One of our most frequently asked questions is 'What's the right way to drink whisky?' and we always give the same answer - How you like it!
I've been told a million times that Great Uncle McSporran always says to add a drop of water, or never add water or always serve it over a single cube of ice or swirled around the glass clockwise while reciting Robert Burns but the fact remains it’s your whisky! You paid for it so do what you want with it! And even if that means mixing your favourite old malt with ginger ale or tonic water do it- No, it's not sacrilege and I'm sure the good people at the distillery who made it wont be losing any sleep over it either.
At Boom Whisky tasting events we will talk you through what we think is the best way of getting the most out of the whisky we provide- but these are by no means hard and fast rules.
Below are just a few steps that we think help even the most novice of whisky drinkers to identify some of the features of that particular whisky in order to appreciate and enjoy your whisky.
1. Select a good glass
Everyone loves the feel of a nice old-fashioned cut glass tumbler; they're chunky, heavy and make a nice clink when you drop the ice in. But there are other options. A narrow top will collect and concentrate the vapours in the same way as a brandy glass or wine glass and ultimately enhance the whole experience of a whisky. For Boom Whisky events (and even our logo) we always use the Glencairn glass.
Since it's launch in 2001 it has established itself as the standard tasting glass across the industry. It's unique design features an inward curve to focus the aromas and a solid base giving the holder the option of warming the whisky with their hands or holding at the bottom will keep it at room temperature.
2. Note the colour of your Whisky
Looks lovely doesn't it? The colour can often give us a clue to which type of cask the whisky has been matured in (more in this to come in a future article on casks). A yellow/gold colour will often indicate an American oak (usually ex-bourbon) cask and a reddish colour will suggest European oak (ex-sherry cask usually).
But remember, a lot of whiskies these days will use artificial colouring but the host of the Boom Whisky event will let you know if a whisky is natural colour or not. Give it a little swirl- watch how the whisky reacts to the glass. A 'sticky' or oily looking texture is said to have good legs. This could suggest that it’s an older whisky but a less viscous one may be younger and could also have been through a process called chill filtration (another topic to be covered in an upcoming article).
3. Smell/ 'nose' your Whisky
The smell is important. Our noses can detect 400 different aromas. Be careful not to just dive in or you'll just get alcohol burn- especially if you're not used to straight spirits. The best way, for most, is to just take it slow, breathe naturally and move the glass around your nose to pick out individual scents. There are no right or wrong answers here as all you're really smelling is the whisky but what does it remind you of? Is it sweet or savoury? Salty or smoky? And be patient a whisky will often transform in the glass and open up revealing new and interesting characteristics.
So the bit you've been waiting for! We finally get to have a drink. This part is often split into two bits. What the whisky is like in your mouth and what it's like after you swallow- these are described as the palate and finish.
4. Your first sip is a small sip
The first sip will be preparing your mouth for the alcohol and you're unlikely to be able to take much from it. So have a little sip, let it rinse over your tongue, swallow it and ignore it. It's the second and third where you will get the most from the spirit.
Again, take your time. Treat the liquid like mouthwash and rinse it around all of your tongue and gums to really get the most from it.
A nice guide is to hold it in your mouth for a second for every year it's matured- this will give your mouth time to break down the alcohol and release the flavours.
See if you can pick out any flavours- is it sweet and vanilla-like? Is it fruity? Is it smoky?
Your host will probably urge you to try it neat first but if its a bit hot or too strong feel free to add a
couple drops of water. It sometimes helps open up the whisky and releases new flavours.
5. Enjoy and take note of the 'Finish'
After you've had a good old chew on the whisky and picked out some
good tasting notes you will at some point swallow the whisky.
But, this isn't where the experience ends. You'll still be able to taste the
lingering flavours and possibly even develop new ones.
Some whiskies may have a drying affect,
it might be spicy, some might be oily. This is what's called the finish
and can also reveal some clues about the whisky.
A long finish often suggests its an old, more mature whisky and can
also give away whether or not it's been filtered before bottling.
After tasting some people like to make notes and even score their
whiskies. This can be a great way of keeping track of what whiskies
you've had (especially, if you like to try as many whiskies as we do)
but is no way necessary. In reality the only question you need to ask is
'Do I like it?'.
So there you have it, The Boom Whisky Guide to Tasting Whisky.
Try it, let us know what you think and please experiment and develop your own style! You can get in touch over Twitter or Facebook and share how you like to taste your whiskies or if there's any whisky you've particularly enjoyed!
Is there anything you want to see feature on an upcoming tasting? Let us know! Remember, we are 100% independent so no whisky is out of the question!