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Trusting Your Own Palate

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Trusting Your Own Palate

Postby bamber » Wed Dec 14, 2005 12:58 pm

JM's whisky tasting made me question the way I evaluate / rank whiskies. I feel like I'm way to influenced by what I'm supposed to like rather than what I actually do like. As brilliant as JM is at picking out flavours and spotting flaws in a whiksky, there should one area I win hands down - deciding what * I prefer *.

I preferred the Amrut to all bar 2 of the whiksies we tried but he scored it the lowest of the lot. It's only £20 a bottle. It's different and fun. Why haven't I bought any yet ?

Because it only got 82 :roll:

I've had the same thing listening to regulars on sb.com (they've suggested great stuff as well). Almost everyone loves the Van Winkle stuff - especially the Old Rip 15yo and Pappy 20yo. It really did not impress me that much (about 18 months ago). I tried it at the same time as some Wild Turkey 10yo, which I *much* preferred. In fact the only Van Winkle whisky that I believe I honestly rate is their rye. Depite this I feel a great urge to buy more Van Winkle bourbons. Help me !!

Few people seem to rate Noah's Mill. I suspect, blind, I would rate it my favourite but I think I'm actually scared to admit it :oops:

From now on I'm going to put the books away, when I evaluate a whisky and trust my own palate.

Anyone else think they suffer from this complaint ?
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Postby kallaskander » Wed Dec 14, 2005 1:20 pm

Hi there,

well bamber, how many palates you have got? Meaning there is only one you can trust. As we posted elsewhere here in the forum many of us use books as inspiration where to look next and what to buy. But books and rankings and points are, well pointless.

In the tastings I do I tell the audience not to believe me anything when it comes to tell them how a whisky smells or tastes or which one is good or they should like. And I encourage them not to believe JM, MJ or any other whisky author either. There is only one criteria for liking or disliking a whisky, your own taste. If you like the Glen Ben from your supermarket better than a established single malt or blend that is alright. As long as you do not drink it with ice or coca cola. That is what I tell the people who attend.
And it is what I did from the start.

Greetings
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Postby bamber » Wed Dec 14, 2005 1:36 pm

Hi kallaskander,
Well this was pretty much what JM said, but it is just so hard to empty your mind when doing this stuff.

I sometimes have trouble knowing what flavour a packet or crisps is, if I cannot see the bag. This is not least off becuase chicken crisps don't taste a whole lot like chicken ! Suggestion is a powerful thing.

I guess it's the same with practically everything we imbibe. Music, literature, cigars (yuk BTW). If you really can block out the pressure of ones piers I truly envy you :)
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Postby hpulley » Wed Dec 14, 2005 1:46 pm

Are you buying whisky for yourself or as a present for JM? If for you, buy what you like. If for him, read his book ;)

Even the denizens of the WM forums here can crap on people for saying they like Bowmore, Fettercairn, Ledaig or whatever. We're just telling you OUR likes and dislikes. Only you know YOURS. If you like Amrut, score it how you like and buy it as you like.

If you don't find the elements that JM or MJ or DB find in their books, don't sweat it. The reality of perception is, you can be swayed into finding things that aren't there FOR YOU. Only you know what you detect, and that is the real whisky for you. Only you know how you perceive it.

Some people strive to find tastes that other people find but it may not be there for you. That doesn't mean you're wrong or they're wrong. Two notes can be different and yet be right at the same time.

Harry
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Dec 14, 2005 1:46 pm

I think we are all influenced by the powers of persuasion and if someone gives a whisky a high mark, I will probably taste it with different expectations than if someone had given it a low mark.

But to say that points and tasting notes are pointless is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I simply don't have the money, time, inclination or opportunity to form my own opinions on every whisky. I need to find a way to shortlist. Before the Whisky Bible, I shortlisted by potluck - and it was very hit and miss. I spent a lot of time drinking my way through rather dull bottles - perhaps one in every two that I bought - some of which were not cheap. I had come across tasting notes by Charles MacLean and Dave Broom, but neither of these quite matched my own perceptions.

