We got a comment from a user review on Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum that’s echoed a number of different sentiments over the summer. Sailor Jerry is currently in our top-20 rums in the world based upon strong results from the 2014 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition (double gold medal) and the 2011 Wine Enthusiast review (93pts). From MightyMo848:
Really? A 600+ rating. Really? Standing on the rum aisle it seemed like a solid value. Liquor hub let me down. I’m not even going to mix with this. It’s just going to sit there, looking nice in my cabinet, mocking me. If this is one of your favorite spiced rums, then I’m sorry. Very sorry.
This echoes an earlier sentiment by Bearmark
It just amazes me that this rum is n any top 20 list. If all you’re into is mixing with cola, then I guess this is okay. Still, there are far better spiced rums out there (e.g. Foursquare). This stuff has flavors of vanilla and caramel that just taste fake and there’s far too much of it added.
Alas! Well, we should note that we think Liquor Hub is the best on the market but we’ll admit it’s not infallible. There are several times we've disagreed personally with our own scoring algorithm. But it is a reflection of the critical consensus. And like all critical assessments, it’s subject to conflict with personal tastes. So don’t give up on Liquor Hub!
Critical disagreement aside, rum—and in particular, spiced rum—is one of those categories of spirits that has a ton of volatility in the scoring. Note that the strong 2014 result was preceeded by more modest results from the same judging institution in 2011 and 2012. The Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum is our second highest spiced rum with modest results from San Francisco in 2011 and 2012 but a huge, strong result from Wine Enthusiast in 2011. Captain Morgan Black is yet another example with a big double gold in 2012 from San Francisco but a modest result from Wine Enthusiast. Clearly, this is a place where the term “critical consensus” doesn't really apply.
Why are the critics in such disagreement? Our sense is that spiced rum is one of those categories that doesn't really have a long history. No one has a real understanding of what spiced rum is supposed to taste like. This compared to scotch whisky or gin or bourbon that has a long history of standards to assess against. In those areas, one would expect a trained palate to have similar impressions. But in the spiced rum world, some rums are sweetened, some aren't. The spices are all over the map with little consistency in how strong or bitter or spicy they should be. Proof ranges from 60 all the way up to 100.
Another similar category that betrays a lot of critical volatility is vodka. This is likely due to the subtlety of the spirit… it’s easy to determine craftsmanship and seldom do the critics award a vodka high marks if the distillation is poor. But the tastes are subtle, personal, and after a certain point, completely subjective.
So what is the consumer going to do? The whole purpose of Liquor Hub and Proof66—and indeed, the whole exercise of bothering to read critical reviews in the first place—is as a guide when purchasing for your own tastes. Buying a new spirit is a gamble, so just like you want to check what the odds-makers say about a given bet in the sports world you want to know what the critics have to say about a bottle in the spirits world. But just like a sports bet, outcomes can be different when you taste.
Proof66 is designed to give you a reason to explore new spirits and try new things. We've found many, many bottles that we love but would have never otherwise purchased but for a strong critical result. Occasionally, we drink something and we have to ask, “What the hell were these judges thinking?” That’s part of it; it’s part of the fun of discovery.
So hopefully this help people understand the proper uses of Liquor Hub and critical results in general.