Judging wine and liquor is sometimes viewed as nothing more than a subjective exercise in ranking according to
personal taste. Although that may sometimes be true, there are also real differences between what is good and what
is not so good, even in the area of whiskey liquor.
The best way to appreciate that is to sort through some examples. If you do, it will quickly become apparent
that while the terms used sometimes sound a little pretentious, the ranking of a good whisky is not a
Take the thirty-year-old Suntory Hibiki, for example. While the fact that one of the world's best whisky is
Japanese may be surprising, there are good reasons it achieved that rank.
The Suntory has a mouth feel that puts it among the smoothest competitors. Warm, dry and with hints of aniseed
it is almost sweet, like a liqueur. The carmelized fruit hints contribute to that. Yet, the deep oak aroma with a
hint of walnuts and beeswax keep it from going over the edge.
If you think that is all marketing hype, try this little experiment.
Take a large shot glass and pour about 25-50 ml into it. Swirl the glass very gently and let the aromas waft to
your nose from a distance of a few inches. You will probably smell the cask and then, if you move a little closer,
a hint of licorice which is the aniseed going to work.
Now layer a little bit of the liquid on the tongue. Move it around slowly. You will find it hard to resist
swallowing, but if you want to sample multiple whiskys within a day, it is essential to spit. Just like the
professionals, you will find that with only a little bit of experience, you are able to pick out smoke, apple skins
and other hints that are definitely there.
Now let us try the same exercise with a fine scotch.
You may have your favorite, but here we will outline some of the aspects of the truly fine 18-year old Dewar's
Founders' Reserve. It is true that this liquor sells for a bit more than the average grocery store brand. However,
in case you think that is just more marketing at work, pay heed before you pay money.
Taking a whiff as before and you will discover a certain nuttiness that is halfway between almonds and walnuts.
Since there is no such nut, it can only be sensed. Get a little closer and you will sense the lemony aspect of the
Take a sip and let it evaporate over the tongue and palate. You should be able to sense the raspberry notes with
hints of smoke. The finish will leave you with an aftertaste of mint and spice.
The lessons from these two examples are clear. Take your time. Get more out of whisky by sampling and paying
attention, above all, sip, do not gulp. Now go reward yourself since you are becoming quite the pro yourself