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Issue 1 - Sensory evaluation

Whisky Magazine Issue 1
January 1999


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Sensory evaluation

The nose has it: Charles Maclean on how to tast whisky, and exactly what your nose can tell you.

A sure sign of over-zealous indulgence is (of course) drinking alone. Another is (of course) drinking in the morning.This should concern me, I suppose. Solitary drinking is part of my job, and the best time to taste is late morning, when the palate is fresh. But though solitary, I am not alone: the professional tasters and blenders in the whisky trade do the same thing as me day in, day out. A few of them do not even like the taste of whisky. They keep their jobs, and their sanity, by evaluating whisky with their noses alone.

For 'tasting' read 'nosing'; whisky 'tasters' are referred to as 'noses' in the trade. (Likewise, a 'whisky tasting' is a 'nosing' and the 'tasting room' a 'nosing room'.) The tastebuds are of secondary importance when it comes to the sensory evaluation of any whisky.

The implications of this are twofold. First, you don't actually have to like the taste of whisky to participate in a tasting. Second, whisky is best tasted in glasses that will bring out its aroma.

Forget, therefore, about using traditional cut-crystal whisky tumblers: they're hopeless for nosing purposes. They were designed for swilling whisky and soda, and are perfectly adapted to this purpose, but they neither catch the delicate aromas of malt nor permit the spirit to be
properly agitated (which helps release the aromas). A good nosing glass performs both these functions. It is tulip-shaped, with a decent bowl (for swirling the spirit) and a narrow lip (to catch the aromas). Ideally ...

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