The germ of this article comes from one I originally posted in February of 2013. I think it's time to surface it again. I've cleaned it up a little since I think I've gotten better at writing in the last four years, but the basic idea behind my reviews haven't changed.
Everyone who writes about whiskey approaches things differently. Some reviewers like to use numbers. Numbers make a review feel scientific because you've done some math. Some reviewers like to use stars. Stars are easy to visualize and are familiar to Amazon shoppers everywhere. I like to use various cartoon faces and hearts because I'm silly. Probably too silly for my own good. The point is that any and/or all of these are correct. They all adequately represent how much or how little a reviewer liked any given whiskey. But no matter how a writer presents it, we as readers need to remember that the rating is still just a subjective opinion.
It probably goes without saying, but I like bourbon. I enjoy it in many different ways. Sometimes I enjoy thoughtfully tasting bourbon. I pour it into a nosing glass, sit down, concentrate, and try to tease out all the little smells and tastes that are hidden inside the glass. And if it is interesting, I'll probably like it. Other times, I want to enjoy bourbon in a rocks 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. Sometimes I enjoy it in a cocktail. Even if it isn't great neat, if it makes a killer Manhattan, I'll probably like it. And if I like it, then I'll tell you I like it. And I'll put a little smiley face next to it.
Sometimes I find a bourbon that doesn't taste good and isn't all that interesting. Needless to say, I don't like these. I've gotten pretty good at knowing what I like, and since I buy most of the whiskey reviewed on the site, the odds are that I'm not buying too many duds. But occasionally one slips through, or I buy one specifically for research purposes. When that happens, I'll tell you I dislike it and put a frowny face next to it.
Of course, some whiskeys are just...meh. There is nothing offensive about them. They don't taste bad. I don't dislike it, but I don't like it either. It's just sort of in the middle there for me. In such a case I'll just drop a neutral face on it.
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 heart means I loved this whiskey. I'd have to pause and think (briefly) if forced to choose between it and my wife. (shhhh... don't tell her)
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, on at least some level, I like most bourbons and ryes I've tasted.
A neutral face means meh. I didn't particularly like this whiskey, but I didn't hate it either. It wasn't for me. But you might like it.
A frowny face means I really disliked this. I probably dumped it out or at least thought about dumping it out.
We all have different life experiences that color our perceptions. I taste JuicyFruit gum when I taste Four Roses. Other people might taste Jackfruit, but I've never had a Jackfruit, so I say JuicyFruit. Some people might taste almond in a whiskey. I'm allergic to nuts, so I only have an academic idea of what almonds taste like. If I use it as a tasting note, it will have come from my wife (we do the notes together). The point is that everyone will like different things and has had different experiences to inform their tastes. And that's pretty cool. It gives us something to talk about.
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