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  • Belly up to the Bar - Part 2: The Nose Knows

    I’ve heard one man say that nosing a whiskey is like chasing a woman. The expectation is usually far more fun than the reality. Of course, this was a burly but crusty old master distiller who always displayed the pallor of unremitting constipation.
     
    Conversely, we here at Reservoir find discovering the aromas in our Glencairn glasses to be equally as appealing as the actual taste. It’s like unwrapping a present. The bows, paper, and colors wholly add to the finished product.
     
    Moving forward from part one of our whiskey tasting series, find yourself a tulip shaped glass. And because not everyone cleans their glassware with equal care, rinse the glass in warm water, running your CLEAN fingers around the rim and inside, ensuring you’re ridding the glass of residual contaminants that might affect the aromas and tastes. Lavender liquid detergent and whiskey do not mix.
     
    Pour a measure of the spirit into the glass, and if you’re feeling as frolicsome and portentous as Master Blender of Scotch “The Nose” Richard Paterson, then violently throw that dram out of the glass and onto the floor. It’s flashy, suggests you’re either out of your mind or a serious professional, and according to Paterson, rids the glass of impurities.
     
    There is a difference of opinion regarding the next step. Some say swirl the liquid, others insist you keep it flat.
     
    Those that swirl believe the whiskey needs to aerate: to help the alcohol leave the glass—and it’s the alcohol that will carry the aromas to your nose, so this is important.
     
    Those who maintain the method of keeping it flat feel that whiskey, being 40% + alcohol needs no help evaporating, and by swirling, you’re pushing all of the aromas out of the glass at once, making it more difficult to identify the individual nuances.
     
    Further research on the subject finds consensus that the alcohol leaves the liquid in layers, and each layer reveals something different. Give each method a try and see what works best for you.
     
    This next step helps me distinguish scents that exist in the glass that I might not get otherwise:
    Dip a finger into the liquid and rub the whiskey onto the back of your hand. Wave your hand in the air to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Now sniff that patch. The aromas are much clearer. If you detect leafy, grassy or malty notes, the whiskey is probably fairly young. Darker scents, like chocolate and spices may signify something more mature.
     
    Now again, we find differing advice for where to place your nose to obtain a profound experience. Some distillers pass over the glass quickly, others try to insert their entire face.
     
    I find three deep sniffs in rapid succession has been a good rule. The first sniff, your nose prickles with the recognition of alcohol. The second sniff usually identifies the sweet, and the third, fruit. It’s on the back of the third that I find other aromas: the smoke, brine, molasses. It can be entirely different for you.
     
    The challenge now is to identify those aroma components more specifically—if you wish to train your nose.
     
    Sweet, is a broad term, but you can train to recognize particular forms of sweet with practice. Sweet like chocolate? With dark notes coming through? Sweet like honey? Like vanilla? Like flowers? What kind of flowers?
     
    The same is true for other aromas. It doesn’t just have to be smoke. It could be smoke from tobacco, or toast, or tarry-like. Dive into the next layer and pause to ponder. It’s typically difficult to articulate what you smell but cannot see.
     
    Oftentimes distilleries will provide a general framework on the back of the bottle or box for what the distillers have identified. Here at Reservoir, we go to great lengths on our website to provide you extensive details on what you may be discovering.
     
    If you’re really interested in pursuing the training of your nose further, you can buy a whisky nosing kit. They’re marvelously helpful and great fun if you’ve got a small gathering of friends who want to enjoy the game of organoleptic analysis—or, in laymen's terms, identifying what scents are in each small vial.
     
    Most people have no idea how much their noses contribute to the enjoyment of food and drink. The nasal olfactory system should be applauded and held in high esteem for all that it provides.
     
    We’re not saying you should make a sketch of your appendage to tape on the fridge, but don’t turn up your nose at recognizing its contribution. Every whiskey connoisseur nose it’s important!
     
