Why you should attend a “Scotch Whisky Nosing & Tasting”
Assuming you occasionally partake of a dram, before you spend € 30+ on a bottle it’s useful to know what different types are on offer, the region (a guide to taste) and how to treat it. Whisky expert Malcolm J. Andrews describes what goes on in one of his “Nosing & Tastings”. Be warned – it’s complicated! Good reason why you should first investigate this exquisite and popular alcoholic beverage (to be drunk responsibly – in small doses!).
We first need to differentiate between “whisky” and “whiskey”. We thought we had it worked out until the Irish (God bless them) threw the term into disarray! Generally, when made from malted barley (e.g. Scotland and Japan) we prefer whisky. In Ireland and USA they use other cereals such as wheat, rye, maize and spell theirs whiskey. But some Irish distilleries are using malted barley – but still labelling it whiskey!
Anyway, why do we advocate “nosing” before “tasting”. Because the olfactory nerves in your nose are FAR more sensitive than your taste buds. That is why Master Blenders, when “vatting” or blending various whiskies together, only use their noses. Nosing a glass of Dalwhinnie (heathery sweetness) or Lagavulin (peaty smoke) one actually inhales their respective Scottish terroirs - a heavenly pastime - long before you swirl it around your palate!
So, when confronted with a single malt (i.e. from one distillery only), how should you attack it? Well, you will be shown that in the Nosing & Tasting, though there are no “rules”. Malt whisky is bottled at from 40 up to 60 ABV (alcohol by volume, replaces the proof system) so, unlike wine at 12 ABV, nosing strong alcohol can hurt your nose tissues! We overcome that by judiciously adding a few drops of water to break open the whisky’s surface tension, which releases more bouquet without the painful alcohol attack. We will prove that!
The next mystery is distinguishing between malt and blended whisky. Until 1830 the Scots made their whisky exclusively from malted barley. Superb as malt whisky is, it is heavy and, like cognac, enjoyed better as a pousse-café. Malts hate being drowned in water, soda or ice and are therefore not summer, thirst-quenching beverages! So, during the 19th century, the Scots began to distil grain whisky from other cereals. By itself this lacks interest but when married with a number of malt whiskies, it lends itself to be drunk LONG, i.e. with water, soda, ginger ale – and lots of ice! We call it blended whisky and it quickly took an astonishing 90% of the whisky market, meaning a lot of people are thirsty! You will experience that with a Premium (12yr) blend during the session).
During these developing years the Scots were now producing single malt whisky, grain whisky and then blended whisky. But, perhaps inspired by the French wine assemblages, a fourth style of malt whisky evolved the “vatted malt”, now unfortunately called “blended malt” (confused?). By marrying several single malt whiskies together, the producer can better “regularise” the taste so that every production batch tastes (and looks) the same. Moreover you can taste five different styles in one glass! Given the success of the Johnnie Walker Green Label, this formula has its afficionados!
The value of a Nosing & Tasting is, like dégustations of French wine, is discovering your region be it Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Beaujolais, etc. Good news; you can do a similar exercise for Scotch malt whisky. You will taste Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, Coastal (ah, that sea air!), Islands and the pungent Islays. The region is always marked on each bottle so you can now go shopping, not only for your favourite malt, but find others in your preferred region. Now that’s a useful exercise! Moreover you will be educated on the maturation process, the woods chosen, why some malts have more colour than others, the importance of age. Be prepared for two hours of nosing, tasting, differentiation and education – it will save you a lot of money!
Location: Hotel St. Gotthard Basel
Date: 11 November 2008
Dress code: casual
Ticket Price: CHF 30
For more information, contact Ken Reist at: email@example.com
Malcolm J. Andrews
Presenter of Scotch Whisky Nosing & Tasting sessions:
Malcolm Andrews was born in Scotland during the war (he won’t tell us which one!) to a Scottish mother and English father. During his childhood he played around a distillery where family members worked, so the “reek” of malting barley penetrated his soul.
Later years saw him educated in England, passing through Sandhurst and serving as an officer in Germany where he further perfected his German to assure liaison with local forces.
Posted to Belgium to “count cans of spam” as he puts it (Malcolm was in the supplies Corps) he met and married a bilingual (Dutch and French) Antwerp girl. Resigning his commission, he settled in Belgium, studying both languages to fluency. For many years he represented international companies in Benelux, in sales management and later communication training.
In the seventies he got back into his passion for Scotch whisky by doing market research for single malt distilleries to penetrate the Benelux market. This was followed by organising “whisky trips” to Scotland and also training the sales staff of Belgian stores to differentiate between single malt and the more common blended whisky.
By the mid-eighties Malcolm was in continuous demand by service clubs and federations to organise whisky “Nosings & Tastings”. This lead to him being appointed “Whisky Ambassador” by the world’s largest Scotch whisky group – first in marketing their premium blends and later their single and “vatted” malts.