Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: The Doctor is In

We are taking a break from our series on blended Scotch to wish a hearty congratulations to Dr. Whisky, a.k.a. Sam Simmons, who is the recipient of this year's Drammie award for Best Book, Resource or Website.

For the past year, the good Doctor has been on a Malt Mission, tasting four to five whiskies per week and reporting tasting notes on his website. He does two tastings of each whiskey, one first thing in the morning (yikes!) and one in the evening. While his bailiwick is Scotch, he occasionally ventures out of that box and tastes other whiskies, including samples from such far flung locales as India and Kenya (in fact, he's tasted more Kenyan whiskies than American whiskies). While he sometimes ventures into the obscure, most of the whiskies he tastes are fairly available.

My favorite thing about Doc's site though, is his tasting notes. Tasting notes are a lot like abstract art. Everyone thinks they can do them, but it takes a true artist to really make it appealing to the public. There are lots of very popular whiskey writers whose notes are nothing more than a string of flavors or scents which seem linked together by nothing more than free association. This can go on for whole paragraphs, and the more obscure the reference, the better e.g., "unripe Haas avocados, Havana cottonseed, kyoho grapes, spring butter, cold-pressed grapeseed oil, etc., etc., etc." As I have often complained, these types of notes are of little use to the reader. Knowing that someone thinks the finish of a certain whiskey has a dash of French summer peaches doesn't tell me anything interesting or help me make a decision about whether to buy the bottle.

The great thing about Dr. Whisky is that his tasting notes are both entertaining and helpful. He starts each review by giving specific information about the whiskey being tasted; this sounds obvious, but it's a rarity in tasting notes and information about specific bottles can be surprisingly hard to find.

His tasting notes eschew the obscure and embrace the familiar, often in whimsical fashion which inspires a chuckle. Some of the flavors he's noted in whiskies are green gummy bears, sweaty pencil after an exam, matzoh, roadside construction, wet bathing suits and, unfortunately, flatulence.

Lastly, he concludes with a summary of his thoughts on the whiskey. This too seems obvious but is often lacking in tasting notes or signified simply by a numerical rating which is of little use unless you are very familiar with that taster and his or her preferences. (It also gives you something to skip to if you're feeling lazy...sorry Doc, it happens.)

The bottom line is that Dr. W is a great writer with a good sense of humor...the exact type of person who should be writing tasting notes. Now, while I don't begrudge him a celebration, he may have taken it a tad too far, but maybe that's what 253 malts will do to you.

Congrats Doc!

Next Wednesday: The Blends are Back...in Black

1 comment:

Bon Vivant said...

Scotch tasting this Sat at Wally's!