Tasting – or nosing as it is called – single malt whiskies is not unlike tasting fine wine. Here are the six essential tasting tips:
The Prep Choose a glass that is narrower at the top than the bottom. Hold it by the stem so that your hand doesn’t warm the whisky pour a small measure (a dram) into the glass. Don’t add water – yet – and certainly no ice. Adding ice to good whisky is like adding it to hot soup.
Colour Hold the glass to the light to determine how the spirit was matured. A golden hue means a sherry oak cask was used, while a paler whisky suggests a bourbon cask. (All whiskies take their colour from the cask in which they were aged.)
Body Hold the glass at an angle and swirl it quickly once so that the inside walls of the glass are coated. Now, hold it upright and watch as the whisky flows down the inside of the glass. “Long legs” means it slowly slides down the glass, indicating a richer, full-bodied spirit, higher in alcohol.
Nosing Your first impression is your best. (Unlike wine, single malt vapors may anaesthetize your nose if you inhale them repeatedly.) Take note of the characteristics which can run the gamut from sweet and floral to mineral (slate) to smoky and peaty. If the characteristics aren’t readily apparent, add a very small amount of still spring water. This helps the whisky to relax and open up and, as the Scottish say, “release the serpents from within.”
Taste Take a good mouthful and swallow. Note whether it’s creamy, smooth, warm, astringent or soft. Take another sip. This time swirl it around in your mouth, so that it covers your entire tongue. Sweetness will be noted on the tip of your tongue, saltiness on the sides, bitterness at the back.
Conclusion Recall your first impressions. Overall, is it a balanced whisky? Did your mouth confirm what your eyes saw and your nose smelled? For example, if it looked full-bodied in colour and had long legs, but was thin and disappointing in the mouth, it’s not balanced. Finally, does the aftertaste linger in your mouth after swallowing? Is it pleasant and does it have medium or longer length or is it short and crisp? Repeat the experience (often) and enjoy!