Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Whisky Tasting Series - Part 2

In Part 1 we looked at the colour of whiskey and discovered that whiskey is aged in essentially two types of casks, namely ex-sherry or ex-bourbon casks. These not only affect the colour but also the taste of the whiskey. The industry also uses other oak casks such as those that previously held port, rum, wine etc. and each give a distinct flavour to the whiskey. Now onto part two.

In Part 2 we move to the nose.
We have four major tastes we experience on our palate plus 3 minor ones. The four major senses are sweet, sour salt and bitter. We sense over 96 million different smells with our nose. The nose is the real sensual organ and allows us to experience the wonderful world of taste fully. This is why you always spend time smelling your whiskey before sipping.

The Nose Test
To truly experience this revelation that your nose is the taster on your face, add some cinnamon powder to sugar in a teaspoon. Pinch your nose and close it tightly between thumb and forefinger. Pour the sugar and cinnamon mixture in the teaspoon into your mouth. It is a sure thing that all you taste is sweet sugar and no cinnamon. You will not taste the cinnamon until open your nose. Release your nose and once your nose is open the explosion of cinnamon is immediate and intense.

Photograph property of Mark Backhouse - if you copy and use this photograph please refer to source as Mark Backhouse - - The Whiskey Notebook.

How do we smell whiskey?

Do not swirl the glass like you do wine. Wine is at 14% ABV while whiskey and other spirits are 40% or more. Tilt and spin the glass to roll the spirit as high up the side of the glass as possible then bring the glass back to an upright position. Leave the glass to stand for 10-20 seconds then sniff the whiskey. This way you will smell the whiskey notes and not just spirit. More importantly, you will have started the legs!

The Legs & Some Party Trick
One of the first things you notice after you swirl the whiskey up the side of the glass and place it back down on the table is ‘legs’ - streams of liquid clinging to the side of the glass and flowing back into the whiskey. Generally ex-bourbon aged whiskies ‘legs’ are thin and ex-sherry cask whiskies ‘legs’ are thicker. Ex-bourbon casks leave a small meniscus line at the top of the swirl and thin legs flowing down the sidewall of the glass. Ex-sherry casks legs are much thicker. This has nothing to do with sugar as whiskey measures zero on the glucose index table and is the reason Doctors safely suggest whiskey as the only alcohol a diabetic may drink.

The thickness of the legs is important to remember. Fact: we re-use our whiskey casks, for ageing whiskey in, you may imagine that whiskey aged in ex-sherry casks that have been used four times before appear similar in colour to whiskey that was aged in ex-bourbon casks used for the first time. The thickness of the legs will give you a clue as to which cask was used to age the whiskey and knowing this will save you on many occasions.

Before you smell the whiskey, check the legs, if the legs are thick, you know the whiskey was aged in ex-sherry casks, and that you will smell toffee and caramel – the whiskey will be sweeter. If the legs are thin, the whiskey was aged in ex-bourbon casks, and you will smell vanilla – the whiskey will be drier.

What kind of smells can you expect?
Generally, when you sniff these whiskies, the first smell you get after the cask smell is as follows: American bourbon smells like over ripe bananas. Scotch whiskies smell different by region: Speyside Single Malt whiskey first smell is natural honey; Highland Malt whiskey first smell floral and summer fruits; Islay Malt whiskey first smell is smoke and medicine; Lowland Single Malt whiskey is light and winter fruit and Irish Whiskey first smell is pure pot still, wood, winey and barley notes.

Adding Water To Whiskey!
We then add water to the whiskey? The amount of water versus whisky is important. 45ml whiskey to 15 ml water is perfects for smelling and tasting whiskey. This is not how it is prescribed to be drunk but is best for a whiskey tasting. The type of water is also important. If you have great local supply in your tap (faucet), pour some tap water into into a jug and let it stand for 30 minutes so that the chlorine dissipates. After this it will be fine to the whiskey.

Photograph property of Mark Backhouse - if you copy and use this photograph please refer to source as Mark Backhouse - - The Whiskey Notebook.

The smell changes rather dramatically after we add the water. If you failed to smell the first smell before we added water, you will absolutely get this smell after we add the water. Some people still don’t get this first smell until they take a sip. Many new flavours come through after you add water.

American bourbon whiskey new smells after adding water includes hazelnut and almonds. In the case of Jack Daniels the next smell after adding water is dust. Yip Dust! If you do not have Jack Daniels in your drinks cabinet, then when next in a bar, order a Jack Daniels. So here’s the first party trick: in future, when someone asks you to nose a whiskey and the first smell is banana, you know it’s a bourbon and if you add water and you get dust, you know it’s Jack Daniels.

In the case of Speyside Scotch malts the next smell after water is more honey, floral and rich. In the case of Islay whiskies the smell reeks of smoke, phenolic, salt and seaweed. In the case of Lowland whiskies the notes are green grass and barley. These are general notes and vary vastly from product to product but in general are the top notes when talking through these types of whiskies.

In the case of Irish whiskey the next smell is moist raisins sweet melon and, marzipan. Irish whiskey is a lighter nose compared to American and Scotch whiskies. Impress your guests. See you in part 3

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.