How To Taste Whisky

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Tasting Whisky

For a beginner, or someone looking to branch out in their drinking experience and try something new, the world of whisky can certainly appear intimidating. However, whisky is a drink that can truly be enjoyed by everyone, provided you’re of legal drinking age of course. With such a diverse range of origins, flavours, and profiles to experience, you should not be discouraged from exploring different whiskies just because you don’t think you know what you are doing. 

No expert whisky drinker was born with an immaculate knowledge of the subject, everyone has had to go through the same process of learning, tasting, and trying. 

Whisky is not as complicated as some people may have led you to believe. This guide will help you learn the ropes so you can know what to look for, how to properly taste whiskies, and grasp some basic etiquette.

So you’ve got your bottle of whisky and tumbler (or Glencairn glass) in front of you, now what? 

The first step in the whisky tasting process is observing the whisky. The first thing you will notice will be the colour, which is a big indicator of what is to come. The wood used in the barrel it was aged is the key contributor to its colour, and flavour. Generally speaking, the darker the colour, the deeper and more rounded you can expect the flavour to be. 

You can infer quite a lot about the flavour of a whisky by taking the time to explore the smell of it before diving in and sipping. As with most things you drink or eat, the aroma of a whisky is actually a major influence in what you taste, so ‘nosing’ your whisky is an exciting yet informative step not to be missed. Your olfactory system is very sensitive, so don’t be too brazen and breathe in overly aggressively, particularly with higher ABV whiskies.

For a more advanced approach, try a technique called retronasal breathing, which is often used by those who smoke cigars. Breathe in through your mouth, close your lips and hold your breath for a short moment. Breathe out through your nose, and you should experience a broader and deeper range of scents, whilst also removing some of the characteristic burning sensation. This should also help you to understand what expert tasters are harking on about when they mention notes of vanilla or caramel, among many others - its because those notes are actually there!

The Sip
It is important to remember that tasting is not the same as drinking. Your goal is to appreciate the flavour of your whisky, and this takes time. Don’t be tempted to take a big swig, start with small sips which will allow your palette to adjust to the whisky, especially it’s alcohol content. Contimue to sip slowly, holding the whisky in your mouth for a moment to give yourself time to appreciate each flavour you can identify. Rolling the whisky around your mouth will also allow it to coat the different surfaces, as each can identify slightly different notes. Importantly, let the flavours develop; one of the key elements of any whisky is the ‘finish’, the end notes and aftertaste left in your mouth after the sip. Don’t rush your tasting, and don’t wash it down with water too soon after sipping, as you can miss out on some real flavour.

When your glass is empty, refill!

If you are looking for a smoother feel when tasting whisky, you can try adding a few drops of water with a pipette, or a single small ice cube to your glass, which can take the edge off the burn and unlock even more depth of flavour. 

To conclude

Drinking or tasting whisky is not something you should overthink, it should be done for enjoyment as an exploratory experience. We hope this guide has helped you understand how to properly taste whisky and therefore get the most out of it, delving into the layers and complexities each individual bottle holds within. 

Check back soon for new updates in our blog series, or click here to view details of how you can bid on bottles in our monthly whisky auctions, either to add to your collection or try new things.

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