From the Editor

From the Editor

Editor's Word | 16 Jun 2001 | Issue 16 | By Marcin Miller

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Why the best of the best? We have tasted our way through over 300 whiskies in the last couple of years. However, we have relied almost exclusively on two very authoritative palates. I felt it would be of enormous interest to take a selection of the highest scoring of these whiskies, divide them into flights and to have them re-tasted on three continents by the people who actually make the stuff. Not all the tasters were from the production side. We involved specialist retailers and journalists as well. The panel of tasters virtually reads like a Who’s Who of the whisky industry today. The results (which start on page 56) make fascinating reading. The overall success of the event will ensure we repeat it. Of course, differences in scoring expose national characteristics (real or imagined) very clearly. The tasting in Edinburgh showed the natural diffidence and convivial nature of the British mentality. An exhausting tasting was followed by a trip to the pub. There was very little difference in the scores given to indigenous or overseas whiskies. In Kentucky, the assembled party only just stopped short of chanting ‘USA, USA, USA’ when delivered a flight of bourbons. Their innate competitive nature was displayed by a propensity to score bourbons notably higher than other whiskies.The inscrutability of the Japanese tasters was demonstrated by their ability as a group to award any given whisky as many 5s as 10s. It is worth repeating that this is not a definitive list of the finest whiskies in the world today: the whiskies tasted were selected from previous tastings in Whisky Magazine. We haven’t yet held tastings for every style of whisky nor for each region. For example, we have yet to organise a rye tasting, or a tasting of Canadian whisky. An advantage of this is that when we repeat the best of the best we will have different whiskies on show.The single most revealing aspect of the entire exercise is the difference made when tasting blind. When you strip the taster of the prejudices associated with a particular bottle, label or brand then the results are a more accurate representation of true sensory evaluation. People who have made a living from whisky for many years were mistaken in their assessment of the very flights (by which I mean categories into which the whiskies were grouped), let alone the whiskies therein. This is not a criticism, merely an observation. Personally, I would be far from confident in identifying one whisky from another under similar circumstances.But then, I would try to avoid that pitfall. Incidentally, have you tried to identify, when blindfolded, whether a wine is red or white? Not as easy as it sounds. The conclusion to be drawn from The Best of The Best 2001 is that we should cast our misconceptions aside. Approach each whisk(e)y with the same respect for its heritage and the integrity of the producer. Be brave. Challenge yourself. The upshot is that there is a strong argument that all Whisky Magazine tastings should be conducted blind. Furthermore, are the results from a panel of judges of more use and of greater interest than the opinions of two writers? Let me know what you think.
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