Or: Dinna Call it Scotch, Ye Li'l Bastard

According to Stuart Nichol, owner and proprietor of the Farr Cottage in Corpach, Scotland, a shotglass's throw away from the beautiful Ben Nevis, there is a very precise way to drink what people who don't know better (myself included) typically refer to as Scotch. I shall try and recreate the high points of his lecture, given over free samples of the stuff during my stay at his domicile, some years ago.

The following come under the category of 'shite, ye wee girl':

This list went on, but had increasingly less to do with whisky as it progressed. And now--

The Four Parts of Drinking Whisky

Yes, there are four parts, though most people ('fuckin' barbarians') don't follow them. Before you start, you should know that in order to have a proper glass of whisky--that's single malt, of course--it must be mixed with 'ezactly the same amount 'o water--pure, Scottish water, preferably.' This releases the full flavor of the whisky. If Scottish water is unavailable, you may substitute some form of bottled water. Tap water will add unnecessary contaminants that we li'l bastards probly canna taste, but will have a detrimental effect on the whisky. Consequently, whisky is not meant to be 'shot,' and anyone who shoots it, is. You may now begin.

  1. The Nose-this is when you stick your nose over the glass and really take a deep whiff of what you're drinking. It's supposed to light up your senses and prepare them. A good drinker--not a frequent drinker, they're not the same--can sniff out a good whisky at several paces.
  2. The Body--This is the appearance of the whisky. It should be amber or dark honey-colored, and have no inconsistencies or defects. Just a pure field of booze. Please bear in mind, at this point you have been here for four minutes and have not yet tasted the whisky.
  3. The Palate--Things have gotten serious now between you and your whisky. You have decided to take the next step, which is putting it in your mouth. Get a mouthful, but leave room for swishing. Stuart treated it like some kind of orgiastic Listerine, really moving it around for a a full thirty seconds. The object--to have whisky coat every surface of your oral cavity.
  4. The Finish--You are now ready to commit to your whisky by swallowing. Warmed up by the heat of your mouth, the full flavor of the whisky has been brought forth, and will slide down your throat with ease and comfort.

Obviously, this process may be repeated ad nauseam, frequently is, and certainly was on that night. The system does tend to break down during the course of an evening, but it is--according to Stuart--the right Scottish way to get started.

So you've just bought your first bottle of Single Malt Scotch. Now the last thing you should do is drown it with club soda or even worse, ice. A wise person once said that the best way to enjoy whisky is the way you like it best. But with single malts there are some rules of thumb which will heighten your enjoyment.

The glass: If all you have is a lowball glass that will work but a glass with a tapered top such a cognac snifter or wine glass will work much better. This is because a tapered glass will concentrate the aromas of the whisky and the aroma is a big part of the experience. You can even get special scotch tasting glasses but a snifter will do.

For your first dram of any whisky you haven't encountered before pour a small amount into your glass, hold the glass so the heat from your hand will warm the whisky and release the aromas, bring the glass up to your nose and take a whiff. Note the different aromas. Does it smell like citrus? Apples? Spice? Is it peaty? Woody? This is called nosing. Now take a small sip. Resist the urge to swallow immediately. Instead roll the spirit around on your tounge and then swallow. How did it feel in your mouth? Oily? Sweet? Dry? Note also the aftertaste, this is called the finish and may or may not be very different from the taste of the whisky. Next add just a drop or two or spring water. You may notice that doing this releases additional aromas that were not there before. Keep repeating this process (nose, taste, dilute) and you will notice some aromas and tastes will appear while others will disappear. After a while of diluting you may notice that only one flavor is now present.This means the whisky's flavor balance has broken up and you now know how much water it will take, this is why I said to only pour only a small amount for the first dram. You should also now know just how much water (if any, you may prefer it neat) you like in this particular malt for when you have your next dram of this whisky. You can now add a little more whisky to restore the balance.

Now there's a reason I said to use spring water. The only thing you should add to malt whisky is pure still spring water. It has been suggested that the best water to use is the same water the distillery uses, but unless you live in Scotland this just isn't feasable. Any good quality spring water will do. Your tap water is probably chlorinated and this will adversly affect the taste of the whisky. If you want a Scotch and Soda or Scotch and Water fine, use a blended scotch. And never add ice to a single malt this is because the ice will cool the whisky and prevent the congeners (which are responsible for the aroma and taste) from being released.

I should also mention that it is probably a bad idea to get drunk off of single malt scotch. First of all, as you get more inebriated your taste buds and sense of smell will get numb and you will not be able to enjoy it as much. Secondly, single malts contain more congeners than most other spirits; congeners are not only what give spirits their flavor, they also contribute to the phenomenon known as hangovers. So you can have a dram or two to start off a night of drinking, but if you get sloshed off single malts you may end up with a wicked hangover. You have been warned. (Although in this case I've been known to ignore my own advice).

One more thing: some people, unlikely as it sounds, do not like single malt whisky (or scotch at all for that matter). If you've never tried scotch before then you should try a blend first to be sure that you like scotch. Johnnie Walker Red Label is an inexpensive but good quality blend and is available in small enough sizes (50ml and 200ml) so that if you don't like it you won't have wasted too much money. If you like scotch and want to try a single malt, I suggest that you try an inexpensive Speyside malt. However some Speysides are notoriously bad; avoid Glen Parker, Glenfiddich Special Reserve, and Drumguish. Aberlour 10 year old and The Glenlivet 12 year old are both excellent choices for a first malt.

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