Whisky has a lot of different elements that give it that divine flavour. It’s kind of sad that some people will never fully appreciate it, viewing this drink as something to ‘shoot’ down as quickly as possible without even taking the time to consider that their ‘chaser’ to follow might be doing them a disservice.
In this article, we are going to explore the basics of whisky tasting so that you can start to catch the subtle flavours that have earned whisky the affectionate loyalty of folks like Frank Sinatra, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and Ava Gardner.
We’ll even tell you what to pair it with if you feel like hosting your own whisky tasting with a few close friends!
Discover the subtleties of the spirit in a Whisky Tasting
Proper whisky tasting can be broken down into some steps that become habitual for die-hard fans over time. Let’s outline the steps and break it down:
- Serve it right
- A light Sniff
- Shake it up (optional)
- Take A sip
- Get a proper taste
- Try a little cold contrast
Serve it right – The Whisky Tasting Glasses
Whisky tasting glasses are available in sets and you should consider them. The design is rather like an ‘unfinished oval’ with a base, in that you can see the oval shape but the top stops-wide rather than closing off. This is on purpose, as it lets you swirl your whisky a bit without fear of splashing and provides an excellent focal-point for catching the subtle scents.
So give it a little swirl to excite those whisky molecules into the air a bit for the next step.
A light sniff – The Whisky Aromas
ABV, or ‘alcohol by volume’, can differ widely in different whiskies, so don’t just put your nose over it and give it a snort or you might shock your nose a bit or worse, cough right into that good whisky. Instead, you should take a light, open-mouthed sniff and while the first time the scents will seem a little confusing a few more sniffs can give you a hint of what’s to come.
Once you get a little experience you’ll be surprised how much information you can glean with just a few sniffs in a whisky tasting.
Shake it up (optional) – The Whisky bubbles
Some people skip this step but it can be informative because it can tell you the ABV of a whisky. Cover your glass and give your whisky a little shake (some people do this with the bottle, but your glass is just fine). Bubbles will appear and you want to watch how fast they dissolve.
If the ABV is above 50% then those bubbles should last 20 or 30 seconds, but if they vanish quickly, you’re probably imbibing a 40% ABV whisky.
Take a sip – The Whisky Flavours
Finally, the literal whisky tasting. Start with a small sip so that you can take a moment to see what flavours you notice. Taking in a small amount means that you won’t be overloaded with alcohol before your tongue has learned to separate the diverse flavours that are present. See what you can identify through this brief taste.
Get a proper taste – The Whisky Tasting Notes
Drink a little bit more from your glass this time and before you swallow it down, let it roll around the tongue a little. The flavours will certainly open the sinuses a bit the first few times but you’ll acclimate to it. See if you notice any flavours that you didn’t before and if you can separate the flavours you noticed during the ‘sip’.
Try a little cold contrast
A second taste can tell you more and a little trick to do that is to add an ice cube in your whisky tastimg glass. As it melt it dilutes the whisky a bit and helps to further separate some of the flavours. Taking your time in this round of a whisky tasting and taking sips as it becomes more diluted can really tune you in to some of the more subtle flavours which you’ll eventually recognize right off the bat!
Doesn’t ice ruin whisky? Know more about Whisky on the Rocks.
Common Flavors you might Find in a Whisky Tasting
Different whisky varieties can come with many different flavours that you can completely miss if you choose to ‘quaff’ rather than to taste. Flavours to look for include:
- Peat (that smoky flavor!)
It all depends on the whisky, of course, and you get a lot of regional variance. A Texas whiskey maker might use Mesquite wood to add a smoky flavor while a Scottish distillery might well age their whisky in sherry or bourbon casks.
Excellent Foods to pair with Whisky
Hosting a whisky tasting is a great way to share time with friends and a fine excuse to enjoy some excellent whisky. For added ambience, make up some cards that document the steps starting with ‘the sniff’ down to the ‘cold contrast’, leaving a few lines next to each step so that people can make a quick note of what they notice to compare later.
While your guests are tasting, give a little information about the distillation, such as where it was made, how it was aged, but don’t give too many flavour hints because that part is fun to explore together.
Some ‘light snacks’ choices to compliment your whisky tasting
- An apple pie cut into small cubic slices
- Cubed-up grilled steak on toothpicks
- Nuts (sweet or smoky-roasted)
- Dark chocolate
Check out more amazing snacks to have with whisky!
So what are you waiting for?
Now that you know the proper steps for an amazing whisky tasting it is time to spread the word. Who says learning something new can’t be fun?
Until next time, stop quaffing and start tasting that whisky!