Who criticizes the critics?

Lots of folks, as it turns out. Oh, sure, we have fans who appreciate what we do and how we do it. I’m gladdened when someone reaches out in the comments section or via social media to express their thanks for our honest, unbiased reviews. Saving other people money by preventing them from buying lackluster, overpriced whisky is one of the most gratifying parts of writing for Malt.

However, appreciation for our critical approach is far from universal. We often get pushback on specific scores for being too high, or too low, or – amusingly, on occasion – both too high and too low, depending on who you ask. That’s to be expected; tastes and preferences differ in a way that causes opinions to diverge meaningfully. Other times, the responses to our reviews take on quite a different cast, one that troubles me greatly.

At this point, I’d like to ask you to indulge me by considering a hypothetical scenario:

You go to a restaurant and order a steak – medium rare – with fries. The waiter returns after an inordinately long wait and slams down a plate in front of you. On that plate sits a charred piece of meat cooked to the consistency of shoe leather and a soggy, lukewarm pile of greyish-colored strips of potato. The price for this culinary catastrophe is $100, before tax and tip.

Suppose a friend asks you how your meal was, or say you go online to write a review of the restaurant. Of course, you’d point out the surly service and the bad, overpriced food. Would doing so mean that you’re a malcontent who is simply jealous of the chef, or a coward who lacks the guts to open his own restaurant? Would having something negative to say about a poor experience make you an incorrigible pessimist?

Of course not!

Yet, when we point out a whisky’s flaws or exorbitant price and score it punitively, we’re not infrequently rebuked with some variation of those accusations. What could be chalked up to an innocent difference of opinion is instead used as a basis to malign our palates, to impugn our intellects, and to call our integrity into question.

Since I published my first review on this site, I’ve been receiving derisory feedback. It’s OK; I’m a grownup with skin thick enough to withstand a sporadic insult from a random stranger on the internet. However, for those inclined to respond to our reviews thus, I’d like you to consider that not all the writers on this site are hardened hacks with calloused hands.

Writing for Malt isn’t as simple as pounding out some tasting notes and slapping on a score. If it were, we’d be collectively capable of reviewing dozens of drams a day. Rather, in embracing the long-form review, we demand more from the folks who volunteer their time and energy to provide daily content for your amusement.

Some of these writers are making their maiden forays into writing about whisky. They bring their own experiences and personalities to the reviews, which I believe makes those reviews better and more interesting. In doing so, they disclose personal details that leave them vulnerable to some truly indecent treatment at the hands of commenters.

Comments on this site, I’m sorry to say, have sometimes gone well beyond the boundary of simple unkindness, or even the type of cowardly cruelty enabled by the internet’s veil of pseudonyms. Reducing writers to a stereotype based on their national origin or racial or gender identity, and dismissing their perspective as a result (as has happened, sadly), is wrong and unacceptable.

Though part of publishing reviews on a site with an open comments section entails opening oneself to criticism, it is in everyone’s best interest to keep that criticism constructive. If you take issue with a piece featured here, I’d encourage you to think about the following: Saying “this review/this writer/this site sucks” doesn’t really add to the dialogue, and it makes your critique easy to dismiss out of hand.

Instead, I’d encourage commenters to focus on the specific points of disagreement they might have with a reviewer. Blanket condemnations are simplistic and seldom warranted. Picking fights about this or that tasting note aren’t especially helpful given the inherent subjectivity of the tasting experience. Factual errors or points of clarification, on the other hand, are fair game.

Above all: avoid personal attacks and keep the comments respectful. Address others with the kindness and civility with which you’d like to be addressed. Remember that a difference of opinion is something to be tolerated, if not celebrated. After all, if I don’t like a whisky that you love, it means less for me and more for you!

What does all this have to do with the whisky I’ll be reviewing today? Not much, bar the fact that it was provided to me by one of our most loyal readers and dedicated commenters on this site. He’s been a constant presence since I started writing here, and I’m raising this glass to him: Cheers, PB, and GO BLUE!

The whisky in question is a single cask selection from the Amrut distillery. I feel in love at first taste when I sampled Blackadder’s Raw Cask botting of an ex-bourbon Amrut. However, my subsequent dalliances with the Intermediate Sherry and another Blackadder (this time a peated cask) left me feeling let down. I’m still chasing that initial high, and I was therefore thrilled when PB offered me a sample of this whisky.

The back label informs me that this is a “Special Limited Edition,” with the lower front label indicating this is “Hand Selected by Lost Barrel.” Some Googling doesn’t reveal anything about Lost Barrel, but the importer Glass Revolution Imports mentions a trip to India in which this was selected by Ryan Caswell from New Jersey’s Opici Family Distributing.

This was distilled from Indian barley at the Amrut distillery in Bengaluru. This is cask #707, an ex-rye barrel, though there’s no mention of the country of origin of the rye. Filled in July 2015 and bottled in March 2020 at an age of four years, this comes to us at 60% ABV, neither chill filtered nor colored. 120 bottles were produced. I have seen a similar bottle from cask #708 (also ex-rye) selling for $120 online, thus I will be using that as my price for calibration with our price-sensitive scoring bands.

