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Whisky Wisdom

At Bootleg Brew, our mission is to let you enjoy the Prohibition-era/Jazz Age charm and romanticism when you sip your adult drink. But as our business sadly has nothing to do with the grand tales of pistols, illegal breweries/distilleries, excisemen and smugglers, we create this charm and romanticism by offering you a knowledge base of whisky wisdoms that cannot be found elsewhere. 

Types of whisky 

Whisky flavour map

Bootleggers recommendations for the Noob, Fan and Connoisseur

Tasting whisky

Bootleg Brew's 5 steps to tasting whisky

What do you need to taste whisky

What to look out for when tasting whisky

 



Types of Whisky

Known as the “water of life”, whisky is becoming increasingly popular all over the world. It is a complex and versatile spirit that you can enjoy as an aperitif, alongside a meal, after dinner or as a nightcap.

But what is a good whisky? Well, it depends on 3 things – (i) your taste, (ii) your mood and (iii) the accompaniment (eg. food/ cigar) that you are having with your whisky. There is no one best whisky for everyone, or one best whisky for all occasions.

Do not be fooled by pretenders (and the big-brand marketing types) who claim that a whisky is judged by its smoothness – ie. the smoother a whisky, the better it is. It simply is not. No doubt, it is true that many people like smooth whiskies, and that a smooth whisky is the easiest for a beginner to drink. Sadly however, it is also true that many people, having tried and enjoyed smooth whiskies, go hunting in the world of whiskies with a misguided “the smoother the better” notion, thereby depriving themselves of the chance to consider many other interesting whiskies that they might otherwise have fallen in love with. We suggest that you keep an open mind and be adventurous, and explore a wide variety of whiskies with vastly different taste profiles.

In fact, many whisky lovers find that as their taste develops over time, they tend to gravitate away from merely smooth whiskies towards more complex whiskies that have more nuance and character.

So how do we go about learning about whiskies with different taste profiles? Here’s what you need to know.

 

Bootleg Brew's Whisky Flavour Map

Bootleg Brew Whisky Flavour Map

All whiskies can be described on Bootleg Brew’s whisky flavor map. From a whisky’s position on this map, we can understand 2 key aspects of its taste profile that experts focus on.

  • Delicate-smoky (vertical) axis: A whisky’s position on this axis tells you how smoky it tastes. Needless to say, the closer a whisky is to the “Smoky” end of the axis, the smokier it is.
  • Light-rich (horizontal) axis: The whiskies near the “Light” end of the axis exhibit fresh flavours such as green grass, soft fruits and cereal. Such flavours tend to reflect the processes followed by a distillery, such as fermentation or size and shape of the stills. The whiskies near the “Rich” end of the axis exhibit flavours derived from the nature of the wood used during maturation – typical flavours range from vanilla (imparted by American oak casks) to nuttiness to cigar box, chocolate and dried fruit (imparted by European oak casks). Whether a cask is first fill or refill makes a difference to flavor.

Finally, if all these don’t make sense to you because you’ve not had your first drop of good whisky (eg. if your only experience with whisky is chucking some nasty tasting stuff from 7-Eleven at the Clarke Quay bridge), don’t worry. Trust us that you will never go wrong with a Glenmorangie The Original (10-Year-Old) or a Deanston 12-Year-Old as your first bottle. It will start a journey you will never regret taking.

 



Bootleggers Recommendations

Our recommendations for the Scotch Noob 

The whiskies in this range tend to be lighter, with fruity flavours and little to no peat in the LIGHT-DELICATE quadrant. The aim here is to introduce the interesting flavours of whisky without overpowering the senses. These are some of our all-time favourites and we always have a bottle open for guests and our own drinking. 

Glenmorangie The Original (10 Year Old) Deanston 12 Year Old Glenfiddich 12 Year Old 
Glenmorangie Original Deanston 12 Glenfiddich 12 YO

 A truly classic malt, with its creamy and fruity flavor which will please many.

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2012 Rating: 94 

A lightly peated, pleasant “any time of the day” whisky with no caramel coloring.

An all time favourite of the Bootleg Brew team

A light and easy-drinking whisky loved by millions (one of the world's best-selling single malts)

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2012 Rating: 85.5


Our recommendations for the Scotch Fan

 For the Scotch Fan looking to venture beyond the typical Macallan bottlings, let's look beyond the LIGHT-DELICATE quadrant. The BenRaich 12 YO is a good start as it has similar DNA (or "ingredients") as the Macallan. Next, we have a more hipster choice in the Clynelish (pronounced kline-leesh). It lies almost right in the middle of the Flavour Map so each sip feels different. Add in a splash of water and the whole character changes again! This is especially fun for tasting sessions where we have long arguments about this particular whisky. Lastly, the Lagavulin 16 YO is such a legend in the whisky world, you can't call yourself a whisky fan unless you've had a sip! Beware, it has massive peat that will make hair grow on your chest. 

BenRaich 12 Year Old Clynelish 14 Year Old  Lagavulin 16 Year Old
 BenRaich 12 YO  Clynelish 14 YO  Lagavulin 16 YO - online delivery by Bootleg Brew Singapore

Voted as the best available 12-year-old single malt whisky in the China Whisky Guide 2013

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2012 Rating: 95.5 

 Medium-bodied with a creamy texture in the mouth, ending with a salty finish

Listed as one of the "10 Best Scotch Whiskies" by the Independent

 A unique blend of richness and dryness that is not for the faint hearted

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2012 Rating: 95

 

Our recommendations for the Scotch Connoisseur 

OK, I'll admit that I had to google the correct spelling. For the Connoisseur, we've had to look beyond our usuals and seek the truly exceptional (which of course comes at a price). The Springbank 10 YO is the exception to that as it is has an unique quality in its saly, briny flavour (think of oysters) and is a highly divisive whisky - you'll either love it or hate it. The Bunnahabhain 18 YO, on the other hand, appeals to all whisky drinkers (from the noobs to the connoisseur). It has well-rounded flavours and subtle nuances, some peat but it is not overwhelming. Lastly, we have the Hibiki 17 YO,  which uses numerous types of pure single malt whiskies ageing in various types of casks, including Mizunara, a very rare Japanese oak, all combine to create a full orchestra of flavors and aromas.

