Scoring – What are you crazy!

The score never interested me, only the game – Mae West

You may like Mae West not give a damn. You may be from the ‘I like it a lot’, ‘I like it a little’, ‘its fine’, ‘I don’t like it at all’ school of scoring or you may find scoring your whiskey tasting a key part of your enjoyment of whisky.

My wife can consistently identify peated Islay malts and bourbon and Speyside whiskeys. She identifies the former by which she indicates by gagging loudly the latter she sips, smiles and makes appreciative noises. A two-point system that meets her tasting requirements in every way.

You may think it all nonsense – it tastes like ‘whiskey’. A few, arguably more anal among us whiskey geeks regard scoring as a key component of fully appreciating our dram.

Why score?

An effective scoring system:

Can improve your ability to taste

Will improve your buying decisions

Will enhance your knowledge and enjoyment of whisky

I know a bit about scoring in Business having used various techniques in hundreds of meeting and coaching sessions.

Scoring is a funny thing. We sometimes use it to justify our selected decision rather than to help us to reach a decision.

Have you ever created a decision table listing options and the features of each which you score? More often than not the score arrived at justifies a decision you have knowingly or unknowingly already made. If it does not you hastily rescore some features to make it so… sound familiar? Whisky scoring differs being exclusively for your own purposes although you might be justifying an expensive purchase if only to your self. Who me? Never!

Effectively scoring whisky is done for different motivations.

Scoring is useful to compare whisky you have bought for future reference and to provide some memory of that tasting, long past the bottle being emptied. At its most impressive it allows you to compare different batches or even different decades of the same whisky.

The most common system scores nose, taste, finish and body scoring out of 25 marks for each and a total out of 100 marks. This system most notably is adopted by Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible by other bloggers and some whisky apps, none of which makes this invalid or wrong or indeed right.

I suggest by scoring you are trying to rank whisky against your own taste preferences not someone else and that a 100 point system may not best serve your purposes. If you use the 100 point system in truth you probably only use 75-95 anyway.

Can you differentiate a nose you once scored 24 versus one you scored 19? Would you score a whiskey the same in a blind tasting on a separate occasion?

Can you readily recall the nose or taste of a whisky you scored 87, 65, 94, 77? If not how can you consistently score a new whisky?

Scoring Quality

For most of us there are just too many scores points. In theory there are to many score points to have a good taste or nose memory. I suggest that like me you use considerably fewer score points.

I score Nose, Taste, Finish & Body in half marks between 0 and 2. i.e 0, 1/2, 1, 1 1/2, 2- where 2 is an extraordinary nose, 1 1/2 a memorable quality nose, 1 which is good, 1/2 where the nose seems more limited and 0 where it just does not rate giving a score of up to 8 for any given whisky for its quality; using this system I can readily recall in my mind the nose of most of my favourite whiskeys.This now gives you 5 score values each for Nose, Taste, Finish and Body. I do frequently use every one of these score points.

I strongly resist any temptation to use 1/4, 1/8th, 1/16th or any other subdivision.

As your taste memory improves you might want more taste points.

I suggest that your next step if you feel the need for it is to divide your scores into Bourbon & Rye or Scottish regions, Islay, Speyside, Highland and Islands, Lowland and finally Campbeltown (not so many whiskies to compare but all worth the effort). Your scores will still be comparable across categories but clearly the nose, taste, finish and body are very different from category to category generally though not invariably. The point is to remember the taste of a 1 1/2 point bourbon locked in your memory is a useful benchmark to score you next bourbon.

Before moving on you ought now to be able to recall 20 points which are 0, 1/2, 1, 1 1/2, 2 for each of Nose, Taste, Finish and Body.

Do you really need more? You are now developing a whiskey tasting memory which is what is ultimately important.


Sure, there are many times I just get on and enjoy my dram without scoring or even musing over what flavour or nose notes that exist.

As I sit editing I can bring into my memory a wide range of nose, taste, finish and body from malts from each Scottish Region and Bourbons and Ryes. This is key to consistently score a new whiskey and also to score the same one over time although that is undoubtedly more difficult but at least I have a starting point.

I encourage you to give this a go and let me know how you get on.