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How to taste Whisky?

Whisky Tasting Steps

How to taste whisky? The full guide for its enjoyment and appreciation.

The following guide has been designed to help you taste and enjoy whisky. It does not matter if you have preferences for Scotch, Bourbon, Irish, Japanese, Taiwanese, Indian or Tasmanian. Our main goal is to give you useful information in the art of whisky appreciation. We want to show you how to enjoy whisky whether on your own, with friends or family. Follow the steps on this infographic and you will be surprised to discover extraordinary characteristics of your favourite whisky.

How to taste Whisky

Whisky Tasting Glasses: We recommend drinking your whisky in a Glencairn glass. This tulip-shaped glass has been designed by expert whisky drinkers with the only purpose of its enjoyment and appreciation. It is wide in the bottom to appreciate whisky’s colour, body, thickness and oiliness. It is narrow in the top to help your nose catch all the aromas easier and faster. This glass will help you to appreciate in a better way the physical and aromatic characteristics of your whisky. However, if you don’t have a Glencairn, don’t worry, you can also drink your whisky in a tumbler or even in a small wine glass.

Starting your Whisky – Nosing and Tasting Experience: Pour a dram of your chosen whisky in the glass and let it sit for at least 1 or 2 minutes to let all its notes appear. It is important to let your whisky breath and develop its flavour in the glass before you drink it.

Step 1 – Colour: The colour is the first step to understand what’s going on with your whisky. Look closely and identify if the whisky is pale, golden, amber or red. The lighter the colour, the more likely the whisky was matured in Bourbon casks, the darker the colour, the more likely the whisky was matured in Sherry or Port casks. Sometimes, the darker the colour, the older the whisky. However, this is not always the case. Don’t worry trying to identify the age of the whisky. In this step let’s focus on the type of maturation rather than the age.

Step 2 – Visual Texture (Viscosity): Swirl the whisky around the glass and see how fast or slow the legs fall down. If they fall pretty fast, it’s an indication that your whisky will be light-bodied and relatively easy to drink. On the other hand, if the legs take some time to fall, this means that the whisky is pretty oily and full-bodied. You can assume that the same will happen in your mouth. So, it is expected that those whiskies will be richer, more complex and probably older than those where the legs go down pretty quick.

Step 3 Nosing part 1: Bring the glass to your nose and inhale gently. Ideally, your mouth should be slightly open and your nose an inch or so away from the top of the glass. Try to visualize what you are smelling. Our sense of smell is directly connected to our memory so it is very likely that you will be able to remember aromas from previous experiences. Maybe something you eat the night before or even olfactory memories from your childhood. Check the flavour map below for guidelines to a better understanding of your whisky.

Step 3 Nosing part 2: Cover the top of the glass with the palm of your hand. Swirl the whisky in the glass, remove your hand from the glass and take a sharp sniff this time. Is there anything new you are able to discover? Maybe something sweet like honey or caramel? Or is it something spicy like pepper or cinnamon? Or perhaps smoky and salty?

Step 4 Whisky Tasting: Take a sip of your whisky and hold it for a few seconds in your mouth. Swallow it slowly allowing your palate to feel its body, texture and flavour. Usually, whisky can taste different at the tip of your tongue than at the end of it. Some whiskies can be very sweet and delicate at the beginning and spicy and woody in the end.

  • Delicate: Does your whisky have floral, fruity or sweet notes such as honeysuckle, mandarins or vanilla? If so, those flavours or similar ones are indicators of a very delicate whisky, quite smooth and relatively easy to drink.
  • Smoky: On the other hand, if your whisky tastes peaty, salty, earthy or medicinal, these flavours are a clear indicator of smoke. Smoky whiskies are usually easier to identify since the smokiness tends to predominate over the other notes.

Step 5 – More Whisky Tastings (Finish): The after taste, finish or mouth-feel is what is left after you drank your whisky and usually, a good way to understand the finish is by identifying its richness or lightness.  Does the taste match what you observed when looking at the whisky in step 2?

  • Rich: Once you have drunk your whisky think about what happens after that. Does the flavour linger for a while? If the flavour stays for a few seconds (or minutes) after you swallow it, this means that the whisky is rich, intense and with a long after taste. The longer the after taste and the more flavours you feel, the richer the whisky is.
  • Light: However, if the flavour disappears quite fast and the whisky goes down very easily without leaving any taste in your palate, this means that the whisky is very light, with a short after taste and relatively easy to drink.

Step 6 – Time, water and repeat: Whisky and water go hand in hand. Water is actually a very good way to understand your whisky even further. A few drops or a splash of water usually enhance its flavour. The water reduces the alcoholic perception and opens up its flavour in a way that it’s easier to identify some hidden characteristics that you probably didn’t get without the water. So, feel free to add some water and repeat steps 3 to 5 to gain a further appreciation of your whisky.