WhiskeyNotes Tasting Primer

  1. What are you drinking?

    Whiskey! Look at the bottle: What country is it from? What distillery made it? How strong is it? What is the age-statement?
  2. Pour

    Just 1oz! It might be wonderful, might be awful, you can always have more. What kind of glass are you using? Tulip glasses are preferred as they concentrate smells at the top (where your nose goes). Many serious whiskey enthusiasts use Glencarin glasses, though any tulip shaped glass will work.
  3. Observe

    What color is it? Darker colors indicate more contribution from the barrel (usually from longer aging) or from artificial coloring. Most look like pee of some kind, but some have other hues (e.g. pink-ish from a sherry cask)

    Swirl it around. Does it have 'legs' (lines on the side of the glass when it runs down)? Legs indicate viscosity: slower legs means a thicker, often older drink, faster legs often mean a younger thinner drink.
  4. Smell

    Get your nose in there and take a sniff. You can perceive a lot more flavors with your nose than with your mouth. It might numb your nose a little, if it does take a moment and let it recover. There are other ways to get the scent: try inhaling with your mouth with nose in glass, try rubbing some drink on your hands and smelling them, etc.

    What do you smell? There are no right or wrong answers. If you smell flamingos, then that's okay! (most people don't). Here are a few common adjectives and examples:
    • winey: chocolate, almonds, olives, sherry, port
    • cereal: barley, wheaty, husky, potato skins, boiled corn
    • floral: leafy, cut grass, dry hay (aka 'aldehydic')
    • feinty: honey, leather, sweat, tobacco
    • woody: vanilla, coffee grounds, toffee, oak
    • fruity: citrus, rasins, oranges, fragrant (aka 'estery')
    • peaty: smoke, tar, medicinal (aka 'phenolic')
    • sulphery: egg, sulphur, onion
    Add a few drops of water; does it smell differently?
    Give it a few minutes to aerate, swirl it, warm it up; does it smell differently?
  5. Taste

    Pound it down! Just kidding, take a sip. Inhale with your nose, swirl it around and drink up (no gargling!). How did it taste? How did it feel on your tongue? Whiskey can feel different on the front and back of your tongue. Was it thick/thin? Did the flavor change after you swallowed? How long did the flavor last?
    Add a wee bit of water; does it taste differently? You're diluting the alcohol, which can make the flavors more apparent. If the whiskey is bottled at high alcohol percentage, add more water to your taste.
  6. Record!

    Save your experience before you forget!