Get the gang together for a dram

A tulip-shaped glass works best for tasting scotch. PHOTO: Creative Commons

Scotch lovers enjoy getting together for a dram or two to compare notes. In fact, lots of folks actually focus an evening around it. You don’t need to be an expert to throw a good Scotch tasting party. Here’s how.

First and foremost, know your audience and cater to their level of knowledge. Generally speaking, single malts provide more unique and distinct characters (smells and tastes) than blended versions. In blended Scotch, the differences are more vague and harder to decipher.

For beginners, have a wider range of styles so the tasters can discover what type of Scotch they might enjoy most. You might mix blended and single malts so the novice can get an understanding of the two main categories.

For Scotch lovers with intermediate knowledge, try serving one from each main Scotch region (Highlands, Lowlands, Campbeltown, Speyside, Islay) and compare styles. The advanced Scotch fan would probably best appreciate focusing on a particular region and sampling several from different distilleries.

No matter what level of knowledge, limit the number of samples. It is not wine and the alcohol levels are extremely high (at least 40 per cent), so sipping responsibly is the key. You sure don’t want your tasters getting tipsy. Besides, the higher alcohol content of this spirit will overwhelm and numb the palate very quickly if too many are offered. Four to six samples should suffice.

The next point of importance is the type of glass to use. Make sure you use glass, not plastic. For personal enjoyment, any glass style will do, but for tasting, or more specifically sniffing, a “nosing glass” works best. This is a tulip-shaped glass that enables guests to better identify and appreciate the flavours and aromas of the Scotch. It’s also classier than a short, squat glass that the spirit is usually served in. These glasses often come with their own lids that are placed on the top of the glasses to keep the aromatics in. If no lids, any covering will do! When it comes to pour sizes, don’t get carried away. Remember the alcohol content. No more than 1.5 – 2 ounces per sample is needed.

Set the number of spots at a table to accommodate the number of tasters and place a white sheet of paper under the glasses. Pre-pour the samples and place the lids on the glasses. To make notes, provide paper and pens. You might consider handing out pre-printed sheets set up with categories such as colour, smell, age, body, finish and general impression.

A pitcher of filtered water should be made available as well. Most experts agree that adding a few drops of water can really bring out the flavours and aromas in a Scotch. It also helps dilute the alcohol so its attack on the nose is less aggressive. No ice though! Real Scotch enthusiasts never consider adding ice to their spirit.

Finally, have food available for after the tasting to match to the Scotch. Food also counterbalances the alcohol. Be careful not to choose any that will clash with the spirit. Cheeses (soft brie, hard sharp cheddar), flavoured chocolates (cayenne, orange, sea salt), citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit), orchard fruits (apples, pears), honeyed, spicy or savory snacks (potato chips, pretzels, crackers) or deli meats (meatballs, cold cuts) all work well.

This event makes for a sophisticated evening full of interesting conversation and great taste.

Edward Finstein is a wine writer, award-winning author, TV and radio host, educator, judge

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