A classic Manhattan cocktail is made with blended whiskey, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters and a maraschino cherry. Photo courtesy Cherry Marketing Institute.
THALIA DEMAKES is a freelance writer.
Updated November 2009
Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Cocktails & Spirits
Page 6: Preparing For The Tasting
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Preparing For The Tasting
Almost as important as selecting the whiskey itself is creating an environment with the necessary conditions to make it conducive for ultimate exploration of the senses.
- Pick A Time: The best time of day to hold any tasting is in the morning, when taste buds are at their freshest. Since many professionals access whiskey on a daily basis and find the habit of drinking before noon repulsive, they often rely on nosing the whiskey in order to conduct their research. You can certainly hold a tasting in the late-afternoon or evening if you don’t happen to be a morning person.
- Create The Mood: As a general rule, it is best to refrain from having any products with strong odors in the area where the tasting will take place. Avoid wearing perfume, cologne, scented cosmetics, lotions or hair products that will overpower the whiskey. Give guests a heads-up so they can prepare accordingly, and ask they be cautious of bringing smells from outside in. It is best to avoid cooking with strong spices—especially curry—before a tasting. And while fireplaces and wood stoves provide warmth and charm, it is best not to light them, as they will only sabotage the senses and detract from the success of your event.
- Set The Tone: It is suggested that tasters abstain from activity that could potentially affect the relevant senses for at least 30 minutes before the tasting is held. Advise guests that they should not brush their teeth, chew gum, eat mints, use mouthwash or partake in any other activities that could interfere with an accurate reading. Smoking and drinking espresso are also included in the list of no-no’s. While smoking does not inhibit the ability for smokers to fully taste and smell a whiskey, it can greatly interfere with the senses of non-smoking tasters, who may have difficulty detecting characteristics in the whiskey due to the intense aroma.
- Prepare A Tasting Arena: Whether you choose to hold a more formal tasting, where guests sit around a dining table, or a more casual setting, in which guests are encouraged to stand and socialize, the area where you set up shop is important in the success of the tasting. Decide whether you would prefer to have a blind tasting, or if you would rather display each bottle of whiskey in plain sight.
- Provide Tools: It is a good idea to have a supply of paper and pens handy so that tasters can write down descriptions of the whiskey samples they taste as they go along. Familiarize guests with the steps to writing tasting notes. According to Charles MacLean, there are nine of them. At the top, there should be a section for making note of the distillery/brand, age and strength of the whiskey. Next, there should be a space for the following descriptions: Appearance (color, texture and clarity); Aroma: straight (intensity on a scale of 1-5, nose-feel, and cardinal aromas); Aroma: diluted (primary aromas, secondary aromas, development); Flavor (mouthfeel, primary taste, overall flavor, and finish). At the bottom of the card, leave room for general comments, and a space for the overall score. You may want to create a template and prepare several tasting-note cards. Have them ready for your guests upon their arrival.
- Offer Food: It is a fact that most people get hungry when they drink, so it would be kind of you to have something for your guests to nibble on after the tasting concludes. Offer a selection of cheese and crackers with fruit. Or if it is later in the evening, offer a few desserts to end things on a sweet note. Your guests will be thrilled to have been invited to the tasting, and they will appreciative that you took time to take care of their stomachs as well.
Go To Page 7: Conducting The Tasting
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