Whisky sampling vs drinking

“Are you tasting whisky every day??” or “You must drink A LOT of whisky!!!”

Yes… that’s what I hear when folks learn I enjoy exploring whiskies. Or see my regular posts.

With the implication that my drinking must be high in quantity, frequency and perhaps even to excess.

And yet, here is the thing.

Believe it or not, I do quite the opposite.

A little goes a long way. I’ve been known in social occasions to skip the alcohol on offer as it is simply didn’t appeal…

And that makes some people uncomfortable.

Because there is a quiet little secret in social circles and the alcohol industry… alcoholism. There. I’ve said it out loud.

Tasting whisky in moderation is quite different than regularly drinking too much.

There is a very good reason I openly shared my Whisky Live Survival Guide mantra of “sniff, swish, savour and spit.” If it was changed to “sniff, swish, savour and swallow” I would have been waving and weaving my way through the stalls, missing the best stuff and paying the price the next day. Not my thing and definitely not worth it.

And while my posts may be relatively frequent, the reality is they are typically based on around 2-3 tasting sessions a month where we sample 3-5 whiskies, sometimes supplemented with a minis evening or a one-off tasting.

And when we have a tasting session, it tends to be smaller pours, in a structured setting, where sampling can stretch over a few hours… liberally offset with water and food.

That’s it. Really. Generally you won’t find me sipping a whisky otherwise.

I think it’s terrific if you enjoy a dram or two! And even more so if you are as passionate as I am about exploring the world of whisky… Just please be kind to yourself and those around you – drink responsibly.

‘Nuff said.

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September Samplings – Writers Tears, Springbank Burgundy + 12 year Cask Strength

It has been a long time since I missed one of our original club’s whisky tasting evenings. It is because of this dedicated group that I even started writing about whisky – initially just to chronicle our monthly tastings. However it simply could not be helped…

Stepping into the breech was a newer member who volunteered to document the impressions and discussions. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to Nikkhil Shirodkar.

Nikkhil heads Broadcast Technology & Operations at 9X Media – India’s largest music network.

His passion for whisky is infectious and his quest to know more impressive. Nikkhil’s whisky preferences lean towards the well balanced and nuanced styles. He is a big fan of Compass Box, Highland Park and old style whiskies like Mortlach and Lochside. On the Irish side he is a big fan of Midleton and Redbreast.

He also just so happens to be the 1st man to write a guest post for Whisky Lady in India… with tasting notes about all three whiskies sampled in September by our original club:

Check out the links above to read what Nikkhil has to say!

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Whisky samples storage…

I’m exceedingly grateful when whisky samples wind their way to me. Usually it is via friends and family. Occasionally it comes from the #whiskyfabric of fellow whisky explorers not otherwise known live and in person.

However, I’ve learned the storage container makes a BIG difference in keeping the quality of the sample… particularly if you don’t plan to try it immediately.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned the hard way, in hopes it will help you avoid whisky tragedies!!

Odour/taste contamination

  • Never, ever store in a bottle that held anything pungent. Best is to use fresh, clean, new bottles.
  • Where that isn’t possible, use an empty whisky miniature bottle that has been thoroughly cleaned and properly dried.

Avoid jars with rubber…

  • My aunt and uncle generously shared samples in properly cleaned baby food jars. It seemed like a good idea however as these were large, we transferred them into mini jam jars. 
  • Do yourself a favour – don’t ever do what we did!! Something terrible happened… in Mumbai conditions, the rubber odours ooze into the whisky, rust spots even appeared on the lids?!
  • Any whisky in such sub-optimal storage used to transport should be either consumed as soon as you reach your destination or immediately transferred.

Tops matter too!

  • Just as you don’t want contamination from rubber, plastic too can give off unwanted aromas, negatively impacting your lovely whisky… I even found one type that seemed promising, but the plastic had a tendency to crack!?
  • Similarly those lovely old mini whisky bottles you think you can re-use? Be vigilant! One tiny sign of rust in the cap and it is a “no go”!!!

If buying new, which is best for you?

