The art of dramming

A few simple tips to get the most from your whisky

First published in MUDL Magazine.

As it appeared.

As it appeared.

Questions about whisky don’t come more vital, or more common, than this one – how should you drink it? The response will likely have an immediate and direct impact on your enjoyment of this fine spirit. Much of it comes down to personal preference, but here are a few guidelines which should help you to get the most from your whisky:

– Add a measure of water (bottled, not the chlorinated stuff from the tap). Water breaks down the congeners (flavour bearing fatty acids) in whisky thereby opening up its flavour, a phenomenon known amongst whisky lovers as “releasing the serpent”. The rough rule of thumb is to add the same volume of water as whisky, or less. If you want to do it right then beg yourself this nifty device – called “The Tilter” – from Bowmore Distillery; it’s a water dispenser issuing either drops from one spout or a gentle flow from the other.

– Use ice (made using bottled water) with circumspection. Cold, with its numbing, mildly anaesthetic properties, is a flavour inhibitor. Ice also results in rapid, uncontrolled dilution. If you must have ice then I’d suggest you favour ice-balls – with their reduced surface area relative to a block these are characterised by a slower melt.

Scottish folklore suggests that we should drink our whisky at the temperature of an old-fashioned parlour room. Here, under the hot African sun, where temperatures differ from Scotland somewhat, I’ve found that the addition of a small measure of cold water is enough to compensate quite nicely.

Postscript 18/05/2014: New suggestion – crushed ice. Great control over portion size, teaspoon by teaspoon. Melts quickly. Perfect for the hot summer.

– Don’t mix whisky. Actually, let me qualify this – don’t mix premium or aged whisky. Even the most expert tasters can’t appreciate the nuances of a great whisky if it’s been doused by coke, lemonade and the likes. Stick to the less expensive fare when mixing whisky and making cocktails; anything else is a waste.

– Nose your whisky. There are 32 primary aromas, as compared to only four primary tastes. A good whisky has so much more to offer than what can be enjoyed on the palate alone. You should seize the opportunity to explore this “hidden” dimension. Use a glass with a tapered rim to concentrate the vapours and leave your mouth open to enhance your olfactory abilities.

Postscript 18/05/2014: I’ve recently learned that this idea of 32 primary aromas is an invention – a plausible fabrication that has gathered momentum and been repeated so often that it’s somehow entrenched itself as the conventional whisky wisdom. My recent discovery comes courtesy of former whisky blogger Kevin Erskine.  In this case it doesn’t really matter – it doesn’t change the principle that I’m trying to substantiate; whether it’s 32, 20, 89 or any other significant number…the point is that aromas offer additional insight into and enjoyment of the flavours of a whisky. I say that to defend my advice, but not to defend myself. The lesson here is to question the facts and challenge assumptions. Is that as trite as it sounds? I think I need to add – to a reasonable extent. I should, strictly speaking, actually be verifying all of Erskine’s assertions as well, but that’s not realistic; if I had to do this consistently I’d never get anything done. It’s a lesson to stay alert nevertheless and engage a bit more common sense in sniffing out what is and is not legitimate.

Enjoy and may the dram be with you!


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