    Shelley Sackier—Director of Distillery Education
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  • Belly up to the Bar - Part 3: We've got Proof

    When someone first discovers I’m a besotted fan of whiskey, I see a slow reassessment of my character slide across their face. Their eyes widen, brows arch, and I can almost hear the reel of film footage whirring in their heads.
     
    But this is where most people get it wrong. I’m not a leather-clad extra at the bar in some Clint Eastwood film who slugs back a few before getting on her bike to peel out of the parking lot.

    I’d never wear leather. Maybe a breezy sundress.
     
    In earnest, learning how to taste whiskey is an experience most folks want to savor. If your knees are knocking because you’re about to enter stage left for the first time, or you’re preparing to propose and are uncertain of the likely response, I suggest you choose a less expensive form of liquid courage.
     
    Since whiskey strength varies from bottle to bottle, the correct alcoholic percentage for receiving the greatest flavors from the spirit is an ongoing debate. The majority of bottles residing on my shelves fall somewhere between 80-100 proof, unless they’re labeled as cask strength, in which they will possess the markings of 100-130 proof.
     
    This will surely scrape the tartar off your teeth.
     
    Here at Reservoir, we have our entry level “90,” our standard “100,” and then bottles all the way up to “107.” Proofs you can play with by adding water until you find your sweet spot.
     
    The industry standard for barrel filling is about 125 proof, but during maturation, the spirit –depending upon the aging conditions within the warehouse—can either lose strength to evaporation or even increase in proof (again, to evaporation). (We’ll cover these fascinating bits in another post with all the “sciencey” details.)
     
    Just before bottling, a distillery usually chooses to add water to set the proof where they feel the spirit shines. Here at Reservoir, we nail our three founding spirits at 100 proof, so that you, the consumer, can then play with the alcohol strength that suits you best, allowing you to identify all the whiskey has to offer without anesthetizing your taste buds.
     
    So much for the lesson in percentages. Now let’s get down to the business of categorization and consumption.
     
    If you’ve followed the two posts before this one (where in part one you learned about whiskey color, and part two gave you a clue as to just how amazing your nose is) you should be pumped and prepared to finally make use of your tongue.
    After making note of what strength your whiskey is, play with it. Water (pure distilled is best) helps to release aromas. Some whiskies swim better than others. Add a few drops at a time. Too much will break down the whiskey’s structure. If your tongue prickles when the liquid passes over it, feel free to add more.
     
    Now take a sip, but don’t immediately swallow. Some experts advise you to swish the whiskey around all the parts of your mouth: upper tongue, below your tongue, cheeks and roof of the mouth. Others suggest you chew it a few times.
    Long ago, when first learning, I was instructed to take a sip and make a cup out of my tongue, allowing the spirit to rest there. Then I was told to open my mouth slightly and pull air over the surface of my tongue and the liquid, finally letting my breath flow back out my nose and mouth.
     
    I choked a lot until I got the hang of it. Initially, much of the liquid kept violently splattering out of my mouth (and nose) so you might want to practice on your own—in private.
     
    You should be asking yourself the same questions as in part two where you’re attempting to identify aromas. What is your tongue recognizing? After you swallow (which you can go ahead and do now), your nose will participate in helping with the task of identification.
     
    The delivery of the whiskey’s flavors will happen at different times and in different places within your mouth, but we’ll talk more about that in part four.
     
    Finally, notice the mouth feel, the texture and the length of the delivery.
     
    These terms might seem foreign at first, but with a little bit of pleasurable practice, they’ll be as comfortable as old winter slippers.
     
    Ultimately, we want you to remember that this is supposed to be fun. Except when it comes out of your nose. That would never happen in a Clint Eastwood film either.
     
    ~Shelley Sackier—Director of Distillery Education
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  • The Golden Thread of Connection

    If I look to the past through the lens of Reservoir, I’m taken aback at all our company has muscled through. Like so many of you, we shared the same struggles of a great internal restructuring. When the pandemic gripped our communities, we were blinded by the work involved in petitioning for fiscal aid, keeping our employees safe, and the deep desire to help others who faced hardships worse than our own.
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