Five Whiskey Tasting Surprises

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Expect These Unexpecteds At Your Next Whisk(e)y Tasting

By Richard Thomas

Let’s say you are going to your first tasting of Bourbon or Irish or Scotch or some mix therein. Or, perhaps, let’s say you are going to your first such event after a gap of a few years. You will probably find a few things, pleasant and unpleasant, that will defy expectations and surprise you. It might be on the table and it might be in who is attending, and it might be refreshing or unwelcome, but if you haven’t been doing tastings regularly and recently, at least one of the following will catch you as new.

1. Newbies: Don’t Underestimate Nosing
As tastings have become more regular and widespread, they have become more refined to reflect the rising veteran status of the crowd. It’s just scientific fact that more of what is in whiskey can be detected with your nose than with your tongue, so don’t neglect swishing and sniffing. Treat being that the tasting as at least as much an opportunity to train your olfactory senses as a chance to drink some nice hooch.

2. The Ladies Are Front And Center
It’s not just that more and more women are coming to whiskey tastings; they are the ones leading them too. Parallel with the number of women entering the ranks of the industry’s distillers and blenders are a rising tide of women brand ambassadors as well. This is so much the case that it’s a cliche to say that whiskey isn’t just a boys club anymore, but nonetheless a lot of boys are still surprised by how much this is the case. So, expect ladies both in the crowd and behind the podium.

3. Brace Yourself For A Big, Stiff Dose Of Snobbery
One of the things I find most amusing about attending public tastings is that while some people have read my work and know my name, they don’t know what I look like. So, I’m often treated to the amusing spectacle of a whiskey snob relating to me all manner of militantly-held facts, half of them falling into the category of “alternative facts” (i.e. dead wrong). Whiskey is so popular these days that snobs seem to come at you like army ants too, and these days they might come in a hoodie, a little black dress, attired in tweedy professor wear, or look like they just walked off the streets of Williamsburg.

4. Offerings Are Often Wider And Deeper
Another thing that has come out of tastings and whiskey becoming more popular is the need to offer up something new. This is what drove many to put an emphasis on Japanese whisky a few years back, for example. There was always excellent Japanese whisky out there, but it was only when a handful of writers and experts needed to serve up something new to a growing base of consumers that it received real media attention.

The (archtypal) Snob

Snobs come in so many shapes and sizes these days…
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Yet in addition to the need to find the novel and serve it up at a tasting, more genuinely good stuff is percolating to the top out of the craft scene. This past year saw several small distilleries in America offer their first Bottled in Bond expressions (or the near equivalent), and the days when croakers could scoff “all craft whiskeys suck!” are now well and truly over.

More whiskies from other countries are getting their due as well. Thanks to the popularity of distilleries like Sweden’s Mackmyra, India’s Amrut and Australia’s Sullivans Cove, more attention is being paid to truly international whiskies. It is now very easy to put on a worthwhile tasting of malt whiskies from around the world and show more than just Scotland, Ireland and Japan, and the same might be said of Bourbon (or rather Bourbon-like) whiskey in the very near future.

5. It’s More About The Paring Now
Another thing being done to make tastings novel and different is to make it all about the pairing. Tullamore Dew is doing a promotional tour in America right now, stopping in at craft breweries to take their whiskeys in for a localized “beer and shot” pairing. Food is another obvious one, and can cover ground from cheeses to curries. I’ve even attended a tasting where the theme was pairing whisky and music!

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