Photograph: Magnus

Interview with Ruben aka WhiskyNotes

This is the 11th interview in a serie of interviews with people who love whisky. This time I interview Ruben. Ruben runs an amazing whisky review site, which is updated regularly. He now have over 500 reviews on his blog! He sais;

“WhiskyNotes is my personal collection of impressions, written while searching for the ultimate single malt whisky. A work in progress, and an exercise for the senses.”

I first found Ruben aka @WhiskyNotes on Twitter where he of course tweets about whisky. Please raise your hands for Ruben!

1. Tell me a little about yourself?

RubenI’m a Belgian webdesigner who has just returned to Belgium after living in Spain for a while. I studied art sciences, and I guess you can say that I love things that are beautifully made. Like whisky.

2. How did it all start, what’s your first experience of whisky?

In my twenties, I emptied a bottle of Chivas Royal Salute 21yo that was sitting in my parents cupboard for as long as I could remember. It was a nice dram but I didn’t become interested until I tried a Japanese Suntory Hibiki and Lagavulin 16. It was clear that the range of flavours in whisky was huge. My brother in law discovered it at the same moment, and our common passion got slightly out of hand. It was only after a few years (and after trying 100+ whiskies) that I started to record my notes on a blog.

3. What’s your favourite and worst whisky experience and why?

I can’t possibly pick one favourite whisky. Among my best experiences are the 1940/1950′s whiskies (ed. for example the Haig Gold Label) that I was able to try. Even though I wouldn’t rank them very high, it’s clear that they were produced in a totally different world. That’s a unique feeling. Worst experience… do you know the “fishky“? An experimental Bruichladdich finished in a cask that was previously used to store salted herring. Enough said, right? It was like a caricature of finished whisky.

4. How do you taste whisky? Do you use water, and when?

I try at least 5 new whiskies a week and reviewing them takes about half an hour per whisky (in general, the older the whisky, the more time I dedicate to it). The process itself is pretty streamlined and consistent, so I don’t have to spend much time on the technical side of updating my blog. Apart from that, I spend several hours reading books and other websites. If I would remember my dreams, I’m sure there would be a lot of whisky in them.

5. What’s your opinion on today’s whisky rating systems (1–10, 1–100, stars etc.)?

I still like the 100 points system, because it’s so common and very easy to relate to. Smaller scales (1-10 or 5 stars) tend to lose much of the subtleties. I understand the downsides of scoring systems, but I haven’t found a better alternative. For me, the tasting notes are much more important than the score so I don’t worry about it too much. Contrary to most other reviewers, I don’t mind altering a score when I taste the same whisky afterwards and the experience is different. I don’t claim my scores to be perfectly consistent, all I can do is try to be honest.

6. How do you taste whisky? Do you use water, and when?

I try to taste whisky in pairs or small series. I have around 500 whiskies available (both open bottles and samples), which means there’s always a reference I can use. Even though I don’t necessarily refer to the compared whisky, it helps to spot the differences. I always try them neat, but I tend to add water to cask strength whiskies in the end, just to see the effect.

7. How is the whisky ‘climate’ (bars, clubs, events & mag a zines etc.) in your country and city?

I think Belgium is a unique country when it comes to whisky, with one of the highest concentrations of whisky amateurs. We have several amazing retailers, a couple of excellent bottlers and a constant stream of tastings and festivals. More importantly, the whisky community is great, with a few connoisseurs that I really look up to. Living in Spain made me realize how wonderful the whisky climate in Belgium is.

8. What’s your opin ion on different cask-finish expression?

I’ve tasted a few good finishes, but they’re still far and few between. I’m hopeful though. I have the impression some distilleries are really getting the hold of it, so I guess we’ll see less experimental finishes in the future, but better quality.

9. Where in the world would you like to go to try whisky? Why, do you have a favourite place, distillery or country?

I’m not a romantic soul. I think my whisky tastes the same at home as on a boat deck in Port Ellen, if that’s what you mean. As long as there are like-minded souls to share the drams with, I don’t think the location matters.

10. What whisky trends are you seeing, how does the future look like?

Whatever the future may bring, I’m not one of those people who claim whisky was much better in the old days. I do realize that distilleries are bringing out younger whisky all the time (at ever increasing prices), but I think there’ll always be good whisky to be found. I also believe that when more people get interested, distilleries have more chances to investigate and try new things.

Did you enjoy the inter view? If you would like to be part of the serie or know some one else who would, please let me know.

  1. Filip Ling
  2. Gal Granov
  3. Jörg Bechtold
  4. Mark Gillespie
  5. Thomas Maufer
  6. Stef fen Bräuner
  7. Dan Hvitman
  8. Mark Connelly
  9. Jason Johnstone-Yellin
  10. Ruben

November 5th, 2010

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