I'll admit in the spirit of full disclosure, I've purchased things based solely on what someone else said about it; e.g. the whiskey experts. I'm not sure the whiskey tasted better because someone else said so and I'm not sure in the end, it was a good buy. In some cases maybe so but I'd have to say I've been disappointed too many times. Whose fault is it? Mine. After years of buying and tasting I've come to one conclusion and that is the worlds best whiskey expert is………me. That's right, when it comes to who I listen to time and again, it's me and me alone. I know what I like and no matter how many taste descriptors an expert puts in their review to jazz up the anticipation, I read every review with a healthy dose of skepticism.
I'm not a conspiracy theory nut job but I have to ask the question. When a distillery or Micro reseller sends a sample/bottle to be reviewed, is it picked blind or are the selections handpicked? Based on some reviews, I'd almost have to assume the latter. Obviously reviewers always know what they are drinking. I would also argue that in some cases there is going to be unwanted influence of marketing dollars. I’ve seen some reviewer’s state emphatically that their reviews are not influenced in any way. Ok, I’ll take your word for it. But there are cases where a whiskey is “highly rated” or “ 4 out of 5 stars” or “Best of class” only to find out that it doesn’t ring my bell and when speaking to other enthusiasts, that’s the going consensus.
Here would be my challenge to any expert reviewer. Receive a blind sample and tell us the following: Approx proof, age and mashbill (Rye, Wheat) and distillery. If you're good at what you do, those 4 questions should be fairly easy to answer. How many comments of a similar nature have you seen in reviews?
"Tastes young" or "spent too much time in wood"
"This bourbon doesn't drink like its stated proof"
"This is classic <fill in the distillery name> taste profile"
"A big high rye whiskey (or bourbon)"
So, my challenge would be this. Reviewer man/woman, take a blind sample and tell us what it is relying solely on your palate, experience and subsequent impressions. I throw down that challenge because I've done this many times and I’m certainly no expert. To get a true impression of what you are drinking, do it without any pre-conceived notions or information of any kind on the sample and see what shakes out. My bet would be nobody would be bold enough to take on that challenge (any takers????).
The title and posting are meant to be somewhat provocative and was done to generate some discussion on industry reviews. So, what's your take on experts’ reviews and how do they influence where you spend your dollars? I'm going to follow up this post with some examples of tastings I've participated in to give you flavor of what it means to taste open and blind and how our group stacked up against the experts. By the way, see here for my last posting with respect to expert reviews.