You’ve been invited to a whiskey distillery that your friend recommended. They offer tours and tastings for free. You have put on your best clothes, prepared for a delicious afternoon of malt, and ate a delicious meal before you go. You begin to panic silently when the tour guide offers you a glass of whiskey. You don’t know where to start. Are you able to taste whiskey the same way you can taste wine? Do you know how much whiskey you can smell before you try it? How much food did you eat before drinking the whiskey? We are here to support you. It’s actually quite simple to taste whiskey. Here are some tips to help you get started.


Although it is not essential, the shape of your glasses can make your whiskey tasting experience more enjoyable. If the stem is thicker and the opening narrower, a snifter will look more like a wineglass. You can swirl whiskey around, while the narrow opening concentrates the wonderful aromas for your enjoyment. You’ll likely find the right glassware at a restaurant, distillery, or bar. A wineglass is a good option if you are trying whiskey at home. We are concerned about you if you don’t own a wineglass.


You shouldn’t stick your nose in a whiskey snifter. Whiskey is more alcohol-rich than wine, and this could make you feel dizzy. Instead, swirl the whiskey around and take a few deep breaths to smell the aroma. Between swirls and sniffs of whiskey, notice the color. This is similar to the glass shape. However, it can help you learn more about your whiskey. Is it taking longer for the whiskey to drip down the glass after you swirl it around? This indicates that the whiskey is viscous. Which color is your whiskey? It could be light gold or deep brown. This could indicate how long the whiskey has been aged. Darker often indicates that it has been aged longer.

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Do not search for any scent while you’re sniffing. If you were given a chocolate cake, would you attempt to find a particular scent? You’d just let the scent come to you, probably not. You might experience different smells if you recall various memories. When you are tasting whiskey with others, don’t let your group’s perceptions of whiskey’s aromas influence you. Don’t be afraid of trying the whiskey more than once. The whiskey’s nose will change with every whiff.


Once you feel you have gotten enough of the whiskey, you can start to taste it. Take a small amount of whiskey and make an O shape with your lips. Take a small sip and move your tongue towards your lips to inhale the air. In essence, you will be drinking whiskey. You might gag the first few times (hundreds) you do this. This has less to do w/ you than it does with whiskey strength. Chronic whiskey drinkers, um, will be familiar with the burn-cough reflex. Alternate between rolling the whiskey in your mouth and gargling it. Don’t try to find anything, just passively notice the flavors you are noticing. It’s okay to say I like the alcohol. Whiskey contains alcohol. You might discover new tastes by taking a few more sips. Once you have a good feeling about the whiskey, you can swallow it. The burning sensation you feel? This is called the finish. It can be long, short, or pleasant. All of these (including icky), are acceptable descriptors. These are important descriptors to keep in mind.


Some people (slightly sanctimonious), will tell you not to put water in your whiskey. We think that is absurd. Whiskey can be touched as a holy liquid. A small amount of H2O can open up whiskey, adding new aromas and tastes. So, add water to your whiskey. You don’t need to pour the whole bottle. A few drops will suffice. A few extra drops will be fine if your whiskey is high proof.


Slow down. You don’t have to drink several snifters in three minutes. Be sure to drink water between whiskies or between sips of the exact same whiskey. It is also a good idea to write down your thoughts so you can keep track. Whiskey is complex enough that you will have many notes to take. We urge you to not let your surroundings affect your judgments. You might have a unique whiskey-tasting ability if you pick up on a smell or taste that no one else has. This is subjective. Cheers!