Whisky tasting for newbies – what the hell do I do?

So you’ve got everything you need to start your whisky tasting experience (what you’ll need to get started); time to get tasting!

If you’re like me you’ve probably had a glass or two already to (ahem) “help your palate adjust”, so now the actual tasting can begin.

First pour yourself a dram (small measure) of your chosen whisky into your tasting glass. Before you start nosing or tasting take the time to look at your whisky. Hold it up to the light and examine the colour. There is a wide spectrum of colours to describe your whisky, below is an example colour chart from Whisky Magazine to get you started. Think of it as a colour chart when looking at buying paint and try to match your whisky to a point on the chart.


You can always use your own description for the colour of your whisky but this at least gives you a good starting point.

Next is the legs, this is the way the whisky behaves in the glass when swirled. If you have a viscous whisky it will stick to the glass as you swirl it and then start to run back down the side of the glass forming legs.


The slower the legs are to form the more viscous the whisky is. This can also be an indicator of age with older whiskies being slower and thicker, although reading the label on the bottle is a much better indication of age.

Now for the nose of smell of the whisky. If you’re like me the first thing you’re going to get is a strong hit of alcohol and if you take too much of this in to start with it will overpower your sense of smell and make it more difficult to pick anything else up. To combat this I try to pass the glass under my nose quickly to begin with to just get a short nose. This allows your sense of smell to adjust to the alcohol before trying to pick up anything else.

Nosing your whisky can be a difficult task at first. As I explained in my first post (what you’ll need to get started) you’re going to need patience when you start out. It can take time to discern the different scents and you may pick up a different scent from someone else depending on how your body works and what your brain may associate different scents with. Both nosing and tasting your whisky is more of an art than a science as it’s all down to personal interpretation. Just remember whatever you smell is right, even if it’s only right for you.

After you’ve spent awhile nosing your whisky you can move onto tasting. Now remember you’re tasting your whisky not drinking it. That means you only want to take a small amount into your mouth each time and you want to keep it in your mouth, not just swallow it straight away. Let the whisky roll around your mouth to help pick out the flavours.

Now if you find you tongue starts tingling when you first taste your whisky this is the alcohol numbing your taste buds which as you can imagine isn’t good for tasting. If this is the case add a few drops of water to your whisky. Only a few drops mind as you don’t want to over dilute it. Then taste again and if needed add a few more drops of water until the tingling sensation subsides.

As with nosing it can take some time for you to pick up the palate of your whisky. Keep going a little bit at a time and make notes of anything you can taste. Again this is an art not a science and although whiskies certainly do have their own flavours you may not pick up on everything or your brain may interpret the flavours in a different way.

When you taste your whisky make sure you take note of the after taste as well. After you have swallowed you may find different flavours present themselves as your taste buds stop being bombarded. Take note of the after taste or finish of your whisky including how long it lingers.

The most important part of whisky tasting (in my opinion at least) is to keep trying. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not picking up a wide bouquet or a depth of flavours. It takes a lot of time and patience to develop your senses to the same level as the malt masters. In fact there’s a high probability you will never reach that level of expertise. But that doesn’t mean you can’t become a seasoned whisky taster and you can certainly enjoy yourself along the way!

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