Whisky Tasting for Beginners

“There is no such thing as a bad whisky. Some whisky happens to be better than others.” was once said by William Faulkner, so how can you distinguish the great ones from those which are not that great? Read on for more info.

Three Things to Prepare for Whisky Tasting

Three essential items are required when you plan on whisky tasting. First, you need whisky, and you can explore a selection of drams or make things easier on your end. You can also choose to have a single grain scotch whisky for your first whisky tasting. Second, you can also check out whisky tasting sets. 

Second, you need the right whisky glass. Again, there’s an industry standard when it comes to whisky tasting whether it is between Scotch Whiskey VS. Canadian – how about this one? Whatever your choice of whiskey is, keep in mind that these glasses are specifically designed to capture congeners.

These glasses are specifically designed to capture congeners. These types of glasses will direct the whisky to your expectant nose. Most whisky glasses look like elongated sherry glass with a stubby stem. It will allow you to swirl and sniff the whisky. 

Lastly, you need water. Dropping water in the whisky is usually done in stages. After smelling and tasting pure whisky, you can use a pipette and drop water at a time to reveal the desired aromas. Remember to be cautious so that you will not dilute the whisky too much. If you do not have a pipette, you can use a straw or the cap of the water bottle you are using. 

Regarding the water, it should be mineral water, and it should be slightly cooler or at a moderate temperature so that it will not disrupt the whisky too much. Always remember that the main goal is to open up the whisky and not dilute it. The worst you can do is break its palate, structure or texture if you are not careful enough. 

Make sure to prepare a pen and paper beside you as well so that you can take notes. What you will write will serve as your database and reference for future tasting sessions.

It would be best if you always served whisky at room temperature. Around 18° to 22°C or 64° to 72°F would be encouraged. However, when it comes to tasting, quality will always win over quantity. Therefore, 3/4 to 1 1/2 ounces is enough. 

Once you have poured the whiskey onto the glass, tilt it sideways and rotate it until it makes a complete circle. Doing this ensures that the whisky is distributed evenly on the inner surface of the glass. It also increases the oxidation surface bringing out the aromas present at the bottom of the glass. 

Assessing the Whisky’s Appearance

While looking at the whisky in the transparent glass, there are three crucial things you have to note regarding its appearance. First is the colour. Second is the clarity, and lastly, the viscosity. So let’s go into the details one by one.

  • Colour

The colour is usually determined by the type of cask used to age the whisky. However, some use a colouring agent to achieve that caramel colour. However, doing so will have an adverse impact on the aromatic profile of the whisky. 

  • Clarity

Chill-filtration determines the clarity of the whisky. If it has not been chill-filtered, those with less than 46% ABV will look cloudy below a specific temperature or even when you add water to it. However, having a hazy appearance does not have a significant bearing on the quality of the whisky.

On the other hand, chill-filtration will cause the whisky to lose fatty acids, proteins, and esters, affecting the whisky’s aromatic profile. So it can significantly decrease the quality of a good whisky.

  • Viscosity

After swirling the whisky, you will see the legs, also known as tears. The slowness will allow you to assess the whisky’s alcohol content. More legs and slower tears mean a higher alcohol content. Furthermore, if the whisky is aged in a cask, the legs will tend to separate and space out. 

Determining the Whisky’s Aroma

When examining the appearance of whisky, you use your physical sense, but when studying its smell, you are using your chemical sense. The perceived aromas from the whisky are a result from its production and ageing process. There are three classes of aromas that you need to consider, primary, secondary and tertiary. 

For primary aromas, you will need to consider the type of barley and malting. Secondary aromas, on the other hand, will come from the fermentation and distillation processes. Lastly, the tertiary aromas will come from the ageing of the whisky. 

Tasting the Whisky

You have to drink soft, neutral water at room temperature before you taste the whisky. In addition, avoid consuming any food or beverages with robust tastes because it might alter your sense of taste.

To maximize the tasting process, you need to exhale deeply through your nose as soon as you have swallowed your first sip of whisky. Now that you have a guide go ahead and try your first whisky tasting session. 

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