Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How I Taste Whiskey


Last week, one of the people who was trying to figure out how I could possibly have a different opinion about a whiskey than other reviewers asked me under what conditions I taste whiskey and whether there were variables that could affect the tasting and explain my obviously erroneous results.  In response, I thought I would let people in on my process.

When I'm taking tasting notes, I always use my Glencairn glass.  Not just any glass mind you, but the same glass (to eliminate the common variation one gets from different glasses), and it is always sterilized by a lab prior to my using it.

All of my tastings are done between 10:00 and 11:00 pm Pacific Standard Time (between 11:00 and 12:00 pm during daylight savings).  I have a special tasting room which keeps a constant temperature, humidity and barometric pressure.  The room has an Argon gas environment to ensure that the whiskey will not oxidize while I am pouring or tasting it.  Of course, this means that I have to hold my breath during tastings, but that is a small price to pay for consistency of results.

I don't eat for 24 hours prior to a tasting, and between tastings, I cleanse my palate with a single, low sodium Wheat Thin.

All of my notes are taken on a moleskin notebook with a number two pencil.  Scores are recorded in the same notebook but with a magenta crayon from a Crayola 64 pack.  (If anyone has any extra magenta crayons, I would be willing to trade for sets of 63 crayons, of which I have many).

Oh, and I only taste in the nude.

So you see, I have eliminated all possible external influences, as well as all of the fun from my whiskey tastings.  


26 comments:

Patrick Garrett said...

Safe to assume you don't brush your teeth either as to avoid conflicting flavors from the paste?

sku said...

Patrick, I never brush my teeth, but that's always been the case. Life is too short for proper dental hygiene.

Prior to a tasting, I gargle with Scottish water.

NP said...

any light in that argon filled room?
light might be an issue.
in the dark, using night vision. this is my secret.

sku said...

NP, light is provided by vanilla and coconut scented candles. That shouldn't be a problem should it?

NP said...

that's classic protocol. i dont see it interfering.

risenc said...

You laugh, but the master distiller at Yamazaki, Mike Miyamoto (right?), has eaten the same breakfast for 20-plus years so as not to disrupt his palate. Which is insane.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I see know why you have a inconsistency problem with your tasting methods. Argon gas, in fact, will have component changes due to sea salt, in that the saline bonding is broken, the carbon chain is relocated to the sugar compound in the alcohol, all of which, of course, will adversely affect your wood influence tastings. You really should have turned the gas off first.

sam k said...

Hahahahahahahahaha! What a whisky dick!

EllenJ said...

So YOU'RE the reason I can't find magenta crayons anymore; at least the real ones! There has been much talk within social media circles that the original Binney & Smith formulae and colors were lost in the company's tranistion to Hallmark Cards in the mid-'80s. Although a "magenta" crayon is still being produced, rumor has it that the only really collectable ones are from the days of "raw umber" (not mention "wine" and "roses").

Also, do you obtain your Argon from your own gas chromatography, or are you simply buying argon from some bulk gas distributor who has no more conception of quality control than do major spirits distillers in places like Kentucky and Indiana?

And finally, you say that your Glencairn tasting glass "... is always sterilized by a lab prior to my using it."
This disturbs me greatly, such that I cannot but wonder at the accuracy of your tasting notes. I, too, have a lab. Well, I don't personally have one, but I know a woman who does. Her name is Sandy (the lab, that is; the woman's name is Carolyn). Sandy's a yellow lab and, while her tongue can certainly clean every drop of whatever's in a Glencairn glass, I have trouble believing that result could be called "sterile" in any sense that would satisfy myself, let alone the poor ignorant writer whom you so entertainingly parodied in your post.

Loved it! Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

I only taste while sleepwalking, and only within an airlocked copper-alloy cleanroom named Lady MacBeth.

Anonymous said...

I was actually getting a good visual of your pristine tasting environment until the line when you said "I only taste in the nude". Not sure if I can ever read your blog with a straight face anymore, LOL...

Josh

BMc said...

Was this just a drawn-out way to tell the world you like to get naked when you drink? Hey, sometimes the world needs to see what you got.

BriggsSWC said...

"I don't eat for 24 hours prior to a tasting, and between tastings, I cleanse my palate with a single, low sodium Wheat Thin."

I don't know why, but this was the line that really got me giggling.

Anonymous said...

My home was constructed from peat bricks and my tasting room is a repurposed copper pot still lit by coal fire. All of my tastings are blind and all of my tasting manuscripts are composed by quill pen and invisible ink, then promptly burned upon the coal fire.

Henry Mowry said...

This was laugh out loud funny. Thank you for some great tips on another way to drink whiskey ... I need all of the excuses I can find.

Josh Feldman said...

You joke about Argon gas - but I worked in a museum once that had a Halon gas anti-fire system in the vaults. The vaults stored priceless records on paper. They couldn't risk them getting wet with sprinklers so they had Halon gas to kill the fire. If the fire alarm tripped a bunch of skull and crossbone lights would start flashing and you would have 60 seconds to evacuate before the doors would shut and all the oxygen would be displaced you would asphyxiate.

sku said...

Josh, that sounds very Mission Impossible.

Anonymous said...

WoW!!!! This was some great stuff! SKU (and most of the 'commenters') have given me about 4-minutes of shear joy reading this unmitigated drivel. My hat is off to all of you, especially SKU and Ellen. I haven't laughed this hard in quite awhile. Thanx so much.

Anonymous said...

Sku, you should head east and go to the Crayola factory in Easton, PA to load up on magenta crayons. While in the area you can get with John Hansell to discuss taste palates.

Justin Victor said...

I use the "sour glass" method for tasting annual releases. I used the same glass to taste the 2013 OFBB that I used for the 2012. Unwashed from last years tasting of course. I figure it promotes consistency yesterday to year.

Justin said...

Year to year that is

Macdeffe said...

Hmm. So when LAWS have serious group tastings you all sit naked around a table ? I was gonna move to LA to join, but suddenly got a better idea :-)

AaronWF said...

The most common tasting notes I come across when tasting from a glass that has recently been sterilized by my lab are damp hair, canine crotch and dog food. I can't leave whisky out in the open with coming back to a sterilized glass. She really has gotten a taste for the stuff.

Tim Read said...

Steffen, the time you, Steve, Adam and I had some drinks at Steve's place, we'd agreed to stay clothed just because we didn't want to shock you. LAWS learned long ago that clothing really messes up formal tastings. I can't imagine how awful Brorageddon would be if you'd made the mistake of having a cotton shirt on.

Anonymous said...

Nude first, drink second...this newbie has it all backwards

Anonymous said...

Great post! No wonder I find your reviews so helpful. Thanks for keepping it all in perspective! By the way, check on how the lab disinfects your glass. I usedto have my retriever disinfect mine by licking out the remnants of the prior tasting, but the vet told me that while his mouth was cleaner than mine, it didn't quite work as a disinfectant. But I dont trust a doctor's opinion on whiskey since they stopped prescribing Old Forester.