On the blogby Alfred
April 30 2019

The First Second Time with a Whiskey

by Eric Van Hove

It’s no secret, the first time you taste a product can be decisive in your appreciation of it.

Through the events and tastings that I organized, I realize that many have had bad experiences at their first approach with whiskey. So, what if we took the time to remake it?

Before going further, pour yourself a whiskey: ideally, 1/2 ounce in a tulip shaped glass, if you do not have a whiskey tasting glass, but do not smell it right away and most of all do not taste it before I tell you.

To love your first time, the context, the people present, the time allotted to taste the product, its quality and also the knowledge behind its historical details as well as its making will certainly have an impact on your experience and your desire to come back to it. But for now, get comfortable and focus on the right technique to discover, tame and savor the whiskey at its true value.

Small parenthesis, I always tell people and I say it again here: please, do not make the mistake of starting with a “cheap”, “a good quality-price ratio” or ” an entry-level ” whiskey. Choose a good product, otherwise simply the best available, as you would if you wanted to discover sushi for the first time. Would you buy a box of frozen sushi at the convenience store to really know if you like sushi? End of the parenthesis.

If we want to put a number on it, let’s say that 80% of whiskey tasting is done with the nose, so let’s take the time to understand this aspect. Afterward, the tongue will pick up the bitterness, the texture (oily or watery), the minerality, the sugar, the acidity, the spiciness, the metallic, and obviously, the burning of the alcohol. We will come back to it.

The nasal cavity contains receptors that capture particles in the air. It is a combination of chemical particles that, once captured, reminds your brain of a smell, a place, a dish, an event, a person, etc.

Even if, in theory, our nose can recognize more than 1000 billion different odors, the reality is a little different. Your sensors are more or less sensitive to certain particles and also have different abilities from those of another person. Some are unable to smell groups of smells (hyposmia) and others do not smell temporarily (colds or other diseases) or permanently (anosmia). Finally, a very small part of the population has, for better or for worse, olfactory capacities well above average (hyperosmia).

Then, when comes the time to describe the nose, we face a great obstacle. In terms of colors, there are charters that help us describe accurately which one we see, but there is no such thing when it comes to describing and identifying odors. That is the reason why we memorize odors by associating them with objects, places or people: which is very subjective. Currently, different wheels of whiskey flavors are available on the internet and they will help you acquire a basic language specific to this product. But it’s still a little sketchy and most importantly, there is no consensus.

Since we inhale many particles simultaneously, including the smells of people and places around us, one difficulty is to separate these odors and identify them. It’s a lot harder than it looks so do not be discouraged if you do not get it right from the start. It’s like anything else, with practice you’ll improve. Begin your training by comparing odors: take 2 whiskeys at the same time and describe them in relation to each other.

In summary, each person has different biological capacities to capture the smells and put the words necessary to describe them accurately, which is why we must refer to subjective descriptions. Presumably, the description of a whiskey is, therefore, more art than science.

There we are!

After this long introduction, let’s put all this into practice in 6 steps. If you followed my instructions, you have a glass of whiskey that has been poured for a few minutes already. Let’s leave aside the complete tasting and focus once again on the 80% that is relative to smell.

Here we are, the stage of tasting.

That’s it, your first sip is taken, and it’s a safe bet to say that you’ve discovered your whiskey as you’ve never done before. I wish it for you!

To conclude, do not forget that even specialists cannot identify, note and describe the same whiskey consistently in a blind tasting. We can practice and improve our perception of odors, but keep in mind that no one has “the” truth in this area.

Practical tips:

– Use one of the many wheels of flavors that you will find on the internet to help you identify groups of aromas at first: fruity, floral, earthy, smoky, cereal. Afterward, you will try to be more precise.

– Note the smells around you. You peel a clementine, change your bicycle tires or plant flowers, take the time to consciously feel and note these smells. These are references that you can reuse later.

– To facilitate the tasting of whiskey, buy the appropriate tasting glasses: https://passionwhiskyquebec.com/mini-verre-de-type-glencairn-enfin-accessible-facilement/

– Participate in an evening of “discovery training: smell this whiskey” on May 21st in Quebec City. Details and registration here: https://passionwhiskyquebec.com/services/formation-discovery-sens-whisky/

I encourage you to drink your whiskey the way you want it. The goal is to have fun. If by my method of approach with whiskey, I helped you or one of your friends, to discover and appreciate the whiskey, I would be very happy to hear about it. Tell me about your experiences by completing the form on the Passion Whiskey Québec web page.

___
References:  

Photo credits : 

AlfredThe sommeliers community in your pocket.

Begin your Alfred journey today: Sign Up