We know that the process of tasting whisky can sometimes seem a little intimidating.
What was the impression when you first laid your eyes on the whisky. Was the colour old gold, pale gold, amber gold, copper gold or was it honeyed amber? Burnished? Sundown golden? The list goes on and on.
The pressure continues when you are made to nose the whisky. Were you able to smell the burnt cinnamon or did you get a hint of orange marmalade, wet rope, salty sea air, caramel or honey covered dates? You are still struggling and coming to grips but by then the tasting has already moved on to the next stage and the person conducting the tasting starts enquiring how you find the palate.
What does he or she mean by how was the palate? In simple English, he or she is inquiring on the taste of the whisky. Did you taste dark, white or milk chocolate? Was the taste full and even; did it have hues of fruit, honey, clove with a touch of dryness?
Finally, we come to the end of the tasting, where you are asked a simple but complex question: How was the finish? The finish of the whisky is how long the aftertaste stays in your mouth. Was the finish short, medium or long? Was it fresh, dry or warm and rounded with a lasting sweetness? Was it accompanied with a taste of peppery, oiliness, fruity with a gentle hint of smokiness?
There is no need to get intimidated. A whiskey tasting experience is an art and not a science. There are no right or wrong answers. Everyone has unique sensory buds. It’s all about letting go and making your senses, be it sight, smell or taste, work overdrive and make the whisky come alive. Hence in short, simply have fun and don’t worry about whether you are getting the aromas and flavours as the tasting notes dictate.
A number of whisky bars in Singapore such as Tipple and Dram at Ann Siang Road have made the tasting experience simple by creating more than 50 plus whiskey tasting flights for one to experiment and get to learn about the various facets of the different types of whiskey.
It’s easy to enjoy the whisky tasting experience. Follow these simple easy steps detailed below.
Start by investing in the right type of a glass. A glass with a wide base at the bottom with a narrow rim is ideal for tasting. This would be your standard Glencairn Glass.
Pour the whisky into the glass and observe the colour. The colour of the whisky can give you a clue on what kind of cask was used to mature the whisky. What does the whisky look like? What colour is it? When describing the shade, think of objects you’ve seen with similar shades—a gold watch, an amber stone, or maybe the deep reddish-brown bark of a maple tree. Be creative; use your literary side. Check the viscosity of the whisky by swirling the glass and looking for the streaks of liquid that run down the glass. We call them legs. As the say, the thicker the legs, the more viscous the whisky.
Now that we’ve got the appearance down, let’s move on to the second part: the nose. Some say that this is the most important part of tasting whisky as your palate will confirm what your nose already knows. Before you begin though, be cautious and check the ABV! Your nose is delicate and some of those cask strength malts could you give quite a sting.
Give your glass a swirl to release the aromas and bring it to your nose. Take in the components of the smell; notes may appear in a chronological sequence or as an integrated event. Smells are often linked to memories, so take this opportunity to wander through the past. Think of morning walks along the beach which bring salt, smoke, and seaweed to mind or the old wooden furniture in your favourite library that reminds you of wood and leather. The possibilities are endless.
Next, the palate—your time to taste the whisky. This step will confirm or dismiss your nose’s suspicions, but first, focus on the whisky feels in your mouth. Does it feel soft? Delicate and elegant? Rounder and creamy? Hot and immediate? Can you discern the whisky’s structure or whether it tells a story in parts? After swallowing the whisky, what can you taste? This last question will tell you about the finish of the whisky. Concentrate on its length and whether any new notes are introduced for an even more enriching experience.
Lastly, add a drop of water and repeat! Never underestimate the importance of hydration, even when it comes to whisky. Water opens up a whisky and allows you to detect its constituents more easily, so you’ll discover even more on your tasting adventure.
That’s all there is to it! Now get yourself a nice dram and put your new skills to test.