I’m planning a whisky tasting evening at home this weekend, and I stumbled across a video of Richard Paterson, White & Mackay bigwig and whisky opinion-former. Look at him: look at his tie; look at his matching kerchief. Look at it:
I’ve seen a few videos of his, and initially the mannerisms annoyed me; but now I find him rather charming. It helps, rather than hinders, that he’s so relentless about being this persona of Paterson the Taster. He’s clearly trying very hard to be interesting, in an industry that historically has been a little staid. Whisky needs people like him and Jim Murray to deal with whisky with the energy and excitement of an Islay single malt, rather than the smoothness of a blend.
Thanks to my father-in-law, I’ve fallen a little in love with the mythology that surrounds single malts and tasting. But there’s another argument that says that the best way to taste whisky is the way that you prefer whisky: already there are signs that the anti-mixer rules are being broken in emergent markets like South America. You can be snobbish about it if you want – and I’ll always enjoy a good whisky with nothing but a drop of water – but the future of a culture is never, and should never be, in the hands of the classicists and historians.
Besides, as long as you’re appreciating and not obscuring the taste of a single malt, I don’t think you need ever worry about all the details. Paterrson does it for a living which is why he’s happy to use up half a dram cleaning the glass out. I’d just take care to rinse my tasting glasses after washing them the last time. More generally, if you want to get more out of whisky, without the effort of getting the absolute most out of it, aim rather cheerfully for what he says above, and you’re likely to hit a higher target all the same.
The only point I would stress is about diluting with water. Whisky is sold at greater than 40% ABV for a reason: it’s effectively an “aroma cordial”, a way of locking in aromas for later use. Some of the aromas of whisky can only remain in solution of alcohol, being released when the whisky is warmed on the tongue – or when diluted. So do as Paterson says, and add a bit of water: this forces the flavours out of solution, and can even help your nosing of it.
(One thing I don’t advise at home is that in the industry practice of diluting a lot, to push all the flavours out as quickly as possible. This is so they can make bulk purchasing decisions promptly, and without getting too drunk. But unless your palate is trained to the standards of a commercial whisky taster, only do this if you’re after a longer, smoother drink in the summer months.)