How to taste Single Malt Scotch

I like to say that ever since I was a little boy I have been groomed to like and drink single malt scotch.  Yes it’s expensive.  Yes it is considered a connoisseurs drink.  But if enjoyed properly there is nothing like it.

While I was growing up my dad loved single malt scotch.  He was quick to keep me in line by telling me “Scotch can only be named as such if it is distilled in Scotland.” Of course I was merely a boy so I didn’t care.  Then I turned 19 and it was legal for me to drink in Ontario.  But I hated Scotch.  It tasted like alcohol and I wanted to mix it with something.    It was a trip to Deerhurst resort when I was 24 that took me over the hump.  I was parked in a huge leather chair, the piano was playing at the bar and I decided now was the time.  I went to the bar and asked the bartender for a recommendation.  Naturally he recommended the most expensive scotch on the menu and said it was his favourite.  So after ordering two glasses of The Macallan 18 yr old ($189.99 at the LCBO) my bill was way more than I had anticipated… but I was a scotch drinker.

So for those who didn’t grow up in a Scotch household or didn’t have the Deerhurst Resort experience above, here are a few tasting notes on how to enjoy single malts.

  1. Get the right Scotch.  Single Malt Scotch of any kind will do.  Be prepared to spend $50 – $60 a bottle.  If enjoyed properly however, it will last.
  2. Get the right glass.  Tulip glasses are preferred as are bottom heavy tumblers or bottom heavy snifters.  All will do as they allow you to swirl the drink in the bottom sending the aroma’s out the top.
  3. Pour yourself a glass.  1 – 3 ounces only.  No more.
  4. Add a touch of water.  Preferably not tap water.  Note that you are not mixing with water so when I say add a touch I mean a touch.  Use an eye dropper if you have to.  If you think about the smallest amount you can add… add less.  The water helps to release the aromas of the drink.  It add’s nothing to the flavour.
  5. Take a good look at the scotch noting it colour and characteristics.  All scotches will be slightly different in appearance, smell and taste so take a second to notice them all.
  6. Smell the scotch.  However unlike wine there is no need to swirl the scotch in the         glass excessively to release the aromas.  Scotch aromas are powerful and if you swirl it and get your nose right in there the alcohol can sometimes overpower the wonderful scents.  But do smell it.  Butterscotch, caramel, yeast, peat, barley, vanilla, and nut flavours are very common.
  7. Take your sip.  This is not a gulp but do take enough to have it hit and coat your entire tongue.
  8. Take the time to take in the flavours before you swallow.  After swallowing let the flavours settle by breathing in a few times through your nose.  You will taste the different flavours on different touch points of your tongue depending on the distillery, age and region you are tasting.  The same flavour characteristics I mentioned you might find when you smell are also common to taste.
  9. Repeat and enjoy.


– Scotch is only named as such if it is distilled in Scotland, otherwise it is simply called whisky or whiskey
– You do not mix single malt scotch with anything except water
-Take your time, taking moderate sips.  A small 1 – 3oz glass should last you about half an hour, if not more.
-You are not drinking scotch to get drunk.  If you are pre-drinking to go out for the night Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Coors Light is much cheaper.

– Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman 


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