Malt whisky is a drink to contemplate, and certainly not one to rush. As with fine wine, the way a malt is served can add to or detract from the enjoyment of drinking it. To make sure malts are enjoyed to the full, therefore, it is worth bearing in mind a few points, which are outlined below.
A malt in its natural state will throw an unattractive haze if it is refrigerated. That is why the commercial versions are filtered at cold temperatures. This chill-filtration removes solids that might otherwise precipitate – but also strips out some texture and taste. There is no reason to store malts at low temperatures, and every reason to avoid chilling them or adding ice. Cold numbs the tongue and represses the aroma. Ice also brings about changes in the malt. Whisky most fully expresses itself if it is stored and served at room temperature. A single malt is not meant to be a cold, thirst-quenching drink.
With its no-nonsense shape and refraction of the light through the colors of the drink, the traditional cut-glass tumbler is aesthetically pleasing. Where it fails is in presenting the co lour naturally, and more importantly – in retaining the aroma. These two requirements flavor the use of a brandy-type “snifter glass” for single malts, and this is becoming more popular. Whisky blenders do their tasting in a similar glass designed for their purpose. It is in the style of a tall, narrow snifter or an elongated sherry copita.
The texture – but not necessarily the aroma and palate – of the fuller-bodied style of the malt is best appreciated if it is sampled undiluted. Care must be taken with cask strength malts, however. A good compromise is to add just the odd drop of water, “like the dew on a rose,” in the words of whisky-merchant and writer Wallace Milroy. A small amount of water will help awaken the bouquet of a malt, and bring out aromatics in the palate.
Some professional blenders work only with their nose, not finding it necessary to let the whisky pass their lips. Others like to sample the whisky undiluted, though this can soon anaesthetize the palate. Some blenders like to dilute 50-50, using distilled or very pure water.
Start with just a few drops. Then add more until you find the greatest pleasure. Remember, you can always add a drop more but you cannot take away.