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Whisky beginner? Don’t worry, you’re not alone

For a discerning crowd, the subtleties of whisky elicit joy and satisfaction. I’m not sure if I’m part of that group yet.

There are people who treat drinking as a form of art. A ritual, even. 

Then, there are those who simply love drinking. Oftentimes, too much.

I fall under the second group, but I like learning from the connoisseurs every now and then—if only to elevate my gin and beer-filled palate. 

I was mulling over these ideas as I was listening to Kris Ong talk about whisky tasting at the Whisky Live Manila press conference last week at The Brewery At The Palace, BGC. He’s a brand ambassador for Singlemalt.ph and a brand advocate for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society; though, I wouldn’t have needed to know these to make me pay attention to him. He speaks of the beverage with much enthusiasm, it made me want to drink whisky, even if I’m not quite fond of it.

We tried two distinct bottles from Dewars Blended Scotch Whisky’s smooth series that evening: the Japanese Smooth Whisky and the Ilegal Smooth. Now, it’s easier to explain the tasting process more than delineating the subtleties of these whiskies (which Dewars generously describes on their official website), so let me recount the former instead. 

We were given nosing glasses prior to the session. These small glass receptacles are wide at the bottom, narrowing up toward the mouth. Kris explained that the shape forces the vapors of the whisky to concentrate and accumulate at the top, which then enhances your nosing experience.

The shape of the nosing glass concentrates the whisky vapors near the mouth.

Unlike wine, you don’t put the nosing glass directly below your nostrils; a gentle waft, around four to five inches away from your nose, will do the trick, said Kris. “Other people say that all they smell is alcohol, but if you can get past that, look into your memories and identify what the aromas remind you of,” he explained. This step is crucial, Kris noted, as our nostrils pick up more notes than our taste buds. 

As for myself, before I got to identify the floral notes of the Japanese Smooth and the smoky aroma of the Ilegal Smooth, I got reminded of drunken nights out back in college. That’s how strong the alcohol was.

While I admittedly couldn’t get the flavors and notes quite right (yet), I appreciated the relative lightness of this particular whisky.

Next, appease the taste buds. Kris reminded us not to down the whole glass; rather, we had to allow a sip to swirl inside our mouth. Just like in the earlier step, either a distinct sweetness, saltiness, or even bitterness will emerge first. Beyond this, other flavors will begin to blossom. He told us that the Japanese Smooth would recall notes of sandalwood, hibiscus, and lavender, among other florals; the Ilegal, a rich honey, smoky, even vegetal flavor. Here, I’m glad to report that I got the memo for these flavor profiles.

However, Kris assured us that it’s perfectly fine if we taste entirely different flavors. “That just means that your taste profile is different—meaning, you grew up eating different things,” he said. “I can taste coconut or marzipan, you may taste santol or hibiscus—that’s fine. So whenever you’re at an event like this and the brand ambassador asks you what you’re tasting, don’t be intimidated.”

A tasting from a previous Whisky Live Manila event. Kris reminded us that our experiences with various kinds of whiskies are valid; people identify different notes and flavors simply because of our diverse taste profiles.

Finally, the finish. After you swallow the liquid that has been sloshing inside your mouth, Kris implored us to pay attention to the flavors that emerge afterward. “Give it around ten seconds. You’ll find that, for example, the alcohol taste will evolve into a fruity flavor profile. Maybe there’s almonds, or even honey.”

Admittedly, I was prouder of finishing the tasting session than identifying the finishes; I couldn’t identify anything else beyond what I tasted earlier. Going by Kris’ explanations, I figured that my taste profile’s quite different—immature, perhaps?

However, I appreciated how he opened the playing field for a variety of tasting moments—that because of a person’s own diet, upbringing, and flavor preferences, their encounters with whisky may be wildly different from others, yet still valid. 

Now, wouldn’t that encourage you to dive into the world of whisky at Whisky Live Manila, 2022? I sure am quite excited. I’ll keep Kris’ notes in mind, nosing glass at hand and armed with the confidence to stand by my own tasting experiences.

Whisky Live Manila 2022 will take place from November 4 and 5 at the Shangri-La Fort, Bonifacio Global City. Presented by Grand Cru Wines and Spirits, the event brings together 100 international and local whisky brands and over 16 International Whisky Masters for two nights of unlimited whisky tasting, whisky masterclasses & workshops, and a bartending competition.

“This is such an exciting year for us as we hopefully bid goodbye fully to COVID and enjoy a more energetic whisky event. For those who’ve joined us for the past four years, expect new whisky brands this 2022. We’re also doing interactive whisky workshops where participants get the chance to create their own whisky cocktails,” said Grand Cru CEO Johnssen Li. 

Among internationally renowned whisky brands, Whisky Live Manila is also showcasing Wolfburn, the most northerly whisky distillery on the Scottish mainland, known to fashion their whisky by hand; Duncan Taylor, owner of one of the largest privately held collections of vintage and rare whiskies; Flor de Caña Rum, the world’s first Fair Trade certified and sustainably-sourced premium rum; and Whisky Master and Keeper of the Quaich Paul Wang.

For tickets and more details, visit Whisky Live Manila or call the Grand Cru office at 5180131 or 0917 5333373.