Here’s something to chew on
Master distiller Mark Littler explains the finer points of tasting whisky
I RECENTLY attended a very private, very exclusive whisky event at one of the country’s most spectacular and discrete resorts.
I was there with several of my whisky-producing colleagues, each of us charged with presenting a selection of our finest single malts to a group who had paid considerable money for the privilege of tasting and appreciating whiskies of the world.
It was during a mingling session at this event, I was asked the question: “How does one actually appreciate a good whisky?”
It was an interesting question, and while the response came quite naturally for me, it got me thinking about all those thousands of consumers out there who love their whisky and would love to have greater insight into how one truly appreciates a fine single malt.
Appreciating a good whisky comes mostly with experience and does not necessarily mean the whisky you are appreciating is to your personal liking.
Astute whisky judges will be able to discern between an appreciation for the whisky they are sampling and the personal sensory attributes they extract from it. Everyone has different tastes; it’s why our world offers so much variety, and single-malt crafting is no different.
Here are a few tips to help you become more appreciative of your whisky – from a single-malt maker’s viewpoint.
Mark Littler’s tips for appreciating whisky
Be attracted to the overall presentation and shelf presence. Study the content details and tasting notes on the packaging. In this case you are looking for the words single malt as you are buying the purest form of whisky, crafted from a single grain type – malted barley.
Look at the colour of the whisky – is it reflective of the taste profile or age on offer? Crisp, golden hues or rich treacle tones might be words that spring to mind when eyeing off a drop.
The best whiskies have no added colouring; their toning and flavour profiles are derived purely from the grain and the timber casks used for maturation.
When tackling the subject matter, always use a good quality whisky glass – it really does make a difference.
A good single malt can be enjoyed neat and a little water is quite acceptable (don’t even mention carbonated accompaniments, which are pure heresy!).
Always nose the whisky before tasting it. Taste only serves to confirm what the nose has already informed. A gentle swirl of the glass will help this process. Be careful not to inhale too deeply; some high ABV spirits can pack a punch. Place the glass to your nose and relax. It’s thinking time.
Now for the all-important tasting. Take a modest sip of the spirit and hold it in your mouth. Count to 10 and let it slide down.
Once it’s gone, begin to chew. Yes chew – masticate, just for a few moments.
Then wait, and appreciate. The finish, or aftertaste, should linger on the palate as the spirit warms you from inside and reveals its final secrets. Did it deliver a long finish? Was it dry or smooth and did it reinforce what the nose had earlier promised?
The best tastings are those shared with friends, especially if everyone is up for a chew. You can compare different single malts, discuss them, rate them, but most of all enjoy the experience and develop your own appreciation of what constitutes a good single-malt whisky.
Last but not least, always drink responsibly.
Mark Littler is master distiller at Hellyers Road Distillery, Tasmania. www.hellyersroaddistillery.com.au
PLENTY TO PONDER: Master distiller Mark Littler shares his tips for appreciating whisky.