Review Method & Scoring Scale

All of the whisky I review here on The Mule is whisky that I have purchased myself (or was gifted by a friend) and is based on a real bottle that you can purchase in a store. I do not post reviews of samples, and I do not post reviews until I have had multiple tasting sessions—I always consume at least a third of the bottle (usually more) before finalizing a review. I hope that this makes my reviews more fair, accurate, and useful to other whisky consumers.

When rating whiskies, I use a traditional 100 point rating scale. I understand why some people dislike the 100 point scale. The argument goes that most reviewers do not use the bottom 60-70% of the scale, and therefore scoring something in the 80s or 90s is irrelevant. Another argument against the 100 point scale is that it’s impossible to know the difference between a single point’s worth of scoring. What is the difference between an 87 and an 88 out of 100? But I reject these arguments. For one, the 100 point scale is instantly familiar for most people. Most of us grew up going to schools where 90-100 was an A, 80-89 a B, etc. With this understanding firmly planted in most of us, it’s easy to see that if I rate a whisky as 88/100, I think the whisky is very good. And the difference between an 87 and an 88? Well, that one point is not all that important, but it does let you know that I think that the 88 is slightly better than the 87. And believe it or not, I often spend a good deal of time agonizing over a single point in a grade.

One complaint I do have against the 100 point scale is that many reviewers don’t use it correctly. There are some prominent reviewers who give nearly everything at least a 90. That makes the scale pointless. I use the full letter scale. If I score a whisky as an 80, it means I think it’s pretty good. Not my favorite, not nearly the best, but still pretty good and enjoyable to drink.

To sum up my whisky rating scale:

90-100 = Great. I dream of this dram.

80-89 = Good. I’m always happy to drink this.

70-79 = Average. Not bad, but not something I’m likely to buy regularly.

60-69 = Bad. I would not drink this straight. Might be OK in a cocktail.

Below 60 = Terrible. A total failure. I would only give this grade to a product which either tastes like it is not safe to drink or simply does not taste like the product it claims to be.

Note that I grade scotch (and other malt) whisky on a different scale than I grade bourbon (and rye) whiskey. I think that grading bourbon against single malt scotch is unfair (to either spirit). If I used the same scale for both, then even the very best bourbon I’ve ever had (probably 2014 George T. Stagg) would only score in the low or mid 80s.

Also note that I use a different system altogether for beer reviews. Rather than the 100 point system, I give out only letter grades. Also when I give out grades for beer, I do so within a beer’s stylistic category. So if I give a sour ale a B- and a pilsner an A, it doesn’t mean I like the pilsner better—it just means I think it’s better within its category.