How to taste whisky

Single malt whisky is traditionally drunk neat or with water in Scotland however, it’s well recognised that whisky and ice is commonly drunk worldwide – and why not? Other countries have better weather! It does tend to close the aroma down but more and more whiskies are coming onto the market designed to be served cold with ices. Essentially, drink it anyway you want to.

Whisky tasting can be regarded as different from whisky drinking. Tasters are looking to define the characteristics of a single malt. For some this comes naturally, for others practice helps however, there are no right and wrong answers. One taster may smell pear while another may describe the same aroma as fruit.

Many whisky tastings use a glass specifically designed for the purpose. One type is known as a Glencairn glass. This has a thick base with a wide bottom growing up to a narrow opening. The other one you might see is a Tulip or Copita sherry style glass. The is a tulip shaped glass with a long stem.

Whisky tasting routine

You might already have your own tasting routine but if not, you might want to try this …

Look: Swirl the whisky around the glass. Look at the colour which is often described in terms of honey, shades of gold, intensity.

Allow the whisky to settle. Oilier and higher alcohol strengths may leave a slowly subsiding, leggy film on the glass.

Nose: Gently sniff the whisky while swirling the glass  or wave it gently before your nose for a few seconds at a time. Try to pick out the different aromas.

Taste: Sip the whisky, hold in your mouth and gently roll over and around your tongue. Try and hold for around 20 seconds. Describe the mouth feel? Is it creamy, thin etc. Think about the tastes which often confirm the scents you picked and more e.g. vanilla, apple, embers.

Finish: Swallow your dram. Describe how it finishes – sometimes long, sometimes changing.

Add a few drops of water and repeat the process. Note any changes in the nose particularly, as water can open up the dram. Even if you drink your whisky neat, it’s always worth doing this as the results may surprise you.

Discover whisky distilleries to tour on the map page or the whisky route planner.

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