Springbank 10 Year Old Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old Hibiki 17 Year Old
Springbank 10 YO - Bootleg Brew SG Bunna 18 YO Hibiki 17

 “Best Campbeltown Single Malt 12 Years and Under” at the World Whisky Awards 2013

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2012 Rating: 89

 The most gentle of the Islay whiskies, it redefines the conventional thinking of Islay whiskies

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2012 Rating: 94 

A blend that is exceptionally easy to drink while remaining complex and somewhat alluring

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2012 Rating: 84.5

 

 


 

Tasting Whisky

Bootleg Brew's 5 Steps for Tasting Whisky

  1. Assess the colour of the whisky
  2. Swirl the whisky to release the aroma
  3. Gently nose the whisky (“nose” means “smell”)
  4. Slowly sip the whisky
  5. Repeat steps 1 to 4 with a drop or two of distilled water

What do you need? 

  1. Whisky (duh)
  2. Glass. Not any glass, but one shaped like an elongated sherry glass with a stubby stem. 

This industry standard shape is found at whisky tastings all over the world, and it allows you to effectively swirl and sniff your whisky. The whisky tasting glass differs from the traditional style of the whisky tumbler with its distinctive shape. Despite its popularity, a tumbler does not hold and focus the aromas as much for the experience of the drinker as the whisky tasting glass, which curves inward towards the top of the glass. The tasting glass is often the preferred connoisseurs’ choice for the complete whisky experience!

Bootleg Brew’s very own top quality whisky glass can be found here

What to look out for?

Appearance

When presented with a glass of whisky, resist the temptation to gulp it straightaway. Instead, first look at the whisky because its appearance tells you a lot about it. 

A whisky’s appearance gives hints on how it would smell and taste. A Sherry cask will probably impart a sulphur nose with caramel, spice and rich fruit. A Bourbon cask could give the whisky more malt grain notes with vanilla, toffee and lighter fruit flavours. These are not hard and fast rules and every whisky has different aromas and taste, but this gives you an idea of what to expect.

Whisky Colour Bar

 

If it is a dark copper colour, it is likely to have been matured in a first fill sherry butt (a first fill sherry butt is a cask which had never held whisky before, but had held Sherry before). The Sherry would have permeated the oak wood with colour and flavor, which is then transferred to the whisky.

If the colour is a warm/deep gold, it is likely to have been matured in a first fill Bourbon cask. Bourbon casks are often charred inside before the whisky is placed inside to give it the distinctive Bourbon character.

If the whisky is a pale gold, it is likely to have been matured in a barrel that had been used once before for maturation. If it is very pale then the casks could have been used up to 3 times – in this case, the whisky is said to have been matured in plain oak.

Whisky LegsAlso swirl the glass around and the whisky will coat the inside of the glass.

Hold the glass up to the light and you should see a curving line above the whisky. This line will have legs (aka tears or Cathedral windows) running down.

These legs may be running very fast and close together, which denotes that the whisky is young.

If they run slower and are wider apart, it is very likely that the whisky is older.

Also, if the legs are oily and fat looking, the whisky is most likely a peated one.

 

 

Nose

This is perhaps the most important part of assessing a whisky. Most drams will reveal more to your nose than to your palate; in fact, as most experts will say, tasting is simply to confirm what your nose has already told you.

Please do not put your nose straight into the glass – all you will smell is spirit and you will experience a prickling sensation. Move the glass slowly under your nose from side to side, and you should catch the aromas as they rise above the spirit.

Smells often trigger personal memories – eg. grandfather’s desk (leather, wood, age, mustiness), a first date on the beach (salt, smoke, seaweed, cricket), or a picnic in Australia (dried grass, wood). Many whisky lovers find that this is one of the most intriguing, fun and fulfilling aspects of enjoying a whisky.

Palate

Take a small sip and move the whisky around your mouth, almost chewing it and let it cover your tongue and the roof of your mouth. This will give you a clear indication of the body of the whisky – is it full bodied or light bodied? Is the whisky going to remain in the mouth for a long time or is it going to dance on your tongue and creep quietly away? Is it soft and rolling or hot and immediate? Is it drying (tannins) or refreshing and lively?

You should also pick up any sweetness, or lack of, in the whisky, as well as those other basic flavours. Your palate will also tell you how the whisky is structured. Is there a definite beginning, middle and end to this story? When are different tastes introduced? 

Finish

As you swallow the whisky, you will notice that flavor elements are left in your mouth. If they disappear quickly, the whisky has a short finish. Alternatively, if they stay for quite some time, the whisky has a long finish.

*Distilled Water*

Whether you normally take your whisky neat, with water or with ice (1 or 2 cubes) is of course down to your personal taste, but when tasting whisky, adding some distilled water is an important way of gleaning more information.

Add some distilled water and swirl the whisky around in the glass. There will be subtle changes in the aromas you are detecting. Adding distilled water ‘opens up’ a whisky by breaking down the ester chains and freeing the volatile aromatics. This process elucidates the intricacies of a dram’s flavor and helps you to identify the constituent parts more easily.

How much distilled water should you add? This depends on your personal preference and the dram’s alcoholic content. Interestingly, according to John Glaser of Compass Box, many master blenders dilute to just 20% (meaning approximately a 1:1 ratio) when crafting their products. 

 


 

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