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Whisky tasting tips for beginners

by Tash 14th May 2015
whisky tasting glass

It’s World Whisky Day on 21st May and what better way to celebrate than with a spot of whisky tasting? Here are a few tips to help you get started and supping in no time:

1. Whisky tasting or whiskey tasting?

What’s in a name? Well for this spirit, the letter ‘e’ (or lack of), says a lot about where the drink was made.

  • ‘Whisky’ is made in Scotland, England, Wales, Japan and just about anywhere else.
  • ‘Whiskey’ is made in Ireland or the USA.

2. Choosing your type of whisky

[responsive-image id=’2652′ align=’center’ caption=’The Whisky line up’]

There are 3 main types of whisky you will find on the shelves in supermarkets and bars, each produced in different ways:

Single malt – starts life as a very weak beer and is aged for 3 years in a barrel that was originally used to hold something else (e.g. sherry).

Blended – single malts from different distilleries that are blended together.

Bourbon – typically made in the USA and aged for 2 years in a brand new barrel, giving this whiskey a slightly vanilla taste.

3. The best glass to use for whisky tasting

A short glass tumbler will do the job if you’re planning on sticking to just one type of whisky. But when it comes to whisky tasting, like wine tasting, you’re best using a cone-shaped glass that curves towards a small opening, funnelling the aroma towards your nose. Given that the measures are smaller than in wine tasting, you’ll want to use a smaller glass.

4. Water: your secret ingredient

You probably wouldn’t associate water with alcohol tasting, but here are two ways you can use it to improve your whisky tasting experience:

– Sip between different whiskies to cleanse your palate.

– Add a small amount of water to whisky (yes, really) to bring out the flavour.

5. Choosing the style of your whisky

Malts broadly fall into 4 distinct styles of taste and if you’re whisky tasting for the first time, you should aim to try them in the following order: light and floral; fruity and spicy; rich and round; full and smokey.

6. Smell: an important whisky tasting step

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When you have your whiskies poured and ready to try, make sure you give them a good smell first. Pinch the stem of the glass between your thumb and forefinger, then gently tilt and rotate the glass so that the whisky lines its walls, leaving a glossy trail. Place your nose just beyond the rim of the glass and take a deep breath. You should start to get a good indication of the style of malt from the smell alone.

7. How long should you taste whisky for?

A common whisky tasting rule suggests you should hold each sip in your mouth for the number of seconds that the whisky has been aged for in years (e.g. aged for 6 years, taste for 6 seconds). As you’d imagine, this can get significantly harder the longer the whisky has been aged for!

8. Looking for some whisky tasting inspiration?

For my first whisky tasting experience, I tried the following in this order (all available to buy on amazon or independent whisky shops):

Glenkinchie 12

Aberlour A’Bunadh

Oban 14

Maker’s Mark

Chivas Regal 12

Laphroaig Quarter Cask

If your whisky tasting experience gives you a taste for further palate adventures, why not take a look at some brilliant food and drink holidays to Europe?

(Photography courtesy of Josh Owens)




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