Whether you prefer it neat, on the rocks, as a sparkling highball or a sour shot, the rule is simply to enjoy it.
However, if you get the urge to delve a little deeper, there is no need to conform to the snobbery. Elitism in the whisky world is thankfully on its way out (decaying in a stuffy, cigar-sodden peat bog if you will). Through our bespoke whisky tasting experiences we strive to engage your senses, giving you the tools to appreciate the intricacies of this magical spirit, in its purest form. Here are some tasting tips to get you started:
To get the most out of your whisky tasting, you’ll want to use a glass with a stem and a fluted shape. The shape helps to concentrate the aromas while diffusing the harsher elements and the stem ensures you don’t warm the spirit with your hands. Traditional Copita or Glencairn glasses are ideal but a wine or sherry glass will also do the job. Pour your dram and leave it to sit for a few minutes, allowing the more volatile vapours to disperse.
Unlike wine or beer, whisky is a high-strength spirit with a minimum ABV (Alcohol By Volume) of 40% so the process of nosing (smelling) and tasting needs to be a lot more delicate. Hold the glass just below your nostrils and while you breathe in, open your mouth a little (this will distribute the vapours more effectively) and move the glass from side to side.
Don’t worry if you initially just get a hit of ethanol. Keep nosing (trying one nostril and then the other) and see if you pick up the more dominant wood flavours like vanilla, stone fruit or burnt toast. For a further lesson in style and finesse, we always turn to Richard “The Nose” Paterson, an industry legend and true master of the tasting art.
Remember: high-strength alcohol. To savour that first neat taste, make sure you take a very small sip and hold it in your mouth for about 10 - 15 seconds. Swish it around, warm it up, chew on it, coat your palate with the liquid. Don’t gulp and swallow! You want to give your mouth a chance to ease into the experience. As with your first nose, you’re probably not going to taste anything other than peppery ethanol. It will get easier with practise and with the vital next step.
You may have been taught to scoff at the idea of adding water to your whisky but a small amount will do wonders for opening up your dram. Adding just a few drops will break apart the naturally present oils and release all those delectable flavours and aromas. Room temperature, good water is best and you just add a dash (about half a teaspoon). Swirl it around in your glass and observe how the liquid becomes more viscous and seems to come alive (known in Scotland as ‘releasing the serpent’). And what about ice? For maximising flavour it’s not ideal as the intense cold locks in those precious oils. For maximising enjoyment? See the opening line of this article.
Follow the same process as before: nose and take a small sip (remember to hold it in your mouth). Notice how many more aromas and complex flavours you pick up and how much easier and more enjoyable it is to take that second, third and fourth sip. If it still feels a bit overwhelming then add a few more drops of water. There are no rules. Be your own guide and you will soon find that delicious sweet spot.
Lastly, have fun with the process! Use this whisky tasting guide to experiment with new expressions, to compare between similar whisky styles or to host your own blind tasting. We guarantee that if you spend a little bit of time getting to know and understand your favourite dram, you will be rewarded with a fantastic sensory experience.
Science-based research has proven that planning or anticipating an exciting event can be “a powerful, positive emotion that can help us live happier lives.” Sounds good to us. And since events are scarce at the moment, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to help you plan and throw your own whisky tasting party! After all, a mental-health boost during lock-down seems essential and who are we to argue with the science?
Here is our 5-step guide to hosting your own whisky tasting party at home. The best part? With our pre-packaged TWR Box (a fully kitted whisky tasting set), the hard work has already been done (choosing a theme, picking and purchasing the perfect selection of bottles, pretty packaging) so all you need to focus on is the fun-stuff:
Step 1: The Guest-list
The first point to consider when planning your whisky tasting party is that each guest will need a seat and enough flat table-space in front of them for the mat (roughly A4-sized) and glassware. Once you’ve determined whether your ottoman can safely accommodate someone’s rear (or a sturdy tray), decide how many people you can invite, list the names, narrow them down and finalise.
Step 2: Glassware
Our TWR Box doesn’t include glassware but that doesn’t mean you need to invest your next paycheck in high-quality crystal. Simply use the glasses you have at home! We find wine glasses work best (anything with a fluted shape) or use some tumblers. Just make sure you have enough glasses to match the number of samples each box contains so that you can pour them all out.
Of course, you’re more than welcome to go pro and purchase official whisky tasting glasses for the event. Boxes of six crystal Glencairn-shaped glasses are available right here. And if you’re feeling generous, they would make phenomenal party favours for your guests to take home!
Step 3: Order your Boxes
Once you know how many guests will be taking part and whether you’d like to purchase any glassware, head to our online store and place your order. Remember that each participant will need one box. We currently have two whisky tasting themes to choose from but if you suddenly have a change of heart, there is also the option of a terrific tequila or gin tasting theme. The choice is yours!