In JM, I have found tasting notes that I can identify with and that help me in my appreciation of whisky. I broadly concur with the scoring, although JM does seem to be overly influenced by peat. But so long as I know this, I can read the tasting notes and judge. I also have a good idea of what to expect when opening a bottle, so I can avoid having too many sherried whiskies open and not enough fruity ones.

Whilst I don't agree with every mark, I can only say that my whisky drinking has transformed since I got the Whisky Bible because I have cut out the really disappointing whiskies almost completely and get pointed straight towards the absolutely stellar whiskies. Of course, I supplement this with tasting in whisky shops, trying the odd dram in a bar, and still going for some whiskies just because I like the label. I have the confidence in my own palate to buy whiskies that I like that others don't and I have championed some of them on these pages. I have also changed my mind on some whiskies as I have gotten to know them and understand them better. But for the shortlisting process, to decide what actually gets as far as my palate, I am not too proud to take expert advice.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Dec 14, 2005 1:56 pm

hpulley wrote:Even the denizens of the WM forums here can crap on people for saying they like Bowmore, Fettercairn, Ledaig or whatever.


Actually, I have claimed to like all these whiskies and the only time I have met with a really hostile response has been when praising Bowmore. I wonder whether that is because Bowmore is quite common, so plenty of relatively inexperienced drinkers (more likely to adopt the "worship my whisky and no others" mantra). By the time people get to trying Ledaig and, especially, Fettercairn they have probably had more experience and are therefore more willing to tolerate differences in opinion.

I do, though, wish people wouldn't use nasty racist terms when slagging Bowmore.
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Postby bamber » Wed Dec 14, 2005 2:00 pm

Nick,
Don't get me wrong, I've found JM's tasting notes and scores invaluable in exactly the way you say.

It's just that I believe I'm too influenced at times by the expectation of how good something should be and what it should taste like. I can often remember verbatum the tasting notes I read before my first sip. There have been a couple times on the forum when I'm about to write my tasting notes for somthing and I realise I'm about to quote JM ! Hopefully this is in part because I've used his notes hand in hand with tasting whiskies right from the begining and have picked up similar terminolgy, but there is definitely some 'parroting' going on ....

I'll continue to rely on advice for what to try, it's just when I have a glass of the stuff in my hand I want to rely on my own judgement.

I like Bowmore :) I really do. I think errr .... Well I did last time I had one (Saturday).
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Postby hpulley » Wed Dec 14, 2005 2:02 pm

One more thing to add. I NEVER read notes before I taste a whisky. I'll read them before I buy one if I've never tried it but at tasting meetings I always drink it before anyone has a chance to recite from someone's book. Bias is very obvious, especially when they read the wrong note and people still find those characteristics! Oops...

Harry
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Postby kallaskander » Wed Dec 14, 2005 2:10 pm

Hi there,

Nick if JM points you anywhere, he´s gotten at you. Of course making your own experiences is hit and miss. So if JM and his bible keep you from tasting "dull" whiskies they keep you from discovering exiting ones.
We all have our learning history, our bias and expectations. Our expectations determine what we can perceive. Following the whisky bible is following the expectations of JM. If you find that useful go on with it but it also means certain posibilities are ruled out from the beginning.
No offence meant.

I find it absolutely stunning when you compare the tasting notes of say Michael Jackson and Dave Broom here or in the printed Whisky Magazine. In some of them no two words are the same even as they taste the same whisky!

Greetings
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Dec 14, 2005 2:19 pm

We have to have the confidence to be able to say that we have not been able to identify a flavour that figures in someone else's notes - just as we should feel able to report flavours that were not included in the notes.

I have also found myself quoting or parroting JM (Dun Bheagan's Teaninich with its raspberry swiss roll comes to mind). Partly that is the power of persuasion, but also, it is probably because that flavour really is there. If you try Longmorn any-age you will probably find it tastes of oranges. JM will obviously have identified oranges because you can't fail to miss them. But just 'cause JM has spotted them doesn't mean we should ignore them in our own tastings. I did do one evening in the Pot Still in Glaschu without the Whisky Bible and wrote my own notes from scratch. I found back at home that I had pretty much the same as JM - perhaps we just have similar palates.

