Tasting Mystery Whisk(e)ys with the Revamped Whiskey Explorers Club

We’ve been fans of For Whiskey Lovers’ Whiskey Explorers Club for years — since the beginning, really — and when founder Douglas Stone announced he’d revamped his Whisk(e)y IQ Game, I was excited. The Whisk(e)y IQ Game is one of the only places you can taste whiskey completely blind, offer your opinions on it, then see whether you were drinking ritzy shizz or rotgut.

I haven’t played the game since February 2013, and the latest version (officially March 2014) offers a whole lot of changes to the mix.

To wit: The whole game — which, for the uninitiated, involves describing the color, nose, taste, body, and finish of four or five unlabeled spirits — has been redesigned. The mechanics are the same (you earn points for “correct” guesses and lose them for “wrong” ones), with color coding for every category — this being particularly helpful when determining a whiskey’s color. There’s a brand new section that has you taste the whiskey with water, and some other changes that make it much harder to cheat when it comes time to pick which actual spirit you’re drinking.

The game, on the whole, is now more fun — though it does take longer to work through, as there’s a lot more clicking around — but I still see room for improvement. Some comments on the new game:

My biggest complaint from day one of this game remains intact: So much of this is so subjective that it’s absurd to grade players on how “correct” they are. Things like a description of body — is it soft? creamy? austere? — are vague to the point of meaninglessness. If I say “luscious” and you say “oily,” what the hell does that really mean? I’d love to see some partial credit here. If you say a whiskey’s color is “old gold” and the “correct” answer is one shade lighter, that should give you partial points, not zero.

Similarly, I still have problems with the “right” answers here; these are apparently drawn from the distillery’s tasting notes, and in some cases I disagree completely with their choices. What on earth does “fragrant” mean when describing the taste of a whiskey? Every whiskey is “fragrant,” and everyone’s palate is different, after all. What’s the difference between “dry hay” and “mown hay”? “Mown hay” and “grass cuttings”? “Soothing” and “lingering”? Some of these terms involve way too much guesswork to the point where the thing gets frustrating…

For Whiskey Lovers has finally taken my long-running advice, putting your selections next to the “correct” choices when you complete a round, so you can compare your tasting notes with what the “correct” choices are in the database. This is a huge win. The formatting needs work (it’s still very hard to read the way it’s laid out), but it’s a massive improvement to the game.

Certain elements of the game just don’t seem to work. The price information doesn’t show up in the end, for example. And there are some technical problems with the design, where items jump from one line to the next after they’re selected.

I’d love to see pop-ups for certain descriptive terms, like aldehydes and esters, explaining what the terms mean for those who aren’t in the know.

Finally, once I accidentally hit “back” and hard to start all over. Argh.

That said, I still recommend this program to just about anyone. You get to try new whiskeys blind — in this round there were two whiskeys I’d never had before — and put your senses to the test in a way that you just can’t do when you know exactly what it is you’re drinking. Good times, good times.

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