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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 interested aficionado.

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 as well.

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 beholder.

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 he visits.

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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