Saturday, December 31, 2011

Drink Less, Taste More

Weekend Whiskey's motto for 2012 is:
Drink less, taste more.
The inspiration comes in part from Shane of The Good Spirits Co., whose wee brief message for the whiskey fans near the end of Ralfy's video tour of the Glasgow bottle shop was, "Drink less but better quality."

It's also based on the old Pete & Jack cartoon in which they say they aren't concerned about getting injured while drinking, "Because we never drink anyway..." "...Right, we taste!"

I think it's a sound principle, if I do say so myself. A good drink is better than a good buzz. For that matter, you really will taste more if you drink less -- and, following Shane, if you're tasting more you're going to want better quality.

One other thought: I'll never be able to drink -- sorry, to taste all the whiskies I'd like to, since I'd like to taste them all. Some people might be saddened by that fact, but it's actually liberating. If I can't taste all the whiskies I'd like to, then there's no point in my trying. Rather than rushing to taste the next whiskey, I'm perfectly all right taking my time with the one in my glass right now. I may taste fewer whiskies, but there's no reason I can't taste more of each of the few I taste.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gentleman Shopping

Gentlemen shoppers off on a spree,
Reel into Bonwit's for lingerie
Lord and Taylor have mercy on such as we.
Buy, buy, buy.

-- James Thurber
I find that shopping for Christmas presents falls into one of three categories, depending on how much time is left:
  1. The casual stroll, just to see what the stores have this season.
  2. The death march, during which I look at and reject every object for sale in the mall.
  3. The scavenger hunt, when I have a list, a plan of attack, and about an hour.
This year, I added a warm-up and cool-down to my scavenger hunt, in the form of a Bulleit bourbon and a Redbreast 12 yo, respectively.

The Bulleit had a terrific nose, full and fruity (cantaloupe in particular). Given that, the taste was a little disappointing. It seemed like it could have used more time in the barrel to come together and intensify. I'd certainly drink it again, but there are a lot of other bourbons I want to try first. (For that matter, Bulleit's rye is also near the top of my "to try" list.)

As for the Redbreast, it has a sweet, rich nose like a premium bourbon, and its flavor kept the promise. I added a little water, and its Irishness really came forward. This is a smooth, sipping whiskey for cold nights. My only complaint is that I wasn't as blown away by it as I expected after reading all the "best Irish whiskey" hype. I could see it winding up in my liquor cabinet at some point, but I won't be scouring the shelves for it this week.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

How to Nose Scotch Whisky

Here, for the Scotch novice, is a compendium of the best advice for getting the most out of smelling whisky. (And if you just said, "Er, isn't the point of whisky to drink it?", then you're obviously a novice. Experts don't drink whisky, they taste it.)
  1. Pour a wee dram of Scotch into a whisky tasting glass or a Glencairn glass or a sherry copita or a wine glass or just any old glass for crying out loud, you're smelling whisky, not performing brain surgery in space. (Note for Americans: 1 wee dram is approximately 3/4 of a slug.)
  2. Note the whisky's color.
  3. Note that the whisky's color tells you nothing about what it smells or tastes like. (You might wonder, then, what the point of noting the whisky's color is. Near as I can figure, it has something to do with testing your knowledge of sauternes.)
  4. Swirl the whisky around in the glass. Alternatively, don't swirl it; what is this, a wine tasting?
  5. If you are insane, wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, or employed as a Master Blender, and you are not in my house, you may at this point fling the whisky on the floor and return to Step 1.
  6. Admire the legs, if that's your thing.
  7. Place your nose inside, or just above, or a few inches above the glass. This is the critical step; make sure you do it properly.
  8. Take a sniff or take three sniffs or just breathe normally, with your mouth open or your mouth closed or your mouth disposed however you want.
  9. Think about the aromas you're smelling. (There is a common misperception among novices that the aromas smell like whisky, but with a little practice you'll get past this.)
  10. Try to describe the aromas in terms of other things you've smelled, like honey, or can imagine having smelled, like heather. Leave it to the experts to mention aromas of things no one has ever smelled, like "wet medicinal leather." If you're blocking, "spice" usually works. (Note: with Islay malts, it's customary to say "peat" instead of "dirt.")
There! Now you've just nosed Scotch. You've earned yourself a drink. And if you want to drink the whisky you've nosed, go ahead; you can learn how to taste it later.