Whisky has earned a brute reputation for being a stereotypically masculine spirit. But as much as it is widely popular in the country, or the world for that matter, many are not quite adept at savoring its flavors much like what one does in tasting wine. If you wish to elevate your whisky tasting skills, here are some of the tricks you need to remember. You’d be surprised at how much there is to love and discover about whisky.
The Container Counts
Did you know that the right glassware gives a positive influence in your whisky-tasting experience? If you are in a formal whisky tasting event, you’d be enjoying your healthy measure in a nosing glass. It is named as such because it concentrates the flavors of the whisky up your nose. A snifter can also be a good alternative if you’re doing it on your own with its narrowed opening.
The Color and Legs
To assess the color you need to hold it up against the light for better inspection. The color of the whisky tells nothing significant, but it shows whether caramel has been added to change the color. Some manufacturers skip this step, maintaining their natural colors, which is a result of the effects of maturation and the wood from which is was once stored.
Next would be to tilt your glass at 45 degrees and gently spin it once all the way, then hold it up straight. Observe the line of whisky that appears across the top of the glass. You will notice the small beads or legs appear after a couple of seconds. These will tell two things: alcohol content and viscosity. If your whisky gives you nice and fat legs, it means that it contains 40% alcohol. But if it has small legs this indicates a high alcohol content. As for viscosity, which is caused by the oils, fats esters and alcohol in the drink, the longer the legs come down the thicker the spirit which means it has more flavor.
Just to make it clear, wine and whisky tasting are two very different things. The process is pretty much the same, but you need to take different information in each step. When you take in the aroma, try not to focus on just one scent. Don’t just bury your nose into the whiskey snifter because whisky has a higher alcohol content than wine, and doing so will only get you all woozy. The right approach would be to give it swirl first before sniffing.
Smelling your whisky more than once would have you discover the aromas transforming with every whiff. There is no need to swirl the whisky because you no longer need to agitate the alcohol and let it evaporate to carry the flavors up for you to sniff. With 40% alcohol, it doesn’t need any help to evaporate which is why you can smell it even several inches from your nose.
To smell the whisky, you need to sniff it three times. Remember not to swirl the glass or you’ll get confused with all the alcohol being released, rather keep the glass flat. The first whiff would create a tingling sensation in your nose as it recognizes the alcohol. On the second whiff, the tingling sensation goes and you sense a characteristically sweet flavor. On the third sniff, you get another flavor usually fruity in character.
Just take a small sip and then pucker your lips forming an O shape. Move your tongue to your lips and then slowly suck in some air, so in a way, you are gargling the whisky. It may be quite uncomfortable for first-timers due to the strength of the alcohol which triggers the burn-cough reflex. Alternate rolling and gargling to appreciate the flavors better.
Another approach is the sip and chew. You take a sip and then create a chewing motion with your mouth for about 4-5 seconds and then swallow at the center of the tongue. Carefully dissect all that is happening inside your mouth.
Open your mouth and slowly breath out, you will notice the aftertaste that lingers on your tongue, gums, and the sides of your mouth. This is called the finish. Also, notice the burning sensation and examine how it unfolds. Is it long or short? Sense how the bitterness sets in, or the deluge of sweetness, basically linger in the experience as some of the volatile aromas are exposed at this stage.
When you have held the whisky in your mouth for a couple of seconds, you’ll notice that it goes down rather smoothly, without burning your throat.
Watering it down
There have been conflicts regarding adding water to whisky or if doing so is sacrilegious. Adding a couple drops opens you up to new dimensions of flavors and aroma. Some people use the term “activate” or “dilute,” but what adding water does is upset the balance of alcohol and minerals which result in a particular taste.
Some would say that this is wrong as manufacturers took so much pain to achieve that balance and you just simply alter it. However, there is an art to alterations. Instead of dramatic change by adding more than what is required, take a more refined and gentle approach as would a surgeon’s touch – so a few drops would suffice. The minerals found in the water are the secret ingredients that give the result some variety.
Remember to enjoy and take your time. You may even drink water in between different whiskies or in between sips of the same one. This spirit is a complex masterpiece so expect to have several notes. The art of tasting only becomes successful when you don’t expect anything. Don’t think ahead or get boxed in by what other people say. Freely interpret what your senses are telling you, and enjoy!
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