Enjoying the complex taste of whiskey is a learned process. It takes practice. There was a time when even the most seasoned enthusiasts tasted rubbing alcohol at first sip.
I was reminded of this experience earlier this year after completing a 3 week diet cleanse that included no booze. To my surprise, the first glass of Four Roses bourbon tasted like rocket fuel and my mouth was suddenly a scene from the movie Backdraft. Vanilla and caramel notes my ass…Kurt Russell grab the hose!
What had happened was my mouth’s nerve receptors were in shock. After years spent building a tolerance for whiskey, they had enjoyed a 3 week vacation that was abruptly ended. I had hit the fire alarm and the result was a burning sensation eerily similar to the good ole college days of mindless shot consumption.
All is well now. I would spend the next few days on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and quickly regained my championship form. Kind of like picking up an instrument after not playing for a while. A little practice and the palate quickly returned to normal.
So how does one overcome the burn? Simple, consistent practice. Similar to how one develops the taste of spicy food (Thai, peppers, etc.), the nerves gain a tolerance allowing for one to experience all that is delicious in whiskey.
Note, this doesn’t imply getting hammered every night. Be a pro about it.
Grab a bottle of whiskey that interests you and have an ounce every day or two. Take small sips. Add a few drops of water to start if need be. After a two-three weeks the fire sensation will start to subside and flavors will begin to emerge.
No more Backdraft.
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