How To: Taste Whisky, Write a Book in a Month, Hang a Flatscreen & Be an Expert at Anything

It’s Monday, November 1, 2010 and here at MSP HQ we’re feeling a little under the weather after a big weekend. Not a partying one though, rather … working. We’re aiming for the 2015 Forbes List.

As a result of all this hard work and labour, we’re bushed. Too bushed to write up anything too intelligent. So in the interests of continuing to give you the best resource you need, to become the best man you can be, we’re serving you up with a bit on nonsensical and arbitrary ‘How To’s’ from our brothers at Maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe you won’t. In the least, it’ll lift you up and away from Monday blues …


Despite what you may have learned in college or seen in John Wayne movies, whisky isn’t supposed to be tossed down your throat like a cowboy’s breakfast.

Instead, a fine whisky should be treated like a fine Cognac or Bordeaux, says Whyte & Mackay master blender Richard Paterson. “You don’t slug it back in one go,” he says, “you sip it and savor it.”

Paterson is one of the most knowledgeable Scotch whisky scholars on the web. He tweets and blogs regularly, and he’s known among whisky connoisseurs as “The Nose” due to his impeccable gift for assessing blends, single malts and other liquors.

We picked Richard’s brain for this guide to tasting whisky properly — and that’s whisky without the “e” to the Scots. Feel free to taste other kinds of whisk(e)y using these methods as well.

Choose a glass. You’ll need a proper glass for nosing and tasting the whisky. A sherry glass (also called a copita) is perfect. It has a stem and is tulip shaped — if you can’t find one, use something similar like a snifter. A wine glass will do, as long as it has a stem. Don’t use a highball, a shot glass or a so-called “whisky glass.” “You want to capture the whole aroma,” says Paterson. “The shape of the glass, the way it’s shaped like a tulip, will force the bouquet into one area — your nostrils. How you approach the whisky will greatly affect how accurately you are able to assess it.”

Prepare the glass. Pour a tiny bit of whisky into the room-temperature glass. Swirl and tilt the whisky around in every direction to coat the inside of the glass, then toss it out. It’s important to add a swirl as you toss it. “You want to make sure the lip of the glass is absolutely, totally clean,” says Paterson. Then grab hold at the bottom, at the stem. This prevents your body heat from transferring to the drink during tasting, and it’s very important.

Pour. One ounce or so is enough for a taste. Remember, only hold onto the stem from now on.

Sniff. This is called “nosing” the whisky, and Paterson recommends you break it down into three steps.

Step 1: Stick your whole nose in the glass and gently sniff it. You’ll get a big hit of alcohol vapor. Now pull it away and have a look at the whisky. Roll it around and take note of the color.

Step 2: Wait two seconds, then go back to it.

Step 3: Go back a third time. This time, bury your nose into the lip of the glass, and roll the glass from one nostril to the other.

“You need to get to know the whisky, communicate with it, learn about its character.” Paterson says. “Look at it, talk to it, really try to experience it.”

Add Water. Add a dash of distilled water and reduce the whisky down to about 35 percent alcohol. Adding the water opens it up and makes it more approachable. Paterson says for younger whiskies (12 years or younger) water is always advisable. For whiskies 15 years and up, don’t add water before you first taste it. But no matter what the age of the whisky is, if it still bites you when you take a sip, it’s too strong for you and you should add water a little bit at a time. Don’t use sparkling water. Any good still water will do, but distilled water is best. Don’t use ice, it will only mask the flavors.

Taste it. Take a small amount of whisky — just a sip — into your mouth and move it around. Start by putting the whisky in the middle of the tongue, then under the tongue, then back in the middle of the tongue. Keep it there a few seconds and assess the flavors, then let it go down. As it goes down, the tongue will reveal more interesting flavors. Paterson says to let the flavors linger for a good 20 or 30 seconds at least. “Whisky has an inner world, and you must give it time to show itself,” he says.  Always take a second taste. “Little different layers will start to open up to you with the second taste”

Finish it. OK, cowboy. After you’ve taken two or three slow tastes, giving yourself plenty of time to get to know the whisky, go ahead and tip it back.

Attaboy! You can now tout your whisky tasting skills to all your mates and watch their eyes widen in wonder, envy and awe.


(Ewan Mcgregor in ‘Ghost Writer)

November is National Novel-Writing Month. If writing an entire novel in 30 days strikes you as damn near impossible, just head over to the NaNoWriMo website and check out how many people have actually done it: More than 165,000 people participated in 2009, and more than 30,000 managed to crank out the 50,000-word goal.

Of course, you probably aren’t going to produce great literature in just a month. Infinite Jest and its ilk require more than just a month of writing. But the goal isn’t to produce a best-seller — it’s to jump-start your novel and get you past the fear of the time and effort involved. As the website says, “The only thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output … the kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks and write on the fly.”

