Attending a whisky tasting is an activity popular among whisky connoisseurs and amateurs alike.
A whisky tasting is similar to a wine tasting in its basic form. However, many people do not realize that fine whisky is meant to be tasted, rather than added to sour mix or shot down the throat for quickest relief. Attending a whisky tasting will help broaden the horizons of novice whisky drinkers, as the whisky is sipped and enjoyed so that each flavor can announce itself to the taster.
The following article from Ask Men relays the steps in hosting your own whisky tasting. Turn the whisky tasting into a party, and your friends can learn to acknowledge the highlights of fine whisky as well.
Whether you are an expert or a novice, this whisky tasting guide will help you get the most out of your whisky tasting.
Set Up Your Own Whisky Tasting
If you’re like a lot of guys out there, you probably think tasting whisky is drinking it straight out of the bottle and going bubbles up as opposed to mixing it with your favorite carbonated beverage. If you’re not among this classy group, congratulations; you’ve been paying attention to what we’ve been telling you. Still, there’s a significant portion of the population that doesn’t know that you can taste whisky in much the same fashion as you taste wine. These are the guys who think Wild Turkey and Jameson are the same, the guys who think it’s a shot anytime a small portion of whisky is placed in front of them.
Regardless of how you’ve enjoyed it in the past, the best way to enjoy whisky is to savor it, the way you might a very good wine. We’re here to help you take the first steps into a broader world by instructing you on how to set up your own whisky tasting.
To help us present you with the best information possible on how to set up your own whisky tasting, we contacted Ian Millar (Master Distiller of Glenfiddich) for some tips and pointers. While Glenfiddich is a single blend Scotch and we’re talking about whisky, Ian explained to us that: “whisky’s a generic name for many things because within whisky you get bourbons, you get ryes, you get Canadians, you get blended Scotch, but you also get single malt Scotch.” Whatever your poison, luxury whisky or otherwise, the steps you’ll need to take to set up your own whisky tasting are the same.
What you’ll need
-Friends, because it’s no fun to drink alone.
-A variety of whiskys, because the more the better.
-Tulip-shaped glasses, because they best contain the aromas.
-Room-temperature spring water, because tap water contains chemicals that intrude on the flavors and aromas of the whisky.
-Unsalted crackers to cleanse your palate between different whiskys.
What you need to know about whisky
Before we get into the steps to take to set up your own whisky tasting, you should know what to look for as a novice whisky taster. “Primarily, it’s about taste accessibility,” says Ian Millar. While taste and flavor are important, it gets a bit more complicated and you’ll be looking for “three or four different notes [and] things like complexity of flavor, things like its finish. … So, the nose is very important and the flavor is extremely important, but the complexity of flavor and the long finish are what people are looking for.”
While there are plenty of variations of whisky, as a novice, “the No. 1 thing you would need to know [about them] is the difference between one and the other and maybe something about their heritage as well; know about the different categories and the kind of flavors you’d expect from one or the other.” However, because blends are often complicated due to their constitution, “a safe introduction to whiskey is to choose from the single malt category.”
Setting up your own whisky tasting
Depending on how many different whiskys you’re tasting, you’ll want to arrange the same number of glasses before each of the participants. Once the table is set, pour 1.5 ounces of whisky into each glass.
Once the whisky is poured, your next step is not to drink it as you normally would. What you want to do now is hold the glass up to the light and observe the whisky’s clarity. According to the folks at Canadian Club, the whisky should “sparkle and be brilliant to the eye.” Also, murkiness is a sign of inferior craftsmanship.
Now you’ll want to take a look at the whisky’s color, which can range from light (like apple juice) to deep amber. The reason for taking note of a whisky’s color is to help you determine the flavor intensity: Whiskys that are light in color are also lighter in flavor, while darker whiskys are more full-flavored. Also, whiskys that are aged longer are typically darker.
Before you nose a whisky, you’ll want to add a small amount of room-temperature spring water to the whisky. You don’t want to use cold water because it will depress the very aromas that you want to appreciate. However, you might be wondering why bother adding water at all. “If you add a wee drop of water,” says Ian Millar, “what you’re doing is neutralizing the impact of the alcohol and you’ll be able to nose much more of the character of the whiskey.”
This step is the one in which the magic happens, as you get to bring the tasting glass to your nose and take in the aromas. First, gently swirl your glass to release the aromas of the whisky. When you nose these aromas, keep your lips slightly apart and, as Ian Millar suggests, look for aromas such as “fruity, spicy, cinnamon, leather, dark chocolate, it’s numerous.” Also, Ian advises not to sniff too hard, otherwise “you pull this alcohol up your nose and all you get is alcohol,” and not the aromas you’re looking for. Basically, just breathe it all in.
Imbibe. When you do taste the whisky, look for flavors that you sensed when you nosed the glass. These flavors may include fruity, green apple, dark chocolate, pepper, etc. Remember that you can’t be wrong: everyone will taste something different since we all have different palates.
Repeat the process with the next whisky you intend to taste, but make sure to cleanse your palate with an unsalted cracker before moving on.
whisky a go-go
Whisky can be rough around the edges for the uninitiated, but understanding what you’re looking for and knowing that you’re not wrong in your observations makes all the difference. Once you find a whisky that you truly enjoy, keep it stocked and do a bit of research to learn about its beginnings and its heritage.
Whisky tasting is executed much like wine tasting. However, a whisky tasting may take some getting used to, as whisky has a much higher alcohol content than wine, and may not appeal to everyone right away. Fortunately, as you learn more about whisky through whisky tastings, you can learn to appreciate the subtle flavors and aromas.
If you are a first-time whisky taster and don’t feel that you are prepared to create your own whisky tasting yet, then contact the experts at Julio’s Liquors. Or, try one of our whisky tastings at our store, located in Westbourough, MA. Our Loch & Key club generally offers a whisky tasting every Wednesday. Visit our calendar for more details. Happy drinking!