Tasting whisky is more about the nose than the tongue! Which is why the correct terminology for a whisky tasting is actual a “nosing” and the best tasters are called “noses.”
Tasting is easy, you can only taste four things: sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. On the other hand, your nose can detect about 35,000 different smells and is sensitive enough to detect those aromas when diluted to one part per million. Therefore, when determining the qualities of any whisky, your nose can provide you with a lot more information and even when you are drinking whisky, it is your nose that is providing you with most of the information. Try to hold your nose when you take a sip and see how much you can taste!
Before we get started, a note about glasses. Any glass can be used to taste whisky, but the best general glasses being tulip-shaped wine glasses. Like with anything else, some companies, such as Riedel (get free shipping on Riedel glassware), make whisky-tasting glasses that are designed to provide the best tasting experience possible. You can also get similar glasses from any good whisky store or from most distilleries.
A 7-Step Program:
- Note the whisky’s details: distillery/brand, age, and strength … the more detail that you provide, the better you are equipped to find the same whisky again.
- Eye the whisky: describe the colour (see Wheel below), texture, and clarity
- Smell the whisky straight: note the intensity (1 to 5), nose-feel, and cardinal aromas
- Smell the whisky diluted: note the primary aromas, secondary aromas, and development (you want to add a little water, enough to awaken the serpent – technically known as viscimetry – and recognizable as tiny swirls)
- Taste the whisky: describe the mouth-feel, primary taste, overall flavour, and finish
- Note any general thoughts about the whisky – what did you like or not like about it.
- Rate the whisky on a scale of 1 to 10 or however you would like to rate it.
For more information, see the Whisky Mag’s Nosing Course.