Thursday, January 21, 2010

Whisky or Whiskey Tasting

We should be given entry to events like wine and whisky tastings. After all, tasting is more about the olfactory sense than the taste buds on the tongue. The main message brought home by mum and dad after a whisky tasting session at the American Club last night. It was an event organized by Berry Brothers for the single malt whisky they distribute, the Glenrothes. The only obstacle for us to become the real connoisseurs is we cannot tell you what the whisky smells like in all the colorful descriptive terms like smoky, nutty, lemony, malty, spicy...... In fact, we cannot tell you anything, that is our problem. But we will probably be doing no worse than a beginner who can tell between likes and dislikes.

Rows of whisky nosing glass filled to the bottom graduation by the golden amber colored whisky were already laid out on the long dining table when they arrived. The reason why these tulip-shaped glasses resembling sherry glasses without the stems were used would be apparent later in the evening when a brief tasting presentation was given. The mouth of each of the glass was covered by a watch glass presumably to prevent the aromas from escaping. There were also a few stemless cognac glasses. In each glass, there was one of the four things below:
- a vanilla pod
- a mix of spices - ginger, cinnamon and cloves
- a mix of citrus peel - orange, lemon and lime
- a mix of berries - raspberry, blueberry, etc
These are some of the basic flavors of whisky. These glasses served as a sample of the smell one can make out from "nosing" his whisky.

The presentation started out with the usual pleasantries and the history and meaning behind some of the whisky brands. "Glen", a fairly common prefix for whisky brands, appearing in the Glenfiddich, the Glenlivet, the Glenmorangie and, of course, the Glenrothes, means valley in Gaelic. Whereas the Gaelic meaning of "fiddich" is deer and "rothes" means fortune.

To start the tasting session in earnest, all the audience were asked to take a nosing glass containing the signature blend whisky and start sniffing the content. You should apparently sniff at least 3 times. The glasses containing the basic flavors were then passed around as comparisons.

As the alcohol vapor could temporarily overload and numb your olfactory receptors, a tip was offered to enhance the smell of the different notes by damping the effect of the alcohol. The tip was to rub a drop of the whisky on the back of your hand using your index finger, very similar to the way some people would test and smell perfume. After all the extraction of perfumes discovered by the Egyptians and Chinese was adopted by European monks for the distillation of wines into spirit. Whisky making remained steeped in secrecy, lore and tradition until the advent of modern technologies.

Just to reinforce the sense of lore and tradition, the audience was asked to make a toast to a ghost during the tasting session.

Biawa “Byeway” Makalaga was an orphaned child, found during the Boar War by Colonel Grant of Rothes under a bush on a track in Africa, rescued and taken back to Scotland. He grew up to become the Colonel’s helper and somewhat of a character in Rothes, at one stage playing for the village football team. He died in 1972.
When a new pair of stills was installed in 1979, a ghost was said to have appeared on two separate occasions inside the distillery. Nothing sinister was recounted, but concerns was sufficient and help was called, the investigation being handled by one Cedric Wilson, a university professor.
Mr Wilson assessed that a ley-line had been disturbed during the installation of the stills. He walked through the neighbouring cemetery in quiet contemplation, ambled up to a single gravestone, and had a quiet conversation at the graveside. He returned a few minutes later, explaining that all had been resolved amicably, and all was well.
The grave he had visited was that, without knowing more or ever having visited the graveyard before, was that of “Byeway” Makalaga, and whilst the ghost has never been seen again, a mark of respect is now tradition at Glenrothes. A dram of The Glenrothes is often drunk with a “Toast to the Ghost”, the ghost of Byeway Makalaga.

To stress the importance of smell to the tasting of whisky, a few participants were selected from the audience to pick out the odd-one-out from six different glasses of whisky. All 6 glasses were of different shapes, including a champagne glass and a martini glass. Mum was one of the participants. Previous participants of the Riedel glass tasting would smell a rat, as the different shapes would have a significant impact on the nose.

It was a great event and very instructive. And the whisky that was most pleasing to their palate was not the oldest and most expensive whisky, but an entry level whisky which was smoother and easier to drink.

Again no photos unfortunately. Lets hope we get our hands on some of the event photos later.

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