While surfing the web I have found that everybody enjoys whisky in his or her own way.
That's fine by me, with one major exception: people who put ice in their malt. This is, in my humble opinion, unforgivable. Ice completely ruins the structure and balance of a malt, and you'll lose three quarters of the aroma. If you want to dilute a malt, use water.  But once again we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's concentrate on the right glassware first. For my personal tasting ritual, I usually taste my whiskies in a large cognac-snifter, which 'gives the best nose' for me.

Although the tongue plays a part in the appreciation of a malt too, the nose tells us the most about a whisky. As far as single malts are concerned, the size of your organ plays a minor part in the experience. To quote Sir Edmund Blackadder: "It's not what you've got, it's where you stick it!".

Some people argue that a tumbler is better for judging the color of the whisky, but quite frankly I prefer drinking the stuff over looking at it. Nevertheless, the color can give you some more information about the malt at hand. The spectrum goes from pale straw to dark amber. Bourbon matured malts, for example, are usually very pale. Malts grow darker as they age, but a lot of distilleries artificially colorize their malts with caramel, so it is best not to judge a sheep by it's cover - or something...

The straight "tumbler" type of glass (see left) was originally designed to disguise the awful smell of the inferior whiskies that were sold in the old days.

And this brings us to the tricky subject of taste.
Tasting a malt may be an even more subjective
experience than nosing one. There's the a lot more
to tasting a malt than just the taste - if you get my drift...
Things like the development with time, the "mouth feel" and the different parts of your mouth that are affected by the whisky.

With a cognac snifter or a tulip shaped glass the aroma gets much more concentrated in the top of the glass than with, for example, a tumbler.

RIGHT             WRONG

A Nose

Nosing noble drinks like cognac, armagnac and single malt whisky 'officially' happens in three separate stages. First, without waltzing, you take a deep sniff with your nose a few centimeters above the glass. For your second sniff, you put your nose inside the glass. Finally, you waltz around the drink in your glass for a while to release the heaviest components of the bouquet, and enjoy the third sniff. Some people try to cover as much as possible of the inside surface of the glass to give the malt maximum 'breathing space'. I always have a few sniffs from my empty glass as well - this sometimes produces an interesting new perspective on the malt.

With the right glassware you can even distinguish several "layers" in the bouquet, depending on how far you keep your nose above (or even in) the glass. When you take your time, you will also notice that the bouquet often changes considerably after you've allowed the malt to "breathe" for some time.
Don't be afraid to take half an hour for a good malt.

Nosing is by definition a personal experience, because every nose is 'technically' unique, and there are dozens of components that make up a bouquet. We tend to associate these aromas with familiar smells from the past to be able to define the experience.
By the way: If you believe everything "they" say, single malts should be served at room temperature. I personally prefer my malts a little warmer; especially because the fainter parts of the bouquet tend to become more pronounced at higher temperatures.

And what about dilution?
Like many other things concerning the finer things in life, it's just a matter of taste. Or lack thereof.... I myself often add some pure mineral-water (no bubbles!) to help release the aroma's. Adding water is usually good for the nose, but not always for the tongue, so I always make sure to have some sniffs and sips before I start adding water in different stages. The water should preferably be at room-temperature. Different malts need different amounts of water. Some are best experienced neat, some require no more than a teardrop, while others only give away their secrets after nearly drowning them. About 50/50 is the absolute maximum for me (for a 'standard' strength malt, but this is a matter of personal preference. Of course, "cask strength" malts can be diluted much more rigorously than whiskies that are bottled at 40 or 43 percent.

Tasting tip: When you really want to get to know the finer nuances of a single malt, try tasting it next to one or more other malts. The contrasts will make it easier to define the more subtle elements in a malt.

Always make sure to use the same type of glasses when you set out to compare two or more malts. Why? Just try nosing and tasting the same malt from three or four different glasses, and be amazed. What a difference a glass makes...

Before we go on to the next chapter, I'd like to share one last shrapnel of information regarding nosing and tasting with you. The average tongue has only 3000 papillae, each detecting only four primary tastes; sweet, salt, sour and bitter. Well, there have been rumours about a fifth taste, 'umami'. It's the Japanese word for 'delicious', but it also means 'fleshy' and/or 'spicy'. I'll have to do some more research on this.

The seven scent groups:

Sweets - Honey, vanilla, toffee
Cereals - Malt, bread, wheat
Oils - Butter, hazelnuts, walnuts
Woods - Oak, cedar, pine
Esters - Fruit, flowers
Phenols - Iodine, peat, smoke
Aldehydes - Grass, hay, leather

If you've read this far you probably are a person of style and sophistication.
And even if you're not, you can pretend to be by amazing your friends
with all the malt knowledge you've picked up so far.

Knowledge is power, but there's nothing like the actual tasting experience.
Why not expand your horizons and find out for yourself what all the fuss is about? I can heartily recommend you splash out some time and buy a bottle of single malt whisky - or two. I should warn you, however. You might get hooked like me and you'll be never be able to enjoy an "ordinary" scotch in quite the same way again.
Let's proceed with the
next chapter - dealing with 'practice'.

There are only four (or five) primary tastes but there are over twenty primary aromas. That's why the nose is such an important instrument for a malt maniac. 'Experts' in maltland usually use the following seven scent groups to describe a single malt.
(Personally, I don't find this system very useful, but it may work for you.)

Surf to Scotchwhisky.comDrop me a note...

Chapter 8  -  Enjoyment

Malt Madness mAlmanac - Basic information about single malt Scotch whiskyA Beginner's Guide to SMSWHistory and statistics on all active distilleries in ScotlandLinks to other whisky websitesMy Big Black Book - All the knowledge I've gained on my alcoholic adventuresMy Little Black Book - Brief notes on all sampled whiskiesMy Track Record - Essential stats on all sampled maltsMy Hit List - an overview of my favourite whiskiesThe name says it all...My 'Bang For Your Buck' List - Which whiskies offer the best value for your money?My Stock List - An overview of the bottles in my whisky collectionMy Liquid Log - A chronological overview of my alcoholic adventuresVirtual whisky map of Scotland
Beginner's Guide OverviewChapter 2 - VocabularyChapter 9 - PracticeChapter 10 - ConclusionChapter 2 - VocabularyChapter 3 - GeographyChapter 4 - DistillationChapter 5 - MaturationChapter 6 - BottlingChapter 7 - Shopping for whisky


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