Rules & Tips
I had a customer ask me a few days back if I would write something about glassware when it comes to tasting spirits. She was wondering why the whiskies she sampled at K&L always tasted better in the store than at her house. At home, she had been drinking from smaller, Glencairn-shaped glasses, but in the store we sometimes use wine glasses. She asked if it could be the glass and I said "Definitely!" Personally, I don't drink out of small glasses because I can't seem to capture the aroma as well. I always use a wine glass when writing tasting notes or sampling with an appointment. They just work better for me.
Over the few years that I've done this, I've listened to experts explain to me numerous reasons to drink or taste alcohol in a specific way. Sometimes what they tell me works and sometimes it doesn't. When it comes to drinking whisky or any other spirit, listen to what others have to say (because you might just learn something new), but don't feel any pressure to conform or adapt. There's no rule that says you have to drink single malt from Glencairn glasses. I certainly don't.
There are guidelines in the booze world to help us along and achieve the maximum amount of pleasure from our drinking, but it can be problematic when people think of them as rules that must be followed at all cost. You don't have to add water. You don't have to nose it first. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. There are no rules with drinking, only suggestions. It would be a pity, however, if you drank a whole bottle of cask strength Port Ellen and had no idea the high proof was burning off your ability to actually taste it.
Another topic I was asked about recently concerned the wax seals on our French import bottles. Some of our best Calvados and Cognac bottles are protected by a dense layer of wax that most people attempt to open by cutting or carving. This is the worse way to open these bottles. The best way I have seen was shown to me by the Camut brothers in Normandy. I had no idea how brittle that wax was. It can be easily cleared away by tapping it firmly with the dull side of a butter knife. It's best to do this next to a garbage can or somewhere that can be easily cleaned afterward. It will make a giant mess, but at least it won't damage your precious booze.