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Monday, October 16, 2006

How to Taste Single Malt Scotch

Single malt Scotch tasting is becoming increasingly popular all over the world. A good, complex bottle of single malt scotch costs about the same as a bottle of wine of similar quality, but it contains about three times as many servings. You may also find that Scotch tasting is easier, more intense, and more rewarding than wine tasting.


Buy a bottle of single malt Scotch. Resist the temptation to reach for famous names like Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and Macallan. Some good bottles under $40 include Laphroiag 10 Year Old, Balvenie 12 Year Old Double Wood, Glenmorangie 10 Year Old, and Bowmore Legend.

Buy a good glass. This is purely a matter of preference. Some prefer snifters, some prefer old-fashioned tumblers, some prefer the "official" Riedel tulip glasses. Pour a small amount of Scotch into the glass. Depending on your experience and how much you want to drink, this amount can be anywhere from half an ounce to two ounces.
Swirl the Scotch around in the glass and smell it. Remember that Scotch is stronger than wine. You do not need to be very close to the glass. The collection of aromas is referred to as the "nose."

Add water. Some Scotch drinkers use a 2-to-1 Scotch to water ratio. Others may add only a few drops or none at all. It depends on the whisky and the taster. If you are a beginner, it is best to start with 2-to-1.
Swirl the Scotch around in the glass and smell it again. Continue this for a few minutes while the water "marries" with the scotch and releases additional aromas you may not have noticed at first.

Take a sip. Take just enough to coat your mouth and begin to slowly swirl it around your tongue. Feel the consistency of the Scotch. Some feel thicker, more oily, or grittier than others. This is referred to as the "palate." Try and coat your tongue so that the Scotch touches all of your taste buds.

Taste the Scotch. Try to hold still in this position as long as possible to notice all of the different flavor components.
Swallow but do not open your mouth or close your throat. Let in a tiny amount of air through your mouth and breathe through your nose slowly so that the fumes rise up into your sinuses. As the Scotch evaporates from your tongue it will release a sequence of different flavors. This is called the "finish." Once the flavors subside, breathe normally.

Repeat steps 5 through 8 until all of the Scotch is gone. Be sure to notice how the flavors and aromas change throughout your session.

After you have taken a few sips, try adding ice. Ice changes the entire dynamic of scotch, bringing new smells and tastes out of the same glass.

If it smells or tastes too strong, add more water. If it tastes weak or watery, add more whisky. Experiment with different ratios. Islay malts like Laphroiag and Lagavulin should be taken closer to neat (no water) while heavily sherried malts like Macallan are very hot and require more water. As you become used to the taste, you will require less and less water.

More expensive is not necessarily better. You can build a top-rate Scotch collection with bottles that cost less than $70 each.

Older is not necessarily better.
Notice the relationship between the style of Scotch and the taste and complexity. What region is it from (e.g. Islay, Speyside, Northern Highlands)? How old is it? Was it aged in a used Sherry or Bourbon cask? Was the malt peat-dried? Was it chill-filtered? Was spring water added or was it bottled at cask strength?
Scotch drinking is more enjoyable and more rewarding when you are relaxed and free of distractions.
When nosing, change the angle and distance of the glass to discover additional aromas and subtleties.

Experiment with bigger and smaller sips to discover additional nuances to the taste.

Some Scotch needs time to breathe. After opening a new bottle, have a glass and then let it sit for a week or two. Notice the increased complexity. This is especially true for cask-strength bottles and certain brands like Balvenie and Glenfarclas.

Write your own tasting notes. It will motivate you to find more nuances. It is not necessary to attach concrete names to the flavors (e.g. smoke, peat, sherry, fruit, coconut, toffee). Everyone experiences something different. It may remind you of a forest after rain or of a campfire on the beach. You may also describe it as dignified, evil, luxurious, or complex.

Enjoy it with a friend and compare experiences.

Women often prefer the peatier malts of western Scotland.


Scotch is an alcoholic beverage. Although you are likely to drink it slower and in smaller quantities than other spirits, alcohol is dangerous and highly addictive if abused.

A $50 bottle of Scotch costs approximately $2 per ounce. Most bars charge about $10 per ounce for good single malt Scotch.

Things You'll Need
A bottle of single malt Scotch
A quality glass
Bottled water
At least a half-hour, free of stress and distractions

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