How To Taste Whisky
, by Dani Malka, 5 min reading time
, by Dani Malka, 5 min reading time
If you have reached this page - congratulations! You must have come across a bottle from The Really Good Whisky Company and landed on a lovely little corner of the internet, where I am going to help you to savour it to the max, and really get the most out of each drop.
Before we begin with this simple guide on how best to taste whisky, a small warning to say that developing your palate to extract flavours and identify different tastes is certainly not an overnight process, to say the least. In fact, it can take months of practice (what a chore!) to get to that stage, although that being said, you can definitely enjoy it in your first sitting too. So without further ado; My Simple Guide On How To Taste Whisky.
The first thing you'll want to consider is the glass you will be drinking from. We personally always recommend a Glencairn glass (if you don't have one, click here) as it will allow the scents that come out of the dram to become concentrated, and you'll have more chance to actually pick the notes out. If you don't have one, try using a small glass, but at a stretch, any glass will do.
Now, the aim of this whole thing is to experience the liquid with as many of your senses as possible, so you're going to want to admire the colour of the dram you've just poured. Hold it up to the light and give it a little swirl around the glass; does it have a golden tinge or a rich amber hue, maybe even some shades of pink? If it's cloudy, it is a sign it's non-chill-filtered, whereas if it's super clear, it may have undergone this process.
A little disclaimer here; I do feel a little hypocritical when I talk about the 'look' of the whisky and using all your senses, because actually, although there is definitely an extent to which this can provide some valuable hints as to the process in which the whisky was made, it is not without limitations. Some distilleries add artificial colourings to their liquid, which obviously will distort your sight-based conclusions.
People also have this misconception that the darker the whisky, the stronger the flavour will be. This is certainly not the case, and sometimes some of the lightest coloured, most unassuming drams can be really intense flavour bombs. The point here is, don't draw any hard conclusions on a whisky based solely on the colour.
Next, we will try picking out scents from the dram; bring the glass up to your nose and gently sniff it. We're not inhaling the dram here, just trying to gauge its aromas. Some people swear by keeping your mouth slightly ajar, as this stops the alcohol from burning your nose, but try both ways and see what works for you. For the first sniff, you'll likely get a blast of strong alcohol because you haven't adjusted yet. Just pause, take a deep breath and try again. Eventually, you will warm up to the dram and you should begin to be able to smell something other than just pure alcohol burn. Don't worry if you can't put your finger on what precisely the flavours are at first, try to just ascertain if you enjoy the overall smell or not.
Next, the fun part; we're going to taste the whisky. You're going to take a decent sized sip, make sure it's enough to coat your mouth. Much like the nosing stage, more often than not, the first sip will simply be a mouthful of alcohol burn. Your palate needs to adjust, and once it has done so, it will be a lot easier to pick out flavours. Let the whisky sit in your mouth for a few seconds too; your natural saliva production will water down the sip and again diminish the alcohol. Just like the nosing might require a few sniffs, the palate tasting might need a few sips. Take your time with it, close your eyes and just do the best you can.
The effect that remains on your palate at the end is called the 'finish'. Sometimes it's a spicy feeling at the back of your throat, often a peaty whisky will leave a lingering smoke. Some finishes are long, some are short, usually a higher age on a whisky will lead to a longer finish, but that isn't always the case.
Depending on your preferences, this next step is optional: adding a drop of water to your dram. Particularly if the ABV is above 50%, it might be helpful to open it up a little with some water. The key here is to add the tiniest amount; we're not looking to dilute the dram like juice, just simply to allow the burn to mellow and the flavours to shine. Using a pipette is optimal here, but in a pinch you can use your pinky finger dipped in some water to transfer drops, or just use a teaspoon. Once you've added the water, make sure to reassess the nose, palate and finish, because that one tiny drop can make a vast difference to all 3 of these things.
And there you have it! My simple whisky tasting guide. Remember that whisky tasting is an art; it will take patience and practice, and you'll get better the more you try. The main thing with whisky tasting is that it is supposed to be enjoyable. If you prefer to just drink it at face value without over-analysing it, go for it! If whisky only goes in Coke for you, you do you! We urge you to just go with whatever floats your boat.
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