‘Tis the season to be jolly, but ‘tis also the season to be jumpy! For some, that first “save the date” marks the beginning of endless holiday socials. Others spin from wrapping up the office project to joining the shopping rush. However you welcome the year-end madness, make a pact with yourself to stop and smell the whisky.
The simple pleasure of experiencing a good whisky requires slowing down the pace – a perfect reason to break from the holiday bustle or an opportunity to enjoy it more.
The water of life
Originating in Ireland and Scotland, whisky was originally used for medicinal purposes and was even referred to as the “water of life”. Malt, grain and blended are the three broad categories of this amber spirit with the blend whisky containing as much as 50 or more different single malt and grain whiskies. A mash of barley, wheat and maize make up a grain whisky, while malt whisky is produced from 100% malted barley. A single malt whisky stands apart and refers to a product that comes from a single distillery rather than a blend from several distilleries. Bring that to another level and you get a single cask single malt which means a single malt whisky that comes from one single cask in the distillery.
There are typically two types of casks: bourbon and sherry. a bourbon cask usually translates into 300 bottles or so of lighter-coloured whiskies (unless the malts have been artificially coloured with caramel) and more for the larger sherry casks. So a bottle of single cask single malt whisky is really quite special – it really doesn’t get any more exclusive than this.
How to enjoy
Enjoy whisky whichever way you like. your preference may even vary depending on the occasion, type of malt and the people you’re with. Purists prefer to drink whiskies neat, that is without adding anything to it least of all ice, which would dilute the bouquet and palate of a quality whisky.
Indeed whisky is to be experienced. Pour one dram of your single malt whisky of choice into a snifter or other type of tulip shaped “nosing” glass. The aroma concentrates at the top allowing you to enjoy and distinguish the bouquet’s different layers of fragrances. To get the most out of nosing a glass of whisky, first simply take a long, deep sniff with your nose a few centimetres above the glass, then another sniff with your nose inside the glass, and finally waltz around the whisky to release heavier components of the bouquet and sniff it again. Look for notes of woods, oils, or sweet scents among others, and notice how the bouquet can change considerably after the malt is allowed to ‘breathe’ for at least half an hour. Aside from sniffing out the characteristics of the malt, the most personal aspect of the nosing is perhaps how it affects each individual differently depending on memories the scents may evoke – does that woody scent remind you of your grandfather’s desk or spicy and sultana scents of a Christmas time?
Much emphasis is placed on nosing simply because the human nose can discern a much wider range of scents then the tongue taste sensations. But after nosing does comes the pleasure of tasting. Take a sip and let the whisky flow down your tongue, then swish it around in your mouth to pick out the various flavours it has to offer. Different whiskies will offer varying textures or mouthfeel. Note whether it is refreshing or drying; soft and rolling or strong. Once you swallow, see if it has a long or short finish and if there are more flavours to be discovered. For some whiskies you may try adding a few drops of clean mineral water to help unlock aromas and flavours. Continue taking small sips. Then re-start the process from nosing to tasting and swallowing. Once your glass is empty nose the glass to see if you can sniff out any more unique aromas. Enjoying whisky and discovering its rich character can be a life long affair. A bottle of single malt, a beautiful snifter and holiday cheer is a good place to start.