On the Bowmore theme, I really love it but I suspect it is too pungent for many whisky drinkers who like peat, but only when it is soft and sweet. For my money, I expect an Islay to have an abundance of pungency. Others, though, seem to see the pungency as a blemish.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Dec 14, 2005 2:27 pm

kallaskander wrote:Nick if JM points you anywhere, he´s gotten at you. Of course making your own experiences is hit and miss. So if JM and his bible keep you from tasting "dull" whiskies they keep you from discovering exiting ones.


JM does point me places, and perhaps he has gotten at me. But its a situation I am more than happy with. Actually my concern is that he is older than me and therefore likely to die first. I worry about how I will navigate myself then.

Perhaps there are some absolute gems out there that JM hasn't rated and that I will never discover. But I wouldn't presume for one moment that I would have discovered them if I hadn't been guided by JM. And in any case, why should I care, given that I am drinking very good to excellent whisky anyway?

I know different writers seem to have different palates. I found little match between my own and Dave Boorm or Charles MacLean. But I do find a very good match with JM.
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Postby hpulley » Wed Dec 14, 2005 3:12 pm

Nick Brown wrote:On the Bowmore theme, I really love it but I suspect it is too pungent for many whisky drinkers who like peat, but only when it is soft and sweet. For my money, I expect an Islay to have an abundance of pungency. Others, though, seem to see the pungency as a blemish.


When I say I don't like a particular Bowmore, it is not because of overall pungency. I enjoy VERY peaty whiskies, ones much peatier than Bowmore which is a middleweight in Islay, in my opinion and mine alone. When I dislike Bowmore it is for notes I don't like which have nothing to do at all with peat. If you've never noticed those off notes, or if those notes which are off for me are wonderful to you then this is an example of a taste which is experienced differently for different people.

A recent Bowmore I tasted, an independent bottling I thought was pretty much undrinkable but Frodo really enjoyed it and Wendy was intrigued by it. It had obvious herbal notes and even mint in the body. We all agreed that the flavors were there but I didn't like it. No one is right or wrong here, we just have our likes and dislikes. It wasn't too pungent for me, I enjoyed the peaty aspects, just not the floral, herbal and minty ones.

Harry
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Dec 14, 2005 3:33 pm

Harry - I think you are taking pungency and peatiness to be synonyms. I am not. I expect more than peatiness from a typical Islay malt and that's what I get in Bowmore - herbs, mint, bacon, flowers, even a dash of TCP (iodine).
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Postby hpulley » Wed Dec 14, 2005 3:52 pm

I'm not taking them to be synonyms. I just don't like herbs or mint in my islay whisky, that's all :) I like iodine, seaweed, seabreeze, moss, chocolate, toffee, diesel, tar, and so on but not herbal notes, especially bitter ones, or sharp notes that stand out in discord above everything else like mint or floral smells. I like mint and floral notes in some other whiskies, however. I have the feeling we're going to agree to disagree on this one.

Harry
Last edited by hpulley on Wed Dec 14, 2005 4:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Dec 14, 2005 3:57 pm

Sorry - I must have misunderstood the first line of your previous message which did seem to treat puncency ans peatiness as a synonym.

Happy to agree to disagree over Bowmore, although I still have issues with those who use racist language to express their dislike of the stuff.
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Postby hpulley » Wed Dec 14, 2005 4:04 pm

Bacon is fine too and the peanut shells I often find in Caol Ila and Lagavulin. Just hold the herbs, please. I like herbal bitters, but not in my whisky.

Harry
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Postby Lawrence » Wed Dec 14, 2005 5:01 pm

Well, this is an interesting subject and thank the stars we don't all have the same palate or we'd have nothing to discuss.

I've often wondered if people like whiskies like Ardbeg 10 and Aberlour a'bunadh (for example) because they are really 'in your face' whiskies and have easily identifiable aspects. I was in a Liquor store a while ago and was talking about the various whiskies on the shelf and one of the fellows made some disparaging remarks about Rosebank as being 'without flavour' and 'a weak lowlander'.

