If you’re taking the time to drink a good whiskey, you want to get the most of it. The spirit has likely aged for many years—maybe longer than a decade—so it’s important to show it respect and appreciate all that it has to offer.
Gerry Tosh from Highland Park wants you to keep one important thing to keep in mind: tasting whiskey is not like tasting wine. Don’t make the mistake of continually swirling your whiskey around your glass. In wine tasting, you do that to evaporate some of the alcohol, which carries the flavors up to your nose and gives you a good sense of what you’re about to taste.
Since wine has a much lower alcohol content than whiskey, that technique works well. But since whiskey is around 40 percent (give or take), all that alcohol trying to evaporate at the same time overwhelms your nose. All you’ll smell is pain—and maybe be turned off whiskey forever. Don’t let that happen.
There’s a lot of good information in this video, but here are the four basic steps to whiskey tasting:
- Pour your whisk(e)y into a nosing glass. You can drink out of any glass, but the shape above really allows you to get the nose of your whiskey. Look at the whiskey and notice its color; all you’re really looking to do is make sure your glass is clean at this point. Whiskey color apparently tells you nothing.
- Turn the glass at a 45 degree angle, then gently spin it once so the whiskey swirls all the way around the glass. Then hold it up straight. You’ll see a line of whiskey around the top of the glass. After a few seconds, you’ll see little “tears and legs” of whiskey flow down from that line. This will tell you the alcohol content (fat ones like those shown in this video are about 40% ABV, while thinner ones indicate higher alcohol content), as well as the viscosity (or thickness) of the whiskey. The longer the drops take to rejoin the whiskey in the bottom of the glass, the thicker the spirit—and the more flavor it will have. Tosh cautions that “it doesn’t tell you whether it’s good; it doesn’t tell you whether it’s bad; it just tells you that there’s lots of it.”
- Keep the whiskey flat in the glass, then sniff it three times. The first time you sniff, your nose will tingle as it recognizes the alcohol. The second time, you’ll smell a note that’s usually sweet. The third time, you’ll get something more specific—usually a fruit. What you smell and how you describe it are completely personal.
- Take a sip, chew the whiskey for four or five seconds, then swirl it over the center of your tongue and swallow. As you do this, think about what’s going on in your mouth. Consider the characteristics of the flavors and finish that you’re tasting. Don’t just swallow it and move onto the next one—let it linger.