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The Single Malt For The Novice

What is a Single Malt Whisky?

A single malt whisky is one in which the whisky comes from a single distillery (The "Single"). The grain from which the whisky is made is 100% Malted Barley. (The “Malt”). Blended whisky, usually referred to as “Scotch”, uses a variety of different grains in addition to malt, such as wheat, and corn, (Irish whiskey often contains oats, - note the “e” in whiskey). The whisky is cured for a minimum of three years in oak casks. Then the companies (such as Johnnie Walker) buy the malts from various distilleries and blend them to create their spirit, achieving a consistency. You cannot actually visit a blended distillery as they don’t exist, they are more like a blending room

What is the best way to enjoy a Single Malt?

Ideally a glass that concentrates the flavour at the top, a tulip shaped glass such as the Glencairn glass is designed specifically for “nosing the spirit. This brings us to the question of:

How do you nose a spirit?

The first step in drinking whisky is nosing the glass, ie seeing how it smells, as the spirit is high in alcohol, you don’t just stick your nose in the glass, as the spirit will burn the nasal membrane and covering up the subtle aromas, swirling the glass vigorously also tends to force the spirit to the fore.

Gently waft the glass underneath the nose, gently from side to side, as the first aromas rise the sweet lighter ones will rise followed by the darker richer ones. You are appreciating the flavours before you have even taken a sip!

At Last, a Sip!

When you take a sip, it is best to hold it in the mouth for a couple of seconds with a gentle chewing action, after swallowing,breathe out through the nose, sending the aromas over the nasal membranes, followed by normal breaths, tasting the sweetness on the front of the tongue, and the tannins from the oak at the back of the mouth.

Whisky is drunk for enjoyment, but also for appreciation, and so whether you add water, or drink it neat it is entirely up to the drinker. A whisky buff who likes to collect and compare different whiskies, is probably better try it neat, and add as little or as much water as preferred. Even a drop of water can change the flavour of a Single Malt. Water, breaks the surface tension of the spirit, diluting the alcohol, bringing the lighter floral and citrus alcohols to the surface, the heavier alcohols less prominent to the nose.

The Finish

The “Finish” is the amount of time you can taste the whisky in your mouth after you have swallowed, apparently tasting it after 15 seconds is a “nice finish.” whereas a minute or two is a “nice long finish”.

A matter of personal choice, a five second finish is neither good or bad, just different, remember whisky is to enjoy!

Pretentious, perhaps, but whisky is here to enjoy!