Russell's Reserve Single Barrel - A Thrill of a Whisky That Has Complexity

To get the beauty of this drink, you need to nose it like a scotch drinker. That is, don’t breathe in, just let the vapours naturally come to you as you lift the glass to your nose. You can practically smell the soil the grain were grown in, the grains themselves, the fermentation process, and all those condensed flavours that were fortunate enough to survive distillation.

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An Update To How I Write Whisky Reviews

I got tired of writing whisky reviews

There’s a format to each whisky review that goes something like this: Interesting factoid, some history, tasting notes, and a score. There’s definitely a place for long reviews, and there are reviewers that do this incredibly well (Hey Davin!), but these are not everyday reviews.

I’m tossing out my old (and long-since unused) whisky review format. I want to write reviews I’d like to read. The new review format is shorter and it’s driven by the current whisky market. The reviews will include a hundred-point tasting score and a rating. The combination of a taste score and star rating for whisky seemed ridiculous at first, but the more test reviews I wrote, the more it made sense.

The Whisky Cabinet Rating

With rare exceptions, there are no bad whiskies. As a consumer, though, navigating the waters of which whisky to purchase can be a challenge. It’s important to keep categories in mind: Rye? Bourbon? Scotch? That’s an excellent place to start when buying whisky. Next, what are you looking for? Oaky bourbon, or cheap rye, or well-aged sherry finished scotch? These are just some examples of the many categories whiskies falls into.

The theme of my book is The Whisky Cabinet—finding the most delicious whiskies in the world. The sub-theme has always been value, price, and positioning in the market. Taking this a step forward, I’ve worked on a simple four star rating system.

This four star system pits the whisky against other whiskies in its category and considers such factors as the taste, price-point, availability, and prestige (which can work for or against the whisky). It works as follows:

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆  Not recommended
★ ☆ ☆ ☆  Good whisky, but not a ‘must-have’
★ ★ ☆ ☆  Your great regular rotation whisky that'll come and go
★ ★ ★ ☆  Excellent, a near must-have
★ ★ ★ ★  Extraordinary, memorable, and original

The higher the star-level, the fewer whiskies in that category. Under this system, four star ratings are rare. And since the landscape of the whisky world changes (age statements are removed, new products are released), whiskies might gain or lose a star over time.

The Hundred Point Whisky Sipper Score

I have privately rated whisky for several years, but I never quite felt comfortable posting these scores. They didn’t tell the entire story. Alone, it’s not a perfect system, but with the star rating it has a place in the review. Each reviewer defines their scoring system differently. This is how I view it, keeping it simple:

  • 90+ Remarkable, whisky that stops the conversation at a party
  • 80-89 From good to approaching remarkable
  • 70-79 An okay whisky
  • Below 70, probably undrinkable for most whisky sippers

For the taste score, I break down the whisky to its core elements. Nose. Palate. Finish. Balance. Construction. Uniqueness. Flavour. A well structured whisky that offers a broad range of flavours and complexity is likely to get a higher score. 

All whiskies are rated based on how they taste in tasting glasses at room temperature. 

Difference Between Tasting and Drinking

I couldn’t possibly talk about rating whiskies without noting the difference between tasting and drinking whisky. Tastings are done at room temperature, in tasting glasses, and in a quiet environment. Scores are achieved by tasting the same drink repeatedly, and comparing it to other whiskies of the same or similar categories.

Drinking whisky is the pure enjoyment of the spirit. Any whisky scoring over 80 points will make for an excellent drinking whisky (assuming you like that category of whisky). When out in the sun, or at home with friends, the difference between an 82 and an 88 scored whisky won’t matter overly much. 

However, like a delicious plate of food, a whisky that scores over 90 points should stop the conversation at the table. That’s how I score the whisky.

Next Steps

I’ll be posting whisky reviews regularly moving forward, and we’ll get to see whether or not we are in simpatico. As reviews get posted (there are plenty in the queue), this system will start creating it's own dialogue. More on that later. 

