (prunes, raisins, sultanas, currants), spicy into multiple different spices (pepper, cayenne, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg), floral notes into specific flowers and specific type of wood notes (oak, pine, cedar even sandalwood).  They also seem to find levels of subtlety and that I simply cannot pick up or at least consciously identify. 

    Finally we have the black belt, the ultimate in whisky tasting.  As well as having all the palate and skills of a brown belt, they are blessed with the writing skills to write an evocation of sensations rather than just a lengthy list of obscure flavors and smells.  Dave Broom (definite black belt) recently tweeted this whisky review (@davebroomwhisky on www.twitter.com) …. “An out of control kid's party. Burst balloons, broken pencils, sweets on the floor, masses of chocolate & Nutella. Feisty & fun!    That is a whisky tasting black belt and he can kick my a**.  Going forward I will be awarding the occasional whisky black belt on my blog.

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