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Nosing Me, Nosing You (apologies to ABBA for the horrible pun)

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Before continuing to chronicle my adventures in Germany (which, sadly, come to an end tomorrow), I just remembered that in tomorrow's column I wrote that I would post some more info on whisky. And just my luck - I had already sent the column in before a copy of the late (and unfortunately named) Michael Jackson's Whisky: The Definitive World Guide showed up at my house. So here's some extra info on how whisky is made, how to taste whisky, and a few more tasting notes I didn't have room for in the column...The basics on how whisky is made: malted barley and water are combined or “mashed” to produce wort; at this point yeast is introduced, and the fermentation process of converting sugar in the wort to alcohol begins (the conversion takes longer than it would with grapes). The end result of fermentation is then distilled (which involves vaporization and condensation) either in vats (bigger companies) or in copper stills (the traditionalists).Tasting whisky: first off, it's often called "nosing" rather than tasting - after all, many of the subtle differences come from the variances in aromas. Start with a small, tulip-shaped wine glass - nothing etched or fancy. Don't bother trying to pick up all the subtleties from a glass tumbler. Check out the colour - is it deep gold? Amber? Pale straw? This will be a good indication as to what type of cask it was aged in, and for how long.Now take a sniff, just like you would a glass of wine, noting all the aromas. Before tasting the whisky, don't be afraid to dilute it slightly using bottled water - tap water will impart chlorine aspects. Many whisky buffs add water - this way you get the aromas and flavours without the raging alcohol content. Avoid ice cubes or soda water. And obviously cola or ginger ale isn't the way to go here.Some folk place their hand over the rim of the glass and give the whisky a good shake. I've tried this and the results (to my shirt) haven't been pretty. Doing this, however, will maximize the odours and flavours released.The actual tasting process is the same as wine - note the flavours, weight, texture and finish on the whisky. And there you have it - you're ready to get nosing.Some more single malt Scotch whiskies I've tried as of late follow - I was lucky enough to try a whole whack of whiskies side by side. Most of these should be available at Liquor Marts.Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($58.78)The bourbon-sherry-ish notes (likely from the casks) shine through on the nose, as do aromas of oranges and toasted oak. It's very mellow on the palate, with orange peel and cocoa flavours before a medium finish.Glenfarclas 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($62.32/700ml)Loads of nuts on the nose of this one, especially almonds, with some pear undertones. Much bigger peat on this single malt, with the nutty, caramel components coming through on the palate.Highland Park 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($54.95)Vanilla and fig dominate on the nose, while a toasty, burnt tire flavour comes through on the palate. It's a juicy, weighty single malt.Bowmore 15 Year Old "Mariner" Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($53.74)Big aromas of vanilla, caramel and cinnamon prevail on the nose, while the palate is far more complex. Fruity, floral, peaty and toasty flavours make this a well-rounded single malt and a definitely fine dram.Glenmorangie "The Original" Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($58.74)The nose brings aromas of honey, flowers, almonds and peanuts - that Scotch saltiness - with juicy citrus flavours on a round, full palate.Glenmorangie "Quinta Ruban" Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($71.67)Sherry casks are in play on this single malt, with a round, nutty nose counterbalanced by some ripe green apple aromas. There's a slight sweetness here, with some definite sherry characteristics as well as chocolate and spice. Excellent.Glenfiddich 21 Year Old Grande Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($120.97)Vanilla, spice, and lemon pepper aromas all emerge here - not too unusual, as this single malt is aged in Cuban rum casks. Lemon and other citrus components interact with rounder vanilla flavours, both of which impart a slight sweetness.Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($76.51)This big fella weighs in at 68 per cent alcohol - some diluting recommended. Honey and banana dominate the nose, with a hint of some sort of anise aroma that reminded me of Jagermeister (in a good way). It's a big, ripping single malt with lots of peat and pepper.Auchentoshan "Three Wood" Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($74.02)Ah yes, three wood... yet another golf club I destroy golf courses with. It's triple (rather than double, which is the norm) distilled, not peated, and aged in oloroso (Sherry) casks. The nose is quite complex, with aromas of barley, mint, herbs and lime. The palate is clean due to the lack of peat, and features fruity characteristcis blended with nuts and pepper.

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About Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

When he wasn't bashing on a drum kit in local punk rock bands, Ben spent the mid '90s hucking cases of wine around to pay for two English degrees. Now he's the Winnipeg Free Press wine columnist and blogger.

The extent of Ben's wine experience in the mid-90s was memories of accidentally leaving a bottle of White Zinfandel in the freezer overnight, and the ensuing mess he was left with. Between 1996 and 2005 Ben absorbed all he could about wine while working at wine shops to pay for school. Meanwhile, he was churning out papers for his BA and MA in English (from the Universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba, respectively).

Ben became the Winnipeg Free Press' weekly wine columnist in 2005, and two years later joined Wine Access magazine as a contributor, a member of their national tasting panel and a judge at the Canadian Wine Awards and International Value Wine Awards until the magazine closed up shop in 2013.

In 2013 Ben joined the Winnipeg Free Press as a copy/web editor.

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