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Home Single Malts BenRiach BenRiach 20 Year Old
Nosing and Tasting Ritual PDF Print E-mail

Whether you are attending a tasting event, hosting you own party or capturing notes on a new found treasure, their is a wonderful ritual for nosing and tasting whisky.  The guidelines are simple but require some patience and concentration.  With a little practice it will become natural.  You may want to record your experience for future reference or just use these tips to get the most out of a specific encounter.  In either case, immerse yourself in this full sensory experience to discover and enjoy the subtler nuances of each fine scotch.

 

Situation and surroundings -  Put yourself in a surrounding that is conducive to your goal.  Professionals often taste alone in a quiet place with few distractions.  However, the fellowship gained from sharing a new expression has as much value as a precise tasting session.  Make the surroundings match the situation.  In all cases do avoid an environment that interferes with your sense of smell.  If you are hosting an event, don't wear perfume or after-shave and be careful not to have your room laden with sweet smelling flowers or other odorous distractions. 

 

bottlespngFeast your  eyes - Pour a measure of whisky, swirl your glass and hold it against a white surface. Feast your eyes on those beautiful bright golds and amber hues.  Color comes from the type of wood cask and years of maturation.  American Oak produces a lighter spirit than Spanish Oak.  The bourbon, wine, port, sherry or rum cask finishing also influences the color and whether it was a first fill or a cask that was filled many times.  Admire the color, depth and clarity but don't judge a malt by its visual assets.  Light whiskies may be as powerful and complex as their darker copper cousins and some distilleries add a dash of caramel coloring in their vats to add that golden glow.

 

Swirl again and notice the legs of liquid running down the glass.  This will give the first clue of the light, medium or robust body.  Note whether this dram is thin and runny or thick and syrupy.  A high alcohol content will usually produce those longer "legs".  If you are capturing tasting notes, stop here to record the color and other visual characteristics.

 

Nosing:  What a difference a glass makes -  Nosing is one of the most pleasurable and critical components to decoding a scotch.  Whisky contains a complex combination of scents developed from the fermentation process (aldehydes, esters, phenols, feints) as well as from maturation in the cask (bourbon, sherry, port, rum).  With a little concentration and practice you will learn to recognize specific aromas such as toffee, fruits, vanilla, oak or pastry, just to name a few.  "Sense memory" also plays a role as you build you own scent catalog with each new nosing experience.

 

Always serve whisky at room temperature as chilling of any kind closes down the aromatics.  Professionals often aerate their samples for half an hour, as some of the more complex bouquets need time and air to fully develop.  

 

A dramatic way to improve one's nosing of scotch is to use the proper glassware.  The Glencairn glass was exclusively designed for this purpose, with an adequate bowl to agitate (swirl) the spirit and a tapered mouth to concentrate and funnel all those wonderful aromas.  Warm the glass in the palm of your hand while swirling.  Bring the glass carefully up to your nose until you begin to catch the aromas.  Note if the bouquet is complex and identify any specific scents.  Nose the rim of the glass through each nostril first, then go deeper.  Be careful not to nose a cask-strength malt too deeply as the alcohol you inhale will prohibit detection of more delicate aromas.  Record your first impressions of aromas in your own words.

 

Body and mouth feel - Take a small sip at full strength and focus on the sensation of the body and mouth feel.  Let the liquid coat your tongue and linger on the palate.  Is it spirity, creamy, velvety or oily?  Capture the body, mouth feel and any texural characteristics in your notes.

 

Professionals add water - Add a little water to further open the bouquet and palate.  Swirl again and repeat nosing.  Try taking short sniffs with a pause for fresh air in between.  Note if the aroma has changed with water and time.

 

Taste - Take an adequate sip to focus on the taste.  Let the whisky linger in your mouth for as long as possible before swallowing.  Notice the overall complexity and primary sweetness, dryness or bitterness of the dram.  Do the flavors repeat the aroma or have new elements emerged?  Are there distinct layers developing one after the other?  Do the flavors seem well balanced or are certain notes too dominant?  Work to identify each flavor, then describe them as specifically as you can.  It may take subsequent sips until you feel like you have captured all flavors sufficiently.

 

Finish - The length of time that flavors remain on the tongue after swallowing is called the finish.  Sometimes a distinct note will define the finish such as pepper or smoke.  With complex whiskies, flavor will continue to develop on the tongue for a long time.  Hopefully any aftertaste that is experienced is a pleasant one.  Record whether the finish is short, medium or long.  What were the unique flavor notes at the end?

 

Tasting notes - Once your notes are complete, it is fun to read the distiller's own description or log on to one of the many wonderful tasting and rating sites on the web.  If you are tasting in a group, complete your notes before sharing as verbal suggestion is very powerful.  Don't be intimidated if your descriptions don't match those of Master Tasters or friends.  These spirits are complex having hundreds of aroma and flavor compounds across the range of whiskies, and they are being sampled by individuals with unique sensitivities and personal preferences to those many scents and tastes.  The key is to find the malt that pleasures your palate, then to take the time to really savor and enjoy it with all your senses. 

 

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