Try to describe these characteristics when evaluating scotch, wine, craft beer, etc:
What does it look like? Color. “Legs” (for wine, sake, mead). “Head” and lacing (for beer).
Does it look delicious sitting there in your glass? Or does it look like cheap, artificial color like JD or Cuervo? An older drink will often (not always) be darker than a newer one. Certain types of barrel finishes, such as Pedro Ximenez sherry, will darken the scotch significantly.
How does it smell? This is often the most distinct part of a scotch.
Place your nose a decent length away from the glass and slowly move forward (while smelling) until you get the alcohol burn. You don’t want that, so back up a little. Smell your shirt/shoulder (this will “reset” your nose, and is a great trick), then go in for the real aroma test.
Take small sniffs, big ones, long and slow ones, etc. Anything that comes to you, write it down. If your nose becomes fatigued, come back to it a couple minutes later, you’ll be amazed how different things are when your nose has properly rested. It is very easy to burn your nose out with scotch.
Don’t be afraid to move on to different parts of the evaluation and come back to the nose. You really should be smelling before every sip anyway, it is the best part!
How does the wine/whisky/beer feel in the mouth? Thickness of body. Alcohol burn. Intensity of flavor. Smoothness. Sweetness. Acidity. Bitterness.
Does it make your mouth feel dry? Warm? This is specifically how it feels in the mouth, not how it tastes. That’s next.
How does it taste? Quite difficult with whiskys due to their strength, but do your best! With wine and beer, you can swish in your mouth, but that’s tough with scotch. Take a slow sip. If you can, inhale and exhale through your nose while holding it in your mouth. Again, write down any descriptors that come to you.
Take a fast sip; see if you get anything different.
After you finish your sip, how long do the flavors in your mouth last, and what are they? That is the finish. Breathe out heavily through your nose right after swallowing. You’ll often pick up on more flavors and complexities here than when it is directly in your mouth.
What are your distinct impressions? Sometimes you’ll come up with a huge list of descriptors but still not like the dram. Sometimes you’ll come up with nothing and still adore it.
Out of 100, but the vast majority of the scale is ignored. Below 75 is pretty much junk. Above 90 is excellent, and above 95 is world class. I’d say your average whiskey would sit around 82.