Being able to taste with a walking encyclopedia has its merits and Dave Hughes took the team through the basics of tasting Do’s and Don’ts.

tasting whisky mag south africa glass educationStep one – is a Don’t… don’t vigorously swirl the whisky in the glass as you would wine. Leave it idle since the aromatics are important – and delicate – and you don’t want those escaping as you agitate the glass violently.

Do start with nostrils slightly above the glass and then gradually get your nose into the bowl, inhaling gently and noting the aromas you encounter. “If you want to – and you’re brave enough – take a small sip of the neat spirit,” said Hughes. “But it’s then important to add a bit of water – the amount is up to you… a few drops, a teaspoon, whatever suits you. That water is going to help unlock the whisky a little bit more – so nose and taste it again.” Hughes had brought along a thermometer and pointed out that the whisky was at room temperature – 21°C – when poured. The second the water (also at room temp!) was added the temperature of the whisky in the glass jumped two degrees – up to 23°C – indicating that a chemical reaction was taking place.

Then taste the whisky again and note the flavours. It’s also recommended to spit if you’re tasting more than just one or two whiskies. “It’s scientifically proven that there’s a certain amount of alcohol absorbed into your system even if you don’t swallow. And with drink driving legislation what it is nowadays, it’s important to be responsible about tasting.” He also made the observation that few folks ever drink whisky neat. You drink it at your preferred dilution. There’s no golden rule or right or wrong way.