Drink Like An Artist

Let me begin by saying that I find the concept of “drinking” whisky to be misleading. The drinking of the substance is merely one small aspect of its enjoyment. Whisky is a companion that appeals to all of the senses and sensibilities. This, then, is my process.

The first thing to do on a whisky-blessed evening is admire the silhouette of the bottle. Some bottles, like Scapa’s, are breathtakingly elegant. Others, like Jura’s, are squat and serious looking. I like to think that the shape of each particular whisky’s bottle is no accident, that someone at some time in the history of that particular distillery gave consideration to the bottle and determined that that particular shape, whatever it is, best captures the character of their particular malt.

Next, pour a glass and admire the whisky’s hue. [I know that some distilleries artificially color their whiskies. This doesn’t bother me much. Again, I like to think that thought was given to way the whisky presents in-glass.] I won’t, here, talk about whisky glasses. The buying of whisky-specific glasses seems overly-burdensome and expensive. Experts will tell you that the best glass is one that curls slightly inward at the top, to capture the scent. No doubt this is true, but don’t let the absence of the perfect glass stand between you and a good dram. Use whatever you have at hand. I use a red wine glass.

Following the pour, swirl the whisky to loosen it a little and release some of its odors. Many whisky drinkers add a touch of purified water to unspool the aromas even further, but I don’t. Although the addition of water is preferred, it’s more effort than I’m willing to bear. Whisky drinking should be the opposite of tedious. I drink my whisky neat.

Over the course of the next several minutes, sniff the whisky as it opens. Nosing the glass is the most important part of the whisky experience. The dram reveals itself to you over time. In The Glenlivet 12 year for example, initial sweet notes of apple give way to undertones of small flower earthiness. In the Lagavulin 16, an initial sharp astringency succumbs to a dark smokiness.

After some time nosing, take a sip and let the liquid roll over your tongue. When you do this, attend to how it affects your various taste buds. Initially, it will burn, but don’t swallow. As with the nosing, let it reveal itself to you. You will begin to taste new flavors under the initial sensation of alcohol. What are they? Vanilla? Smoke? Wood? Try to catalogue them. Like the carefully selected tones in one of Takemitsu’s chords, appreciate how they work together to make something unexpectedly beautiful.

After you swallow, pay attention to the finish. How long does it last? What is its flavor legacy?

This is my approach. I drink whisky not as an escape, but as a reminder that there are things in this life that we should rush toward and embrace.

[Drop cap by Jessica Hische.]

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