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Drink Like a Pro

March 5, 2010

A few months ago I wrote about the importance of actually trying to savor spirits in the mouth before swallowing them in a post entitled “How to Drink.” As obvious as it sounds, you would be surprised how many people just knock them back.

Please read it so that you will understand why I cringe whenever I hear the words “smooth” or “sharp” as descriptors of a wine or distilled spirit.  I promise that if you adopt my suggestions, you will help make the world a better place.

Let’s call that post a 101.

There is another critical component to tasting spirits that needs to be addressed, and that is the importance of smelling what is in your glass.  My spirit guide F. Paul Pacult has a stunning process that he employs when tasting spirits, and since I mention him and his reviews periodically, I thought it only makes sense to let you know how he comes up with those marvelous descriptions.

I do not know if you have ever attempted to deeply inhale the smells being released from a glass of whiskey.  It can be an eye-opening, sinus-burning experience.  There is a trick used by professionals, which involves keeping your lips slightly parted, and taking in as much air through your mouth as you are through your nose.

Personally, I’d rather live with the burn and get the full olfactory impact of the aromatics.  But then again I’m not generally trying to professionally evaluate six different spirits in two hours.

Like wine, spirits can open up and evolve in the glass.  Do not mistake this as saying that spirits can age and evolve in the bottle, as 99.9% do not.  But like wine, sometimes a fine spirit needs a bit of aeration (AKA swirling) to express itself fully.

And when I say a lot, I mean a lot.

Part of Pacult’s process is nosing a spirit four times.  He calls each of these sniffing sessions “passings”. The first passing is immediately after the spirit is poured into a narrow stemmed wine glass.  After that comes a few minutes of vigorous swirling followed by the second pass.  Then it is back to the aeration, until it’s time for the third pass.  Same deal for the fourth pass as well.  In total he spends ten to twelve minutes coaxing out and identifying the smells within the glass.

It’s a lot of work, and it requires a lot of patience.  I respect Mr. Pacult deeply for his diligence and commitment to his craft.

Still you may ask yourself, “Wait.  If I have to go through some whole rigmarole to get my scotch to smell like honey, does it really smell like honey?”

It’s a fair point.

The thing is, even without the aeration, if you just lingered over the glass of scotch for long enough, those idiosyncrasies might reveal themselves on their own.  The problem is that most people will not take the time.

So the flavors are in there.  And it is very possible that trying to find them and identify them will enhance your enjoyment of the spirit.  On the other hand, if you find the entire process obnoxious and snobbish and it diminishes your enjoyment, by all means go back to drinking in the way that gives you pleasure.

The good news is that you do not have to go through the professional taster’s entire regimen to appreciate fine spirits.

But you do need to smell what’s in your glass before taking a sip.  And you should dedicate some time to the effort too.  If there isn’t much to smell, then you can try to shake some of the aromatics free with as much aeration as you can get away with in a social setting.

The key is to try and employ all your senses as much as possible.

After taking a couple of sips and thinking about how the spirit actually tastes, you may consider doing a second round of aeration and smelling.  But that’s all.  After two passes your work is done, and you can kick back and relax in the knowledge that you are drinking like a pro.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2010 8:18 pm

    i am planning on adding to my “cabinet” later this week…any suggestions will be very welcomed :)

  2. May 15, 2011 10:06 am

    Great article! Since I have hard time picking out the subtleties in a spirit, I go through this exact process every time. It definitely adds to my enjoyment, and it slows me down so that I don’t drink too much. Writing about it adds to my enjoyment as well. There have been occasions when the first sip was less than stellar, but time and patience brought me around. Drink less, but drink better and smarter!


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