I want you to close your eyes. No really. Just do it. Close your eyes. *To do this correctly you are going to have to read through the first few paragraphs and then go back and complete the exercise.*
Now, picture your high school sweetheart. Imagine him or her standing before you. Now imagine your first date. Where you were. The scene set out before you. The smells. The sounds. What you said to them. What they said to you. How you never thought you could love someone again as much as you loved them in that moment. Now, open your eyes.
A small minority of you are probably still in a relationship with that teen heart-throb. Most of you have moved on at least once, twice, or three times. No matter your situation, the impressions you gathered in those first moments were shattered at some point down the road. That person failed to live up to all of your hopes and dreams. You broke up and moved on. You are still together but they are different from they were then. First impressions fail. This is true for people. This is true for anything in life. This is even true for whisk(e)y.
If you have consumed whisk(e)y for a while or are a fellow obsessionist you have by now discovered the art of whisk(e)y tasting. While there are many nuanced components to a whisk(e)y tasting, the four main elements are the eye, nose, taste, and finish.
For the purpose of this piece we are going to throw out any discussion on the eye. Simply put, the way a whisk(e)y looks really plays little part (in most cases) in the overall goodness of a dram (if you’d like to discuss this point then please feel free to leave me a comment). It’s like that hot person in high school who turned out to be a shallow dimwit.
So, the first element in any good tasting is the analysis of the nose. The nose is truly the window into the soul of a whisk(e)y. It clues you in on how the other elements (taste and finish) will likely play out (with some variances of course). It has been said that one’s eyes are the window to one’s soul. Well, in similarity, the nose is the window to a whisk(e)y’s soul (although, albeit beautiful spirits, I’m very well aware whiskies don’t have souls). In the end, the nose usually tells us whether or not we’re getting into something we’re going to enjoy or we’re likely to regret purchasing it.
As we leave the nose we enter into the experience of the taste (some call this the palate). To the amateur tippler and the college sophomore, this is the Mecca of Whisk(e)y. To them in here lies Nirvana. To the tested taster it’s an important part of any proper taste and in here lies the weight of any good whisk(e)y. It’s the unfolding of all the elements. Just like the personality traits and habits from your childhood crush, the taste is going to provide you the depth and breadth of a whisk(e)y.
As the taste comes to an end we are left with the final, and yet no less important, finish. The finish is the conclusion to a whisk(e)y’s symphonic display. It can be gone in a flash or it can last for days. No matter the result, it leaves us with a final impression to the overall experience. It’s the final kiss of the night.
So, by now you are thinking, “what the heck does whisk(e)y tasting have to do with childhood infatuations?” My real point is impressions change. Just like your impressions of your young love changed over time, a whisk(e)y will change throughout the experience. Some whiskies will start off with a solid nose and will lead into a lackluster taste and end on a short, forgetful finish. Others will have a horrible beginning with a nose leaving a lot to be desired, but as you get into the taste and finish they will blow you away with taste and complexity. Still, others will be bad throughout the entire experience.
The search is always on for the whisk(e)y which will hit on all cylinders in nose, taste, and finish. The 100% rating we never see on whisk(e)y blogs. While these are rarely seen in the world of whisk(e)y, there is a silver lining (moral) to this tale.
First, don’t be fooled by first impressions. Just because a whisk(e)y does or doesn’t smell like you had hoped doesn’t mean it won’t taste or not taste amazing.
Second, searching, consuming, and tasting. One day you will find the whisk(e)y which, for you, hits on all points: nose, taste, and finish.
Last, when you find that perfect dram, don’t let it go. Just like that boy or girl who made a great first impression, had a killer personality, and stuck around for the long-haul, savor that whisk(e)y for as long as possible.
Question: What is your favorite whisk(e)y (the one that hits on all points: nose, taste, finish)? Leave your answer in the comments section. Cheers!