Whether you prefer it neat, on the rocks, as a sparkling highball or a sour shot, the rule is simply to enjoy it.
However, if you get the urge to delve a little deeper, there is no need to conform to the snobbery. Elitism in the whisky world is thankfully on its way out (decaying in a stuffy, cigar-sodden peat bog if you will). Through our bespoke whisky tasting experiences we strive to engage your senses, giving you the tools to appreciate the intricacies of this magical spirit, in its purest form. Here are some tasting tips to get you started:
To get the most out of your whisky tasting, you’ll want to use a glass with a stem and a fluted shape. The shape helps to concentrate the aromas while diffusing the harsher elements and the stem ensures you don’t warm the spirit with your hands. Traditional Copita or Glencairn glasses are ideal but a wine or sherry glass will also do the job. Pour your dram and leave it to sit for a few minutes, allowing the more volatile vapours to disperse.
Unlike wine or beer, whisky is a high-strength spirit with a minimum ABV (Alcohol By Volume) of 40% so the process of nosing (smelling) and tasting needs to be a lot more delicate. Hold the glass just below your nostrils and while you breathe in, open your mouth a little (this will distribute the vapours more effectively) and move the glass from side to side.
Don’t worry if you initially just get a hit of ethanol. Keep nosing (trying one nostril and then the other) and see if you pick up the more dominant wood flavours like vanilla, stone fruit or burnt toast. For a further lesson in style and finesse, we always turn to Richard “The Nose” Paterson, an industry legend and true master of the tasting art.
Remember: high-strength alcohol. To savour that first neat taste, make sure you take a very small sip and hold it in your mouth for about 10 - 15 seconds. Swish it around, warm it up, chew on it, coat your palate with the liquid. Don’t gulp and swallow! You want to give your mouth a chance to ease into the experience. As with your first nose, you’re probably not going to taste anything other than peppery ethanol. It will get easier with practise and with the vital next step.
You may have been taught to scoff at the idea of adding water to your whisky but a small amount will do wonders for opening up your dram. Adding just a few drops will break apart the naturally present oils and release all those delectable flavours and aromas. Room temperature, good water is best and you just add a dash (about half a teaspoon). Swirl it around in your glass and observe how the liquid becomes more viscous and seems to come alive (known in Scotland as ‘releasing the serpent’). And what about ice? For maximising flavour it’s not ideal as the intense cold locks in those precious oils. For maximising enjoyment? See the opening line of this article.
Follow the same process as before: nose and take a small sip (remember to hold it in your mouth). Notice how many more aromas and complex flavours you pick up and how much easier and more enjoyable it is to take that second, third and fourth sip. If it still feels a bit overwhelming then add a few more drops of water. There are no rules. Be your own guide and you will soon find that delicious sweet spot.
Lastly, have fun with the process! Use this whisky tasting guide to experiment with new expressions, to compare between similar whisky styles or to host your own blind tasting. We guarantee that if you spend a little bit of time getting to know and understand your favourite dram, you will be rewarded with a fantastic sensory experience.