To write a 50,000-word novel in a month — even a bad novel — takes a certain perseverance and dedication, as well as some careful planning. Here’s our guide to ensuring you fall into the group that actually finishes the project.

Plan ahead. Produce an outline if you can, mapping out the plot of your novel and figuring out how to move from scene to scene before you start writing will help you avoid accidental dead ends. Clear your November schedule as much as you can to allow yourself more time to write and set a schedule so that you know your daily word goal. To make the 50,000-word finish line, you’ll need to write just under 1,700 words a day. Some days you’ll write less than that, but if you push yourself on good days, when you’re on a roll, you can easily double your required daily output.

Stay motivated. Break down your day into quantifiable output goals: 1,000 words before lunch, or a page before breakfast. Whatever works with your schedule. Set up rewards for yourself on a daily or weekly basis (Beer and wine are excellent motivational tools).

Get rid of distractions. Turn off your internet connection and find somewhere to work where you won’t be interrupted. Grab your headphones and get out of the house, or find a quiet spot at home where spouses, children and other distractions won’t bother you.

Allow mistakes. You’re going to write a lot of crap. That’s OK, as a matter of fact it’s the norm, just keep writing. Try to turn off that internal editor who’s always telling you that your writing sucks. It’s possible it does, but that doesn’t matter during National Novel-Writing Month. You can always go back later and eliminate the crap and rewrite. Remember, the goal isn’t quality, it’s quantity — just keep writing.

Writing 50,000 words in a month is not for the faint of heart, but with a little planning and some self-discipline it can be done. There’s nothing superhuman about the thousands of people that have done it. You can do it too! Head over to the National Novel-Writing Month website and sign up.


Remember that commercial where the hip young couple mounts their flat-panel TV on the ceiling? They end up in bed, gazing skyward at a screenful of dazzling fireworks. Call us crazy gravity-phobes, but we recommend sticking it on a wall. Here’s how.

1. Pick a spot Use a stud-finder to ensure that your perfect, glare-free spot has enough support (one stud for an LCD, two for a plasma) and no hidden obstacles.

2. Hide the cables With a drywall saw, cut an outlet-sized hole near where the cables will jack into the back of the TV. Make another near the floor, directly below. (You can tidy up the holes with grommets.) Bundle the cables with electrical tape and feed them in through the top hole and out the bottom. Run extra cables for future gear.

3. Hang it up Use a level to mount the (VESA-compliant) bracket with anchor bolts. Attach the rails to your flatscreen TV, then have a sure-handed friend support the set while you bolt it to the bracket.

Sorted. Next?


Pick a field that can’t be verified. Try something like string theory or God’s will: “I speak to God. I’m sorry that you can’t also.” Security experts are in this category: They have security clearances, we don’t. We can’t question the expertise of the NSA because we are not in the NSA.

Choose a subject that’s actually secret. Dan Brown invented a secret subject for The Da Vinci Code, so now he is forever an expert on this secret subject that no one can challenge. Anybody who attacks the secret subject is, by definition, part of the cabal.

Get your own entry in an encyclopedia. In the media age, everybody was famous for 15 minutes. In the Wikipedia age, everybody can be an expert in five minutes. Special bonus: You can edit your own entry to make yourself seem even smarter.

Use the word zeitgeist as often as possible. Ideally, you want to find words that sound familiar but people don’t really know their definitions: zeitgeist, bildungsroman, doppelgänger – better yet, anything Latin. But avoid paradigm. It’s so 1994. If you say the word paradigm, everybody knows you’re a poser.

Be sure to use lots of abbreviations and acronyms. Someone who says the words operations security may be educated, but the person who uses the military abbreviation Opsec is clearly an expert. If I use the term Gitmo, that means I’ve actually been there. If you say, “We’re going to Defcon 1,” it means you probably have the launch codes. Real experts don’t have time for extra syllables.

Speak from the balls, not from the diaphragm. In the expert game, you’ve got to have sack. That means speaking with confidence. Steer clear of nuance and ambivalence – and don’t even contemplate doubt. You are the master of your domain!!

Don’t be afraid to make things up. Never fear being exposed as a fraud. Experts make things up all the time. They’re qualified to.

Don’t limit yourself to current knowledge. If you worry too much about being up-to-date, you miss out on vast territories of obsolete knowledge just waiting to be reclaimed. Think of leech-craft and all the lonely experts in the use of the little creatures, which are now experiencing a renaissance in health care.

Get an honorary phd. They work wonders. (Try asking for one online from an obscure university in an equally obscure country – i.e. the ‘Ultimate Enlightening University of Eastern Congo’ – it’ll be the best $50 you ever invested!)

Make a habit of name-dropping. Say things like “I was talking to John Hockenberry yesterday for my story in Wired. Have you seen my cover?” I plan to use this issue of Wired to assert that I now know everything about wires.

Be famous. It helps.





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