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Drink a Dram with Delin: How to Taste Whisky

by Delin Watmough

Good day all, I hope everyone is safe and healthy during these unsure times. I can tell you all that the Flagstaff Scottish Club has sure missed putting on our normal events this past summer. While our Quarantine Tour was a huge success (I, for one, will never forget it) and with the cancellation of our Robbie Burns dinner, I have been asked to do a few write ups on whisky’s that you can try at home. Every month I am going to feature 1 or 2 whisky’s that you all can buy at one of our local stores. Now, I know that most people these days cannot afford $800 on a bottle of whisky, so all the bottles I chose will be under $200 with the majority under $100.

In this first write up, I am also going to write about how to taste whisky. Now, I know most of you reading this already know this stuff but in case there is someone out there who is new to whisky, I am going to go through it. This is just the way I learned, and I know there are tons of different ways to do it. None are really better or worse than others- this is just the way I was taught.

Getting Started

First of all, you are going to need a glass. I prefer a Glencairn, but any of the glasses from past Robbie Burns events will do fine. If you don’t have one, please contact our store and they will be happy to sell you one. The reason I suggest one of those glasses is they all have the shape and clarity to appreciate the color and aroma of your whisky. Secondly, you are going to need a little water and a way to put it in your whisky by the drop. Some people use an eyedropper- I just use a small straw. I would also suggest using bottled water as the water here (at least in Killam) tends to have lots of minerals in it that can affect the taste.

Now you have what you need (except whisky but we’ll assume for now you have some) it’s time for tasting. When I am tasting at home, I only pour about ½ ounce (drinking is a different story). I let the whisky sit for a couple of minutes. This allows the aroma to build in

the glass. You can use this time to examine the color and clarity of the whisky as well as

looking for the legs or tears on the side of your glass. For anyone who doesn’t know, legs are

the remainders on the side of your glass after you swirl your whisky. Now, the importance of

legs is highly controversial but basically- without going into a bunch of sciency stuff- it indicates both alcohol and tannins content. What you are looking for is the fat, slow moving droplets on the side of your glass. Now, you want to smell the aroma, but unless you want your nose hairs burnt off, I wouldn’t stick your nose in the glass and take a big sniff- trust me on this, I have done it. I just wave my hand over the glass to get the aroma to my nose. After that, it is time to taste. I take a small sip and let the liquid coat my entire mouth, paying attention to both the flavours and the mouth feel of the liquid and after that, I swallow. Now this is where you may feel a bit of burn but pay attention to that as well (many lesser whisky’s will have a very strong burn). After your first sip, you may want to add a drop or 2 of water, especially if that burn I was talking about was a little too intense. What this does to the whisky is it opens up the flavours and allows different notes to come through. This is why it is generally recommended to not add a lot of water either as that would dilute those flavours that you are looking for. So you add a drop or 2 of water- now taste the same way you did the first time. Now what?

I always try to record what I have tasted (doesn’t always work but I try). Some people write down what they liked, I just write down if I liked it or not. Whisky tends to be a personal thing- what one person enjoys, others won’t and there is nothing wrong with that. Once you have tasted it and decided you liked it, it is time to drink it or if you don’t care for it you can do what I do and take it to the Alehouse (LOL) or share with others. Just because you don’t like a whisky, does not mean others won’t enjoy it.