They say that practice makes perfect, but despite practising like crazy,
I still seem to be the only one that thinks that I’m perfect... I can only
assume that others are still too imperfect to appreciate my perfection.
On my way to perfection, I’ve sampled over 5,000 different whiskies
and whiskeys. The good news is that I’ve learned more about whiskey
(and tasting the stuff) from my first 10 ‘drams’ than from my last 100...
So, you should be able to learn a LOT from just two or three tastings.
When you follow the suggestions in
this Beginner’s Guide and do some
serious sampling, I strongly suggest
that you start making tasting notes
and give a score to the whisky as well.
Reading back your old notes later, you
will find you can taste much more now!
So, now the question is: have you followed my advice?
If you have, you should have bought a few different single malt whiskies and some glasses by now.
Perhaps you have already had a few whisky tasting sessions as described in the previous chapter.
If you haven’t so far, this is the point where you really should.
You’ll find that those bag-piping, sheep-fondling Scotsmen have made
a useful contribution to civilisation and society as well: Scotch whisky.
Absorbing all that knowledge really is more fun when
you are absorbing some whiskey at the same time.
If the momentum of your steadily increasing whisky
knowledge has pulled you through this guide in one
single go so far, this really is the time for a break.
There is a lot of other ‘theoretical’ stuff to cover.
In fact, this Beginner’s Guide to Malt Whiskey only skims
the surface of a much wider world of whisky knowledge.
Buy some whiskey (and glasses) and just start tasting it.
Perhaps it turns out that you don’t even like whisky - in which case you can spend the time that
you would’ve otherwise wasted on tastings on something useful like a cure for the common cold.
Tasting a dozen different whiskies and whiskeys should give you a pretty good idea about your
preferences - at least if your selection covers enough of the different available whiskey types,
age groups and wood expressions. That’s why I have included a few ‘MaltMenu’ suggestions.
For example Haig Club (NAS) or Cameron Brig (NAS)
For example Ballantine’s or Johnnie Walker Red Label
For example Glenlivet 12yo or Glendronach 15yo ‘Revival’
For example Amrut ‘Fusion’ (India) or Kavalan ‘Solist’ (Taiwan)
For example Green Spot (NAS) or Redbreast 12yo
For example Rittenhouse Rye (NAS) or Whistlepig 10yo
So, it’s useful for relative novices to compare a few different types of whisky.
And ideally, those whiskies and/or whiskeys should be tried in different combinations.
The phrases ‘MaltMenu’ and ‘malt mileage’ originated way back in the 1990s.
I may have been a tad prejudiced against any type of whisky that wasn’t MALT whisky
from Scotland at the time. However, one of the things I’ve learned since then is the fact
that there is a huge variety in the personal tastes of people. The fact that I didn’t like
the few American bourbon whiskies that were available at the time in Holland doesn’t
mean that a rye whiskey from North America (or a malt from Taiwan) can’t be great.
If you appear to have a clear preference for one particular type of whisky over others,
you may find that the level of whisky in your favourite bottle drops quicker than that in
the other bottles. Whisky usually won’t ‘spoil’ as long as the bottle is still more than 1/3
full, so you can take your time emptying the other bottles. If you replace the empty bottle
of whisky you liked the most with another brand or expression of the same ‘type’, you’re
already ‘zooming in’ on the whiskies that you are likely to... erm... like.
By the time (some of) those bottles are approaching emptiness, you should already
have a better idea about your preferences - at least at this moment. Tastes can evolve
over time, but if we assume that your tastes are similar to mine, you may like malts too.
In that case, the ‘malt whiskies’ maltmenu below offers some suggestions.
Your ‘malt mileage’ indicates the
number of malt whiskies that one has
sampled seriously enough to provide
tasting notes and/or a rating. Purists
only count big bottles, but many people
include drinks in bars, miniatures and
samples as well while boasting... ;-)
But, you may wonder, what will all that cost?
This depends on where you live and which
whisky shopping options are available to you.
In the year 2015, six bottles from the menu
‘types and countries’ would set you back
around € 250,- (or US dollars).
That’s not a bad deal. As long as you don’t
throw any big parties, these whiskies should
keep you entertained for months to come...
Fully appreciating a glass of malt
whisky can take quite some time, but
the tasting has to end at some point.
