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Here’s a hypothetical situation - the tasting you planned to attend has been cancelled, you’re staying indoors for the foreseeable, and you have some new whiskies in the cupboard. It’s time to have a tasting at home, but where to start?
Over the years I’ve come across several different ways to taste whisky, so I’m here to help by introducing the technique I use when tasting cask samples with a view to bottling.
There are a wealth of techniques used for evaluating the quality and characteristics of different wines; and with a few tweaks, these techniques can easily be used to evaluate whisky.
Step One: Preparation Time
Firstly, you’ll need paper and pencil to take notes on each whisky you taste. This will help you identify the differences between each whisky, and even better, will give you a written record of your dream dram.
Secondly, you’ll need a jug of clean water and a spittoon (another jug will do). This will allow you to water the whisky during tasting; and will let you rinse and empty your glass between tasting. A pipette can be handy for precisely adding drops of water to your whisky, but if you don’t have one, that’s OK. Just be careful to not be too heavy handed when adding water from a jug.
Thirdly, you’ll need a clean tasting glass. There’s a lot of debate around the best type of glass to use for tasting whisky, and whether to use a Copita glass, a Glencairn glass, or the more unusual NEAT glass is often a case of personal preference. If you don’t happen to have a specific tasting glass, then even a wine glass will do, provided that the shape narrows towards the brim – this will allow the aromas of the whisky to gather in the glass for your waiting nose.
Finally, and more personally, you’ll need to start the tasting with a clean palate, so ensure that you’re not going in having eaten a strong-tasting food. If you’ve just eaten smoked fish, that’s all you’ll end up tasting, so save it for afterwards.
Step Two: It’s All About Appearances
Pour your first whisky into your tasting glass and take a good look at it. With the common use of chill-filtering and caramel colouring in the whisky industry, appearances might not give you much of a starting point in terms of what you’re going to eventually taste. If your dram has been chill-filtered; the fatty acids, esters and proteins from the whisky will have been removed with the aim of creating a clearer liquid with a ‘better’ appearance. Furthermore, if caramel colouring has been added (often with the aim of creating a consistent appearance between batches), then colour won’t give you much to go on either.
But if you have a single cask, non-chill filtered bottle of whisky in your arsenal (such as one from Lady of the Glen!), then appearances can tell you a lot. Give the glass a gentle swirl and you’ll begin to get an idea of the viscosity and body of the whisky by looking at the “legs” of spirit that remain on the sides of the glass – the thicker the legs, the heavier the body. Colour also has a part to play when tasting a single cask whisky, and can give you an idea about the cask in which the whisky was aged – our 9 year old Bunnahabhain was fully matured in a first fill Olorosso Sherry cask, which naturally darkened the whisky as the sherry soaked wood met the new make distillate.
Step Three: The Nose Knows
You’ve given your whisky the eye; next comes the nose.
When I nose a whisky, I’m looking to recognize how pronounced the flavours are while avoiding any alcohol burn. Generally speaking, the more pronounced ‘desirable’ flavours there are, the higher the quality of the whisky. The nosing stage of a tasting should last the longest and should come in three stages.
If you’re having to work hard to nose anything, then try warming the spirit in your hands; however there is every possibility that you’re tasting a very straightforward whisky which doesn’t have a lot going on, which can be an indicator of poor quality.
See what familiar scents you can pick out during each nosing. You should be able to detect characteristics from the original distillate, from the cask, and from the length of maturation. Are there woody, peaty or fruity tones? Feel free to use a tasting wheel if you’re having difficulty putting a name to an aroma – this can only help in the identification process.
Step Four: Tasting Time
The moment you’ve been waiting for – the first taste.
Take a small sip of your whisky, letting it roll around your mouth. What type of mouthfeel does the whisky have? Is it light, or is there an oily heaviness? Once you’ve moved past the initial alcohol burn, see what familiar tastes you can identify, whether they be floral notes, chocolatey dessert tones, or rich meaty savouriness. Are these flavours similar to what you had nosed, or have they become something completely different? If different, did you enjoy this change? It’s all a matter of personal opinion.
It can help to score your dram based on the following:
The answers to these questions will determine your evaluation of the spirits quality
After your first sip, and once you are satisfied with the taste of the neat spirit, add a little water, swirl the glass, and go back to the beginning of the process. How has the water changed the flavour? Has it brought out new characteristics? Do these changes affect your overall impression of the whisky? Take a note of your scores, rinse your glass, and it’s time to move on to the next dram.
And there you have it; a guide to tasting at home. These experiences are always best shared, so please let us know how you got on through our social media channels or by email; and keep an eye on Facebook for an upcoming video on whisky tasting from our Director, Gregor Hannah.
As the Covid19 situation continues to develop, we thought it would be best to give our followers an overview of the steps being taken at Lady of the Glen.