Step 4: Food
A little-known fact about which food pairs well with whisky: literally anything. Despite what you may have read or heard, there are no set rules when it comes to whisky and food pairing, so pick the party food you’d prefer and enjoy it. We just suggest staying away from anything with too much chilli or garlic as you don’t want to numb your palette! Our whisky tasting Box will always include a piece of soft-butter fudge to pair with the peaty expressions; it’s a killer combo.
Step 5: Unboxing & Set-Up
Delivery can take between one and four working days so plan accordingly! None of the contents are perishable so ordering a week or two before the event will ensure you get your boxes in time. It also allows you to remove the folded mat for each guest and place them under a weight to flatten out the score lines but that’s not essential, just aesthetically more pleasing. 🙂
Unboxing is so simple and the included insert card comes with detailed instructions. When all your guests are seated and you’re ready to begin, scan the QR code on the box lid to launch your presentation (use a Smart TV or air-play from your phone for a bigger screen) and enjoy the experience!
Alternatively, if you’re a group of 10 or more, we will gladly arrange a date and time to meet you online (via Teams or Zoom) and present your theme ‘live’. This is a great option for corporate functions (and the Boxes make fantastic corporate gifts). It also means we get to do what we love most: meet and interact with people who have a passion or interest in high-quality spirits and taste some exceptional whisky. It certainly fills our cup (or glass) to the brim!
June the 5th marked this year’s annual Ardbeg Day celebration and with Covid still fairly rampant across the globe, the festivities were once again broadcast online. TWR teamed up with RGBC to host an intimate event at our Wynberg warehouse, treating 20 guests to a guided tasting of six exceptional Ardbeg expressions, including the latest: SCORCH.
The evening began with a lively online exchange between two Ardbeg elites: Distillery Manager, Sir Colin Gordon (dressed in a full suit of armour), and Global Ambassador, David Blackmore (fresh off a Game of Thrones set in his Dire wolf coat). The two Scots kept us wildly entertained. Aside from their indecipherable banter and increasingly pink complexions, Sir Colin’s virtual tour of the new Stillhouse and valiant efforts to move in his costume were a true highlight.
In the build-up to the main event, guests were treated to canapés and delectably brazen penicillin cocktails, laced with Glenmorangie 10yo. It’s safe to say that young mixologist, Alex Dedekind, is a fiend behind the bar. TWR co-owner, Sean Gunns, then led an Ardbeg Q&A as we made our way through the five initial expressions provided by RGBC. These included Corryvreckan, Wee Beastie, Ardbeg Ten, Uigeadail and An Oa but it was the new release, SCORCH, that had our mouths watering in anticipation.
At last the whisky wizard himself, Dr. Bill Lumsden, materialised through the projector and adorned the warehouse wall in all his omnipotent glory. The real fun had begun! Accompanied by fellow whisky creator Gillian MacDonald, we were finally introduced to Dr. Bill’s “fire breathing beast of a dram,” SCORCH. It did not disappoint. Matured in fiercely charred ex-Bourbon American oak casks with an ABV of 46%, it packed a peaty punch, balanced beautifully with hints of salty liquorice and caramelised sugar.
The evening ended in suitably high spirits and we were thrilled to have hosted true Ardbeg fans who would, under normal circumstances, have made the annual migration to the Ardbeg Embassy in the Dullstroom.
“It was a cold and miserable Saturday on June the 5th at Wild About Whisky in Dullstroom,” reflected owner Dave Gunns. “As an Ardbeg Embassy, the prospect of another pandemic-cancelled Ardbeg Day celebration was particularly bleak… but luckily, by collaborating with The Whisky Rebellion on a separate project, we were able to provide 60 devout Ardbeggians with tasting samples (Kelpie, Grooves, Drum, Wee Beastie, Uigeadail and Scorch) coupled with an online guided tasting.”
The TWR and Wild About Whisky sample kit was a hit, as one delighted customer said, "I was absolutely blown away by the whiskies as well as the knowledge, professionalism and sincerity with which Dave presented the tasting. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable experience from start to finish!”
Despite successfully bringing a small essence of Islay to our fellow Ardbeg enthusiasts in 2021, we long to once again warm up the bagpipes, join arms for the parade, toss a sheep and clink glasses in traditional Ardbeg Day revelry. Here’s looking at you 2022, we cannot wait to see what sorcery Dr. Bill will serve up for us next. Sláinte!
Many thanks to Rob Gray (RGBC), 180 Degrees Catering, Silver Spoon Function Hire, and the Wild About Whisky team.
All gallery photos by Stephen Segal