Your Guide to Tasting Single Malt Whisky
You will need:
A clean tulip-shaped nosing glass
A jug of bottled still water at room temperature
Select a suitable glass for nosing; a tulip shaped glass tends to be best. This type of glass will trap the aromas in the bulbous bottom of the glass and release them through the small area at the top of the glass. Whisky is often drunk from a crystal tumbler. This is perfectly acceptable, and is in fact more practical for drinking; however, the tulip shaped glass is better for nosing purposes.
Hold the glass up to a neutral background and have a good look at the colour. Colour can give an indication of age and wood finish, however, never trust your eyes. Any assumptions made on colour must be confirmed on the nose e.g. A dark rich amber coloured whisky may have been mature in an ex-sherry barrel from Spain or it may be an older whisky.
Swirl the whisky around the glass, coating the sides thoroughly. Then wait, and watch the teardrops form and run down the side of the glass. If the legs run quickly, there are lots of them, and they are quite thin then it is probably a light-bodied whisky and/or a younger whisky.
If the legs take a long time to start running, then run slowly down the side of the glass, there are very few of them and they are quite thick in appearance, then it may be a heavy bodied whisky and/or an older whisky.
Add a splash of bottled still water to your whisky. The water will reduce the alcohol content, and raise the temperature slightly releasing more of the aromas. Ensure you nose the whisky more than once. Your first nose will be a rush of alcohol, other characteristics will follow quickly. Holding your mouth open slightly when nosing should help you take in more of the whisky's aromas.
Have a taste of the whisky. Try to pick out any flavours you can remember, even though you are tasting, your nose is still doing a lot of the work. Sometimes you will pick out flavours on the palate that you were not immediately aware of on the nose, and vice versa. Think about how the whisky feels in your mouth- is it silky smooth, is it a little syrupy, does it feel tingly on the tongue?
Does the flavour last a long time? Does it disappear quickly? Is it long and warming, or short, crisp and dry?
* You may wish to nose and taste your whisky without water first, and then add a splash of water to experience the nose developing.
The above text has been reprinted with kind permission from the Scotch Whisky Experience. If you would like to learn more about whisky, the centre runs regulary courses in Edinburgh. For more information see http://www.scotchwhiskyexperience.co.uk .