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Whisky Tasting


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33 Frequently Asked Questions
Written 2006, updated February 25, 2010


1 - Are you a professional, Serge?


2 - When did you start Whiskyfun.com?

July, 2002.

3 - So, who are you, Serge?

I’m just an amateur whisky lover and I live in a part of France called Alsace, near the German border. I co-own two advertising agencies (200 people). I insist, I’m not a whisky pro, not even a proam. I like to talk about whisky with my friends the Malt Maniacs (and many other friends) but what I like best is tasting whisky. I do all that for fun, just for fun. I think whisky is serious matter only to people who make or sell it – or to people who drink way too much of it. What’s more, I like many other things, like all kinds of music, advertising (my work), motorcycling, wine, old watches, food, travelling and God knows what else. You know, toys for boys. And yes, friends… And last time I checked I was 49, happily married, three lovely children (who drink no whisky).

Any whisky taster has to look inspired (read silly) while plunging his big fat nose into a smallish glass. >>

4 - Who made you discover whisky?

There were 7 people who counted even more than others in my whisky life. Chronologically, #1 was an anonymous bartender in Dijon, France, in the very late 1970s. He showed me that whisky can be good. #2 was an anonymous tour guide at Glenlivet Distillery around 1979, who taught me that whisky wasn’t made just like vodka.  #3 is Mark Reynier (now of Bruichladdich fame), in the very late 1980s or early 1990s, who showed me that whisky can be stunning. #4 is fellow Malt Maniac Olivier Humbrecht, who showed me that somebody can actually have (way) more than 10 expensive bottles in a bar, and that whisky can be just as interesting as wine. #5 is Johannes van den Heuvel, founder of the Malt Maniacs, who showed me that the passion for whisky can be shared internationally. #6 is Dr. Nick Morgan, of Diageo fame, who showed me that even the largest drinks company can shelter passionate and knowledgeable people. And #7 is you, dear reader, who make all that an ever-going adventure… Oh well, all that sounds a little mollifying, doesn’t it?

5 - How many new whiskies do you taste per year?

Well, around 1,000. I know, that’s almost three whiskies a day, and I suppose I should be dead by now. Not that it won’t happen one day but in fact, I actually swallow very little of each ‘expression’ – but I do swallow. I believe you cannot assess whisky when you don’t swallow at least a few drops of it (finish, aftertaste, retro-olfaction).

6 - How many whiskies did you taste so far?

  Spaced out
Until January 2010, +/-6,000.  
7 - Are all whiskies that are showcased on Whiskyfun tasted by you, Serge?
Yes, or I’ll tell you.
8 - Do you indeed taste whisky every single day?
No, I don’t. I organise sessions with usually eight to ten whiskies, sometimes a little more, and I do that mostly on weekends. Then I publish my notes in chunks of two to six or seven whiskies from the same distillery.
9 - If you're not a pro, where do you find time to do all that?
No or very little TV is the answer. An average European or American citizen spends around 3,5 hours per day watching TV. I don’t.

10 - How much time do you spend with each whisky?

Can be quite short when I think the whisky is crap (ten minutes) and up to one hour when I think it’s a stunner. Let’s say an average time of 27min and 32sec per whisky ;-).
11 - Where do you find all the whiskies you taste?
I’m ‘working’ with a permanent sample library of roughly 1,000 to 1,200 different whiskies, which allows me to pair various expressions rather nicely as I feel it’s much more efficient to compare what’s comparable. In case you’re interested, here’s a crappy little video on Youtube that briefly shows the stash.

12 - You didn’t answer my question!

Didn’t I! Okay, let’s say I have quite some friends who send me samples, a few bottlers do send me some spontaneously as well (it’s their will, I rarely ask for samples), I also visit quite a few festivals (where I’m given samples to taste at home – but many bottlers make me buy them, which is fine). Or I buy full bottles… It’s true that all that is very costly but you know, passion. Free samples that come directly from the industry represent only 10% of what I taste and that’s just fine. I like to buy many whiskies because it’s the only way of being sure that what you taste is what’s commercially available, even if I fully trust the bottlers who do send me samples.
I’ll never try only whiskies that are sent by whisky companies or retailers because that would mean transforming WF into a ‘corporate loudspeaker’. I’d hate that to happen, it would be useless especially since bottlers tend to send you only their best stuff, or what’s heavily advertised. HMV

13 - You’re tasting lots of old bottlings, or bottlings that aren’t available anymore, or bottings that are damn expensive. Don’t you think that’s pretty useless?

Well, if you see Whiskyfun as a buyers guide, you’re very right. Now, Whiskyfun isn’t a buyer’s guide, it’s rather a ‘tasting diary’ where I write about what I taste and it’s true that I taste quite a lot of old bottles, so I write about them, that’s all. Remember, it’s for fun. It’s also true that with the Web, eBay, Whisyauction etc everything is more or less available – I didn’t say affordable, alas… And beware of fakes!    

