In the run up to World Whisky Day (20.05.17), and ahead of the publication of The Pocket Guide to Whisky: Featuring the WhiskyTubeMap by Blair Bowman (founder of World Whisky Day) with Nikki Welch, we have a guest blog by Blair and Nikki to help you navigate your way through the plethora of flavours and types of whiskies to help you find your favourite dram.
‘Whisky can seem pretty daunting, how do you go from your tried and tested favourite dram on to new things without spending a fortune or getting some duds, that don’t suit your tastes, in the process? Whilst reading whisky books and blogs (like this one) help with the background the only way you’ll really know is to get your tastebuds involved in the process. Tasting with a group of friends can be a really good way of doing this. Formal whisky tastings are good for education but can be a bit serious (and expensive) and big whisky festivals have a huge selection which can mean it’s often overwhelming. So grab some whisky loving mates and create your own tasting, in the comfort of your living room or in a local whisky bar.
Whilst most whisky tastings either focus on trying the different regions (highlands, lowlands, islands) or different whiskies from the same distillery the WhiskyTubeMap means you can explore whiskies by flavour, meaning you can go on a flavour journey whatever your preference. You just need to select a starting point on the map and then pick out the closest whiskies, or pick a whisky from each line to see the difference.
The WhiskyTubeMap guide to tasting
Try this at home or go to a bar with a decent selection of whiskies and engage the bar staff in your exploration.
The basics . . .
● Pick 4 whiskies* that take you on a journey around the map (stay tuned for part 2 of this blog for some proposed itineraries).
● Make sure you’ve got clean glasses, ideally whisky tasting glasses (their shape means the flavour is more concentrated), but a small wine glass or tumbler will do.
● A jug of fresh cold water – if you live in a hard water area you may want to use bottled. Make sure you’ve got water to drink too.
● Some nuts, crackers or oatcakes to cleanse your palate.
● A copy of the Pocket Guide to Whisky so you’ve got the WhiskyTubeMap in front of you.
● Pour a dram of each whisky, if you’re limited you can just pour one of each and share (we do sometimes).
● Organise them in order of the WhiskyTubeMap lines, lightest to heaviest.
● ‘Nose’** each in turn – start by putting your nose in the glass and taking a short inhale through your nose to get you used to the whisky, then breathe a bit more deliberately. Don’t sniff hard, you’ll just smell alcohol and get a sore prickle sensation. What differences can you smell, what do you like about each one, can you smell anything in particular (it’s ok if you can just smell whisky!).
● Take a small sip of each one – think about how it feels as well as how it tastes, does what you smelled smell carry through to the flavour?
● Add some water (just a wee splash) and try them again. This helps open up some of the flavours in the whisky.
● If you go between the whiskies rather than drinking one and then moving on to the next, you’re more likely to spot the differences
● Which is your favourite? Why?
● Read the pages of the relevant stations to identify what caused the flavours you did/didn’t like
** technical term for smelling
● Struggling with the strength? Add a bit more water, just remember you can’t take it out again so do it with a teaspoon so it’s controlled.
● Find one you liked? Note it down so you can explore the closest stations on the WhiskyTubeMap.
● All beginning to blur into one – give your palate a rest, drink some water, have some nuts, a cracker or oatcake. It’s normal that your palate gets tired so don’t try too many at once.
● All done? Refresh your palate with a cheeky beer!
*Where to get your whisky from
Miniatures are good for this kind of tasting, most good wine or whisky shops will have some, but if you’re looking for a bigger range Drinks by the Dram bottle A LOT of whisky into miniature size so you can try a much wider range. Buy them here. Or find a local bar where they have a good selection. That way you only fork out for full bottles you actually like.’
Blair Bowman with Nikki Welch
You can find out more about World Whisky Day, which is on 20 May 2017, here. Events are popping up all over the globe. If you want to get involved and raise a dram with the world, head over to the website where you can register your own event. It’s completely free, and anything goes – whether that’s a dram with friends at home, a tasting flight put on at a local bar, or a full-blown street party.