So you have discovered craft spirits and want to move on from the major brand whiskey you’re used to. Or maybe you have always had your bourbon in a mixed drink like a whiskey coke…Your pallet is changing and have realized that there is something more to the spirit and really want to learn how to appreciate its craft.
We think its time for you to branch out and find out what you look for in a whiskey or simply discover your new favorite. Much like dating, the process will take time and effort. But fear not…We’re here to help you along the journey.
We created “The 6 Steps to Tasting Whisk(e)y” guide and broke down the process to help you identify what you like and look for in a whiskey. This guide is perfect for those that are just starting out, or for seasoned whiskey tasters that need a refresher.
The 6 Steps to Tasting Whisk(e)y:
First: You’ll need a Glencairn style glass. A wine glass will do in a pinch, but is not as effective for nosing. The shape of this glass will make your experience better as you will be able to identify aromas and observe the viscosity of your whiskey easier. More on this in step three.
Second: Pour the whisky into the glass just under the widest tulip part. This will allow you to swirl the whiskey around, while bringing out the different scents. Making sure its at the widest part will help avoid splashing and will also allow you to easily see the viscosity of the whiskey.
Third: Swirl the whisky in the glass gently and observe the color and viscosity. What is Viscosity you ask? It simply means how thick and sticky the whiskey is. Before you take a deep breath in, notice the color of your whiskey and how long it takes to drip. If when you swirl your whiskey and it takes long to drip, then it is more viscous. If it takes a short time to drip however, then it is less viscous. You can then hold up your whiskey to the light to observe its true color. Ask yourself, is the whisky a lighter gold color? Or is it a dark brown? This will give you an insight as to how long the whiskey is aged. The longer the whiskey is aged, the darker it will be. Below you will see a variation of whiskeys with different aging times.
Fourth: Nose it as deeply or as lightly as you wish to. Remember to try NOT to look for a single scent. This will ensure that you notice different scents every whiff you take. The aromas will come in waves and will change the more you nose the whiskey. Take a couple of whiffs and try to let the aromas come to you, instead of you searching out for them. The heavier aromas, (earthy, smoky, woody, etc. aromas), will be at the bottom of the glass while the lighter aromas (Spicy, malty, fruity and floral aromas) will be higher in the glass. Alternate between long and short whiffs as you please before moving on to step five.
Fifth: Now take a small sip and slowly roll the spirit on your tongue. But before you swallow, let the whisky sit on your tongue, pucker your lips and make an ‘O’ shape. You do this because you are, essentially, going to be gargling the whiskey. It will take some time to get use to this step so don’t worry if you gag a little, it is all part of the process. This will happen the first times you taste test whiskey. The whiskey’s strength also plays a huge role in this. After your first sip, alternate between gargling and rolling the whiskey around in your mouth. Where the whiskey was aged and how long it was aged for plays a huge role as this is where they get the vanilla, spicy, winey or woody flavors. Just like we discussed in nosing the whiskey, make sure you are not looking for a particular taste, but instead let the notes come to you. Take a few sips and continue the process until you start discovering new notes. When you feel like you’ve appreciated the whiskey, swallow.
Sixth: Identify the aroma and tastes you found. You may ask, what is it called when it burns on the way down? That is the finish. When observing the finish, ask yourself, “does it burn for a long time?” or is it short? Is it pleasant, or is it rough? These are all great descriptors and you should take note of them. This is how you refine your pallet and begin to identify what you look for in a whiskey. Write down notes of what you describe on your phone or somewhere you can keep track of. This will help you begin to notice a pattern in all the whiskeys you taste, and you will be able to pinpoint the experience you look for in a bourbon.
Lastly: Feel free to add room temperature water, or ice as you prefer. We know there are some hardcore whiskey lovers out there that would advise otherwise, however, we feel tasting whiskey is not a one size fits all endeavor. As you begin your journey, adding Ice and or room temperature water will help acclimate you to the spirit. Ice will help mute the flavors slightly. Room temperature water can also help beginners really identify the tastes on the palate if the whisky feels too intense or overpowering for a new whisky drinker.
SO REMEMBER, take your time and GO SLOW. Refining your pallet takes time and work. Whiskey is complex and it will take time to properly describe what you see, smell and taste. Don’t be afraid to describe what you experience in your own words. Often times people tend to be influenced by others descriptions. Try to come up with your own. Keeping notes on your experiences will help you hone in on what you like in a whiskey. Remember, taste is subjective so have fun and enjoy.
Ready to put your new tasting skills to the test? Check out our Whiskey Shots Box where we send you 10 Craft Whiskey Mini’s for you to sample and taste test. These are minis we personally taste tested and have enjoyed.