I couldn't help but think that he had a 'lazy' palate and was only excited by whiskies that jumped up at him and not by those that he had to spend a bit of time with to see their subtleties.

He also said he never trusted a whisky that didn't have an age statement. The poor fellow, he left to drink alone and be stuck in his rut missing all sorts of subtle NAS whiskies. Tragic.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Dec 14, 2005 5:14 pm

Lawrence wrote:I was in a Liquor store a while ago and was talking about the various whiskies on the shelf and one of the fellows made some disparaging remarks about Rosebank as being 'without flavour' and 'a weak lowlander'.


Perhaps he had tried the first FF Rosebank (the one in the wooden box). That rates as one of my expensive mistakes (and FF used to be jolly pricey) and the whisky had no discernable flavour at all. Just a neutral spirity feel. I was happy to write Rosebank off as a weak lowlander with no flavour and was surprised to see JM rating Rosebank so highly. On the back of this, I tried a dram of the Rare Malts 20yo and adored it. Surely this is an example of how JM can actually open a door that ones own experience would have left closed forever.
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Postby hpulley » Wed Dec 14, 2005 5:17 pm

There have been wonderful and terribly tired casks of Rosebank bottled recently. Avoiding costly mistakes is good but if you never try drams others say are bland you may miss something. I just wish it was easier (or even possible most of the time) to try a malt before I bought it. Right now I have to buy a bottle and then if I like it, hope there is still more to buy. For stuff not at the LCBO I have to order a whole case! I try to get samples sent out but they don't always get through customs.

Harry
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Postby bamber » Wed Dec 14, 2005 6:56 pm

hpulley wrote:One more thing to add. I NEVER read notes before I taste a whisky. I'll read them before I buy one if I've never tried it but at tasting meetings I always drink it before anyone has a chance to recite from someone's book. Bias is very obvious, especially when they read the wrong note and people still find those characteristics! Oops...
Harry


Well this was the thing I noticed at the tasting. I tend to remember stuff I've read, and whenever I've drunk stuff at home, I've read the notes before I bought the bottle. I *know* what I'm supposed to think before I do.

This is only the second time I've tried unfamilar whiskies blind and it was very different. It was nice to spot HP 18 immediately though- basically because it is just so good and so distinctive. I *know* I like this one now :)
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Postby Lawrence » Wed Dec 14, 2005 7:34 pm

Nick, I had the impression that he didn't like any lowland whisky because of their lighter profile. In any case he may have had a bottling here or there that did not appeal to him however I think he simply didn'y have the experience or patience to examine a lowland whisky in a proper manner.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Dec 14, 2005 8:57 pm

We all say that if you like a particular whisky, or enjoy it a certain way, it's your business, and no one can say you are wrong. Certainly the same principle applies to our individual methodologies and purposes. Nick's purpose, for example, seems to be to find enough good whiskies to keep him interested, and he has found a method that works for him. If your purpose is different--say, to taste and rate every whisky ever made--his method will not work for you. That certainly doesn't mean he's wrong.

Bamber is finding that the method he has been using doesn't work for him, and he is trying to develop a different one.

I'm always interested to read about the ways all of you enjoy your whisky. Occasionally I find something that I can adapt to my own purpose. And even if that's not the case, the information is itself useful, as I may be able to pass it along to someone else who can use it.

I recall that some years ago, there was a film critic for the local paper with whom I disagreed nearly 100% of the time. His expectations of a movie were completely opposite to mine. I read his reviews religiously, because they were extremely useful to me in choosing what films to see. It's rare to match up that well with anyone, either with or against, but all opinions are valid, and even ones that are opposite to yours can be useful.
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INFLUENCED BY THE 'GREAT' AUTHORS

Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Dec 14, 2005 10:09 pm

I like reading as much as whisky, so have combined the two interests through acquiring an ever growing number of "tasting" tomes by the likes of Murray, Jackson, Wishart, Hill and others.

Am I influenced by these authors in the choice of bottlings that I buy? The short answer must be "yes".

