There are many ways of drinking your whisky and no body can really tell you how to drink yours. When I’m out with some friends I don’t mind it with a bit of ice. It makes it easier to sip and still be social. If a bar doesn’t have much to choose from I will opt for some water or even soda and ice. If it’s something truly horrendous then I might even call for a diet-Coke mixer.
However, if you are looking to really taste a whisky then there are certain guidelines. Again, you will notice I did not use the word rules. This is my method and I’ve learnt it from friends and doing my research. There’s no reason it shouldn’t work for you.
Pour your drink in a nosing glass like this one. A tulip glass like this will help accumulate the vapors at the top of the glass making identifying aromas much easier. If you don’t have a nosing glass like this then a wine glass will do. If you don’t have a wine glass then I’m not sure what you’re really doing here.
Don’t put too much, though. You want to nose and taste it, not get smashed. Get smashed at a club, not when tasting a single malt.
The first thing you need to have is ample time and no disturbances. I prefer to do do my tastings late at night when everyone’s asleep. I avoid eating anything too super spicy at least 6 hours before I intend to sit down with my malt otherwise all my tasting notes would include references to tandoori chicken!
Once you’re chilling with your drink the first thing you should do is cover the glass for a minute. This traps all the aromas inside and concentrates the smells making them easier to recognize.
Take your first sniff tentatively as it will always be alcohol and no real aromas. Once your nose is used to the alcohol go in for a second gentle smell. Keep your mouth slightly open and you’ll realize you’re actually ‘tasting’ the aromas. Once you start inhaling all the lovely smells try and figure out what they remind you of.
Remember, nosing and tasting is a very personal exercise. What you smell in the whisky may not be what others smell. Similarly there is no reason to feel weird if Jim Murray smells green apples and you think it smells like custard. Each and every one of us has a unique way of identifying with smells. If the smell reminds you of your grandmother’s medicine cabinet then that’s what you should go with.
Spend as long as you can nosing your malt. You’ll soon realize that as your nose gets used to one aroma profile another opens up. You may smell burnt orange in one sniff and raisins in another. It’s precisely this sense of wonderment that keeps you hooked.
I’ve put together a nosing wheel which always helps me identify and name what I’m smelling. It’s a nice guide and helps make the universal language of nosing familiar. I’ve got them on my iPhone which comes in handy when I’m at a tasting and want to take down quick notes.
Once you’re happy with what you’ve nosed it’s time to take a sip. Take a small sip and let the whisky gently wash over your tongue. Don’t swallow it immediately, instead, ‘chew’ the liquid just like you would a piece of meat. This helps in releasing the flavors and makes them more intense. When you can’t hold the whisky in your mouth any longer swallow it slowly and breathe in through your mouth.
As you savor the moment try and identify as many flavors as you can. Start broad like ‘sweet’ or ‘salty’ or ‘floral’. Then work your way to something more specific like ‘honey’ or ‘apples’ or ‘seaweed’. Use the nosing wheel to try and identify flavors that you can’t put a name to.
But more than anything remember to take your time and not be influenced by what someone else thinks. Draw your own observations and stick to them!