BookTrib Reviews The Whisky Cabinet

Nicely written of review of The Whisky Cabinet over at BookTrib, by Amanda Harkness:

My relationship with whiskey started out hot and heavy—more a whiskey shooter than a whiskey sipper. Over time, my tastes matured, and I began to savor the slow and smoky sip of my favorite peaty winter-time whiskey, LaphroaigMark Bylok understands the complexity that comes with sipping whiskey and recognizes that while it can appear chaotic on the surface, you should never let that turn you away. Indeed, he says that “Like any worthwhile relationship, sometimes things take time.

Thank you for the review!

John Gruber Reviews My Book, and Friends Ask "Who's Gruber??"

John Gruber reviewed The Whisky Cabinet earlier this the month:

I read and greatly enjoyed whisky connoisseur Mark Bylok’s new book, The Whisky Cabinet, over the holidays. Great photography, perfect typography, and it’s even printed on excellent paper. Most importantly, Bylok is a good writer who truly knows his shit about whiskies from around the world. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys whisk(e)y of any sort — especially if you’re looking to expand your palate to new varieties.

Beyond being a flattering post, this mention resulted in a ton of book sales. When I told friends about the review, they either shared my excitement, or they asked me “Who's Gruber??”

I’ve been a fan of John’s writing for the last decade. While he mostly writes about Apple and tech, John’s focus on the importance of writing, design, and typography translated into the look and feel of The Whisky Cabinet. For this reason, beyond the book sales, his online review means a great deal. In fact, had he sent me a private email, I would have been just as thrilled. 

On his podcast, The Talk Show, John told the story of how he came across The Whisky Cabinet (at around 1:17:00). He pre-ordered the book early on. By amazing coincidence, within an hour of the book being delivered, I emailed John to offer him a complimentary copy. John snapped a photo of The Whisky Cabinet and told me “Too late, I already bought it!" Definitely have a listen to the podcast! It makes for a good story. 

Thank you John!

Win A Signed Copy of The Whisky Cabinet

Stella is an extremely popular Toronto blogger. Stella is also new to whisky! For this reason, I love her review of The Whisky Cabinet because while the book covers advanced topics, my goal was to present these topics in an approachable manner.

…I had an opportunity to read The Whisky Cabinet from front to back, literally. I spent hours on the couch with my head completely immersed in the book...I couldn't stop! I learned so much about whiskies from The Whisky Cabinet and I'm so glad I got my hands on it. The book is really well written in that it's approachable and easy to understand without all the technical jargon and frills. I personally love the book and would recommend it to anybody. Not surprisingly, The Whisky Cabinet became the #1 Best Seller in Whisky and Buyer's Guide (Spirits & Wine) Categories on Amazon last week.

You can win a free autographed copy of my book, as well as personalized whisky recommendations. To join the contest and read the rest of the review, check out Stella’s page. Contest ends January 27th at 12pm, 2015. 

Update on Delivery Times For The Whisky Cabinet

A few weeks ago, I mentioned on twitter that The Whisky Cabinet release date was delayed until early December. The delay was beyond my publisher’s control. The original printing company backed out of the contract last-minute. While the publisher found a new printer, this resulted in the book being printed weeks after the originally scheduled. 

At the time, though, I had not realized just what this meant for delivery times outside of Canada. Distributing books is an interesting business that often results in them being transported in delivery trucks from warehouse to warehouse. With new authors, estimating demand is especially hard, and The Whisky Cabinet has been pre-selling well! 

The good news is, if you placed your order in Canada through Amazon or Indigo you will get The Whisky Cabinet by Christmas. If you have not yet ordered the book, Amazon is taking orders for the holidays. Indigo has sold-out of their initial allocation for online orders. Indigo is incredibly supportive, and they are (as far as I know) allocating the remainder of their stock for store shelves. 

Unfortunately, outside of Canada the delay was enough to push delivery dates back into January. That’s likely true for the United States and definitely true for countries outside of North America. If you pre-ordered the book in the United States, you’re likely to receive the book in early January. Unfortunately, I’m not sure when books will arrive for the rest of the world. In the UK, for example, the initial order of books has already sold-out. Distributors do have the option to order more. 

Sales have been excellent! Lots of sales means I get to write more books, and for that I’m extremely appreciative of your support! If you live outside of Canada, and you don’t get your book in time for the holidays, I’m sorry.  I absolutely loved writing The Whisky Cabinet. I hope you equally enjoy reading for when it arrives.