I don't read the whisky blogs as much as I used to, but I make sure to keep up on about five different sites everyday. Two things stood out to me this week that I think people need to remember and consider.
Tim Read, from Scotch and Ice Cream, pointed out that his bottle of Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch (pretty much everyone's unanimous choice for Bourbon of the year) was oxidizing quickly and wasn't as tasty as it once was. He wasn't trying to degrade the whiskey, but merely point out that that anyone who was nursing it slowly over time might want to simply enjoy it at a faster clip.
Over on Sku's Recent Eats Steve asked readers if they had noticed any decline in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. What was interesting to me was one commenter's statement that early reviews for the whiskies had been quite positive, but more recent reviews had been less enthusiastic. Why would that be? A few commenters didn't see any difference and were slightly peeved that Steve would even mention the idea. That makes sense. After being told by internet bloggers that these whiskies were the hottest thing ever, it would be annoying if someone started reporting that they weren't.
Let's look at the first point. Is it possible that the quality of the Four Roses LESB 2012 will change after opening the bottle? Certainly. Oxidation and aeration will affect booze just as it will wine, although not usually as quickly or as dramatically. I find that most reports of oxidation are a bit exaggerated when it comes to liquor, but I did have an open bottle of the Four Roses on hand that I hadn't touched in over a month. I really hoped it still tasted as great as it orgininally did when I poured myself a glass. I truly loved this Bourbon.
First sip: hmmm....I might be under Tim's influence because it does taste more astringent to me with more of the wood tannins dominating the palate. Let's give it a minute.
Second sip: Better, but still there. Something doesn't seem right.
I decided to wait another day. The following evening I did another taste comparison.
First sip: Better, the richness seemed like it was still there, but the original glory wasn't.
Second sip: Tasty. I still really liked the Bourbon, but Tim was right: it had changed.
After reading the conversation on Steve's blog, I went back and tasted the wee baby samples I had of this year's BTAC so that I could participate in the discussion. What stood out to me was the Eagle Rare 17, a whiskey I didn't love so much the first time I tasted it, but at this moment was absolutely delicious. I made sure to note that I thought it was the winner from this year's five releases. Isn't it interesting that my opinion changed about a whiskey after spending more time with it?
What's the point? The point is that tasting a whisky once and giving it a review is a dangerous thing to do. Yet, that's what most reviewers are doing. It's not much different than the competition between news organizations. CNN wants to be the first network with the big story, but sometimes their haste to be first results in the loss of some important details. With blogging being the main source of reviews for whisky drinkers, some are racing to be the first to review new releases. In the case of the Four Roses, a very important detail to shoppers would be the fact that it might not taste as amazing as it first did a few months down the road. Granted, it is not a fact that everyone's bottle will have altered the way that Tim's and mine seem to have. Some people might not notice a difference. This is just our opinion. Opinions in general are not facts. 92 points is not a fact. 9.5 is not a fact. A- is not a fact. Despite their seemingly scientific and mathematic appearances, scores are numbers that people are making up their heads. These are opinions. And most of the time, they're opinions being made by people who take a few sips and jot down a few notes, then move on. I admit that I have to do this myself sometimes. I only write worded reviews for that reason.
In order to get the whole story, however, you have to research. The internet age has completely gutted both our ability to focus and to wait patiently. It's also created a mad scramble for many of these bottles. Quick reviews, big points, big sales, no more whiskey. If you would have waited for a more detailed review, as in how it tasted over the course of a few weeks, you wouldn't have had a chance at the Four Roses anyway. It sold out from K&L in mere hours. And that's not to say that you shouldn't have bought one either. I'm not sorry I paid for one. However, I'm going to finish this bottle within the next month because I want every glass to be at least as good as the last one.
Sometimes you have to watch a movie more than once to get it. Sometimes you go back to one of your favorite music albums from college and it doesn't hold up. Whisk(e)y can change on you and you can change on whisk(e)y. One taste is the same as one listen-through on a new Radiohead release. Did everyone think Kid A was the best thing ever the first time through? I didn't.
Thanks to Tim and SKU for continuing to review whiskies even after they've already been reviewed.