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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Tasting tip for Asia – How to cool your whisky…

There are times when we sip, dissect our impressions, discuss and then look at the official whisky tasting notes and simply scratch our heads in puzzlement.

Now before you think this is only because of overly creative marketing speak, there is another element in the equation that needs to be considered.

Temperature.

Let’s face it… Scotland’s average temperature is 15°C… And Mumbai? 30°C…

Which does indeed have an impact on your whisky tasting experience.

Hence why the standard way of serving in India is “on the rocks” with generous number of ice cubes. But that can “shock” a whisky and for some, it is a complete sacrilege!

As an alternative to killing a whisky’s nuance with chunks of ice, we’ve tried:

  • Those “rocks” that you freeze and then are supposed to cool your whisky… trust me, they warm up so quickly there is nearly no impact! Useless in a place like Bombay…
  • Cooling the whisky by keeping it in the fridge before serving… this actually works for a few minutes however soon enough the ambient temperature takes its toll. What we haven’t tried is storing our whisky bottle in a bucket of ice as we continue our evening…
  • Norlan glass is supposed to help keep the whisky from warming in your hands… yet when your starting point is hot? We have also found there is quite a different tasting experience between Norlan and Glencairn glasses overall with some whiskies much better suited to one or the other type of glass

Any other options?

Enter a ‘tip’ from Murray Campbell, Bruichladdich’s Brand Ambassador for Asia…

Here is his ‘recipe’ for dealing with the warmer climes of Asia:

  • Take two glasses
  • Fill one to the top with ice then water
  • In the other glass, pour your preferred whisky – neat!
  • Take a “shot” of the ice cold water, hold it in your mouth for a few seconds then swallow
  • Then enjoy your whisky
  • Alternate between cooling your mouth with the ice water and quaffing your whisky

In other words, “If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain!”

What a clever idea Sir-ji!

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10 tips for whisky hosting

While our original tasting group has perfected the art of hosting whisky tasting sessions, my new group of fabulous women are mostly new to hosting structured tasting sessions.

Lining up for some serious tasting!

So with our whisky ladies in mind, I put together a ‘how to’ for hosting with flair and panache!

  1. Capacity – Start with how many people can comfortable sit around a circle to discuss, debate, swish, swill, swallow and kibbitz together… if you have too many split around the room, that’s more of a party than tasting. Yet too few and you miss out on the fun of different impressions and reactions.
  2. Diversity – The best whisky tasting group has a range of palates and perspectives. How boring would it be to all pontificate in unison?
  3. Scents – If you have novice whisky samplers coming, it is advisable to let them know any strong perfumes are a ‘no no’ as it interferes with the whisky aromas. Ditto for you as a host – including those gorgeous flowers or spicy cooking smells.
  4. Whisky selection

    Whisky selection

    Contributions – Decide how the whiskies will be selected and in which order. Personally, I prefer no more than 3 samples per evening. I also prefer to have a theme behind the sampling journey.

  5. Glasses – I have a distinct preference for either Glencairn or tulip glasses. We’ve tried other options and they just don’t work as well. If possible, it is ideal to have one glass per whisky per person. If not, then just rinse between whiskies.
  6. Presentation – Do you wish to taste blind, then reveal the whisky? Display each whisky openly, sharing stories as you sample? Either works!
  7. Palate cleansers – During the tasting, should only have cucumber or bread sticks / crackers with minimal salt and no other flavours to influence. Best are simple oat cakes, but not everyone goes to the effort of making or finds them easy to acquire.

    Sampling Glenfarclas in Hong Kong

    Whisky + water…

  8. Water – Everyone should have their own water glass to liberally consume – particularly between whiskies. There should also be water jars to refill, rinse glasses, etc. Plus it is ideal to have a couple pipettes or droppers to control adding just 2-3 drops of water to a whisky.
  9. Spittoon – Whether you follow the ‘spit the 1st sip‘ adage or not, it is still good to have a bowl to dump excess whisky and water from rinsing glasses, etc.
  10. Food – The best approach is guests come after having already lined their tummy before tasting – a soup with bread is a great base. However if that isn’t possible, it is good to greet with something light, no strong flavours, just to coat the belly and get the taste buds revved up for the whisky goodies to come! Post tasting, if not dispersing immediately, feel free to get creative, playing around with foods you think will pair well with whiskies! Just refer back to #3 on scents – ideal is to time your food order to arrive when you expect to finish  tasting.

Anyone else have simple tips for organising a whisky tasting evening?

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