I wanted to title this something quick, along the lines of “stop, drop, and roll”, but I’m fresh out of witty headers today. It’s 1:58pm Central Standard Time on a Friday and I don’t have a drink in my hand as I’m writing this researching day-job related thingies. You see, that’s one of the reasons I finally got off my arse and began this blog — I’m currently unemployed from the full-time workforce and focused on consulting gigs until the perfect match arrives. I wanted to continue to flex my writing skills even though this isn’t related to corporate brew-ha-ha exposition.
Regardless of reason, writing this blog not only enables me to connect with you, it allows me to concentrate on something happy and fun! This is an opportunity to flex creative muscle, make new whisky friends, and provides ample excuse to try new whiskies and every damned whisky-related product we (that’s you and me, buddy) can come across.
SLOW THE EFF DOWN, ALREADY!
What the hell was I originally talking about? Oh yeah, how to taste whisky! Friend, there is indeed a method to tasting and assessing a new whisky in addition to simply choosing the correct nosing glass as we chatted about in the blog post “Whiskey tasting glasses – a comparison”. There is a process, and it is not whisky snobbery bullshit… it works.
Unless you’re famished because you’ve been working all day and missed lunch — or driving for five hours with screaming kids in the car and you pull over for a taco — or you were in the field in your truck and only had a bland sandwich packed in a rush earlier that morning — you probably take your time and enjoy your food. The textures, the tastes, the smells; most people don’t quickly bite, swallow, repeat if they don’t have to. Eating is surely a base need, but it’s also one of our most enjoyable experiences in life. Why would we not wish to do the same for our favorite drink?
What is the first thing you do when you receive food to your plate? You don’t snarf it, you _look_ at it. Does it look appetizing? Are there unrecognizable things poking out of it? Did the preparer squirt little swirly designs with mustard? You smell it — is it wafting waves of goodness? You should do the same with whisky.
Now onto the tips of nosing and tasting. This is my own mixed process, put together by experiences with brand ambassadors, reading books, and watching master blenders on YouTube. My hope is that you will find this useful and helpful in your amber glass discoveries.
LOOK – you’re telling the brain, “get ready, baby, I’m gonna hit you with awesomeness”. The color, not always but many times, can give you an indication to age and cask type used to mature. Do note that many distilleries add caramel color to their final product, supposedly to help with color consistency with their batches. I wish they didn’t, but they also understand that as humans, yes, we look at what we’re about to intake and we want it to appear tasty. Darker colors = yummy to many people. But lighter colored whisky’s can be just as delicious.
After observing the color, either swirl the whisky in the glass or simply tilt it around to coat the sides. Some whisky experts swirl, some tilt, and yet others say “What the eff are you doing? You’re releasing the esters!”. Personally, I gently tilt. It’s the best of both theoretical worlds.
Give it a sec… the whisky will soon make ‘legs’ on the sides of the glass. Are they slow gliding and thick? Chances are you’ve got an older and rich tasting whisky. Are they fast and thin? You likely have a young whisky, full of spirited playfulness.
SMELL – yep, back to the ‘ol nose. Close your eyes or stare at a mundane wall, don’t let surroundings distract you. Distractions such as sight, sound, and other smells can influence your impressions of a new whisky, and you certainly don’t want that.
First, you will pick up aromas that are familiar to you. I bet you know what apples and pears smell like, and because of that, you’ll pick those out. Some whisky reviews will state you should smell marzipan in certain bottles. If you’ve never had marzipan, you’re not going to smell it, so don’t let someone tell you that you should. This is why different people pick up on different whisky scents. It’s all about your previous experiences in tastes and smells out in the world.
Smell it more than once. Approach it slowly, step back, approach it again. Every time you take a whiff, get your nose further in the glass. The whole thing! I don’t care that you think you look weird. Use that nose of yours four or five times before the next steps.
SWIG, HOLD, ROLL – when I first began drinking whisky, I knew it was something to be sipped, but that’s literally all I would do. I sipped and swallowed like a timid wee bird. In doing this, I only gave a small portion of my mouth the benefit of that delicate amber liquid. This was cheating myself of tasting all that the whisky had to offer. Cheating like a miser with gold coins.
It wasn’t until a formal tasting with a scotch whisky brand ambassador that I was told to slow down and take my time with it — get it everywhere. The gentleman was very polite in informing me of my hasty sipping and how I was neglecting all the other perceptive and sensitive areas of the mouth that takes in taste. Simple game-changing advice.
Get it all up in’nere! “In’nere” is another Texism for “in there”. You’re welcome, American foreigners from other states. Cup it in the top of your tongue for a few moments, then roll it around the rest of your mouth: under the tongue, the back, behind the lips, all over your teeth… get it in’nere! Do this for about 10 seconds.
SWALLOW AND BREATHE – swallow that liquid gold and then take in a long and gentle breathe and exhale through your nose. Now breathe in and out from your mouth — more flavors will come forward as the oxygen makes contact with the remnants of whisky in the mouth. Is the flavor sticking around or did it quickly dissipate? That is what is termed as the finish. Was the finish sweet or dry? Smoky or floral? Salty or peppery? All the above?
ADD A FEW DROPS OF WATER – Remember when we talked about water/no water in the post “I’m a neat freak”? When exploring a new dram and you’ve had your first taste neat, add a few drops of distilled water to ‘open up’ the whisky and repeat the steps above, noting the differences in aromas and taste.
REPEAT – don’t wait too terribly long to repeat. A minute or two maximum will suffice. Now that your brain has picked up on the aromas and tastes from your first quaff, you’ve prepped your senses to be more perceptive. See, pretty badass, isn’t it? Note any differences? Better? Worse?
NOW GO AND GIVE IT A TRY!
All this to say, slow the eff down! That whisky you’re drinking took at least three years to get into the bottle, you can damn well give it five minutes to lovingly caress your mouth like that one person did on Valentine’s Day. Taking these steps imparts much more to your senses. Please, for the love of the cask, do it!
I’d love to hear your feedback on assessing a new whisky. Do you have a different method? If you’re new to nosing and tasting and then tried the tips above, did you notice a difference in your experience?