Whisky has been around for over 1,000 years, and there are now countless variations on the market. As a result, tasting whisky and figuring out its unique flavor profile has become a complex and involved process. If you would like to learn how to taste whisky, the professionals at your local distillery can provide you with the best resources to help you get started.

There are three main aspects to consider when tasting whisky: the appearance, the smell, and the taste. Professionals go through many steps to determine the exact nature of each drink. Today’s article will give you a brief overview and show you what to expect when you attend a whisky tasting.

How to Taste Whisky Like a Pro

To taste whisky correctly, you will first have to prepare by assembling your materials and checking the appearance of the drink. Then, you will spend some time smelling the whisky in various ways while holding the glass vertically and horizontally. Only after you’ve made detailed notes of this olfactory experience will you actually taste the whisky. Most experts prefer to have the beverage dry for the first sips, but then they add some water to bring out additional flavors.


For whisky tasting, preparation is key. If you use the wrong glass or add the wrong kind of water, you can ruin the flavor of your drink and therefore get an inaccurate result. Ideally, you should have a wine glass, a pipette, and pure water available before you begin. You should also spend some time observing your whisky and making a note of its color, clarity, and viscosity before you begin the tasting.

Choose the Correct Glass 

When tasting whisky, you should always choose a tulip-shaped wine glass instead of a tumbler, which has no stem. This is because you won’t get as clear a picture of the subtle note if you drink from a tumbler. Select a glass that allows you to hold the stem, so you won’t heat up the whisky and disturb its odors with your hands.

The highest quality glasses are thin at the top, and they don’t have a bulge at the rim. When comparing various kinds of whisky, make sure to use the same style glass for each, so it’s a fair comparison.

Add Water

At first, you will smell and taste the pure whisky, but afterward, you will add water to it to reveal additional aromas. You could use the cap of the water bottle you’re using, but a pipette is even better if you have one at your disposal.

You should choose cool water that is very pure and doesn’t contain any elements that will break the taste of the whisky. It’s also important to remember that you should add a very small amount at a time, so you don’t dilute the whisky too much.

Check the Appearance

Before you start smelling and tasting, you should concentrate on the visual aspects of the whisky. Pour up to 1 1/2 ounces into your glass and tilt it sideways, then rotate it, making a complete circle. This ensures that the whisky is distributed evenly over the bowl of your glass and increases the oxidation surface. Unless a coloring agent has been used, your whisky’s color can give you clues about its age and the type of barrel used.

The clarity can also help you understand the drink better. If the whisky has an ABV of over 46%, it will turn cloudy in cool temperatures unless chill-filtration has been used. It’s usually preferable to taste a whisky that hasn’t been filtrated because the flavor profile is richer. Finally, you can check the whisky’s viscosity by analyzing the legs, which are the trails left behind when you swirl it. The more alcohol and fatty acid the drink contains, the slower the legs form and fall.

The Tasting 

Next, it’s time to start smelling and tasting the whisky. This process can be broken down into ten distinct steps, which have to be performed in the correct order. If you’re still learning how to taste whisky, you should get together with a more experienced taster during the first few sessions because they can guide you through each of the stages.

Stage 1

During the first stage, you will focus on smelling your whisky. Hold the glass upright and right above your nose, then wait for the scent to rise. This allows your nose to adjust to the smell of the alcohol, and you will start to notice the first aromas, which are made up of the lighter volatile compounds. Don’t swirl your drink at this stage because you want the smell to remain concentrated. The more alcohol your whisky has, the longer this step should be.

Stage 2

Next, you will turn your glass sideways, so that the opening is facing your nose. Be careful not to spill the liquid. The heavier volatile compounds, such as wood, earth, and smoke, will be noticeable near the bottom, but when you move your nose upwards towards the rim, you will notice the more volatile particles that produce the fruity and floral aromas. In the middle portion, you should smell malty, winey, and spicy aromas.

Stage 3

You can now place the horizontal glass directly below your nose so that your mouth is in the glass and your nose is above it. In this position, you will smell the most volatile compounds, which can easily get overpowered by the other, stronger smells. You will notice some very subtle floral and acidulous aromas that are hard to perceive in any other position.

Stage 4

Not all molecules can bind to the olfactory mucus in the same way, so you should vary the speed of your inhalation. When you inhale very quickly, you will notice the highsorption odorants that bind easily, and when you inhale more slowly, the low-sorption odorants that don’t bind as easily will become more evident.

Stage 5

You should also close off one nostril at a time and only smell with the other one. Our nostrils don’t typically work together, and one usually does most of the smelling at any given time. Every two to three hours, the body changes which nostril it favors. Since we don’t perceive smells the same on both sides of the body, it’s likely that you will be able to detect different odors when you switch to your other nostril.

Stage 6

The sixth stage concludes the olfactory experience. You will need to use your aroma wheel during this step. This tool groups chemical compounds of a similar structure into families and helps tasters to compare their experiences. For novice tasters, determining which families are present in the whisky is very useful because it allows them to train their olfactory senses.

Stage 7

Before you begin to taste your whisky, avoid eating or drinking anything with a strong taste, such as licorice or coffee. Instead, drink some neutral water to cleanse your palate. You should also repeat this process in between sips because it will allow you to form a more balanced opinion. However, it’s important to note that each taster has a slightly different palate, so you might not experience the same drink in exactly the same way as someone else.

Stage 8 

Take tiny sips at a time to accustom your palate to the alcohol content of the whisky. It’s best to masticate the drink for at least 30 seconds because this accentuates the whisky’s taste. You can also get a better picture of the flavor by placing the drink at the front, in the middle, and at the back of your tongue, since the receptors are different.

Stage 9

As soon as you have swallowed the whisky, exhale deeply through your nose. This optimizes the retro-olfaction process and allows the aromatic effect to linger. If there is harmony, taking another sip straight away can combine the taste, but it can also alter what you perceive. That’s why you won’t experience the first sip in the same way as the subsequent ones.

Stage 10 

Once you’ve finished tasting your whisky, you’ll be left with the empty glass. You should cover it to preserve the non-volatile aromas, and you can come back to the dry extract several minutes or even hours after the initial tasting session. Rich, woody whiskys will leave a stronger profile behind in the empty glass.

Tasting whisky isn’t just about the flavor, but also about the appearance and the smell of the drink. Unlike beginners, professionals have trained their eyes, noses and taste buds to detect even the smallest differences between various whiskys. Attending a tasting and watching the experts at work can be very educational for all avid whisky drinkers.

If you’d like to learn how to taste whisky like a pro, you should get in touch with your local distillery, where you can learn more about the process and find out about upcoming events. Call or message us now at Town’s End Stillhouse in Apple Valley, CA to discover the kinds of whisky we sell. Our professionals will be delighted to show you around the distillery and explain the process in detail.

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