  • Yes… I know buying new bottles can be surprisingly expensive, but get the right style and it is completely worth it!
  • I’ve been reasonably happy with three types of bottles for storing samples…
    • 60 ml – If you plan to share with 2-3 folks, this is a good bet. Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula tends to opt for these…
    • 50 ml – The standard whisky miniature style works well to share with 1 or 2 others… There is a reason it has a narrow long top – it helps reduce that pesky oxidation.
    • 20 ml – If just for you to sniff, sip and savour solo or you have limited space, you’d be surprised how much you can get from these bottles. All of our Nordic samples came in such a tiny but powerful packages.

All labels/pens are not created equally!

  • So you you’ve put the whisky in its new container, then what?? Sticky labels can be a handy way to slap on a new moniker… however be sure it is of a higher quality as I’ve had a few disintegrate if a bit of liquid accidentally comes on it.
  • As for the pen? Permanent marker please! Or at a minimum, a permanent pen. I’ve had a few mystery malts thanks to the ink blurring beyond comprehension.

Size matters

  • Finally, while I’ve been focused on smaller samples, what about those large 700 ml or 1 L bottles? Do you leave them alone or do something?
  • The trick with storing whisky is to minimize the oxidation, so keep a few nice empty whisky bottles in various smaller sizes like 180 ml, 200 ml, 375 ml, 500 ml…
  • Depending on how long you plan to store, it can be smart to transfer your whisky into the clean old bottle that best fits the quantity remaining… and don’t forget to label the bottle!

Naturally I’m sure most folks will say the simplest solution is just to drink the stuff! You aren’t wrong.

Another solution for a freshly opened bottle is to take some of those sample bottles, fill, label and share, then either use a vacu vin or transfer the balance into a smaller bottle if you plan to store for some time.

Because as good as it is to get whisky, it is nice to give back too!

Interested in more random whisky tips? Check out a few here:

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Origins and palate preferences?

While most of my posts are filled with tasting notes of various whiskies explored, I must disclose the observations are typically an amalgam of several palates as the drams are shared and discussed as part of whisky clubs of informal sessions with friends.

I value the different reactions to what we try and recognize our perceptions of a whisky’s aroma and taste is inextricably linked to associated memories of distinctive yet familiar smells and flavours.

Hence you will often find my tasting notes peppered with references that are both common to say North America and equally India. This is simply a part of the duality of my life – hailing originally from Canada but living long term in India. Our cultural and culinary context influences our interpretation of a whisky.

For the most part, palate preferences are specific to an individual. Some love deep dark rich sherry drams, others long for the curl of peat, some prefer fruity and others saltier fare… for many, like me, preferences are context and mood dependent. My preferences have also shifted significantly over the years as I’ve gained exposure into different styles and the extraordinary range the world of whisky has to offer.

So why then was I so surprised at our last Whisky Ladies session? Where there was a very clear distinction between the reaction of those whose origins are outside of India vs those whose origins are within?

It was our first and only time where there was such a divide – sure we have different reactions and different opinions. That’s a huge part of the fun of tasting together! But not so diametrically opposed along lines of origins.

And what was the controversial whisky that provoked such a reaction? The Aultmore 5 year 66.8% Master of Malt which was first sampled as part of an exception evening of “Dream Drams” with India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula.

The notes I took did not reflect the full story:

  • Nose – Sherry, chocolate, nutty, figs, dates, banana bread with nuts and sultanas
  • Palate – For some it was smooth, bursting with rich Christmas cake for others a complete brushfire – of pure fire
  • Finish – Very dry, long, cinnamon and cloves spice… for others just numbing like going for dental surgery
  • Water – Helped make it a bit more accessible

So what was the distinction? Well… those originally from India found it just too much alcohol and simply didn’t care for it at all… in short found it nearly undrinkable.

And those originally from outside India who have adopted India as home? Could go past the high alcohol strength to find interesting elements… in short found it drinkable. While perhaps not a 1st choice, certainly not a last one.

It was awkward to have such a peculiar palate divide and strange to have origins so firmly come into play.

