Last year I put together a single malt Whisky guide to help me understand the different Whisky experiences you can have. Hopefully that's encouraged some people to have their own Whisky adventures. I've put together this short guide that you can use to have your very own Whisky tasting session.
To have a rewarding Whisky tasting you should line up 3 or more different drams that allow you to experience the differences between them.
It's important to have a correctly shaped glass to taste the Whisky, don't go in for the crystal tumble numbers you see in films, go for something Tulip shaped like a Champagne glass. These allow you to take in the aromas of Whisky a lot better.
Serve a single shot (dram) of each Whisky in a room temperature glass.
My process for tasting Whisky is:
- Selecting Whisky
- Eyeing the Whisky
- Smelling the Whisky
- Tasting the Whisky
To get the most out of a Whisky tasting you should try to have a number of differing styles available to try. You can do this by region or by selecting based off tasting notes.
Try to have one Whisky from Sherry casks, a smoky Islay and two lighter Whiskies. Maybe even a sweet one. You can consult my guide to help you here.
Eyeing the Whisky
Start off by having a look at the colour of the drams you have. You will be able to see a difference in colour which reflects the sort of oak barrel the Whisky was aged in.
Whisky is matured in previously used barrels from American or Spain. The American barrels tend to be from Bourbon so they add a light colour to the Whisky. The Spanish barrels have had Sherry in them which creates a darker, reddish colour. If the Whisky is reddish in colour you can expect a medium-sweet fruity Whisky.
Smelling the Whisky
Cover your hand over the glass and swirl the Whisky around a bit. Open up part of your hand and take a sniff of the Whisky. Don't try to smell it like Wine as the alcohol will burn your nose. Move the glass towards and away from your nose to get used to the smell of the first Whisky.
Don't taste the Whisky yet! Pick up a second Whisky and do the same. Notice the differences between the two, then go back to the first glass. There are many different aromas present in Whisky but they tend to fall within a few major styles.
Try to notice if the Whisky seems Sherried, floral or peated. You might be able to detect traces of honey, spice, nuts or fruity notes. The more you do this, the better you will be at detecting the subtleties between drams.
Tasting the Whisky
Finally, you are ready to taste the Whisky. Take a small drink and hold it in your mouth for as many seconds as the Whisky has spent years in the barrel. Move the Whisky around your mouth and draw in a little air to enhance the flavour.
Once the time has elapsed; swallow and take in some air. This will finish you off with a warm and slightly burning sensation.
In between trying Whiskies be sure to cleanse your palate with some water or an oat biscuit. Enjoy!