What my ratings mean
I don't like tasting notes. Every person who tastes a whiskey will bring with them the experience that is their life. Every bit of experience will bring with it memories. Scent is closely related to memory and taste is closely related to smell. So everyone will taste or smell something different. It's all subjective. I say that Four Roses tastes like juicy fruit gum. You might very well think I'm crazy. We are probably both right. From the standpoint of our differing life experiences.
I feel the same way about ratings. Some people use numbers. This makes it feel scientific because you've done math. Some people use stars, like the movies. How glamorous. I use various cartoon faces and hearts because I'm too silly for my own good. My point is any and all of these are correct. They all adequately represent how much or how little a reviewer like any given whiskey. But no matter how it is presented, it's still just a subjective opinion.
I've had conversations with folks on twitter about how certain reviewers always score things high. And that because of this, you can't trust their opinion. I don't agree with that. You don't have to agree with their opinion, but they are probably adequately describing how much they enjoyed a particular whiskey. Everyone is coming from different places.
Here's where I'm coming from: I really enjoy bourbon. Sometimes I enjoy it in a contemplative manner. I sit down and concentrate and really try to tease out all the little smells and tastes that are hidden inside the glass. And if it is interesting, most probably, I'll like it. And then I'll tell you I liked it. Sometimes I enjoy bourbon in my glass while playing cards or watching tv or conversing with friends. I'm not paying a lot of attention to it, but if it tastes good and it's acting as a social lubricant, I'll probably like it. And then I'll tell you I like it. (And put a little smiley face next to it).
Sometimes I find one that doesn't do either of these things. I doesn't taste good, and it really isn't that interesting. I probably won't like it and I'll put a little frowny face next to it and say I don't like it. Because I buy all of the whiskey I review, odds are I'm not buying many I don't already think I'll like. So there will be few that ever show up here that have a frowny face.
You'll find a meh now and then. These are ones that didn't taste bad, but I didn't care for them. I didn't like it, I didn't dislike it. It's just sort of in the middle there for me.
Very occasionally I'll drop a heart on something. This means I love it. No ifs, ands, or buts. I'd take this whiskey over almost any other.
So to recap:
A smiley face means I liked the whiskey or I found it interesting while tasting it or I enjoyed myself while drinking it. Or I enjoyed the company I drank it with. Or I was having fun. Most bourbons and ryes will be in this category because I like most bourbons and ryes I've tasted.
There. Simple. Certainly subjective. You are free to disagree with any of it. We all have different experiences. For example. I hate green beans. Some people love them. I used to love them while growing up. Then I worked in a green bean processing and canning facility. All I smelled day in and day out was green beans. My clothes. My hair. My car. 17 years later I still can't go near them. Doesn't mean they are bad, I just don't like them. My experience was different than yours. We like different things.
And that's kinda nice. It gives us something to talk about.