It seems like every couple of months, a new whiskey gets released and has already received a triple uranium medal from a brand new competition you have never heard of. Do these scores and medals actually matter? Yes and no.
In the world of wine, scores matter, like a lot. People will really go all in on a certain vintage because it scored one point higher than another vintage - but who can decide what makes something worth 92 points versus 93 points? Not me. But the way this works is usually a combined scored from several judges which get averaged into the given score.
I had this discussion with a group of friends the other night, when Henry McKenna 10 won the San Francisco Spirits Competition of “Best Whiskey,” the world went into a frenzy and HM10 has been allocated ever since. So much so, that where I work only gets an allocation about every 3 months! That brings up a another topic as well, should these single barrel variations be allowed to enter or allowed to receive these “Best of” medals? We have no idea what is being sent, but the common assumption is that brands are sending their honey barrels into these competitions. Why would that matter? Well, for two reasons: 1. A honey barrel is a term given to a barrel that is pretty much deemed “one of, if not, the best” and 2. You will never be able to chase the high of what the judges received. E.H. Taylor SiB won “Best Whiskey of the World” for 2020 and that is something you hardly ever even see priced for secondary in a store.
The competitions to me are basically like J.D. Power awards given to care brands. Yes they ‘earn’ them, but what does that mean for a consumer? Nothing. Given the odds of these contest, someone there shares a similar palate to you, but to play devils advocate, maybe there is not someone there who shares you liking. With social media on the rise and more brands sending samples out to people, like myself, it could be hard to really see the forest for the trees. I will always be open and honest about my thoughts on a bottle of whiskey, free or not, many other people are as well. What I always suggest to people is to view multiple sources of reviews before making a decision. You wouldn’t buy a car because it was named “Car and Drivers’” best car of the year would you? No, you would research multiple articles and YouTube videos to see what people had to say about it.
That is where awards and contest get kind of finicky, you have all of that, but it is wrapped up into one setting. You cannot see what each individual thought about the product and what tasting notes they found, or if the price was worth the experience.
For all new comers into the world of whiskey, I ask that you please use multiple sources to check out a bottle. George Dickel won a ‘best of’ last year and people were quick to attack the brand itself because they did not like it. The brand didn’t make that decision - an awards committee did. I cannot express how there needs to be more transparency in these competitions - but they are private, so we wont see much of that happening anytime soon. In the meantime, please make sure to review the bottles you are interested in before spending the money on them. What someone else finds worth $500, you may not think is worth $50 and these contest do not take those attributes into account when making a decision based on a blind sample.
If you have any questions or are curious about a whiskey, feel free to shoot me an email or a dm on IG @mydailybourbon