How to ‘taste’ whisky

Samantha PillingEntertainment, Food and Drink, Latest News


Whisky, it can be a complex drink to master, especially as there are so many amazing choices on offer! However, navigating your way through the complex and subtle tastes is something that CAN be done – if you just know where to start!

There are no right and wrong answers, when it comes to describing whisky. Whether you’re explaining the character, aroma or colour, it’s often down to your personal experiences, memories and descriptions – but there IS a way to learn.

Before I explain HOW to taste whisky, you need to bear in mind these three top tips:

Tip #1: Build up your experience

The first thing to remember is it doesn’t happen overnight! Learning how to accurately taste whisky is something that happens over time. You need to build up your experiences, both in how you taste and how you describe the sensations and aromas.

Build up your experiences by tasting whisky and other, non-whisky-related beverages. Expand your terminology when describing their tastes.

Tip #2: Take your time

The second thing to remember is NOT to drink whisky too quickly! The character will come through after time. You’re not looking to guzzle it down like a shot – you want to savour each sip.

Tip #3: Use the right glass for tasting

When it comes to drinking whisky for tasting purposes, you’ll want to pay attention the glass shape. Look for a glass that has narrow opening, as this helps concentrate the aromas as they reach your nostrils. A tumbler (or other wide opening glass), is great for general drinking but, it’s not suitable for whisky tasting, as it allows the aromas and character to dissipate too fast.

How to taste whisky

Now we’ve covered the top tips, let’s look at HOW to taste whisky!

Step 1 – Swirl first: Before drinking, swirl the whisky around in the glass for a short time. This adds oxygen and lets the evaporation process begin.

Step 2 – Give it time to settle: Allow time for the whisky to settle. You can use this time to acknowledge the colour – placing against a white background can help here. Be expressive in your colours too.

Step 3 – Use your nose: Now sniff 3-4 times. The first sniff will be just alcohol, so do this more than once to pick up the aromas and characters. Associating memories to the aromas can help here.

Step 4 – Over to your palate: Sip and pass the whisky over the different parts of your mouth and tongue, to gain full effect.

Step 5 – Swallow and look for the finish: As you swallow you’ll experience the immediate alcohol burn, but look past that for the less obvious flavours. And the sensations (if it’s soft or hot etc.). The finish is how long or short these related flavours and sensations are.

taste whiskyStep 6 – Add water: Adding water can help release further flavours and subtle tastes – so dilute down with some water. The amount of water you use is down to personal choice – but DON’T use ice, as it drops the temperature and inhibits some characteristics from being released.

Step 7 – Repeat with the diluted whisky: Repeat the steps above, with the diluted whisky.

Whisky tasting, like any other social event, is best shared! Look to enlist another whisky lover to taste with you – as you can share some great drams together and compare notes!

Whisky Events at The Grim’s Dyke Hotel

  • The 5th Annual Harrow Whisky Festival: 10th & 11th January 2o20 (Plus Gin & Other Spirits) Our 2020 (5th) festival is set to be the best yet, with more exhibitors than ever before. Return of many favourites and new high quality exhibitors. SELL OUT AGAIN EXPECTED of main sessions. Pop-up shops will again operate so you can buy bottles of some of your favourite spirits. Main ticket sale from 1 September.
    • Talks: We are renowned for the quality of our whisky and distillery related talks and the noon Saturday session will include one of these popular talks. The Editor of Scottish Islands Explorer magazine plans to be with us again.
    • Exhibitors:  Visit the Harrow Whisky Festival Website for information about the fantastic line up of distillers and other exhibitors expected for the 5th festival. Our Whisky Scouts have been as busy as ever visiting distilleries all around the UK and also locating overseas exhibitors for the festival.
    • Food and Festival Rooms: Food will be on sale during part of the tasting sessions or is included with the highly popular Distiller Banquet ticket. Exhibitors will be located in the Music Room (1st floor, no lift) and ground floor in the Drawing Room and the Lobby.

Photo Credit: Springbank Distillery

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