Tasting The Scotch Single Malt Whisky -
The Scotch Doc Method
The true and complete appreciation of anything
worthwhile is increased with the acquisition and accumulation
of knowledge pertaining to the subject. The botanist gleans
more pleasure from a walk in the forest, in the garden or across
the grassland than does the mathematician. The electrical engineer
derives more appreciation for the true marvel of the computer
than does the research scientist - in spite of his complete
awareness of the value of the machine to his research efforts.
A Paris perfumery once identified twenty-eight different aromas
from one Scotch Single Malt Whisky. Considering that only thirty-two
aromas have been defined, it would seem that a serious pursuit
of knowledge of this special beverage would be beneficial to
An understanding of the Scotch Single Malt Whisky has been proven
to enhance, not only the gastronomical experience, but also
the self-discipline and respect for the qualities of this unique
spirit. The greater the understanding the less the abuse of
this mysterious and complex alcoholic beverage. Knowledge begets
appreciation, which begets respect, which begets a natural temperance.
I know of no true connoisseur of the Scotch Single Malt Whisky
that uses it to intoxicate himself. Such an action is considered
an abuse by the connoisseur and an insult to this noble spirit.
There are certainly more economical alcoholic beverages that
can accomplish the objective of becoming intoxicated equally
The cliche, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," could correspondingly
be modified to apply to the Scotch single malt aficionado to
state that, "taste is in the palate of the beholder." An oversimplification,
certainly, but associated circumstances always influence the
impressions of the beholders in either of these situations.
The physical quality of the vision of the viewer, amount and
quality of light quality falling on the painting, the physical
size of the image, level of viewer physical comfort, amount
of time taken by the viewer to study the image are important
in appreciating the painting. Likewise, the knowledge of the
artistic medium, on the part of the viewer, will substantially
affect the validity of the ultimate conclusions formed by the
The foregoing basic elements of appreciating an artistic image
equally apply to forming an opinion concerning the taste of
Scotch Single Malt Whisky. The physical sensory condition of
the taster, comfort of the taster, innate character strength
and temperature of the whisky, volume and dilution of the whisky
being evaluated and the time allotted to experience the whisky
will strongly influence the "taste" of the Scotch single malt.
The "down-the-hatch - here's mud in yer' eye" approach will
render the most complex Scotch single malt as just another "shot
of whisky" - albeit an expensive one. It is satisfying to this
writer that this scenario rarely exists in the environs that
I would suggest that you approach the unique Scotch Single Malt Whisky in the same manner that you would approach an interesting
person who may intrigue you. An open mind and patient investigation
may reveal a friend (single malt) for life. Or it may disclose
an "individual" whose company you enjoy only on certain occasions,
at specific times or in the company of specific life experiences.
You may also meet that individual in which one meeting is all
you ever care to have. In all introductions, be sure to allow
the Scotch Single Malt Whisky sufficient opportunity to reveal
its full personality. I offer the following procedure as a starting
point for the novice and for review by the experienced Scotch
single malt imbiber:
- With a neutral palate - about two hours
after you have eaten, had a cigar, or otherwise overexposed
your palate, find a nice, quiet place with about half an
hour that you can devote to the tasting experience.
- Pour about one and a half ounces of
Scotch single malt into a twelve-ounce brandy snifter. The
brandy snifter is very important to the tasting experience.
Have a small water glass with room temperature water and
a tablespoon close by. (I recommend the tablespoon to enable
the novice taster to measure the amount of water used for
the particular malt being tasted for future reference. The
aficionado will most likely use a small pitcher of water.)
- Swirl the contents of the undiluted
Scotch single malt quite vigorously around in the snifter.
- Raise the glass under your nose until
it is about even with your chin or mouth and gently sniff
the aroma. Adjust the glass-to-mouth distance to suit your
palate and single malt.
- Repeat and adjust the distance of the
glass to the nose. Tilt your head, or the glass, from side-to-side
to give maximum exposure of the aroma to each nostril.
- Determine your best "nosing distance"
from the glass. This will vary with each malt and taster.
- Depending on the quantity and strength
of character of the whisky, add some good quality water
that is at room temperature, to the glass and repeat the
preceding step. For a typical bottling of eighty or eighty-six
proof single malt, I begin with a tablespoonful of water
in an ounce-and-a-half of single malt. Some tasting experts,
especially Britons, recommend up to forty percent by volume
of water. The "correct" amount of water will be what the
taster decides and will vary with each malt and taster.
One can always add MORE water. You should notice an increase
in the intensity of the aromas with the addition of water.
- Take a small amount of the malt that
is sufficient to "coat" and expose as much of the inside
of your mouth and taste sensors as possible into the mouth.
Move it around in the mouth slowly and let the vapors penetrate
the sinuses as you slowly swallow.
- After swallowing, breathe minimally
in through the mouth slowly with the mouth opening as small
as possible. Then breathe out slowly through the nose in
order to expose as much of the sinuses to the aromatics
of the whisky. Keep the mouth partially closed with as small
an opening as possible. Breathe minimally, as it will retain
the aromas in the mouth and sinuses and you will note the
increase of the flavors and aromatics of the malt. I like
to imagine the Bell Curve and track the character revelation
in this format.
It may become a personal challenge to identify as many of the
constituents as possible for each whisky. You will also discover
that the character of the single malt will vary from day-to-day
and tasting-to-tasting. You may also find that the character
may continue to develop for several minutes as it sits in the
glass. As you can now begin to understand, the Scotch single
malt is meant to be "experienced," not "drunk." You will get
a different impression with the second taste as the initial
"alcohol shock" from the first taste subsides and you adjust
the quantity to the malt and water to your palate.
Now try tasting the malt with variations of your own. Make your
own tasting notes with descriptors with which you feel comfortable.
If it smells "like a wet saddle blanket" or has "a hint of sweetness
that later turns sour," then say so. It can be important when
you later want to add to your personal single malt collection.
Be sure to pause for a while and let the whisky develop its
full potential. If tasting more than one whisky, dry, unflavored
cracker, followed by some water, works quite well to neutralize
the palate in between whisky samples.
I hope that this serves as a guide for the beginning taster
to develop his or her own procedures for tasting the Scotch
single malts. Best wishes and may many malts be in your future.
Finally, our politicians, social scientists and well-intended,
but sometimes misguided, organized protestor groups have proven
to us, over and over, that human integrity and self-discipline
cannot be legislated or forced upon anyone. What, then, IS the
answer? Perhaps it lies in the realm of education. Could the
true and full understanding of related outcomes of irresponsible
behavior be a substantial part of the answer? I think so. If
not, what are the other options. I can think of none. Having
witnessed the moral and physical destruction of beloved relatives
due to the abuse of alcohol, I have undertaken the educational
approach to this international problem. My motto, "The intelligent
appreciation of the Scotch Single Malt Whisky," could apply
to the use of all alcoholic beverages. I profess that the Scotch
single malt makes a wonderful companion but a vicious master.
I still believe in the validity of the ancient Roman term, "abusus
non tollit usum," which translates, "Abuse is no argument against
proper use." This is, also, the message of "The Scotch Doc."
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