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How To Nose & Taste

Lots of you have been to wine tastings already. Whisky is tasted and assessed in the same way. Unlike wine, we do not need to worry about what the effects are from weather etc. However, age is important as a 10 year old will taste differently from, say, a 15 year old, both from the same distillery.

Of course, professionals in the industry will use the nose only. Blenders are often assessing dozens or hundreds of casks at distilleries or at the bottling plant before casks are emptied to use in a blend. If they had to taste and swallow all of those they would not survive long! After all, whisky at cask strength is powerful stuff. Remember too that alcohol numbs the taste buds so while a wine does not have sufficient strength to do this, spirits are much higher in strength even with a little dilution and after a few you will be less able to discriminate.

The ideal glass for this is known as an ISO nosing glass which is tulip shaped with a wider base than top so the aromas are gathered and directed to the top. If none of these glasses are available then sherry copitas are a fine substitute or any glass with the right sort of shape.

Lets take it a step at a time.
Colour - first of all make sure you are in good bright light, artificial or natural (not fluorescent lights if possible) and look at the colour of the whisky. It can help to put a piece of white paper behind the glass to see colour better. The whisky may be on a spectrum from a straw colour to deep amber. You may get some clues as to age or cask type from this.

Nose - first, ensure that you have added a little water to release aromas and character. The water should not be chilled. Whisky should always be tasted at room temperature. Still bottled water with not too much mineral content is the best. Then hold the glass by the base or stem and swirl the liquid round to aid in aroma development.
You can cover the glass with your hand or a glass cover before or just after this to contain the aromas. Remove the cover and nose the whisky. You can put your nose over the rim of the glass and breathe in. Note the aromas and characteristics you can identify.

TasteTaste - take a sip and swirl it round in the mouth. Sucking in a bit of air helps with flavour development. Note how the whisky feels in your mouth - whether light, medium or heavy bodied, silky, oily, creamy, unctuous etc. Then think about the flavours you can detect and note them too.


Lastly think about the finish - how do the flavours develop and do they linger only a short time, is the finish of medium length or is it a long finish? Some of the peatier Islays may be with you for hours! Happy tasting!


The pictures here are from Helen's book "The Single Malt Whisky Companion".

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