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Whisky Tasting: Tips and Suggestions

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Whisky Tasting: Tips and Suggestions
Photo Glenn Satterley

The how, what and why of whisky tasting: single malts should be savoured with all your senses...

The ritual of whisky tasting is one that should be experienced slowly, making use of all the senses as much as possible.

The proper glass for whisky tasting should be wide at the base and narrow at the top, which helps trap the aromas. One can use a tulip glass, a brandy “balloon” glass (otherwise known as a “snifter”), or else a sherry glass.

One begins the tasting process with a visual examination of the colour and body of the whisky (whose qualities will be further explored during the actual tasting). Colour plays a particularly important role and should be examined quite attentively: colour of a whisky may vary from straw-yellow, to amber, to liquorice, with an incredible range of various shades, which are often determined both by the barrels in which the malt has been aged, as well as the length of the ageing process. Lighter tones, for example, suggest that the ageing has been undergone in bourbon casks, while a darker colour usually indicates the whisky was aged in sherry casks.

The second phase of the tasting is the olfactory test, which is the most important of the senses when seeking to truly understand a single malt whisky in depth. After having carefully sniffed the whisky immediately after pouring, repeat the process after adding a small quantity of water. The addition of water helps to release further fragrances and sensations.

The range of perceivable aromas in a single malt whisky is particularly wide and spans from flowers to fruit, from grains to wood, with smoky notes of peat moss, as well as the scent of the sea or the sweetness of vanilla.
As for the actual tasting of the whisky, it’s advisable to take a first sip in order to evaluate the feeling of “fullness”, heat, or, if possible “weight” of the whisky. Then, with a second sip, to focus your attention on the sensations of sweetness, dryness, or eventual “viscosity”.

The last phase of the tasting requires evaluation the persistence of the taste – how long its sensations last in the back of your nose and permeate into your taste buds. It may be a “short” effect, a persistent effect, or in very high-quality whiskies, a very persistent effect.

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