Understanding Whisky

Jack Goldman
Posted on May 18, 2020

In these tumultuous times, people have sought after countless remedies to alleviate any and all anxiety and stress. That could be reading, watching The Last Dance (Go Bulls!) or even taking a nice stroll outside. For me, and I assume many others, a nice glass of whisky seems to do the trick. However, whisky prices can often be ridiculously expensive, so I looked to discover some good bangs for your buck.

Background

I scraped data from whiskyadvocate.com, a website with over 5000 reviewed bottles, each with a description including the brand or name, the price in dollars, the type of whisky, its rating, and a review from a certified WhiskyAdvocate reviewer. After scraping this data into one dataset, I ultimately added two columns, expected rating, which was a formula that took a bottle's price and returned what it's rating should be based on that price, and rating difference, which subtracts expected rating from the bottle's original rating; a positive rating difference means the whisky is a value play, while a negative rating difference means you probably should stay away from that bottle.

Descriptives

After some basic analyses, I found that the average price for a bottle of whisky was $360.91, and a median price of $79.00, with the cheapest bottle being Grand Grizzly at $7.00 and the most expensive being Diamond Jubilee by John Walker & Sons at a whopping $157,000.00. The average rating of whisky was 86.96 and the median rating was an 87, on a rating scale of 60-100. The highest rated bottles were Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch (2013 Release), Bowmore 46 year old (distilled 1964), Parker's Heritage Collection 'Golden Anniversary', and Black Bowmore 42 year old 1964 vintage, each with a score of 97. The lowest rattled bottles were Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Five Malt and Cavalry, each with a score of 60.

Reviewers

There are 13 different certified reviewers, some with more reviews than others, but on average, they rate the bottles pretty similarly. However, it's important to note that if Dave Broom, Geoffrey Kleinman or Lew Bryson are reviewing your whiskies, they might not give you the best rating in terms of actual rating and expected rating.

Types

In the dataset, there were 58 different types of whisky, so in order to find the most popular types, I filtered out all types of whisky with 89 or less total reviews, with 89 being the rounded average numbers of reviews per whisky type. From this, we find that Single Malt Scotch is the most popular by a large number based on total reviews, with Bourbon as a not-so-close second. While this group of most reviewed whisky types all seemed to be rated pretty similarly, on average, the number of reviews is a good indicator of what type is most sought after.

Price vs. Rating

I was curious to see if there was any correlation between price and rating, with the expectation being that the more expensive a bottle is, the higher its rating will be. That definitely was not the case. After doing a Pearson correlation between the two, it returned an r of .081, meaning there is little to no correlation between the two, which, in other words, suggests that you can find some great whiskies for cheap! This led me to make a few tools to help find some great value plays.

Top Rated Whiskies by Price

To start, I made tool that gives you a list of bottles sorted cheapest to most expensive, with a minimum rating of 90 or above, which I considered to be a good rating for whisky. The returned data table shows that you can get an amazing of bottle of whisky for as little as $20! Additionally, I made similar tools where you can filter the same kind of data by whisky type, if, for example, you're only looking for Scotch or Bourbon, and one where you can filter by reviewer, if your preferences align with a specific reviewer's preferences.

Top Valued Whiskies by Rating

Similarly, I created a tool where you select a minimum price baed on your desired spending limit, and it returns some great valued bottles sorted by rating difference; the higher the rating difference, the better the value, but really, any whisky with a positive rating difference is a good value play. From this, we find that there are countless excellent whiskies where you don't have to spend more than 3 digits. Like the Top Rated Whiskies by Price tool, I provide tools to filter by whisky type and reviewer.

Whisky Jargon

While it's clear and important to understand that you can get some incredible bottles of whisky at a very low price, I was also curious about how these certified reviewers talked about these bottles. Because of this I made a WordCloud of the most used words in reviewing whisky, accumulated from every review. Right away, the words that stand out most are note, sweet, finish, hint, spice, palate, nose and flavor. While I'm a huge whisky lover, I truly didn't know what some of these popular terms meant in relation to whisky, specifically, nose, finish and palate. In the long run, it could have been interesting to have two side-by-side WordClouds, one for highly-rated whiskies and one for poorly-rated whiskies, and see if there's a difference in descriptive words used.

Glossary

Nose: To smell and ultimately judge the whisky, seeing if you can identify the different aromas

**There's a special whisky glass for nosing, called a nosing glass, which is engineered for nosing (wide at the bottom, narrow at the top)**

Finish: The longevity of the different flavors lingering in your mouth after tasting; a good whisky has a finish where the flavor changes over time

Palate: The steps of tasting of whisky; the first step is to judge the texture, with every subsequent step to determine the different flavors

Conclusion

Whisky is a dynamic beverage. There are several different types, good and bad, with an even larger number of flavors, at a wide range of prices. While whisky is often used to get you a little tipsy and feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, it's exciting and interesting to understand a bottle of whisky beyond its price, through nosing, palate, and its finish. However, the most important takeaway, clearly, is that cheap does not equal bad. No matter your relationship with whisky, you really never have to overspend for a good bottle. While you may be feeling generous and want to gift someone a good but expensive whisky, at the end of the day, you can always have some money left over in your pocket while enjoying a world class bottle of your choice.

About Author

Jack Goldman

Jack Goldman

A recent college graduate with a certification in Data Sciences, having a background in biopsychology, cognition and neuroscience as well as statistics, blended with experience in sports marketing and public relations.
View all posts by Jack Goldman >

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