Thoughts on Grading Spirits

When I started Professor Cocktail it seemed natural to assign letter grades when reviewing spirits. It just makes sense: the professor gives grades. But as I've written a bunch of reviews over the past year, I've grown to question the usefulness of a grading scale for booze that mirrors the familiar classroom model. I've asked myself more and more about the differences between a B and a B- spirit, and how they differ from a C+.

Are these differences discernible and meaningful? And, even more importantly, are they useful? Do they give the reader valuable information? I'm not so sure — and if they're not aiding the consumer, what's the point of doing it?

When I write book reviews, something I've done professionally for almost a decade now, I don't assign letter grades or give scores. I just write the review and allow the critique to stand for itself. I don't think it's ever unclear what I think of the book, because the review tells you.

Spirits are a little different, however, because we have to use words to convey flavors and aromas. We're trying to give the reader some guidance on what to expect from a spirit in terms of taste, etc., which is more nebulous than what they can expect from a book or film.

Because of this, I think it makes sense to assign some type of score along with the verbal review for spirits. But I also think it makes sense to use a more streamlined grading scale than what we have been. I think most consumers look to spirits reviews for two kinds of guidance: what to expect, and whether or not they should buy it. A grade can help make the picture clearer.

Out of all the scoring systems I've seen, I like the one used by F. Paul Pacult the best. He awards stars ranging from one to five with no fractional increments. How many stars the spirit receives indicates both its relative quality, and whether or not he recommends it. I like both the simplicity and the utility of this method. So I'm stealing it.

Here is the grading scale that we'll be using from this point on:

Professor Cocktail's Grading Scale

one star
Disappointing: Not recommended

two stars
Average: Not recommended

three stars
Above Average: Recommended

four stars
Superb: Highly Recommended

five stars
Classic: Highest Recommendation

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