Let me get this straight, you’re here because you have finally decided to stop pretending like you know proper whiskey tasting.
Trust me, we have ALL been there, throwing out jargons here and there and think we understand it. In reality, we would all look like an idiot in front of people that know.
BUT, I am glad that you’re here because that means you want to learn, for real this time! Without further ado, here are 5 simple tips to whiskey tasting. In no time, you will be able to ACTUALLY tell your friends what a Macallan 12 taste like.
1. Pick Something You Like
It is the easiest to start with something you have a connection with. Let’s say Buffalo Trace is your favourite, you crave it everytime you go to a bar, start with that! Don’t let the social norm pressure you into drinking something else.
A lot of people around me made this common mistake when they first got into whiskey tasting. They think there is a common starting point, certain brand like Macallan, Ardbeg or Bruichladdich should be the first to whiskey tasting. Wrong.
See, when you first got into a hobby, you would always want to start with something you like. Let’s take drawing as an example and you would love to know how to draw superheroes as they do on Marvel comics. At first, you’ll have to learn the basics but then you would wanna slowly work your way towards what you love because it is a strong motivation and you actually enjoy the learning process. If your instructor forces you to do oil painting instead, it will slowly but certainly, smother your interest in drawing, turning a what started out as a hobby into chores.
Same goes to whiskey tasting, pick something you resonate with and master it, then branch out into different whiskeys!
Before getting into the actual tasting, it is essential to have the correct apparatus to start with. A lot of bars serve whiskey in Rock glasses which has a large opening as it is for putting ice through it. However, most of the time, it is preferred to taste the whiskey neat, that is why a Glencairn would be the better candidate here.
A Glencairn is optimized for true whiskey tasting, narrow opening and a round bottom (wink wink). The small opening is to prevent the aroma of the whiskey from dispersing into the surrounding, so you get the most when you sniff it. A small knob at the bottom for you to hold it to prevent body heat from your palm from warming the beverage up.
3. Utilize Your Sense Of Smell
Perhaps the most important part of whiskey tasting. A lot of the time, your olfactory is going to reveal more than your palate, amazing right? In fact, according to various whiskey experts, tasting the whiskey is simply to be certain that what your nose picked up is real.
First, give the whiskey a swirl, let the aroma to be released then slowly bring your nose to the Glencairn.
Second, unlike wine tasting, wine tasters tend to keep a little distance between their nose and the glass, not for whiskey tasting. You would want to put the tip of your nose into the glass, so you can pick up every note from every angle.
SNIFF GENTLY! You do not want to overstimulate your olfactory (it burns, I know). Take your time, move the glass around, sniff every corner of the whiskey glass.
Next, search your mind to find a connection or a nostalgia. What does it smell like? It is fine if it is all ambiguous to you at first, link the smell to something you are familiar with. Perhaps it smells like an old leather chair (leather, wood)? Or a bowl of fruits (citrusy, fruitiness)? Maybe even a barbecue (smoke, salt)? Everyone has their own unique linkage and connection, but it is important for you to learn and find that resemblance.
4. The Palate
Pay attention to the taste of things you described when you smelled it. Also, try to focus on the mouthfeel.
How it feels in your mouth is an essential aspect to whiskey tasting. Is it smooth and rolling or harsh? Is there a strong burn to it? Does it sting when you swallow it? These are all some really important questions to ask yourselves when during whiskey tasting.
Combining mouthfeel with flavours you picked up while tasting it is what completes a whiskey tasting session.
5. Add Water
Wait, didn’t I just mention it is better to taste it neat than on rocks? Now I am asking you to add water to your whiskey?
Adding water is the second part to whiskey tasting. After tasting it without any dilution, it is time to add one to two drops of water to it to really open up the whiskey. Since tasting high abv (alcohol by volume) could really numb your palate, adding water lessen the strength of the whiskey whilst revealing more of the intrate workings of the dram’s flavour!
6. Drink With Friends!
Last but not least, share the whiskey with your friends! Whiskey tasting is a really fun and pleasant experience when done with like-minded people, so why not taste the whiskey in a group? Tasters can compare impressions with each other and see if they picked up the same flavour as you did!
So that’s it folks! These are the 6 Simple Tips for you to kickstart your whiskey tasting journey. Now gather a few friends, hit up a whiskey bar and start practising, Enjoy!
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