I thought I would get things rolling by talking about the art of tasting. While tasting a new whiskey should be relaxing and enjoyable, it can also cause a lot of anxiety to those who want to describe and understand the complexities of the dram. Tasting notes on store shelves or bottles are often esoteric and confusing (even moreso than wine). I mean, who really wants to drink something that tastes like ‘aged leather’ or ‘damp earth?’ And what about peat? Who’s Pete? So here is my humble opinion on the subject.
Whiskey is incredibly diverse and complex. I am sure some people will argue with me, but I believe that you should start with something less complex to get your palate going. So pick out an Irish or a nice Speyside (preferably young and aged in bourbon casks). These whiskies will give you a good basis for what whiskey is supposed to taste like. Try to describe them using your experience. A Master Distiller might say that something has notes of black currant. If you’ve never tasted a black currant, that is not particularly helpful. As you develop your own vocabulary, start searching out the flavors that the Master Distillers talk about. If you like cask finishes, try the wine that was in the cask first. Find places where you can smell leather, iodine, and peat. Become more aware of your senses of taste and smell. Before you know it, you will be tasting like a pro. You’re vocabulary just may be a little different (i.e. ‘This takes like ‘Nilla wafers and fresh mown grass’).
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