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How The Spirit Journal Editor Rates Products

Reviews and Ratings
The opinions, reviews, and ratings found in The Spirit Journal, as well as my columns and other writings, are those of one individual. I believe, without reservation, that in the field of alcoholic beverage evaluation one voice is clearer and more precise over the long haul than the collective voice of a panel. I don't advocate group consensus because, having chaired tens of tasting panels for wine and spirits in years past, I've discovered that rarely is a true depiction of any product rendered within the framework of that format. Composite reviews of a panel usually end up reflecting the viewpoint of the person with the most chutzpah. However, for those critics who do chose to act on their own, the responsibility to sustain credibility is not to be cavalierly embraced.

But criticism, no matter how deeply steeped in expertise, is still at the end of the day mere personal opinion. Whatever your level of acumen, when it comes to taste you should never trust any palate more than the one you own. Critics, as I see it, exist to offer opinions which should be openly discussed. Their purpose is to stir the air with the paddles of information and experience, which together are meant to construct a platform only for further examination, not for the creation of dogma. One of the most delightful outcomes of my involvement with The Spirit Journal has been the debate it has spawned between myself and the subscribers. Some readers think my reviews are sound, others believe that I'm bordering on admittance to a rest home. That's the beauty of it. Debate. Talk. Connection. Exploration.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, taste lives in your nose and mouth. Ultimately, it's what you think about these and other spirits and fortified wines that counts to you.

My rating systems have changed once over the years. In the first two years of publishing The Spirit Journal I went with the crowd (read: The Wine Advocate, The Wine Spectator, The Wine Enthusiast, Wine & Spirits) and employed the ubiquitous 100-point system. Regrettably, I was never quite certain what the fine difference was between a port that was scored an 88 with one that was rated an 89. Most consumers don't care for such hair splitting. I finally decided that it was a ridiculously picayune method of grading and opted to run with the straightforward one to five star format, which was warmly received by the subscribers.

The majority of items I've rated fall within the two to four star range because most are at least average and some are truly excellent. The amount of one star beverages is comparatively small. In order to qualify for that dismal rating, products must either be genuinely vile and disgusting or so far removed from the established standards of the category that they don't register in the world of reality. As the one star stratum is thinly populated, so is the five star level. And rightly so. These upper echelon libations represent what I feel to be the prototypical products for their category. Just like movies and literature, the classics are few, ageless, and treasured. But when they come along, it's heaven.

The star ratings mean:
Disappointing: The quality of this distilled spirit or fortified wine is either far below the established category average standards or is too far outside the category's longstanding quality criteria. Therefore, it is NOT RECOMMENDED.

Average: A distilled spirit or fortified wine of mediocre quality whose characteristics meet but do not exceed or enhance the established standards of quality for its category. Though this ordinary product may be perfectly acceptable to some consumers, it is NOT RECOMMENDED by the author.

Above Average: This well-made distilled spirit or fortified wine carries the RECOMMENDATION of the author. It's a product which displays better than average quality within the established standards of its category and, as such, has a very good chance of satisfying the tastes of most consumers.

Superb: A HIGHLY RECOMMENDED distilled spirit or fortified wine whose attributes, in the opinion of the author, are of exemplary quality and character within the established standards of its category. An outstanding product which is worthy of a search.

Classic: HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION. That rare, highly distinguished, distinctive, and classical distilled spirit or fortified wine which represents a benchmark within its category. This product presents a standard against which its peers can be judged. A product of extraordinary quality, scope, and character which transcends price.


Half stars are not utilized in this scoring system.