Current NHS guidance states that it is highly unlikely that the virus can be transmitted on packaging or through food. Our products are delivered from our warehouse via couriers including Parcelforce (part of the Royal Mail group) and DPD. Whilst our items are sent as a "signed for" delivery, courier companies have updated their practices to minimise contact between the delivery person and the recipient. More information can be found here on DPD and Royal Mail's Corona Virus pages.
We are following guidance from event management where we are scheduled to attend, and will be able to confirm our festival participation in due course.
As a small business, we are able to work flexibly. We will self-isolate as necessary, and continue to work remotely.
Due to government recommendation, we are not available to host tastings at present, but are happy to discuss dates for later in the year.
We wish you and yours all the best in the coming weeks and months. We'll be keeping an eye on the situation as it develops, but for now, we're keeping calm with a dram.
On the 7th of March we will be in Cupar for the Fife Whisky Festival!
This will be our 2nd year in attendance and we'll be bringing along some of the Rare Single Cask releases from the recent outrun as well as some stock from historic outruns.
If you have not got your ticket yet there are evening session tickets still available at the Fife Whisky Festival website
The stock we will have for sale on the day through the Luvians shop are noted below,
15yo Glen Elgin #801297 2004 Ex Tawny Port. 56.00ABV
14yo Aberfeldy #304420 2005 Bourbon HHD. 56.80ABV
11yo Glen Garioch 2008 Bourbon Hogshead. 55.300ABV
9yo Bunnahabhain 2010 Sherry HHD #901203. 66.70ABV
10yo Lochindaal 1/9/2009 First fill Bourbon 63.00ABV
11yo Tamdhu 6833A/2007 Bourbon Hogshead 60.00ABV
13yo Glenallachie 901062/2005 Marsalla wine finish 65.10ABV
14yo Blair Athol 3657/2005 Bourbon Hogshead 58.60ABV
8yo Glenlossie 8645/2010 Bourbon Hogshead 56.80ABV
8yo Bruichladdich 150/2011 Bourbon Hogshead 65.80ABV
26yo North British Bourbon Hogshead 1991 49.20ABV
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of visiting Sweden for the Linkoping Whisky festival.
Having never been to Sweden before I was thoroughly looking forward to the trip! After a 3 hour train trip to Linkoping I arrived in the dead of night at my hotel which was a hosting Eurovision song contest 'Qualifier' party...the Swedes take Eurovision very seriously.
For over a year now Lady of the Glen has been exported to Sweden by Matts at Auld and Rare. This festival was a great opportunity for me to showcase the latest range of Lady of the Glen releases which will be available for sale in Sweden at www.Auldrarewhisky.se . Matts will have the majority of releases including the Bunna Sherry bomb and the Lochindaal which has not been released yet in the UK!
The festival was a lovely opportunity to speak to customers in Sweden about Lady of the Glen and find what sort of stock they Swedish market is looking for. Initially I was under the impression the Swedish market only wanted peaty Whisky but what I found was that although this was true to an extent there was a great desire to try different flavours and casks styles so the Teaninich Ruby Port finish was very popular as was the Glen Elgin Tawny Port finish.
We’re beginning 2020 with a broad selection of different style casks that will have something for everyone, from Old Grain lovers to Sherry Bombs fans!
Within the range there are also two UK exclusives!
The 15 year old Teaninich cask hails from one of Scotland’s largest distilleries and I decided to finish the cask in a 2nd fill Ruby Port. The finish has worked out well as the strong fruity distillate has enjoyed the fortified fresh red wine flavours from the Ruby Port cask to create a tasting that reveals soft red fruits, crème caramel and milk chocolate. Yielding only 149 bottles and bottled at cask strength, this release is available for £83.00 including postage.
I’m pleased to finally reveal an Aberfeldy cask into the Lady of the Glen range. Cask #304420 was traditionally matured in a bourbon hogshead for 14 years. Enjoy Orange marmalade, runny honey and custard! 184 will be released at Cask Strength and they are each available on our website for £98.00 including Postage.
Another traditionally matured bourbon cask release is our Glen Garioch. Hailing from the Highlands this Glen Garioch was matured for a full 11 years in just the Bourbon Cask. My tasting revealed Melon, pencil lead and butter. Bottled at Cask Strength, the yield was 320 bottles and they are available for £84.00 each.
The heavily sherried Bunnahabhain was a particular highlight during our launch tasting. This Cask strength sherry enters at 66.7% and revealed a tasting experience of Mixed citrus peel, dried apricot and walnut. It can be found in our web shop for £122.00 including delivery.
Our Old Grain in this outrun is a delightful 26 year old North British which is available for £100.00. Enjoy Banoffee pie, vanilla and salted popcorn from one of the Lowland’s finest distilleries.
Our PX Octaves are up next, we have two exciting releases which have both been finished in PX for at least three months; the Glen Moray 11 year old was finished for 6 months for an intense finish and a Secret Islay which was originally bourbon matured for 10 years then finished for 3 months in a 2nd fill PX octave. Both of these are UK exclusive.
We hope you enjoy the outrun!