Whiskey tasting is a highly formal affair and offers a great chance to feel sophisticated for an evening while getting to enjoy some expensive, high-end liquor. However, to the uninitiated, they can sometimes feel daunting, especially as there are certain etiquettes to follow to avoid a social faux pas. Before you go Googling “whiskey tasting near me,” there are a few things you should know first, especially about cleansing your palate.
Hosting a whiskey tasting can be even more intimidating, as you will need to be sure that you have all the correct palate cleansers on hand for your guests. So, whether you’re going to a whiskey tasting this weekend or hosting one yourself, here are some tips for you on how and why to properly cleanse your palate.
Cleansing your palate isn’t about etiquette. It’s actually to allow your taste buds to fully appreciate the delicate differences between different whiskeys. As whiskeys have a very powerful flavor, you will need a clean palate to notice the subtle differences.
Although cheap mass-produced whiskeys don’t taste like much, high-end, artisanal whiskeys have delicate underlying tones and hints of many different flavors that are best tasted with a clean palate.
If you’re going to a whiskey tasting, it is recommended not to eat anything too strong for a while before going. Ideally, stick to drinking neutral-tasting water and eating light foods with mild tastes. We also strongly recommend brushing your teeth more than one hour before going to your tasting so you don’t get left with the taste of your toothpaste in your mouth.
It’s important to remember that some foods actually complement and work well when eaten with whiskey, such as certain cheeses, so take this into account if you are also serving food at your tasting.
Many people swear by many different palate cleaners. Depending on what you are tasting, and where you are in the world, you will usually have different palate cleansers served to you. When it comes to whiskey, however, there are some tried and tested methods of cleansing your palate that are used the world over.
One of the most popular methods, drinking water not only cleans your palate between whiskeys but also reduces the proof (the amount of ethanol) in the whiskey, giving the underlying flavors a chance to really shine out. However, if using water as your palate cleanser it should be as neutral-tasting as possible and served at room temperature, as cold water inhibits our taste buds from tasting flavors as boldly.
As they are dry, slices of bread or crackers are excellent at cleansing your palate as they absorb any leftover residue liquid from the previous whiskey you just tasted. However, you should stick to using bread and crackers without any added flavors. Cheese-flavored crackers, for example, or olive and sundried tomato focaccia bread won’t do as they will leave a long-lasting taste in your mouth that will cover the flavor of your next whiskey.
Hugely popular for many occasions, watery fruits are a great palate cleanser. Depending on where you are, you will have many different fruits on hand, but aim for neutral flavors and lots of water. Common fruits used to clean your palate include apple, cucumber, and banana, but remember to serve these at room temperature for optimal palate cleansing.
Fruit juices can also be used as long as they have no added sugar. Apple juice is a cheap and easy option, but if you use it then make sure you leave it at room temperature for a while so it isn’t cold.
Whiskey tasting isn’t the only time when you will come into contact with palate cleansers. Any food or drink where you really want the flavors to shine deserves a good clean palate before consumption.
Cheese boards are often served with bread, crackers, and fruit. Although the crackers and bread are usually used as a vessel for the cheese, these can also be used to cleanse your palate between tasting different cheeses. The other garnishes – usually grapes, apple, or celery – are there predominantly as palate cleansers to ensure you can taste every cheese properly.
Aside from whiskey, wine is probably the most common alcoholic drink that is consumed at a tasting. Making wine is an age-old art, and wine culture has been refining itself for millennia, resulting in some wines of absolutely astounding quality. To enjoy the true flavors of expensive, vintage wines, wine tastings are usually served with a variety of palate cleansers to consume in between glasses.
When serving high-end food – such as at a Michelin Starred restaurant – chefs will often include many palate cleansers in between dishes. Taster menus are common at restaurants with a Michelin Star, as they offer a huge number of courses to showcase the best of what the chefs can do. These are generally around 7 – 9 courses of small dishes that are elegantly presented and have many intense and underlying flavors.
To ensure diners have clean palates after a strong tasting dish (such as after a fish course) and before a milder one (such as dessert), these taster menus often have sorbet courses to reset the taste buds,
Sushi is all about the delicate balance of flavors. Although the rolls are small – some would even say “bite-sized” – they are packed full of vegetables, herbs, sauces, and seafood, all of which are precisely measured to ensure the perfect balance. To ensure diners get the full experience of every roll, sushi bars usually serve pickled ginger that can be used as a palate cleanser between sushi rolls.
Always remember, whiskey is there to be savored, so don’t just start necking your glasses. You will have a fair few glasses to get through, so sip slowly; savor every mouthful. The general idea is to hold the glass up to the light to check the color. Next up, give it a smell. Don’t be afraid to swirl it around a bit as you do this, as this helps release the aroma. Whiskey glasses are designed so you can smell the flavors as you take a sip.
Contrary to popular belief, spitting your whiskey out at a tasting is not a necessity. Some people may spit out the first sip, as this may get the palate used to the strong alcohol before going in properly, and others may spit out their mouthfuls to avoid drinking too much alcohol, however, this is all down to personal choice, and if you want to swallow your whiskey then by all means do!
A common mistake at a whiskey tasting is asking for your drink “on the rocks.” Ice cools your drink down, and our palates get weaker when they are cold, so you won’t be able to taste the whiskey as well as you should. If you feel that the drink is too strong, simply add a little splash of room-temperature water to weaken it without compromising the flavor.
When you are at a professional whiskey tasting, chances are, your host will be serving your drinks in a pre-designated order. Because stronger whiskeys are more overwhelming – and require much longer to cleanse the palate after consumption – it is recommended to serve lighter whiskeys first and then progress on to the stronger ones.
If you’re hosting your own whiskey tasting then remember, lightness isn’t about the color, but the strength, so try all your whiskeys yourself first to find out which order to serve to your guests. Also, try to spread out the pacing of the drinks so your guests don’t get too drunk.
If you’re starting to feel a bit more confident in your whiskey tasting skills, now you might be thinking “Where’s the best place for a whiskey tasting near me?” Usually, you want to be looking at high-end bars or cocktail joints, although many whiskey brewers also offer tastings of their own spirits to interested guests. Other than these options, it’s also always a good idea to check social media for any whiskey tasting groups in your area.
Now you know everything you need to know about whiskey tasting. From getting your palate ready for the whiskey to actually tasting them, there are so many things to consider when at a tasting. Always remember, the idea isn’t to get drunk, it’s to enjoy the taste, so if you want to taste some of the finest whiskeys in the area then drop by and visit us at Town’s End Stillhouse and Grill where you can even watch and learn as we homebrew our own spirits.