Whisky Tasting Notes Explained

Whisky Tasting Notes Explained
Rating a whisky is more complicated than you may think.- Shea Bethell

Tasting notes and ratings enable us tell you what we really think of a particular whisky, whether it’s a rare bottling, exclusive batch or an old favourite. We made this guide to help you understand how we arrive at our result and overall conclusion for each whisky we review.

First off it must be noted that tasting whisky is different to drinking it. The tasting process involves the full analysis of not only the taste, but the aromas and texture of the whisky too. It takes time, quite a bit of time. The drams being reviewed by www.raremalts.co.za are tasted in groups – usually with five or six whiskies per group. This is due to the complicated nature of whisky tasting that shows that only by comparing a whisky with others will it reveal its full complexity.


POSITIVES: balance, complexity and character. If it’s a single malt, is the distillery character still in evidence? All whiskies should have these elements.

NEGATIVES: everything which actively removes balance, complexity and character. For example, immaturity (aka Knackered Cask Syndrome), over-cooking (too much oak), butyric (the smell of baby sick), soapiness.


– Nose and taste neat. Take notes.
– Add water and repeat the process. Give an initial grading. Take a break.
– Re-taste. Experience shows that there will always be one or two whiskies, overlooked in the first pass, that come steaming up on the rails.
– Nose and taste once more, then give conclusions. Yes, it’s a long process, but it seems to work.


We thought long and hard about this. After initially using a 10-point scale (with decimal places), we’ve come around to using a 100-point scale – in common with most other media outlets discussing whisky – but one which is effectively a 50-point scale.

The 50-point span (from faulty at 51 to superb at 99) gives us more scope to discriminate between one whisky and other. Considerably more scope than some systems, where the baseline mark is 70 (or even 80), artificially inflating the worth of many of the whiskies being tasted.

The result should allow you, the reader, to compare our reviews with the many other websites and media out there discussing whisky. You’ll see that there are six distinct bands of excellence (or otherwise) contained within our scale:

51-59: Faulty
60-69: Poor to average, to not bad
70-74: A decent dram; I’d have one
75-79: A good dram, showing balance. I’d happily have two. Recommended
80-89: Progressively great, showing complexity, balance and character. Highly recommended
90-99: Superb. Highest possible recommendation

All the tasters we use will abide by this system.


Read the words. They are what really matter. Only our thoughts, comments and conclusions will tell you what we think of the whisky. The number is merely a guide. Use it by all means, but don’t altogether rely on it. The words will reveal so much more.


The price band could be an important influencer of the overall score. In certain circumstances, we may ask ourselves the question “Is this whisky really worth R50,000 a bottle? What about this whisky at R500, is it amazing value?”. We will be sure to mention if the price has affected the score. All prices are based on their South African Recommended Retail Prices (RRP), where applicable unless otherwise stated.

R                     Up to R700
RR                   R700 – R2,000
RRR                R2,000 – R7,000
RRRR              R7,000 – R20,000
RRRRR           R20,000+

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