A Beginner’s Guide to Tasting Whiskey like a Pro

November 07, 2018

A Beginner’s Guide to Tasting Whiskey like a Pro

We've already covered how to buy whiskey like a pro, even if it was your first time. However, the real proof of whiskey-buying is in the tasting. And no, tasting is not simply gulping the liquid and muttering to yourself “Yep. That’s alcohol.” Appreciating whiskey involves a few key steps to make sure you get a complete idea of what you are paying for. Whiskeys are complex refreshments, with multiple information being revealed over time. So you need to give a moment to completely know it.

Here’s a guide on tasting whiskey like a pro, because whiskey virtuosos have to start somewhere.

 

The Glassware

A snifter, which looks like a wine glass but with a stubbier stem, wider base, and narrower opening.

Photo: felix_w/Pixabay

We cannot emphasize enough how the right glassware can affect your whiskey sampling. Given, tin cups and shot glasses are cool, but they will not give you the full experience. Instead, opt for a snifter, which looks like a wine glass but with a stubbier stem, wider base, and narrower opening.

The wider base design allows you to swirl the liquid inside. Veteran whiskey and wine drinkers don’t do this just for the show. Swirling unpacks the various aromas trapped inside the liquid, releasing them to the air. The narrow opening of the glass channels these aromas straight into your nose.

 

The Nose

The nose refers to sniffing the whiskey from the glass after the aromas have been released via swirling.

Photo: authenticireland.com

"The nose" refers to sniffing the whiskey from the glass after the aromas have been released via swirling. Most refined drinkers will tell you that the drinking part is simply to confirm everything you observed from the nose.

However, do not get too excited and jam your snout right into the glass, as you probably do with wine. Whiskey is at least 60% alcohol, and taking in all the scent directly will make you feel dizzy. Instead, swirl the liquid a bit and take a whiff from the top of the glass. Do not look for any specific flavor or scent. Just let the smell arrive at you and see what memories come to your head. Is it your childhood oak closet? Mom’s marzipan? Orange orchard? Grounded pepper? Christmas? The possibilities are endless.

As you swirl, take also a good look at the whiskey. Is it deep brown? Light amber? Bright gold? The color indicates how well the whiskey is aged. Normally, the darker, the older it is.

 

The Palate

Drinking and tasting whiskey isn’t the same.

Photo: bruce mars/Pexels

Drinking and tasting whiskey isn’t the same. The first one is passively enjoying the alcohol as it passes from your lips to your throat in a straightforward process. The second one involves gymnastic on kisser’s part to discover the different tastes in the liquid.

Take a sip and keep in your mouth for twelve seconds. Gargle the whiskey and make sure it passes to all the parts of your mouth, the inner cheeks, the tongue, and the upper mouth. You will be amazed at how more flavors are opening up with each passing second. Again, be a subjective observer and see how your palate reacts to the drink. Is there any hint of wetness? Is it rolling? Or does it give an immediate kick? Does it feel dry on the mouth? Or is it stimulating?

You MIGHT feel gagging with the first time you are doing this. But this is normal, do not feel discouraged. We humans are not evolved to imbibe strong alcohol, so it is just your gagging reflex working. Over time, you may overcome this.

After swishing the whiskey, time swallow it. This part is called the finish. Take note what it feels. Is it smooth, with a bit of dryness, or is it burning? Is it short, medium, or long? What are the new flavors that come up? Take note of all of these as they will all be part of the consideration.

 

Watering It Down

Watering down whiskey is a controversial topic.

Photo: Pexels

Watering down whiskey is a controversial topic. The purists believe that whiskey should only be taken neat or on the rocks (not with ice, but with cooling rocks). And there are those swearing on splashing a bit of H20 for better taste.

However, since you are still tasting it, you might as well experiment and find what suits you best. Not to mention, we have convincing argument that the latter group might be more correct. And when we say convincing, we mean two scientists actually took the time to test it. Adding H20 to your whiskey masks the bad flavors and exposes the good ones in a process so intricate we have to write an entirely different article just to explain it.

Start by adding a drop or two of water to your whiskey. If the alcohol content is higher, you may add more. Swirl it, smell, and sip. Then you may know if this suits your taste.

 

Final Notes

Do not let whiskey-tasting be too technical.

Photo: Startup Stock Photos

Do not let whiskey-tasting be too technical. Take your time to discover the inner workings of the drink, and enjoy the process. Sip water between whiskeys to clear your palate. Do not rush. If you have friends the share the experience with you, then the better, just make sure they do not influence your judgment of the drink.

Take notes. Exchange with them. Converse about it. Whiskeys are complex refreshments, with multiple information being revealed over time. It takes a while to completely know them.





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