14 - Yet, we’d like to see more mundane / easy to find / cheap bottles on Whiskyfun!

Glen Turner
I understand that, although I may prefer tasting stunning whiskies rather than so-so stuff… But believe it or not, cheap whiskies are harder to get as samples than rare/great ones because most hardcore whiskynuts just won’t bother with cheapo stuff. Cheap whiskies are only to be found at festivals or, of course, as full bottles in shops but I’m not that crazy, I won’t buy a full bottle of Loch L****d just for sampling it (and what shall I do with the remaining 69.99cl then, eh?) Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve come across many relatively cheap bottles that were really excellent!

15 - Why are you scoring your whiskies?

Because I never found a better way of remembering whether that Strathmill was better than this Strathmill in my books after six months. Don’t like scores? Don’t read them!

16 - Why on a 100 scale?

Because several talented drinks experts used a 100-scale before my humble person and because sometimes even 1 point is not enough to make a difference between two 1967 Ardbegs. It’s a standard and I tend not to try to reinvent the wheel.

17 - Why don’t you use the full scale then?

I do use it. I already rated a single malt 1 point (God it was ugly). It’s just that I rarely sample supermarket blends – or malts, for that matter, or whiskies from Outer-Mongolia… But I like Scotch single malts, so no wonder most are located at the higher end of my scale. Are we the Malt Maniacs or what?

18 - Why do you use the same scale for any kind of whisky?

Because it’s simpler and because I believe using various scales for, say malts and blends may lead to confusion. Or how about using a different scale for peated and unpeated, finished and ‘natural’, young and old, Scotch and ‘rest of the world’ and so on? I believe in one and only category: whisk(e)y.

19a - What does a score mean?

It’s just a way of summing up impressions and opinions. Scores are opinions, expressed in a numerical form. They have to be put in relation with the taster who came up with the scores (and his experience as well as his possible commercial links to the bottlers), otherwise they are worthless. MOST IMPORTANT: in my view a high score doesn't mean you should rush out and buy a bottle or a palette, it means that in my opinion, you too should maybe try the whisky in question, provided we have similar tastes. Always try to taste a whisky yourself before you buy - if you can.



19b - But I've heard scores are useless since it's impossible to be consistent.

Typical claim by the anti-scoring brigade (nah, we love you guys). It’s not because some tasters aren’t consistent (for instance coming up with a 12 points gap because you didn’t know it was the same whisky, if you see what I mean) that everybody must be inconsistent. Actually, I believe inconsistency is quite normal but there are several ways of lowering that ‘natural’ inconsistency. This is how I always proceed:

  • I usually quickly try reference whiskies (or benchmarks) before any session, that is to say whiskies that I know very well, such as Ardbeg Ten or Highland Park 12. Do they taste ‘unusual’? I’ll drop my session. I’ll also use their usual scores as calibrating/pivotal points.
  • I always (say in 97% of the cases) taste my whiskies at the same place at home and within the same time frame. Usually between 16:00 (long after lunch) and 21:00 (just before dinner). If it’s not the case, which happens very rarely, I’ll add them to the end of a post and start my notes with ‘and also’. That usually indicates that the whisky hasn’t been tried alongside the others.
  • I insist, I always pair whiskies from the same distilleries, sometimes same ages. That helps you find nuances and allows a better scoring in my opinion, as it ‘flattens’ your preferences (which won’t work if you pair a distillery that you love with a distillery that you hate). Sometimes I compare them to similar whiskies from my sample library that I already tried, before I come up with a score.  I think you cannot be more or less reliable when you score whiskies if you don’t compare them to others.
  • I always rank the whiskies by ascending strengths and when I try different flights, I’ll always put the peatiest in the end.
  • Within the same flight, I’ll first nose them all, then taste them all, then add water (in some cases) and so on back and forth. I’ll always have all glasses filled in front of me for due comparisons.

All those measures do give me the illusion of a certain consistency. Maybe I’m wrong but I’m trying my best. Now, I do not believe in decomposing the scores into 3 or 4 sub-scores, which I never do.  First because nobody really serious ever stated that nose, palate, finish and ‘comments’ (the hotchpotch section) do all carry the same weights and second because the nose’s relative weight, for instance, is different in my opinion between, say a very young Islayer and a venerable Speysider.

19c - Do you taste blind?

