Whisky tasting for newbies – what you’ll need to get started.

The first time I tried whisky I hated it. But as with anything you have to stick at it and keep trying before you know for sure whether you like it or not. Overtime my palate developed and I grew to love whisky.

In truth I’ve still only tried a moderate selection of different whiskies (around 50 at a guesstimate). But since my first botched attempt at whisky drinking I have moved on from being just a whisky drinker to a whisky taster; a whole different ball game indeed.

Whisky tasting is about appreciating the nuances of each whisky, of which there are too many to count. Each whisky has its own colour, nose (smell), body and taste. Depending on your ability to discern different smells and flavours this may come easily to you or you may find it more difficult (as I do at times). When you taste a whisky as opposed to drinking a whisky you take it slow. A good tasting can last 20 or 30 minutes. This helps to ensure you savour all the nose and palate of your whisky.

So you’re new to whisky tasting, where do you start?

First thing you’re going to need is a whisky (obviously!), or several whiskies. There is a whole spectrum of different whiskies so if you’re new to this I’d suggest going for a milder whisky to start so as not to overpower your senses. Something like a Jura 10yr or a Glenfiddich 12yr is a good starting point.


Next you need the right sort of glass. You’ll want a glass that will focus the nose of your chosen whisky. Either of the below examples are good for this although if you’re not in a position to get one of these in time a small wine glass should do the trick.


Water! I know to some this may seem like sacrilege but when it comes to whisky tasting water can be invaluable. When you first taste a whisky you may find you get a tingling sensation on your tongue. This is the alcohol numbing your taste buds which will prevent you from properly tasting all the flavours contained within your whisky. A few drops of water can help dilute the alcohol enough to stop this from happening and allow you to continue tasting unencumbered. Spring water is recommended as tap water contains chemicals like chlorine that could affect the taste. That said if you’re not up for going out and buying a bottle of natural spring water just to use a few drops of it in your whisky then go ahead and use tap water, I certainly won’t hold it against you.

Something to make notes on. I have a small pocket-book specifically for writing my whisky tasting notes on but it’s easy to quickly google a note sheet which you can print off and use instead.

The final thing you will need before starting your journey into whisky tasting is patience! I can’t stress this one enough. Just because you’ve read a tasting review giving lavish descriptions of “zingy leather, orange marmalade with ginger and nutmeg spices” doesn’t mean you’re going to taste that. Firstly because everyone will interpret things differently and although certain flavours will certainly be present in a whisky others may be based on personal interpretation. Secondly because even if a certain flavour is very prominent in a whisky it doesn’t mean you’ll pick it up straight away.

When I first nose and taste a whisky the overriding smell and flavour I receive is alcohol. It takes awhile for my senses to adjust and to start picking up anything else. Now as I say everyone’s senses are different and you may pick things up quicker than I do but don’t be surprised if it takes a little while. Don’t get frustrated or give up though, stick at it, I implore you! If in doubt do what I do a drink one or two whiskies before properly starting your tasting. It allows my palate to adapt to the strong alcohol and makes it easier to discern the other flavours. That’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking to it!

So now you’re all set with everything you need to start tasting. In my next post I’ll go over the basics of how to taste whisky.

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