7 Whisky-tasting tips all Whisky connoisseurs know
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7 Whisky-tasting tips all Whisky connoisseurs know

September 1, 2017

The wide world of Whisky is far more intimidating than it needs to be. It doesn’t help that stories of people being tossed out of Irish bars for asking for ice with their Whisky are not uncommon. Whether you’re organising a proper tasting night with friends or just looking to enhance your own enjoyment of this complex and storied spirit, there are some basic tips and tricks that all connoisseurs know.

Neat isn’t always best

Many people assume proper connoisseurs only taste Whisky neat, but these days we know many types of Whisky can benefit from a few of drops of water. Stronger styles, like single malts, can open up more with a touch of water, revealing more scents and flavours than you might identify neat. Many Whisky bars will even provide you with an eye-dropper. If you’re stepping through a tasting the first sip should be neat, and then water can be added drop by drop, to taste, if you desire.

If Whisky is served with ice and chilled it has less ‘burn’ and is a softer starting option for anyone new to the spirit. Ice can be a good addition if the Whisky you’re tasting is particularly high in alcohol content, too. People often turn their noses up at serving Whisky on the rocks because our taste buds aren’t designed to respond fully to things that are very cold.

Choose the right glass

No ordinary cup will do. The proper vessel for your tasting is a nosing glass, and it will be wide at the bottom, taper to the top, and then round out. Often they have a nice weight to them and are designed to allow for risk-free swirling.

If you’ve been caught without proper nosing glasses, then the next best thing you’ll probably have around the house is a red wine glass. The shape is similar enough and the smaller opening will do a good job at preventing oxidisation.

It’s all in the wrist (and the nose)

Nosing glasses are designed to concentrate aroma and the shape forces the drinker to tip their head back a little along with their glass, allowing smells to fill the nose. Don’t breathe in too much too quickly, though, or the high alcohol content will deaden your senses. Keep your mouth open when you go in for a smell. If you’re doing a series of tastings, a good sniff of coffee beans will clear the palate between whiskies the same way it does for wine.

Don’t waste good Whisky by putting it with bad water

Most tap water contains chemicals like chlorine and fluoride. If you’ve gone and treated yourself to a nice bottle of Scottish single malt the last thing you want anywhere near it is chlorine. For a few extra dollars, we recommend buying a bottle of spring water. And don’t put it in the fridge either – water, like the Whisky, should be room temperature.

Take a trip around the world

Not all Whisky is “real Whisky” and you can read all about the different names and labels here. Unlike Scotch whiskies, Irish whiskies have a ‘cleaner’ taste because peat isn’t used in the malting process. Being a much stronger and more acquired taste, those new to Whisky might need their single malt scotch Whisky on the rocks. But if not, you can enjoy a blended scotch Whisky or Irish or American Whiskey neat. Japanese whiskies have been winning blind-tasting awards in the last few years and definitely aren’t overlooked by connoisseurs anymore either.

Get the order right

We all know wine tastings go in a certain order: whites are listed and tasted first before reds because lighter flavours are better enjoyed before heavier or stronger flavours have a chance to take over your palate. The same applies to Whisky tastings. If you’re sampling a few different options, try the strongest and most peaty flavours last.

Don’t keep it all to yourself

Like most of the best things in life, Whisky is improved with age and in good company. With these tips, you should feel confident sharing a Whisky tasting with friends and family.