Traditions

Top tips for nosing and tasting whisky on Burns Night

With Burns Night and a dram or two of whisky on the horizon, we speak to Master Blender Billy Walker and get his tips on how to host a tasting at home

This year, big Burns Night celebrations with friends are off the cards for most people, but this won’t stop us celebrating the bard’s birthday in style from the comfort of our homes. Fortunately, whisky can remain central to our plans. And if you’re relatively new to the world of this smoky spirit there is help at hand in the form of Master Blender Billy Walker, who here gives us his recommendations and top tasting tips.

Billy is undoubtedly one of the most respected figures in Scotch Whisky after an almost 50-year tenure in the industry. During his career, he has been involved in the acquisition and resurrection of numerous Single Malt whisky distilleries. After selling The BenRiach Distillery Company in 2016, he wasn’t quite ready to retire, so quickly assembled a team to start a new journey with The GlenAllachie distillery on Speyside. As well as releasing GlenAllachie Single Malts, Master Distiller/Blender of the Year Billy, also releases Blended Malts under the MacNair’s brand. It is the MacNair’s Lum Reek 21-year-old that he has selected as his dram for Burns Night 2021.

Billy’s dram of choice

For Billy, MacNair’s Lum Reek 21-year-old is the perfect whisky to toast to the national bard this Burns Night. A marriage of Single Malts from Islay and Speyside, including aged GlenAllachie, the whisky combines both peated and unpeated spirit to create a perfectly balanced and complex malt. The small batch expression was matured to perfection in a combination of expertly sourced Oloroso Sherry, Red Wine and Virgin Oak casks.

The resulting whisky, offered without added colouring or chill-filtration, is brimming with dark chocolate, vanilla fudge, and gentle peat. And don’t just take our word for it – MacNair’s Lum Reek 21-year-old was awarded the World’s Best Blended Malt for 2020 by the World Whisky Awards!

Billy’s nosing and tasting tips

1. Set up by pouring a good measure of the whisky in two glasses – preferably a pair of Glencairn, Copita, or whisky nosing glasses, but other glasses are fine too.

2. Allow both glasses to sit and breathe for around 10 minutes. This process allows the whisky to oxidize slightly, helping to soften the flavours and letting the whisky release aromas. This is an important stage which allows the whisky to open up ready for nosing.

3. Add some water to Glass 2 (approx. one fifth) and allow it to breathe for a further 10 minutes or so. Doing this means you can compare the whisky with and without the influence of water.

4. Gently begin to nose Glass 2, teasing out the aromatic characteristics. Spend a minute or two doing so – you will find the flavours you can detect will change the more you nose the dram. Note all these flavours down on a piece of paper before you move on to the palate. Take a sip and roll the liquid over in your mouth, ensuring you pick up all the flavour characteristics and the strength of the finish, again noting everything down.

5. Now repeat the same process with Glass 1, writing what you detect and comparing with Glass 2. More often than not you will be amazed at the difference!

Leave the rest to us

Credit: Visit Scotland/Luigi di Pasquale

So now the whisky is sorted, you may be wondering how else you might spirit the bard into your home this Burns Night. Head to our article on the origins of the Burns Supper for more ideas on how to host your own authentic Burns Supper, from food and facial hair to poetry and piping.

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