However, our best discovery of the evening? The cask strength Aultmore goes brilliantly with our host’s home made banana bread! Just as we discovered those notes in the whisky, like magic – out came one of the best banana breads I’ve had in literally years!

Good baking and whisky – fabulous combination! And a great close to our sampling session.

What else did we taste in our Whisky Ladies “Worthy Whiskies” Sunday Sundowner?

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Vacu vin for Whisky?

I’d like to let you into a little secret, there is a reasonably reliable way to reduce oxidation….

It is a trick borrowed from the world of wine, intended for use over short periods of time.

The principle is simple – a vacuum pump extracts air from the open bottle to re-seal with a rubber stopper. A “click” sound tells you when you have reached the optimum vacuum level. The vacuum slows down the oxidation process which makes it possible to enjoy your wine again at a later date.

Case in point? That gorgeous Laphroaig 21 year commemorating the opening of Heathrow’s Terminal 5…

It may have been opened 1.5 years, yet when we re-cracked open the bottle after our Dream Drams with Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula, it gave us a most rewarding gift – a burst of delicious aromas of sweet ham, bacon glazed with maple syrup, black forest ham, tobacco on the palate and a lovely long finish.

After this “proof of concept” many of those attending the evening went out an ordered vacu vin‘s in hope of preserving the quality of their precious drams, reducing the effects of oxidation.

Including one more from our Dream Drams evening, the Aultmore 5 year whose cork cracked!

PS – I got my vacu vin through Amazon… and no this isn’t a paid plug!!!

From time to time, you can also find other whisky related updates and activities on:

Operation ‘clean house’ – whisky style!

Let’s be honest, if you are anything like me, after opening a bottle for a tasting session, most tend to get set aside – either as it was so special it is carefully kept to share at some mythical future moment, it was too much of an experiment to want to repeat, it was stored in some deep dark inaccessible corner, or the mood to try again simply didn’t strike.

It may seem strange that someone who enjoys exploring whiskies isn’t really a ‘drinker’. But the truth is, I don’t sit around having a dram each night. Which means I’ve been known to keep an open whisky bottle for months, nay years!

So when I thought we’d have to move from our beloved Bandra flat in Bombay, realized it was high time to purge possessions and reduce clutter. That the move has been postponed a few years is irrelevant to this tale.

What matters is it prompted operation ‘clean house’ – whisky style! Now… as you can imagine… I have a rather motley collection of malts. More than the large bottles, there are all the partly finished miniatures and samples to contend with… which means no ordinary sociable evening would suffice.

Here then is my wee recipe for successfully roping in comrades to give generously of their time (and livers) to make a dent in your ‘dram dregs.’

Step 1- Select your victims

Unlike a proper planned tasting, dram dregs need a bit of a ‘statutory warning’ as can have a few massive misses along with the hits. You may find a few precious carefully stored whiskies stood the test of time… but others may have tragic consequences and be nothing like their former glory.

Your partners in crime need to be game for the highs, lows and sometimes getting only a whisky teaser not a proper snifter. This is no normal ‘tasting session’ but instead a palate twister of unique proportions.

Step 2 – Start with a few oldies but goodies – even if only a sample sip!

Our 1st ‘operation clean house’ evening began with assorted half sampled minis… In most cases it was at best 1 to 2 sips per whisky. I do believe we managed to empty about 8 or 9 half empty mini bottles… many of which were more unusual and rarer items.  

Step 3 – Cautiously check the suspect ones…

My Canadian stashes – both 2015 and 2016 – were all opened, sniffed, even sipped and then summarily dumped! Narry a one was truly drinkable. Lesson learned – never ever store whiskies in jars!!!

Step 4 – Reward with a few nearly forgotten gems

I had already brought out from my whisky cupboard all the mid to full size open bottles so they were accessible for emptying.

In our 1st session we selected the Blair Athol 27 year (stood up well!) and the “Highland Heart” (did not… an odd shadow of its former self) – each having at best a dram or two. A not so gentle reminder that oxidation takes its toll… for quality drams, using a vacu vin stopper seems the way to go!!

Step 5 – Rinse and repeat!