    Blind Tasting
On some occasions, yes (Malt Maniacs Awards, World Whisky Awards, a few other occasions.) For the traditional Whiskyfun sessions, no, because the format does not allow that (paring same distilleries, sorting by ascending strength and all that jazz.) But I agree blind tasting is the ultimate way.    
20 - What’s the relation between Whiskyfun and the Malt Maniacs?    
Well, I’m a member of the Malt Maniacs since the beginning of this century and Whiskyfun’s always been closely connected to the gang. Simply, as I wanted to write both about whisky and about music – and do that almost daily – the concept just didn’t fit Malt Maniacs (the website), which is more a magazine. So, let’s say Whiskyfun is kind of a ‘chapter’ of Malt Maniacs.    

21 - There are many whisky blogs around these days. What do you think? Wasn’t Whiskyfun the first one?

No. Too many lazy people make false claims to firsts on the Internet these days, they should check their facts. Actually, Johannes, founding father of the Malt Maniacs, started his own blog (a ‘log’, actually) around 1996. Now, I’d tell all the newcomers (including all the pros who seem to start their own blogs these days, either undercover or ‘disclosed’) “please bring something new” and don’t just copy or build me-too’s if you can, because everybody will see that and many will laugh up their sleeves. But hey, the more, the merrier and the ‘whisky world’ needs different POV’s.

22 - How many visits does WF gather?

Roughly a little more than 4,500 visitors a day (in February 2010). That’s not a lot but I guess Whiskyfun is not really for newbies or street drinkers and more for the hardcore malt fan. I guess not many people really care about what I think of that 1967 Glenugie by Sestante and please don’t count on me for talking about Ardbeg 10yo or Highland Park 18yo every single day. May sound pretentious but my aim is to have fun myself!

23 - Why do Nick and you write about music and not only about whisky? Isn’t it more efficient to stay focused?

Yeah and why don’t you just eat and stop breathing?
24 - But are you really independent? Do you really do all that for free? Doesn’t somebody pay you? Do you have hidden publicity on your website? Or some dreaded edvertising? Money
Hell, no! I mean, yes, I’m fully independent. Never got, and never asked for one single penny – and never will. I pay for Whiskyfun, I don’t get paid. It costs me thousands. If you ever see a banner somewhere on Whiskyfun, it’s a ‘friendly’ and ‘free’ one, only for whisky events that I like (so that you’re in the know as well and we can meet there) or for non-commercial causes I endorse. I do no sales channelling, I sell no books, no magazines, no consultant works, no tasting notes, no scores, no whisky, nothing. I’m not looking for a job. I you ever catch me trying to sell something, either directly or indirectly, I’ll owe you a case of Brora.

25 - But I’ve seen that quite a few bottlers, retailers or even eBayers use your tasting notes and/or scores.

I’m fine with that, but please be sure that it’s always for free. Believe me or not, sometimes people don’t even ask permission. Bah…

26 - Do you have a Code of Ethics?

Drink Blog Code
Yes, I respect the Drink Blog Code that we built together with 54 drinks bloggers back in 2007.

27 - I am a bottler or a distiller and I would like to send you a few samples, would you accept?

Yes, of course, just drop me an email at rulerealwhiskyATgmail.com. But I can’t promise I’ll taste them on short notice, nor that I won’t write exactly what I think about them. And if you send me pre-production or cask samples (i.e. not exactly what is or will be in the commercial bottles), please, please tell me.

28 - Do you accept advertisements? How much is it? Can we contribute financially?

I said NO WAY!

29 - We have a successful website and we sell whisky, cigars, stuffed birds, second hand choppers, Viagra, whatever. Would you accept to swap links?

Only if I think your website is useful to our distinguished readers. In most cases, I’m afraid it isn’t.

30 - I saw that you rated a Glenthis 10yo 95 points. Would you sell me a bottle?

No, I insist, I don’t sell whisky, or any other stuff. I don’t try to make quick bucks on eBay. I don’t buy whisky to sell it for more money a few days/weeks/months/years later, even if that seems to be fashionable these days. I hate whisky speculators, we should hang them high (together with fakers).  
31 - Where can I buy Glenthis 10yo?  
Google is your friend. Alternatively, we have a wee list of reputable shops in our links section. Please note that we never put up a link to a retailer if we never actually tested that retailer.  

32 - Why can’t your readers react to your posts, like on many blogs?

I’m deeply sorry, I have no spare time for that, I’m really at the max. I know that’s rude and totally out of fashion (and oh so bad for Whiskyfun’s traffic!) Now, that didn’t prevent little Whiskyfun from being voted most Influential Drinks Blog in 2009 by PostRank Analytics although I believe it's totally undeserved (I could list dozens of drinks blogs that are more influential than WF).

33 - But I want to contact you! I have some questions!

Great! You may drop me an email at rulerealwhiskyATgmail.com or contact me on Facebook or on Twitter.


Bonus: by popular demand, Whiskyfun Towers aka the bunker (the seven red meat-fed German shepherds were temporarily away when these picture were taken).