Amrut ex-Rye Cask #707 – Review

Color: Medium-pale golden wheat.

On the nose: A wave of creamy vanilla suddenly meets the effervescent spiciness of ginger ale. More sniffing reveals a meaty note of braised pork, a citric aroma of key lime, and assorted herbal and spicy elements of cinnamon, cloves, and Garam Masala. With time in the glass, an intense floral aroma emerges, with a perfume-like intensity that travels up the nostrils and tickles the inside of the nose.

In the mouth: This enters the mouth with a round richness and a creamy oakiness that envelops the tongue. The whisky doesn’t feel flabby, however, as those spice notes come rushing back as it moves into the center of the mouth. There’s a moment of perfect harmony when wood, fruit, and spice are all married into a unified flavor that blooms to fill the mouth. This fades gently into the finish, where some astringently woody accents mingle with the first noticeable presentation of the underlying malt. The finish recedes, leaving the chalky, mildly sugary sweetness of Necco wafers and a whisper of malt as an aftertaste.

Conclusions:

This is young whisky, and it’s pricy, but it’s very tasty. There aren’t the endless layers of flavor development that I was after, but there’s something captivating about this. I appreciate that is has a great intensity throughout the nose and the mouth. I also like that it’s got those unique aromas and flavors that are so reminiscent of India and which, to me, ultimately justify the cost of Amrut whisky. I’m scoring this a notch above average as a result.

Score: 6/10

If you liked this, or didn’t like it, or disagree, I’m happy to hear you out. Please consider my aforementioned requests, however. Maintain perspective, keep it civil, and don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want attributed to you personally, for the whole world to see.

I look forward to moving ahead with you all in a spirit of energetic but mutually respectful discourse. Cheers!

Sample provided by PB, who also kindly furnished the lead photo.

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  1. PBMichiganWolverine says:

    Kudos to the photographer, by the way ;-). The one and only artistic shot I think I ever took.

    Yeah it is overpriced. I feel whiskey had become over-priced about 2 years ago, but now with the inflationary pressures, it’s just out of control. I wonder if we’ll see a pull back in prices with folks now spending more on necessities like fuel and groceries. Personally, I don’t spend anymore on the inflated whiskey prices, knowing I need that cash at the grocery store or the fuel pump.

    This was about $100…which I think, in my naive opinion, is $50 over fair. But, I’ve been searching for that Amrut experience I had when I first had their 007 ( now extinct ). So I made an exception to the “no spending on inflated whiskey “ hoping this would be it. Yeah…it wasn’t that 007.

  2. Al Taaffe says:

    I have never commented before, I come in and have a read, normally whilst having breakfast and dreading the working day ahead and generally have a smile at the article in question making the start of that day a little better. I like the way you write as a team and the whisky reviews are a bonus, unfortunately social media has spawned an antisocial culture online that there seems no way to avoid. Hope you all manage to keep the positive vibes and keep going because people like myself truly appreciate your efforts.
    I agree with the comment above and have found myself saying “I like it but I’m not paying that”, fortunately there are still enough at the lower price points to keep my wallet from collecting moths !

  3. Naka says:

    I think the overall vibe of Malt has changed for the better under your stewardship. A couple of years ago I was getting turned off by the ever-present cynicism and negativity that was apparent in certain writers. Perhaps it came from a place of love but it didn’t give the impression that they were enjoying the whisky industry or the writing process.
    Large corporations will always be chasing profits over quality, and I think it’s fair to call them out when they get that balance wrong. That’s not to say small producers should get a pass and I appreciate that Malt is not afraid to say so if someone is being disingenuous or is cutting corners. At the same time, it doesn’t do anyone any favors to conflate negativity with honesty and I’m glad to see that shift in overall tone.

    1. Jigs Alonzo says:

      Hi, Naka!

      I hope that you don’t mind that I also offer my response to your comment despite it being addressed to Taylor.

      While I haven’t been part of Malt’s readership as long as you have, I’ve seen some reviews written in the past that, to your point, seemed to take the negative criticism a tad too far even if, I’m sure, they were well-intentioned. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s partly because negative content in the context of providing criticism can be appealing to read about and write, especially when done in a space that encourages honesty. Maybe the ability to choose to communicate negative ideas is a necessary outcome of upholding writers’ freedom to be honest. But I definitely agree with you that honesty must and ought to also be used to celebrate the positive (at least, this is how your I understood your comment to imply).

      I can’t speak for the other contributors to Malt, but I personally appreciate your thoughts and will make sure to keep them in mind for my own writing. The goal, after all, is to participate in this passion for spirits that we all share, and that can’t happen without healthy and meaningful positivity, too.

      Cheers, Naka!

    2. Taylor says:

      Naka, thanks for commenting, and I am glad that the “new” approach resonates with you. It certainly isn’t universally loved but, as you note, the old approach became unbalanced to the point of being credibility-impairing at times. We are far from perfect, but we will keep trying to get better. Sincere thanks for your support!

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