Nosing and Tasting Whiskey
Tasting whiskey can be a fun and educational experience, allowing you to test and develop your palate and sense of smell. Although simply having a sip is not a complicated idea, premium whiskey often has much more to offer. Have a look at our handy tips below and taste your next dram like a pro!
At the end of the day, any glass that's comfortable for you to drink out of is the right choice. However, if you look at glasses designed for whiskey tasting, you'll notice a common theme – the bottom will be the widest part, becoming narrower towards the top. This type of a glass catches the aromas in the bell (or bottom) of the glass, focusing them up through the narrower top.
Examples of whiskey glasses
The Five Steps of Tasting
When tasting a whiskey there are five main areas to look at: The Colour, The Body, The Nose, The Palate and The Finish.
Hold the glass up to the natural background light. What does the colour tell you?
The colour can give you an indication of the age and wood finish, i.e., is it a dark amber colour indicating that it may have been matured in an ex-sherry barrel, or a pale light straw colour suggesting that it could have been matured in an ex-bourbon cask.
However, be careful as not all whiskey is its natural colour. Any assumptions made on the colour must be confirmed on the nose.
Swirl the whiskey around in the glass, coating the sides thoroughly. Wait, and watch the droplets form and run down the sides of the glass. These are known as The Legs.
If the legs are thin, run quickly, and there is a lot of them, it suggests that the body is light, that the spirit could be young, and that the alcohol content is normal (40-46% ABV).
If the legs form thick droplets, take a long time to start running, and there is very few of them, then it may be a heavy-bodied whiskey, it could be slightly older and the ABV is typically higher.
When nosing, try moving the glass or your head from side to side as one nostril will be more susceptible than the other. Also, try to keep your mouth ever so slightly open, this should help take in all the aromas.
Always ensure that you nose more than once. Your first nosing will be a rush of alcohol, while other characteristics will follow, unlocking more layers of the spirit.
Have a taste. Leave the spirit in your mouth for a few moments. What flavours jump out at you? Even though you are tasting, your nose is still doing a lot of the work. Sometimes, you will pick out characteristics on the palate that you were not immediately aware of on the nose, and vice versa.
Does the flavour last a long time? Or does it disappear very quickly? What mouthfeel does it add: is it syrupy, is it dense, or does it tingle your tongue? Overall, there is no right or wrong answers here, everyone’s palate is different.
If you use someone else's tasting notes, they may subconsciously steer you towards sensing particular things, but it's always a good idea to nose and taste prior to reading them. Once you've come to your own conclusions, try comparing them with the existing notes. Remember – two different people may sense entirely different things, so whether your impressions match the notes word for word, or they're entirely different, it's perfectly normal.
To enhance your experience, try adding a drop of water to your whiskey after your first nosing and tasting. A splash of water will lower the alcohol content, open the nose, and bring out some of the aromas and other characteristics on the palate. Although some whiskeys may benefit from this more than others, it's worth trying to get a slightly different perspective on the liquid.
Ready for your next tasting session?
We hope you'll find our tips useful – be sure to drop a comment below and let us know if they've worked out for you, or share your own sampling techniques!