I wish that had the cash to experiment. To be able to buy 10 bottles at random and not worry if I ended up pouring five down the sink. But I don't.

So, to avoid 'catastrophes', I have relied on the seasoned authors.

For example, if a number of writers all say that a malt is sherried, smooth and sweetish, then the chances are that I'll like it.


Prior to Jim Murray's tasting, I must also confess to have also been influenced by a degree of 'snobbery' caught from whisky drinking friends, certain shop staff, etc. In short, old Scottish single malt = good. Foreign whisky, young whisky and blends = bad.

The tasting blew all that away. I really liked that 3yo Welsh "Penderyn". Like Bamber, I also thought that the 3/4 year Indian "Amrut" was scrummy.

Going forward, I think that I'll certainly broaden my whisky drinking 'horizons'. However, I'll still rely heavily on the established authors to 'assist' me in my choices.
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Postby Admiral » Thu Dec 15, 2005 3:20 am

Returning to Bamber's original question....

When I started my malt apprenticeship, I took Michael Jackson's Companion as my mentor, and I too fell in to the trap of taking every word as gospel.

If MJ said a malt was good, then it must be good, right?

WRONG!

It probably took me a year or two, but I finally learned to trust my own palate and my own instincts.

I regularly convene with some die-hard whisky enthusiasts - people who really know whisky and have very discerning palates. It's amazing how often we all agree that a certain rating or score given by MJ or JM is out of place.

Most recent example was Serendipity. Four out of six of us thought it was just an awful, out of balance, bizarre whisky. Yet JM scores it in the nineties. Are we wrong? No! Is JM wrong? Well, no, not really, but it just indicates our individual taste-buds are our own private kingdom, and we need to learn to trust our own and not rely blindly on the judgement of others.

CHeers,
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Postby andrewfenton » Thu Dec 15, 2005 3:28 am

I like using the maltmaniacs list - because there's so many of them you can find one who has similar tastes to you. In my case that's generally Serge Valentin, who I tend to trust because of his excellent guidance on Clynelish and Lochside :-)
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Postby Crispy Critter » Sun Dec 18, 2005 3:55 am

While I have sometimes used Malt Madness as a guide for Scotch, I feel the site is a bit biased towards rare, expensive drams that go far beyond what I'm willing to pay for a bottle. I'd go bankrupt if I tried to get all of the bottlings reviewed there.

Also, it is definitely not the place to go if you want to look for bourbon reviews. :) Of course, bourbon is a completely different world, and I could see how some might not care for it, even though I found that I love it. Some bourbons can be as intense in their own way as an Ardbeg 10 or an A'Bunadh, and others are a lot more subtle.

Then there are the straight ryes - Sazerac 18 and Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye are among the most complex whiskeys I've had - and they are not "weak" in flavor. Rittenhouse, on the other hand, is what I'd call a simple pleasure; it doesn't have the complexity of Saz or VWFRR, but it's very nice to drink anyway.
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Postby bjorn » Sun Dec 18, 2005 1:20 pm

I've been using this very forum for most of my whisk(e)y advice recently and I've found it to be more helpful than any of the books or professional critics. Where else will I find when Talisker has gotten its pepper back, reviews of the last 5 A'Bunadh's, or HTH comparisons of red and green stripe Laphroiag CS? Hell, probably all ten of my last purchases owe more to the reviewers on this forum than anywhere else (aside from my job, which finances the whole thing).

In short, Thanks


-Bjorn
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Dec 19, 2005 4:07 am

bjorn wrote:I've been using this very forum for most of my whisk(e)y advice recently and I've found it to be more helpful than any of the books or professional critics. Where else will I find when Talisker has gotten its pepper back, reviews of the last 5 A'Bunadh's, or HTH comparisons of red and green stripe Laphroiag CS? Hell, probably all ten of my last purchases owe more to the reviewers on this forum than anywhere else (aside from my job, which finances the whole thing).

In short, Thanks


-Bjorn


Hallelujah. This ongoing conversation is worth more than any book. (Don't tell Matt, he'll start charging us!)
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