By Irvine M. Kingman
As with most of life’s great pleasures, taking one’s time and learning correct techniques are fundamental to success and satisfaction. Appreciation of a fine single malt whisky is no different. For some drinkers, it is a ritual requiring the perfect setting, glassware and company. What remains constant is the enjoyment in unlocking and discovering the many characteristics and facets of single malts. By following the simple principles outlined here, you too can fall under their heady and intoxicating spell!
Nose: To appreciate the plethora of aromas in a single malt, try to find a thin, narrow-brimmed glass. The Glencairn style is ideal, as it concentrates the bouquet of the whisky. Slowly inhale the aromas from deep inside the glass. Close your eyes, visualise what you smell and note your findings. Several long sniffs will reveal the depth of character within the malt. If you allow the whisky some time in the open air, you’ll notice marked differences from when it first comes from the bottle.
Palate: Take a small sip and allow the spirit to travel around the whole of the mouth. The taste buds at the back of your tongue will detect different flavours to those at the front. As a rule of thumb, try to hold the liquid in the mouth for one second for every year it has matured - this is, of course, extremely difficult for a 40-year-old vintage. What are your first impressions? The mouth-feel of a whisky often gives an indication to its complexity - the richer and thicker the body of a whisky, the more natural oils and flavour emerge. If you are enjoying it at cask strength (about 54-60% vol), a few drops of water can unlock more character and remove some of the alcohol’s slightly harsh overtones.
Finish: As the initial taste fades, the finish of the spirit will remain and leave a lasting impression or trace, sometimes imparting further qualities and character to the palate. The longer the finish to a single malt, the more well balanced and enjoyable it becomes.
Always toast your drinking companions with the Gaelic phrase Slainte Mhath! (pronounced ‘Slangee-va’) meaning ‘good health’ and your single malt ritual will be complete.
(* originally posted on April 21, 2009)