The Only Guide You Need to Tasting Whisky

The Only Guide You Need to Tasting Whisky

A comprehensive guide to enjoying one of the best spirits around. 

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With the cooler weather approaching, many people opt to transition away from summery cocktails and enjoy a glass of fine whisky. In honour of the unofficial start of whisky season, we’ve partnered with our friends at The Macallan to put together a couple steps worth noting the next time you pour yourself a glass of single malt scotch whisky.

When it comes to whisky, everyone has their own way of enjoying it. Some like it neat, some like it on the rocks and others prefer it stirred into a cocktail. With that being said, understanding the basics of how to taste this classic spirit is something I think everyone should know how to do.

Step 1: Choose the Right Glass

A copita glass works well for tasting the whisky neat, as it is narrow at the top and is ideal for picking up some of the notes when “nosing” the whisky. However, a rocks glass is a good option if you prefer to add an ice cube or two into the mix. Whichever vessel you choose, choose wisely.

Step 2: Hold it High

Take the glass and hold it up to the light. By doing this, you are able to clearly see the subtle variations in colour. The Macallan never adds any caramel colouring to their whisky, so 100% of the colour comes from the wood. This means the whisky offers some clues as to which type of barrel it was stored in and for how long. That said, even if you don’t have a clue what you’re looking for, at least you’ll look like a seasoned whisky-drinker.

Step 3: “Nose” it

Give the glass a swirl, bring it up to your nose, and take a sniff. One pro tip here is to keep your mouth open when you smell the whisky, as this transfers the aroma onto your taste buds. Unlike wine, keep the glass just below your nose, as you don’t want to burn the insides of your nostrils.

At this stage, it’s time to guess the aromas you’ve picked up. For example, The Macallan 12 Years Old Double Cask has a creamy butterscotch smell, with a hint of toffee, candied orange and newly felled oak. If you say something along these lines, you’ll definitely appear to be a whisky connoisseur.

Step 4: Take a Sip

Take a small mouthful and “roll” it around in your mouth. After a few seconds, the alcohol in the whisky will probably give you a slight burning sensation – however, give it a few seconds and the saliva in your mouth will open up some of the whisky’s more complex notes. Swallow and take a second sip and roll the whisky again. This time around, you will find the whisky becomes more concentrated and almost like a liqueur. At this stage, your palette will be ready to appreciate the taste.

Step 5: The Aftertaste

Whisky has a unique way of leaving your mouth with a delightful finish. The Macallan 12 Years Old Double Cask departs with hints of oak lingering on your taste buds and warm, sweet and drying sensations. It’s time to revel in the aftermath of flavour.

An Optional Step 6: Add some ice  

Most avid whisky drinkers would classify this tip as a faux pas, but adding a bit of water or ice to your drink can completely change the taste profile and ultimately make it easier to sip on. If you want to experience a different take on the flavour profile you’ve been enjoying, you can always try your whisky this way.

Don’t forget – practice makes perfect. The more whisky you drink, the better your palette will be at determining the flavours and always try new ways to enjoy this classic drink.

Words by Jonathan Cavaliere 

Illustrations by Rob Brunette

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