Whiskey Tasting 101: How to taste whiskey?

Updated: 24/12/2020
2 mins read
Whiskey Tasting 101: How to taste whiskey?

Whiskey can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. 

There are so many different whiskey types out there: bourbon, Scotch, Irish Whiskey, rye whiskey, Japanese whiskey - the list goes on.

How does one drink it, though? Do they simply slurp it down neat on the rocks? Mixed into a cocktail? With a mixer or a tonic? The possibilities seem endless, and if you are new to the drink, it can seem a little overwhelming.

Of course, the proper answer is that you should drink it exactly how you want to, even if that goes against all of the norms. 

However, when it comes to the actual taste of whiskey and appreciating it in its most basic form, there are some whiskey tasting ‘rules’ to follow.

We recommend grabbing a friend to compare notes with and following these steps for whiskey tasting.

How to taste whiskey 

1. Appreciate the color

whiskey tasting colour

You might think that it is all about the taste, but actually, the appearance of your whiskey matters. 

Each whiskey will be different, depending on the barrels it aged in. It can vary from a soft golden color to a deep bark. Which looks most appealing?

2. Examine the viscosity

whiskey glass tilted in hand

Hold the glass carefully and give it a gentle swirl. Check out the beads of liquid that form and run down the sides of the glass. 

These are the ‘legs’ and indicate the viscosity and fullness of the whiskey - the thicker the legs, the more full the mouthfeel.

3. Give the glass a shake

whiskey glass shaken

Put your hand over the top of the glass and give it a gentle shake. Keep an eye on how long it takes for the bubbles that appear from shaking to disappear. The longer they take to go, the higher the ABV (alcohol by volume)

Optionally rub your hands together and give them a sniff. This will give you an idea of the barley used to create the whiskey.

4. Sniff it 

whiskey being smelt by man

The smell is one of the most vital senses. Your nose will give you more information about the whiskey than your tastebuds will; they just confirm what you already know. 

Give the glass a swirl first to disturb the aroma, and then carefully bring it up to your nose. 

Gently sniff it, be prepared for an intense hit if it’s a higher ABV whiskey!

What can you smell? There is no right or wrong answer here - it is personal preference and life experiences that will determine whether it is the whiskey for you.

5. Taste it

whiskey tasted by man

Last but certainly not least, taste it. This should confirm all of the above for you. Take a good, deep sip of the whiskey and let it sit on your tongue. Consider how it feels and tastes as you swallow it and pay attention to the texture.

Ashleigh Cain

Ashleigh is a key part of the editorial team at Whiskey Rocks. You'll often find her either writing educational articles or reviewing the latest artisan whiskeys. Her favorite drink? Ashleigh loves smokey scotches like Laphroaig, but you'll also often find her with an old fashioned in hand.

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