Each whiskey I review is ultimately evaluated in three ways. Combined, these are meant to offer a snapshot view of my final thoughts on a given whiskey.
The first is a letter grade (+/-), which is given regardless of price, availability, marketing, etc. The one possible exception I may give in this situation is with a particularly high-value whiskey, which would effectively get a bonus point, so to speak. For example, I can find handles (1.75L) of Wild Turkey 101 for as low as $30.99, which is exceptional value for a solid whiskey. So instead of receiving a B, I’d bump it to a B+.
Speaking of value, I use a simple 1-5 scale to assign value. Anything that scores a 3 or higher is a worthwhile purchase while anything that scores lower should be approached with hesitation. Since the whiskey markets can be erratic with regards to availability and subsequent pricing, however, I will include two value ratings for applicable expressions: one for retail/MSRP, and another for secondary prices. Since secondary prices can also be all over the place, I’ll mention the lowest price I’ve seen it for in my whiskey details section (under Cost) and give the secondary value rating according to that minimum price. The higher the secondary price is from what I listed, the lower the value becomes. What if I’ve already given a 1 to a whiskey based on its minimum secondary pricing and it costs more than that for you? Well, let’s just say I think a swift 180 is the best course of action.
The final way I evaluate a whiskey is with a Verdict. These are short phrases meant to summarize the whiskey in question. I try to keep them simple, but for further explanation, here’s a breakdown of what each of them mean:
- For Special Occasions: Rare, special pours that go well and above. Something you pour to celebrate. For some this would be the highest honor. Whiskey in this category typically isn’t cheap, or is hard to find, or both. Plenty of whiskeys have this problem, but the ones that I believe actually justify the hunt and/or cost are often the ones that make one say “let’s save this for special events or occasions,” like a birthday, a new job/promotion, he/she saying “yes,” moving to a new place, etc. These whiskeys are truly worth celebrating and commemorating with.
- Treat Yourself: Obligatory weekend pour. Worth having on hand at all times if possible. Whiskeys that earn this verdict are typically a bit higher than what I would spend for a daily drinker ($30 for a 750mL is my ideal ceiling). Sometimes you don’t necessarily have anything big going on, but you’re in the mood for something that’s a cut above your usual fare. Think of it like a Friday/weekend whiskey (if you’re lucky enough to have a set M-F schedule). These whiskeys are, as you’d expect, a treat to drink and can sometimes put into perspective how good of a buy slightly more expensive options can still be.
- Daily Drinker Worthy: Affordable, available and tasty. Could have every day and be perfectly content. A potential top honor, whiskeys worthy of Daily Drinker status check all the necessary boxes: affordable, available, tasty and maybe even a bit versatile. The Daily Drinkers are reliable and, for most average drinkers, all they need to be happy with their bottle.
- Penseur Pour: Puzzling pours that certainly won’t be to everyone’s liking. The “Thinker Pour,” these whiskeys often prove difficult to come to a decisive conclusion on. If served to a group of drinkers, this whiskey is likely to split opinions.
- Trophy Bottle: Something to show off more than anything. Likely allocated and overpriced. Know someone who enjoys whiskey but isn’t in-tune with the more passionate, discerning crowd? They’re not a “phony,” but they’re definitely swooned by marketing, packaging, and labels. You know, like most people. Bottles that earn this Verdict are seldom worse than good and rarely better than great. Regardless of how good the juice may or may not be, presenting it is sure to pop the eyes of at least one guest who knows just enough to appreciate what you have on your hands.
- Cocktail Request: Shines best in a cocktail as opposed to neat or on the rocks. Sometimes a whiskey shines best when it plays with others. Earning the Cocktail Request Verdict signifies having good or promising qualities, but could use a little help smoothing out the rough edges or getting to a place where you don’t need to think as much to enjoy it. This is a distinct verdict because many good whiskeys make good cocktails, but not all sippers will.
- Good If Affordable: Only worth buying if the price comfortably fits within the budget. Whiskeys with this verdict can have volatile availability and/or pricing, depending on where you live. That or they’re just overpriced, even at SRP (hello Booker’s). These are the ones that are, in my experience, commonly marked up at liquor stores (looking at you, Buffalo Trace) or are only worth considering if at a discount. These whiskeys are always good, but the real question is if they’re good for the price. As long as these are around MSRP or comfortably fit within your budget, then I say go for it.
- Serve to Guests: Something accessible that you don’t mind sharing or parting ways with. Likely belongs in a decanter. Whiskey is like music in the sense that there are plenty of options and sometimes, you can see the value in what you’re consuming more than you actually enjoy it. That’s what this verdict is for, which often pertains to whiskeys you enjoy or appreciate but don’t necessarily reach for–budget and beginner-friendly options come to mind. At best, whiskeys with this verdict can serve as a gateway for people to get into whiskey; at worst, these are bottles you simply aren’t privy to.
- Couch Pour: Something enjoyable enough, but ideal for drinking while doing another activity (movies, TV, games, etc.). Former known as “Drink While Distracted,” this verdict is similar to the Serve to Guests one, but instead of being the kind you’d give to casual drinkers or potential prospecting whiskey drinkers, these are whiskeys that are enjoyable, just not to the point that you could sit down and make it the point of discussion or analysis. These are simple, mostly enjoyable options that serve as a nice supplement to another activity.
- Find a Mixer: Grab the Coke or Sprite and relax. You know these whiskeys. These are almost exclusively the bottom-shelf options that have next to no place being sipped neat or on the rocks. Some whiskeys even come to market with the intent of being used as a mixer. Most of the whiskeys that earn this verdict earn it without much surprise.
- Essence of Drain: No. You deserve better. The bottom verdict. Any whiskey that receives my hard-earned money should deliver something pleasant. Or if I didn’t have to buy it, then let’s just say I still feel like I paid, but not with money. I wouldn’t even want to soil perfectly decent soda with whatever earns this verdict.