From the editors

A twisted little number

  • ‘It was a bad score. He only gave it 6+.’ This was a post by someone on a blog regarding my scores for the recent Balvenie DCS whiskies.

    I knew it would happen. It’s the trouble with scores – they trip you up. They are also so all-pervasive that we are beginning to organise our lives around them without perhaps realising what they signify.

    Want to book a restaurant? Go to Tripadvisor – look at the one with the most stars. Need a hotel? Hie thee to, look for the top scores and make the selection.

    Only once that filtering system has taken place do any of us bother to then read the words. I’m as bad as anyone. Get Mojo and Uncut, scan the scores and then read. Who has the disposable income to take a punt on a three-star album?

    If, however, we take the time to read first, then a more accurate picture emerges. That restaurant/hotel has lost a couple of stars because there’s someone lurking in the comments section who clearly has a grudge.

    ‘They didn’t make my child a pizza.’

    ‘We went to this sushi restaurant, but my partner doesn’t like fish.’

    ‘The view of Torquay from my hotel bedroom window wasn’t good enough.’

    I even read one review of the Lofoten Islands which advised people not to go because the midnight sun didn’t perform a perfect V in the sky. Result? The score went down.

    And so back to our own scoring system. It was peer pressure which made us impose one in the first place – everyone else scores so we should as well. We might not like the reductive nature of scores, but it’s now the norm.

    We have, however, decided to use a proper 10-point scale: ie one that starts at zero and goes up to 10. The scale is outlined on our Tasting Notes Explained page, to which each note is linked – but does everyone read it? Of course not, because we understand the nature of numbers.

    Or so we think.

    There are some 10-point scales which start at 6. They then can be broken down into decimal points, making a 40-point scale. There are 100-point scales which only start at 80, which makes them 20-point scales.

    Equally, there are no 20-point scales which start at zero – most people who use them start them at 10 and then get around that issue by giving half-points, creating a warped 20-point scale.

    Still with me?

    Complex mathematical equations

    Lies, damned lies...: Scoring systems can be fiendishly complicated

    So, we said ‘enough of this’, and started at nought and moved up in decimal points to 10, which I suppose makes this both a 10-point and a 100-point scale. Then again, it is possible for a whisky to score zero (and, indeed, 10.0), making it technically a 101-point scale. Never say we don’t give you better value at

    As I said, we knew the questions would come. Our 6 is another’s 7.9, someone’s 3 stars, another’s 15, someone else’s 80. No wonder people are confused.

    Why then, you might ask, are we further muddying the waters? Because if we have to use bloody numbers, then we felt we should use them properly.

    If you are judging from 0-10 and a whisky is average in quality, then it should logically be given 5 points. If it’s above average, then it gets 6. Seems sensible? Good. So 6 is not a bad score, it means this is a good dram, one that we’d be happy to buy.

    I appreciate that there will be teething problems as people get used to the new scoring system. The solution to this potential confusion is to READ THE WORDS. They give the reasons for the score.

    Now… what’s on the tasting table this week?

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