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Some experiences are meant to be savoured. You let them stir you. You take them slowly. You enjoy every moment. And when it is finally over, you revel in the sheer glory of their aftertaste – and perhaps even go back to it sometimes. How many experiences can you count among them – as ones that are truly your own? Very few indeed.
Thankfully, tasting a vintage whisky like Glenfiddich is one of them.
It is true that each palate receives a dram in curiously distinct ways. To some it is the warm burst of vanilla, for others it is the freshness of mowed grass on a spring morning. What hits you first is unique to the taster. Of course, in the hundreds of years of its existence, whisky has been known to awaken the palate in ways very few things can, so much so that its tasting and nosing is as much a process as it is a journey.
A few sips of Glenfiddich in a tulip glass is all you need to start with. A splash of fresh water will awaken what would perhaps have lain dormant over its many years of maturation. Only a drop or two at a time, mind you. Let your palms cup the glass as they warm it to release the aromas. And then you swirl. As you inhale slowly, you will find the subtleties revealing themselves.
What does it remind you of? Your favourite leather-bound title? Warmth of the winter sun? Or childhood memories of caramel toffee?
The Glenfiddich 15 Year Old, for example, is characteristically complex to the nose. Heather honey and vanilla intrigue and excite. The Glenfiddich 21 Year Old on the other hand is as delightful as the Caribbean itself – floral and fruity with a hint of toffee. The remarkably rich aroma of the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old is enough for one to know that it is truly a maverick’s whisky. While the elegant amber of the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old barely reveals its distinct fruitiness – so the hint of pear when you nose it is almost telling of what lies ahead.
As you take a small sip, you will feel your palate rise. Is your malt sweet and fruity? Or is it oaky and mellow? Does the taste complement the aroma of your dram or does it let it evolve?
While the first sip is only the hint, the second one will allow you to be able to define your malt’s character further. So let the taste linger. Does it evolve to something surprisingly different from your first impression of it – like the 21 Year Old which evolves briskly from soft and floral in the beginning to drying, peppery and spicy, as notes of ginger, oak and smoke come to surface? It might also evolve and grow the way the 12 Year Old does – from fruity and sweet to unique cream, butterscotch and oak flavours. The 18 Year Old is unique in that it truly delivers on its nosing – going from baked apple and oak to dried fruit, candy peel and dates. For the likes of complexly built whiskies like Glenfiddich’s 15 Year Old, the first brush is barely telling. It is only in the next couple of tastings that you realise how beautifully it bursts with the full-bodied flavour of sherry oak, cinnamon and ginger.
As you spend more than a few moments with your dram, finally comes the insight that the aftertaste gives you. Is the butterscotch and cream oaky? Is the peppery aftertaste laden with the sweetness of fig? Does the floral honey aroma remind you of heather? You and only you can decide.
The beauty of the process lies in how sensory it is. The dram awakens the palate, but it is your memories, your perceptions that give it life. Think about it.
Keep tasting and nosing. Keep discovering new notes and memories.