tasting and nosing whisky

A step by step guide on how to taste and nose whisky.

People all around the world enjoy whisky, and there’s no right way or wrong way to drink it. However, to get the most from it, and fully appreciate its intricate complexity, follow my four-step approach to tasting.

Step one – the glass: Pour a healthy measure into your glass. Ideally, use a large bowl-shaped glass with a narrowing neck. This allows the whisky to breathe and the aromas to condense.

Step two – appearance: Hold the whisky up to the light as its colour may give you a hint of how it tastes. Dark whisky has usually spent longer in Spanish oak sherry casks for a fruity flavour, for example of dates and raisins. A light whisky may have spent longer in bourbon barrels, giving a light floral, citrus flavour.

Hold the glass at 45 degrees and rotate it one full turn. If you then hold the glass to a light, a ring will appear where the whisky has been. Over time little beads will appear, then legs (or tears) will fall down the glass. The longer it takes the legs to descend the higher the quality of the spirit. The smaller the beads when they initially appear, the higher the alcohol content.

Make sure the whisky is still – don’t swirl it like wine. If you do, all the flavour will go up the glass at the same time and this will confuse your nose. By keeping it still, the flavours travel up the glass at different times making it easier for you to identify unique characteristics.

Step three – the nose: Nose the still whisky three times before gently swirling to find flavours that may be hiding in the glass.

Step four – the taste: Taste by ‘chewing’ the whisky for four or five seconds to give your taste buds a chance to fully experience it. Pay close attention to the after taste (the sensation in your mouth after you’ve swallowed). The sign of a quality whisky is a long, clean finish.