Words by Simon Difford
Unlike numerous other websites and most competitions, we don't charge to review and rate a product - be that a wine, beer, spirit, liqueur, soda, book or item of bar equipment. However, due to the work involved, we do charge (£88/$119/€99) for creating dedicated product pages and are committed to working with brands to ensure information and packaging is as up to date as possible.
In May 2016, we introduced Difford's Guide Quality Stamps to certify the technical quality and contents of drink products. Quality Stamps encourage producers to supply additional product information.
Our reviews and Quality Stamps are aimed at informing and reassuring trade (drinks industry) and consumers alike.
Score out of five
I have been continuously publishing my ratings for products out of five since I published my first drinks magazine in August 1997. Hotels have long been rated out of five so it seemed an obvious and simple scale, plus my graphic designers warned against graphically illustrating scales out of 10, 20 or even 100.
That said, assessors such as Mr Parker who use the 100 scale seem to start at around 50 points, scoring only between 50 and 100 points. So, it could be argued they are actually only scoring out of 50 and that I am merely dividing their scale by a factor of ten when I score out of five.
Considering this, and after studying others rating scales, I believe the following table best illustrates our Difford's rating scale compared to others:
Most of the products reviewed are sent to us for the purposes of review. We do also buy items which we find interesting but rely on receiving samples in order to afford to review and reassess the 1,000's of products on this website.
If you have a product you'd like reviewed then please first complete our online Product Listing form giving as much information as possible. We will then give you the correct address to send your sample(s) to.
We expect, and take on trust, that samples are representative of regular production. We make a point of retrospectively highlighting and publicising cases where we believe we have been duped.
Reviews of sponsors' & advertisers' products
In order to afford to run one of the world's biggest drinks websites we accept sponsorship and advertising from drinks companies. This ranges from straightforward banner advertising to sponsorship of cocktail recipes, but whatever form such product promotions on this site take, we do not consciously let this financial support affect our judgement. Indeed, we are particularly rigorous in our reviews of sponsors' products and reassess them frequently.
Honest & unbiased reviews
We aim to write dispassionate, honest and unbiased reviews. We do not favour products that sponsor or advertise with us (see above). To the contrary, we only accept cocktail sponsorship from products which we like and have rated at least four stars. We do not accept sponsorship for products we haven't tried or don't like. To paraphrase Victor Bergeron, anyone who says I'm generous when rating sponsor's products is a dirty stinker.
I don't believe in tasting blind so we don't. Fact is, the presentation of food and drink affects our perception of it. The same goes for the packaging and marketing surrounding a product. Consumers and indeed bartenders are affected by these and so we want to assess products with the same influences they have. That said I believe we are a lot less influenced by packaging and marketing and more swayed by good liquid.
As a general rule in life, "you get what you pay for". Now and then superb quality is available at a very affordable price. Most really great products - especially high-end whiskies - are over-priced but we enjoy a market economy, supplies are limited and people are more than prepared to pay the prices being asked. In our rating of products we do not penalise for products being expensive, we do, however, score generously to products that we consider excellent value-for-money.
"Craft" verses mega brand
Value-for-money applies to some of the largest brands in the drinks industry offering consistently good products which are made available to mass-market consumers at an affordable price. E.g. Tio Pepe sherry, Ketel One vodka, Johnnie Walker Scotch and Heineken beer.
We recognise they enjoy economies of scale but similarly such brands are also challenged by consistency and the logistics of broad distribution. We are proud not to knock the big brands for the sake of knocking the big brands and reserve our criticism for the ones we believe deserve it - big or small. We are also proud to support small independent producers and offer a platform for their products.
The pubs and bars selected for Difford's Guide are in our view among the very best in the world. Some have a great atmosphere, some have an idyllic location, others have bar staff that are not only friendly but also make great drinks, and a rare few have all this and more.
To be adjudged worthy of a high Difford's Guide rating, a hostelry must in addition to great drinks (whether they be wine, beer or cocktails) also offer good service, preferably bar snacks/food and certainly be the kinda of place you'd want to go back to time and time again.
• Unlike other bar reviewers, we usually review bars without prior notice of our visit, unless necessitated by restricted entry in venues such as members' bars. And we prefer and expect to pay for all our drinks.
• We focus on the best bars in the world's most visited and influential cities. (We haven't made it to or found reviewers in them all yet.) The cities selected are influenced by our peers.
• We consider a bar to be only as good as our worst drink/ experience. Even if we've only visited once and had a bad time, then the chances are you'll have a bad drink/experience too.
• We only review bars, not restaurants. In case of doubt, bars welcome drinkers without a requirement to purchase food.
• We don't review nightclubs and other venues which are more focused on music and dance than drinks. (The editor can't and won't dance.)
• We don't review pop-ups or bars established to only be open for only a short period - we seek the world's truly great bars, bars that strive to last for decades and to be appreciated by successive generations. Longevity is ultimately the best test of a bar.
• We rate bars ou- of-five and score according to our overall experience: drinks, service, ambience, décor, cleanliness and food. Unless a bar has some redeeming feature such as heritage or atmosphere we generally don't write about bars scoring less than 4-out-of-5.
• We try not to visit bars during their first few weeks of operation in the belief that this is an unfair period to properly judge a venue, and that truly discerning drinkers are not preoccupied with continually seeking the next new thing. We seek the best, not the newest. If we do visit a bar during a 'soft launch' discounted drinks period then we will not review that bar until fully open.
• We aim to continually revisit bars to update reviews and amend our rating where appropriate.
I (Simon Difford) personally sample every product reviewed and rated here on Difford's Guide so the ratings on this website are inevitably governed by my personal tastes, likes and dislikes. While I have visited a large number of the bars reviewed sadly I have not been to them all and we rely on the taste, discernment and judgment of our local reviewers. However, we do choose these reviewers carefully.
We realize that you also have a choice of reviewer and I liken selecting a reviewer whose judgment to trust to choosing a DJ - your own tastes broadly need to align with theirs. I hope we'll one day have the chance to enjoy a drink together and that we'll find our tastes similar. In the meantime, I'm sure we both consider ourselves as having good taste. We are discerning drinkers.