Try your whisky with anything you want but take it from us its best tried neat to begin with and preferably with a clean palate. Cleanse the palate, drink a black unsweetened coffee or chew on 90% minimum cocoa chocolate. Make sure you have washed your hands recently, no scented soaps. No strong perfumes/after shave.
There are three stages of whisky tasting. Nosing, Tasting and Finish then doing it again but with a few drops of water. This is a personnel preference for me as I feel it helps to optimize and release the tasting experience.
Maybe you’ve the refined palette of a connoisseur or have never tasted a dram before in your life. There is nothing like a proper tasting to unlock the secrets of a single malt.
Before You Begin
Ensure you have a clean, tulip-shaped nosing glass and a jug of still spring water at room temperature. Unlike tumblers, a tulip glass traps the aromas in the bulbous bottom of the glass yet allows the more delicate whisky aromas you are searching for to escape. Glencairn glass is the best choice.
Warm the undiluted whisky in the glass to body temperature before nosing or tasting. Hence the stem, so you can cradle in your hand the curve of the thin base. This excites the molecules and unravels the whisky in your glass, maximizing its sweetness and complexity. Keep your hand over the glass to keep the aromas in while you warm
Step 1: Pour
Serve your whisky neat to start, then add a little water later if and as needed. No tap-water or (heaven forbid) NO mixers please. To appreciate the aroma and flavor to the utmost, a measure of malt whisky should be ‘cut’ (diluted) with one to two-thirds as much spring water. Still, bottled spring water will be fine. NEVER add ice. This tightens the molecules and prevents flavors and aromas from being released. It also makes your whisky taste bitter. NEVER put the whisky in the fridge.
Step 2: Look
Hold your glass up against a neutral background and examine the colour. Scotch whisky appears a light gold, amber or dark ochre colour depending on the wood finish of the cask it is stored in and the length of time it has been aged in it.
Step 3: Swirl
Warm the undiluted whisky in the glass to body temperature before nosing or tasting. So you can cradle it in your hand the curve of the thin base. This excites the molecules and unravels the whisky in your glass, maximizing its sweetness and complexity.
Give your glass a good swirl and coat the inside well. Notice the legs streaking down the glass. The more there are and the faster they run, the thinner, lighter bodied and younger the malt. If the legs take longer to form and run slowly down the glass, or there are fewer and they appear thick, the malt is most likely fuller bodied and older.
Step 4: Nosing
Never stick your nose in the glass. Or breathe in deeply. Gently allow the glass to touch your top lip, leaving a small space below the nose. Move from nostril to nostril, breathing normally. This allows the aromas to break up in the air, helping find the more complex notes.
Open your mouth slightly and inhale to release the bouquet. What do you smell? Fruit and flowers, seaweed, a bonfire? No matter how unexpected the scents the whisky conjures up, there are no wrong answers!
Step 5: Tasting
First mouthful take no notice (small). This is a marker for your palate. Second larger mouthful, close your eyes to concentrate on the flavor and chew the whisky moving it continuously around the palate. Keep your mouth slightly open to let air in and alcohol out. It helps to tilt your head back slightly.
Then ‘cut’ with half as much still spring water and repeat. Breathe in and out while rolling the whisky around your mouth; try to pick out flavors from your previous sniffing. Think about how the whisky feels in your mouth. Never make your final assessment until you have taste it a third or fourth time.
Look for the balance of the whisky. That is, which flavors counter others so none is too dominant? Also watch carefully how flavors and aromas change over time in the glass. Asses the “shape” and mouth feel of the whisky, its weight and how long the finish. And don’t forget to concentrate on the first flavors as intensely as you do the last. Look out for the way the sugars, spices and other characteristics form. Is it smooth, dry, syrupy or tingly?
- The water question…So how much water should be added, if at all? Only add in very small amounts it’s easy to add more but you cannot take it out.
- Adding water has been a debate among Whisky drinkers for many years and will likely continue for many more. I feel and many others do also that adding water unlocks the full aroma and flavor potential of the Whisky.
- For me this will largely depend on several factors such as the whiskies unique profile and of course your own personnel palate. I would recommend always starting to taste neat just as is, then adding very small amounts of fresh unchilled water until you discover exactly where you enjoy the flavor most enjoyable to you. Keep in mind this does not always equate to another whisky or a similar brand but a different age or another brand.
But then this is the fun of drinking different whiskies and learning what you like and enjoy. It’s a personnel experience.
Try other whiskies, repeating the process until you find you’re favorite or favorites.