I love opening new bottles. There’s something almost romantic about it, it is something about that first sip. It is especially exciting when you’re opening a bottle of something special your friends have been yammering about, but you’ve never tried.
You pour that brown water into your glass, raise it to your nose, inhale the aroma, put it to your lips, taste it, and the first thought to come to your mind is, “Meh.”
You’re bound to ask yourself at least one of three questions: “Is everyone else crazy? Did I get a bad bottle? Am I missing something?” Those are very fair questions that deserve answers.
Is everyone else crazy? Perhaps. I’ve tasted whiskeys with cult-like followings, and in some cases, I’ve missed the appeal. They were decent, but not spectacular.
Did I get a bad bottle? Possibly. Whiskeys are typically sealed one of two ways: a cork or a screw-top. Corks go bad. Whiskey stored horizontally instead of vertically can take on the bad quality of the cork. Screw-tops don’t have this problem. Personally, I prefer screw tops, but that’s a topic of a different article.
Am I missing something? Yes.
The harsh truth about sipping whiskey is that, almost always, the worst pour from the bottle is the first, especially if you don’t let it sit for a period of time before tasting it. What you’re missing is fresh air.
There is a something called oxidization which is what happens when whiskey is exposed to air. The air causes flavors in the whiskey to present themselves more prominently. Oxidization occurs in an opened bottle, when you let it rest in a glass, when you pour it into a decanter, or when you swirl it in your glass.
Some people, like me, periodically swirl their glasses to get more and more air into that liquid sunshine. It doesn’t matter if it is that first pour or the last drop from the bottle. The more air, the more flavor… or at least that’s the theory.
Another way to introduce air to your whiskey is via something called an aerator. Wine aficionados have been using aerators for a long time. It is a way to rapidly infuse the air with the wine, either by the bottle or just a glass. Because of the large volume of wine that goes into a single drink, you have to hold it directly over the glass as you pour from the bottle.
There exist aerators made specifically for spirits. Mine is made by a company called Vinturi. It is a simple contraption. Instead of pouring an ounce into your glass, you pour it into the aerator (there are marked lines for 1-, 1-1/2 and 2-ounce pours). Don’t worry, the whiskey doesn’t just dump out the bottom. There is a thumb release to push that activates the drain. Push it, and Viola! Your whiskey is magically oxidized as it dumps into the glass, and there’s no need to worry that you’ll pour more than you’ve intended.
The only caveat with using an aerator is to remember to keep it clean. Dried spirits leave behind sugars, which can become sticky and gum up the mechanism. Thankfully all it takes after use is to run warm water through it for a few moments.
In my previous article, I discussed how there are several gems hiding on that bottom of shelf of your liquor store. While aeration won’t help with rotgut, it can take a younger, less exciting whiskey and nudge it to something more flavorful, giving the impression of an older, more refined choice.
As an example, I am taking an old, reliable standby, Evan Williams Black Label (I love to experiment with this). I poured some into a Glencairn glass. I also poured it into the aerator and dumped it into a second Glencairn glass. Both rested about the same amount of time before I brought them to my nose and mouth.
In the first glass, I pick up brown sugar, oak, and corn, but it is a bit on the harsh side. The aerated glass smooths those notes, allowing me to concentrate on the sweetness, picking up more sugar, an additional tinge of spice, and really tones down the wood into something more palatable.
The aerator won’t change this to Elijah Craig 12 but definitely, makes Evan Williams a more enjoyable pour.
Obviously, air is a big deal.
So, relax with the knowledge your friends aren’t crazy, your bottle is just fine, and you’ve not missed something… except a boring pour. Just air things out. Cheers!