Sunday, October 4, 2009

Not in the mood?

Does mood alter the taste of whisky? Do you taste with your eyes more than your mouth? In a blind taste test a while back not one of the D.T.W.C. members present could identify a Talisker despite everyone trying it at the inaugural meeting.

I recently dwelled on this after trying to develop some tasting notes for the Johnny Walker Green Label.* I found myself being quite critical with the J.W. Green on first tasting, but the ensuing evening I thoroughly enjoyed it? The only difference was two glasses of red wine before the second nights dram. Could the wine have impacted my senses, or merely put me in the mood for whisky?

Here are some other thoughts on circumstances where mood affects my whisky enjoyment:

(1) I guess the story above raises the question: Does whisky taste better as a digestive? Or in other words, is whisky more difficult to enjoy straight up? This could be an experiment with the next whisky club meeting. Instead of moving straight into whisky, maybe some beer or wine to compliment the meal should be enjoyed first before indulging in the single malts and blends? A comparison for the ages, digestive versus aperitif. I have no doubt some whiskys more than others are more palatable first up.

(2) Camping and the campfire: Easter this year I went away with some friends on a camping trip. Included in our supplies was a wonderful bottle of Macallan Elegancia 12yo. Whisky and the campfire, what a combination. I have read that this is not an ideal scenario for tasting, the smoke from the fire confusing the taste buds, which are unable to discern whether the smokiness is arising from the whisky or the fire. However, I found it an amazing synergy, particularly with the chill in the air. Maybe a campfire is not ideal for a formal tasting, but socially with friends it is sublime.

(3) Does packaging and the 'look' of a whisky affect your enjoyment? Clearly this must be true otherwise distillers wouldn't add caramel colouring to 'enhance' the appearance of whisky. We perceive a 21yo to have a deeper/bolder finish in the glass than a 12yo. Depending on the cask used in maturation, this may actually not be the true appearance. For example, a whisky aged in bourbon casks will not continue to darken, it will reach a peak and stop.

Taking this idea further, does a bottles shape, design and packaging affect its taste? For example, I am not a huge fan of the Glenmorangie bottle shape. Has this prejudice transcended into me also not enjoying The Original and The LeSanta tasted? One would hope not, but stranger things have happened.

(4) Whisky tastes better with company? I think we all know the answer to that one. Obviously consuming whisky with an educated group of fine up-standing individuals dedicated to the expansion of whisky knowledge leads to a better dram experience!

Are there any other circumstances where you think your whisky palette has been altered by mood? Post a comment.


* to clarify, the J.W. Green is a 15yo vatted malt, not to be confused with a blended malt