How to taste a Rare Dram
Tasting of any whisky is an individual experience. You bring yourself to the tasting. your mood, time of day what you have eaten , all of these can impact on your (emotional) taste buds.
The professional nose will make sure that he is as prepared as can be to distinguish one flavour from the next, and Scotch Whisky has significantly more flavours to discover than any other spirit. Hover the Nose will set their stall out by not taking any strong meals or coffee before hand. In fact , in the old days they used to brush their tongues to prepare themselves for what was to come.
The nose would also drop the alcohol level in the spirit by adding water, sometimes reducing the spirit to almost 20 %, so that no stringent alcohol masked the flavours released.
However you are not a Nose, you are Whisky Lover…no need to add too much water to dilute, no need to spit out (as some would expect), remember its for you to enjoy, you paid for the dram and its not a drama !
To get the best out of your selected dram…especially if it is a single cask, non chill filtered whisky, and where no colour has been added there are three wee steps to follow:
Step 1: Nose
Your selected Rare Dram is best tasted in a good glass…not a tumbler or deep, wide sided glass, but perhaps a fluted glass or Glencairn glass, especially designed to hold the spirit and bring the flavours to your nose. Keeping the dram covered with your hand, or a specially designed wee cover, will allow the bouquet to rise, but not to escape. Approach the top of the glass, after a wee swirl to energize the bouquet, then take a snoke (as they say in Scotland). The first smells are usually the most revealing….no need to repeat nosing after repeat nosing, as if you are trying to discover anti matter. I have found that ladies are better at this process than men….their noses are better trained to distinguish smells. As an example I recently looked at these Nosing Notes:
“From the first it’s a spicy, plum and peach . A little heady initially, but it softens very quickly into muted cinnamon and clove, sprinkled over ripe plums and peaches. The amber, leather and vanilla notes sneak up on you ”
If I told you these were from a Nosing Note for a perfume “Femme de Rochas” , would you be surprised?
Nosing is therefore a skill to be learned and a talent that is hidden in the nose…but don’t be put off if you can’t distinguish the bouquet…this is only the start of your journey…the best is yet to come.
Step 2: Palate
This step can be the most tantalizing….the most revealing and it starts with appearance. Where there has been no added colour , and none of ours have, then the only colour you will experience has been developed through time in the cask. The quality of the cask, the type of cask and the duration in the cask will show in the colour developed. The strength of the tones and the deep penetration into the wood will bring forward Raisins, shades of Vanilla and tones of golden Amber. The new spirit characteristics will also have left their mark…some straw, malty or citrus hues may be revealed. These tones awaken your emotional interest in what is to follow. If your dram reveals deep raisin colours, then you will be disappointed if it tastes of lemons or apples, when you are expecting toffee or Christmas Cake. Also at this stage your wee swirling of the glass should have revealed oily legs of spirit on the sides of your glass. These oils are left heavier if the dram has NOT been chill filtered. Chill Filtering is used to remove some of the fatty acids nd congeners, which if present would leave your dram cloudy when ice is added. But WE don’t add ice, WE want our congeners left, thank you very much….therefore an un chill filtered spirit retains these pleasures, providing oily legs and delivering a more rounded and fuller mouth feel. Test this by tasting a un chill filtered Single Malt next to a Chill Filtered Single Malt.
Now you are ready to taste, the teasing is over. Heres where I suggest something different, of course no spitting. But I want you to keep your selected dram in your mouth for about a half a second a year of the age of the dram. For example, if your tasting an 8 yo, then hold it for about 4 seconds, a 20 YO about 10 seconds…then if you are fortunate enough to be tasting a 50 YO well…ENJOY! This is a dram that has been maturing, waiting since Man landed on the moon, since the Beatles released Hey Jude….why then should you rush it.
There are four receptors in your mouth :Salt , Sweet, Sour & Bitter. Just pouring the dram down your throat after a nano second will reveal little….let the liquid reach all four receptors, let it cover your tongue and your gums. No water needed at this stage , as your mouth waters should assist.
Remember, no cheating, about half a second a year.
Step 3 The Finish
I believe that Tasting a good dram is like Sex.
There has to be the initial teasing, tempting….which we call nosing.
Then the next stage, which is long and revealing.
But without a good Finish you have nothing…you are left disappointed without a good finish !
Therefore a good dram should have all three, and an excellent dram should have these in abundance. It should be memorable, and if it is a Single Cask Rare Dram ,remember when it is gone…it is gone !