When Scottish literary critic and scholar David Daiches wrote, “The proper drinking of Scotch whisky is more than indulgence; it is a toast to civilization”—he was well-aware of the intoxicating effect that drinking Scotch whisky produced on anyone fortunate enough to be holding a tulip-shaped “nosing glass.” Since hosting a Scotch tasting is a multi-sensory, and yes, even educational event, there are a number of facts to consider during your planning process.
First off, it is important to note that Scotch whisky can only be a “Scotch” if it is, in fact, distilled in Scotland. To ensure a variety of different tastes at your single malt tasting, I suggest selecting single malts from each of the five distinct whisky-producing regions of Scotland. The most renowned of these Scotch regions is Speyside, which produces fruitier, more complex flavored Scotch Whiskies such as Glenfiddich, Ardmore, and Knockando. The other four regions are The Highlands, The Lowlands, The Isle of Islay, and Cambellton—each of which produces Scotch whiskies with their own conspicuous personalities.
When it comes to choosing the whisky glasses for your Scotch tasting, make sure you select a traditional tulip-shaped tumbler, also known as a “nosing glass” or “snifter.” There are a myriad of smells to appreciate when sampling Scotch. In fact, one Paris perfumery once identified twenty-eight different aromas from a single malt Scotch. To unlock these aromas, the contents of the glass must be swirled.
Create “Tasting Sheets” beforehand. To do this, make some simple sheets of paper with the name of each whisky written across the top of the page. At the side of each page, create categories for scribbling notes on the whisky’s color, legs, bouquet, flavor, and finish. Provide guests with pencils and instruct them to note down distinct characteristics in each category. For example, is the color of the Scotch pale amber or flaming orange? Is the bouquet distinctively caramel or can a hint of vanilla be detected? What is the primary taste? Is it salty, sweet, smoky, or spicy? It is helpful to provide guests with a glossary of tasting terms. For a list of tasting terms go to www.McGees.org/popupmaltglossary.html.
Pour each guest a small measure or “dram” (about one and a half ounces) of single malt whisky. For best results, guests should hold the glass by the stem. Instruct them to notice the color of the Scotch by holding it up to the light. In general, the cask in which the single malt was matured will impart its color. For example, gold colored single malt would have been matured in a sherry oak cask and a pale colored whisky would have been matured in a bourbon cask. Next, have guests “check the legs.” To do this, instruct them to tilt their glass at an angle and rotate it vigorously to coat the wall of the glass with whisky. The whisky will form “legs” as it runs down the sides of the glass. The rate at which the legs run indicates the maturity of the whisky—the slower the legs, the older the whisky.
Next comes the “nosing.” Have guests pass their glass under their nose smoothly, noticing the complexities of the Scotch’s aroma. Now comes the real test—the taste. Instruct guests to take just enough Scotch to “coat” the exposed areas of the mouth. They should let the whisky rest on their tongues before swallowing in order to experience the changing aromas and flavors. How do the guests associate the taste? Are they reminded of dark cocoa or fresh cut citrus? Is the taste winy, creamy, nutty, or malt-like? As well, have guests notice the flavors they distinguish with the Scotch’s “finish”—or, in other words, the flavor that lingers on the tongue after the first impression of flavor has subsided. Have guests write down their notes on the tasting sheet provided after each phase of the tasting.
Finally, add a little water. Adding about 20% spring or mineral water (avoid tap water due to possible Chlorine content) can enhance the hidden characteristics of the single malt. Have guests note the changes they detect in the taste. Many will find that adding a splash of water results in a more soothing, drinkable translation.
Repeat the process until guests have sampled each of the Scotches offered at your tasting. Once everyone has had plenty of time to enjoy the libations, it will be time to pull out the desserts and gather around the fireplace (you can light it now that the tasting is over) so that the guests can share their findings. Expect the unexpected. At this point in the evening, guests will be feeling quite relaxed and be more than happy to impart their feelings. Be prepared for a long night of laughs. I also recommend preparing a spare bedroom for any guest who may be feeling particularly . . . um . . . over-served. Drinking Scotch whisky is not only a “toast to civilization,” as Daiches wrote but also a wonderful way for guests to unwind, to experience something new, and indeed become a wee bit starry eyed in the process.
Tony Conway, CMP, formed A Legendary Event in 1997, which has grown into a multi-million dollar full-service event enterprise, handling more than 1,500 events a year. Known for his Midas touch, Tony is admired by top CEOs, celebrities and politicians because of his attention to detail and penchant for providing fresh, trend-setting and uniquely presented fare, always with the client in mind. A Legendary Event is located in Atlanta and can be reached at (404) 869-8858. For more information, please visit www.alegendaryevent.com