Taking half an hour for each whisky
allows you to seriously sample 5-7
whiskies on an evening. Tasting even
more is often pointless anyway... ;-)
I also suggest that you don’t worry too much about
things like decorum, style or sophistication. Drinking
whisky with friends should be uncomplicated and fun.
As long as you keep that in mind, getting to know
whisky and increasing your ‘malt mileage’ by tasting
the stuff is an entertaining way to grow older & wiser.
After you have made sure that you have more whisky tasting experience than
the average guest at your first whiskey tastings, you are ready to host the party.
If you are providing the whiskies and/or whiskeys yourself, a ‘blind’ whiskey tasting (where the
participants initially don’t know the brand or type of whiskey they are drinking) is probably the best
way to to go about it. That way, you can make sure that the perceptions of the participants are not
skewed by preconceived notions and expectations based on advertising or the luxuriousness
of the whiskey bottle and packaging. This makes sure that tasters have to rely on their senses.
Maybe you could use this opportunity to share the remains of some
of your bottles with your guests. Or you could ‘go Dutch’ and have
every guest bring their own bottle of whiskey to the tasting.
And on that cautious note we have reached the end of chapter 9 of the Beginner’s Guide.
You could jump to the final chapter right away, but this website is interactive - so you don’t HAVE to.
You could also take a few days, weeks or months exploring the whisky world and/or other site sections further
before you return here for more whiskey opinions and suggestions. The Whisky Label Inspector may help you to
avoid some mistakes that I’ve made myself in the past. Other parts of the Malt Madness site can provide additional
information, like an overview of Scotch whisky bottlers or a page with the whisky industry divided by ownership.
Follow me on Twitter or Facebook if you want to know when I feel there is something worth reporting...
Just make sure that none of the participants have
to drink and drive after the whisky tasting is over.
This could lead to all sorts of unpleasantness...
Davin de Kergommeaux
pointed out that ice can
actually be a good thing.
He wrote: “I sometimes tell people
ice is good if you are drinking bad Scotch as it mutes
the flavour - especially the alcohol.” Yes, cold numbs
the tongue and keeps the evaporation of aromas down.
So, I suppose that adding ice could be forgiven if drinking
BAD Scotch whisky is your thing... But I’d still advise you
to keep that behaviour reserved for blends and grain
whiskies. Even if a single malt isn’t to your liking, it could
still be put to good use. For example, you could try to do
some ‘home vatting’ with some other malt whiskies.
For example ‘Big Peat’ (NAS) Sheep Dip Blended Malt (NAS)
For example Glenfiddich 12yo or Glenmorangie 10yo
For example Glendronach 12yo ‘Original’ or a single cask IB.
For example Laphroaig 10yo or Lagavulin 16yo
For example Aberlour A’bunadh (C/S) or Glenfarclas 105 (NAS)
For example Amrut (india), Suntory (Japan) or Lark (Tasmania)
These were just a few suggestions - there are thousands of whiskies to choose from.
If you purchase six different bottles of malt whisky,
a budget of € 250,- (or US dollars) should suffice.
Well, at least in the year 2015. Duty on spirits has
recently been reduced in the UK and a few other
markets after a long, powerful lobby by the SWA.
They predict this will cause whisky prices to drop.
If there hasn’t been an nuclear war, alien invasion or
zombie apocalypse yet by the time you read this, you
may want to check out the sitemap and/or other site
sections for more up-to-date information.
If that is true, this malt budget should buy you enough
bottles for a few more years to come, but inflation and
unforeseen events will eventually drive prices up.
In fact, please keep in mind that I’m re-writing this
guide for the third time in 2015. If you are reading this
sometime in the faraway future, outdated prices are
probably the least of your concerns...
Meanwhile, it’s time for the last part of chapter 9...
An overview of the Scotch whisky industry, divided by the ownership of distilleries.
A list of the major Scotch whisky bottlers - both independent and industry-owned.
There are far more malt whisky brands than there are malt whisky distilleries.
The Whisky Lexicon offers an A-Z overview of 750 whisky words and phrases.
On the page with “A words” you can find more about ABV, after-shots and aldehydes.
The page with “B words” offers insights into barley, barrels, bastard malts and BFYB.
The “C words” page looks at words and phrases like caramel, copita and cultivar.
Arguably the most important factor during maturation is the cask holding the whisky.