Is Three Enough? Perfect? Too Much?

08 Jun

I had a minor revelation: Whisk(e)y tastings need at least three whiskies, and (in my opinion), at most three whiskies.

My rationale is based on a recent business trip where I had the pleasure of going on a trip to Binny’s (a large Chicago liquor retailer) with two colleagues. I got them to pick things they liked, and tried to assess whether they were in the mood to try something a little different. Based on what they said they liked, we ended up with Highland Park 12, Glenlivet Nadurra 16 and Balvenie Doublewood 12. They wanted to stay away from peat. No big deal to me…people have to discover whisk(e)y at their own pace.

The tasting was a big hit. So, what’s up with the three thing?

  1. Tasting one dram in isolation is great if you have a lot of taste memory to compare it to. Personally, I don’t have enough experience to do this well (yet). A newbie needs something right there on the same table to compare it to.
  2. But nosing/tasting two different drams just makes a line (two points make a line…) with limited possibility for comparison unless there is some degree of overlap between them. Too much overlap won’t be useful since it will be hard to tell them apart, and too little overlap will be useless since there won’t be very, um, comparable.
  3. Third Dram to the Rescue! A third dram can bridge the gap and point out what flavors and smells are in (or not in) each of the other two drams.

Why is three the maximum? Well, speaking for myself, I find that more than that much detailed nosing/tasting reduces the effectiveness of my nose and taste buds. At a whisk(e)y tasting event, I try to make sure that my first 3 or 4 drams are the ones I really want to try. After that, I think my taste buds are numb.

So…for me, three is the magic number.


Posted by on 8-June-2010 in Whisky2.0


2 responses to “Is Three Enough? Perfect? Too Much?

  1. toshie

    9-June-2010 at 00:51

    At Glasgow’s Whisky Club we taste five or six over the course of an evening – always with plenty of water by our side. At most of the other tastings I’ve been to, that seems to be the norm. After six I think your senses get overwhelmed and you’re drinking for a different reason!

  2. whisky2dot0

    9-June-2010 at 16:39

    I guess that the amount of time you have to rest between tastes is a factor. With 3 whiskies, there are exactly 3 pairings (A vs. B, A vs. C, and B vs. C). If you set up a table with 4 whiskies, there are 6 pairings, and with 5 whiskies there are 10 pairings. When you get to 6 whiskies, there are 15 pairings. The ability to try all possible 1:1 comparisons decreases rapidly when the number of combinations goes up.

    I’m really focusing my “three is optimal” on folks who aren’t whisky experts and who don’t have a whole evening to devote to a tasting. For me, the point is learning about whisky — without getting overwhelmed. I imagine that Glaswegians have a lot more whisky experience than your average American, so your friends are starting from a very different place. 🙂

    Thanks very much for your comment!!


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