The eternal question

The eternal question

In the latest in the series on whisky terms Dominic Roskrowlooks at the letters N and O.

Production | 18 Jan 2008 | Issue 69 | By Dominic Roskrow

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Water or no water? This is quite possibly the question asked most often by whisky converts as they set out on their journey of discovery.And it’s question with no straightforward answer.Whole chapters and even books have been written on how to appreciate whisky, and in particular malt whisky, and key to this process is nosing.The termhas not sprung up by accident.To fully appreciate whisky the nose is an indispensable tool.While taste is obviously an essential part of a process, the nose is a more sensitive conveyor of sensation than the mouth is, and can pick up hundreds of different aromas.So what is the correct way to nose?Firstly, let’s not get too prescriptive about this.The idea of nosing is to have fun – it’s not about turning whisky tasting into a university study group. So first and foremost, find a way that suits you best.This may or may not involve adding water but it’s worth pointing out that a very high percentage of people do add a small amount of water for two very good reasons.One,because the high alcohol content can burn the nose and make appreciation of any other aromas difficult.This is especially true with cask strength whiskies.And two, a small amount of water will change the molecular structure of the whisky, releasing aroma compounds and ‘opening up’the whisky.As someone once put it, a rose garden smells nicer after a spring shower.What is important to nosing whisky is the correct glass. If you try and nose whisky in a tumbler you will struggle. A glass with a narrow neck, preferably one tapering in slightly so the aromas are directed towards the nose.Glencairn Crystal manufactures an industry-approved whisky tasting glass and a number of distilleries have invested in their own version.Finally, remember that there is no right or wrong when it comes to nosing.The more you practice (and if that isn’t an invitation I don’t know what is) the easier it becomes to recognise aromas but don’t get hung up upon this.Smell is a personal thing and as long as you recognise an aroma you can describe it any way you like.Start with the obvious aromas such as the phenolic ones associated with peat, or the rich sherry notes and move on from there.ORGANIC WHISKY Organic whisky is defined as whisky made with materials that have been grown or manufactured without the use of, or contact with, chemical fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides.So it’s not enough that the barley is prepared this way – the wood used in the barrels must be organic too, and to meet the exacting standards laid down by the Soil Association that means having barrels constructed from organic wood and for all the equipment used in whisky making to be stripped down and cleaned to a set standard.Such a process was undertaken by Benromach when it made its Organic whisky and the effect of the new wood was to make a rich, almost orange liqueur-like malt that justified all the expense and effort not because it is a good gimmick – but because it’s a fine whisky.NEWMAKE SPIRIT The name given to the high strength spirit after it has completed distillation.After two distillations this will betypically in the high 60s% ABV,after a third distillation significantly higher.This spirit will have water added to it to bring it to its ideal casking strength before it is put in to the cask for maturation NOSE The aroma of whisky NOSER Person who noses whisky.Aprofessional noser will be employed by whisky companies to assess the qualityof a whiskyby nosing samples diluted by water,typically down at about 20% ABV ORGANIC WHISKY Whisky made with materials that have been grown or manufactured without the use of,or contact with, chemical fertilisers,herbicides or pesticides
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