How To Taste Whiskey – The Wanderback Way.
Curious on how to “taste” whiskey? It’s definitely different from simply drinking and enjoying a dram and can be a lot more intimidating! We hope this guide helps you take the plunge into the world of whiskey tasting.
So why “taste” whiskey?
One reason is to learn more; the tasting notes offer clues as to a whiskey’s mash bill and maturation process. Being able to connect taste with process is fascinating and one of our favorite things to nerd out about.
The second reason is to learn what you like and be able to select those whiskeys…that way you get to drink more of what you love. Always a good thing!
There are a lot of different ways to taste whiskey. The only thing that we feel truly passionate about is that there is no one right or wrong way to do this. We offer our preference and opinion on how to taste whiskey below as a guideline, not a set of hard and fast rules.
How to set up for a tasting.
Make sure you have clean glassware. We prefer to taste from a Glencairn glass. It’s shape captures, then funnels, the whiskey vapors directly to your nose. The Wanderback version of the classic whisky tasting glass has a longer stem to prevent the whiskey warming.
Pour your whiskey into your glass and set aside to breathe. Grab a tasting wheel and / or tasting panel along with paper and pen. We like to take notes on the nose, palate, mouthfeel, finish and then add an overall remark summarizing whether you liked it – and why!
Ready to taste your whiskey?
Great! Remember, approach the whiskey gingerly! Whiskeys typically have very high ABVs; if you get into it too hard and fast you can annihilate all your sensors – perfect if you are shooting a well whiskey but no good for a top shelf bottle!
First smell the whiskey from about an inch above the glass. Then smell again with your mouth open and you’ll be able to almost “taste the smell”. Next take your first small sip and then a slightly larger one.
Now you are ready to start your official whiskey tasting and perhaps pull out a Whiskey Tasting Wheel. There are many, many tasting wheels to choose from and all have merit. We are partial to the tasting wheel derived by the Scottish research institute.
This is the wheel that our Founder, Phil Downer, used during his stint studying for his Distilling and Brewing diploma at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Whilst our American single malt breaks free of the restrictions on Scotch, it’s still a valuable tool for tasting.
Start at the center of the wheel – it leads you to taste. Did you know, when it comes to taste, your tongue only has receptors for the five basic flavors — sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami? It might seem basic but it’s a great place to start!
Next move onto mouthfeel. Try and physically experience where – and how – the whiskey travels throughout your mouth and throat. Is there a definite beginning, middle and end to this story? When are different tastes introduced? Make note of the finish. Is it short, medium or long? Dry or smooth? Are there new flavours to be found now things have mellowed?
Now back to the nose. We like to smell in two directions: First, try linking any aromas to your own memories and experiences. A rainy day on the coast? Your Grandfather’s leather gloves? Your Mothers spiced apple and blackberry tart? Second, use the Wanderback tasting panel below to smell and run through the lists of aromas listed and see if any words connect with what you are smelling.
Now, you’ve completed your official tasting, we like to dig into how the whiskey was made and start connecting how the whiskey was made with your tasting notes. Ask yourself what is the mash bill, how was it matured, for how long in each cask? How might this affect flavor and mouthfeel? For us, making these connections is the true magic of the whiskey tasting.
Our last tip for how to taste whiskey is to do it with other people. We all sense things differently. No one is right or wrong and you can gain so much from the thoughts of others. In today’s virtual world, we at Wanderback are getting groups of whiskey lovers together for online whiskey education and tasting parties. Groups of friends, teammates, and colleagues are coming together to taste two of our limited edition American single malt whiskeys. Guided by our virtual brand ambassador, it’s a super fun way to spend time together and learn more about connecting taste to the whiskey making process.