Don’t try to do everything at once. After our 1st session where we tried over a dozen dram dregs, we decided to be a bit less ambitious in our next round. Less is more.

The decision now is whether to do variations on themes or mix things up so there is something to contrast. In our sample sips, most had a heavy sherry influence and it was almost too much of one dimension. And yet there is something to be said for exploration variations of a similar note too – just only a few not 8 or 9!

I’m considering a few different nights with one or two folks:

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Whisky Lady – August 2017

Everyday Asia

August was a bit of a catch-up month for Whisky Lady tastings… chock full of notes from July’s excesses with even more from those sessions to come next month.

August sessions were held with each Mumbai based whisky clubs – yet two were of a decidedly social bent!

The Original’s session featured an Islay Trio:

The Whisky Ladies turned two! With a celebration of whisky women fellowship…

And finally on 31st August 2017, we had our Bombay Malt & Cigar partners night where we explored a trio of single grains:

  • Girvan 8 years (2006) Cask…

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Whisky Ladies Turn Two!!

Who would have imagined two years ago that a simple conversation about women and whisky could lead to such a wonderful group!

Each month we come together in different members home to explore diverse whiskies from around the world. We’ve had quite the adventures and you can read more about the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai’s experiences in the Whisky Ladies Corner.

But this fine August evening was meant purely for celebration of our two year milestone as the “Whisky Ladies of Mumbai.”

Naturally as this is a fellowship over whisky, the drams were centre stage… Some were revisits of favourite drams from earlier tasting sessions… Some were shared for the 1st time with the Whisky Ladies.

This was not an evening for careful dissecting, discerning and discussing drams. This was an evening to enjoy over conversation with wonderful company, accompanied by morsels of yumminess!

A few extras from the last year:

We look forward to many more adventures together! Thank you ladies for making each gathering such a wonderful experience!

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Whisky Lady – July 2017

Everyday Asia

July was supposed to be a slow month… During monsoon, things can grind nearly to a halt in Mumbai under a deluge of rain. And with only two clubs scheduled to meet, it seemed not much would be happening.

So a few friends and I decided to invite Krishna Nakula, India’s Malt Maniac to Mumbai. Which triggered going from a light month to become chock full of Whisky Lady tastings in Mumbai! Easily my busiest month this year – possibly ever…

It also just so happened to be the month, I celebrated Whisky Lady in India’s 500th post!! Woo hoo!!!

So join me in a synopsis of July 2017’s whisky adventures…

The Whisky Ladies Compass Box Quintet featured:

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Whisky Lady in India – Celebrating 500 posts!!

For an avid amateur, I’m exceedingly pleased to share another Whisky Lady in India milestone!!

When I reached 100 posts with 100 whiskies, I couldn’t believe it was possible. Then 200 posts, 300 posts… and today 500 posts! Clearly whisky tasting and sharing of these experiences is no accident…

Who would have thought it?

When a group of friends first came together in 2011 in Mumbai, would we manage to keep meeting every month – even now!?

When jotting down a few notes, then sharing on Everyday Asia… became by late 2014 its own full-fledged blog “Whisky Lady in India“…

When the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai was founded mid-2015.. with our often merry slant, wry humour and pointed insight… no missish maids but women who can hold their own in any forum! Including any big boys of whisky.

When the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents joined the fray in 2016… enabling exclusive and dare I say access to wish list type whiskies. The Balblair 38 year ($1,600) or Laphroaig 21 year T5 ($2,250) come to mind…

When I attended my 1st Whisky Live in Singapore… from the Collectors Room to Master Classes and so much more…

When I went on my 1st distillery tour at the Crown Royal plant in my home province of Manitoba, Canada.

And by 2017, with three Mumbai based Whisky Clubs going strong, travels continuing to augment the adventures … I made it to a whisky distillery in my adopted home India – Paul John. Wondered at The Whisky Exchange’s Sukhinder Singh’s remarkable collection… So many more amazing opportunities, tasting events, completely unexpected club contributions and more!

So here we are…. 500 posts. Over 3,000 followers. And it feels like the fun is just beginning!!

Thank you for joining the journey!! Slainte mhath!!

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