Whisky Advocate

Conducting a Whisky Tasting

Whisky GlassesThe most exciting thing about whisky is its diversity of flavors, which is the reason why conducting a whisky tasting (and attending one) is so much fun. Comparing and contrasting whiskies is also a great way to learn more about them.

Invite the right people

Before you begin to think of the kinds of whiskies you’ll be pouring, make sure you have the right audience. They should be open-minded whisky drinkers, or people who aren’t whisky drinkers but are curious and interested in learning about whisky.

Pick a theme

You have hundreds of whiskies to choose from. Come up with an interesting theme. Consider tasting them “blind,” so you don’t know what whisky you are tasting (and won’t have any pre-conceived opinions).

Use the proper glassware

Use clear glassware that closes toward the top to capture the whisky’s aroma. There are several new nosing and tasting glasses that have been introduced which you could use but small brandy snifters or white wine glasses will work just fine. Make sure your glassware is clean and free of detergent. If you washed the glasses in a dishwasher, rinse them out with water before using. If you’re reusing the glasses throughout the evening, make sure they are rinsed thoroughly between flights.

Don’t serve too many whiskeys

Six to eight whiskies are plenty—especially if you’re swallowing. If you taste too many whiskies, your palate will eventually become fatigued. One-half ounce pour for each whisky is enough. Have a dump bucket available so tasters can dump whiskies they don’t want to finish. Taste another whisky every ten minutes or so. That, combined with some light snacks and additional conversation at the end, will make for an enjoyable two-hour tasting.

Have plenty of water

Have two sources of water: one for drinking and one for adding to your whisky. Make sure the water you have for your whisky is non-carbonated, room temperature, and clean (e.g. spring water).

Serve the right food

For your first whisky tasting, serve the food before or after the tasting. Whisky and food do go well together in under certain circumstances but, for your first tasting, you should keep it simple and just focus on the whisky. If you are serving food before the tasting, don’t serve anything spicy. Hot peppers and garlic will ruin your experience. You might just want to serve some water and crackers before and during the tasting, and enjoy more substantial food after you’ve finished. But if you’re cooking aromatic foods for your guests during the event, make sure the tasting is done in a location far from those aromas.

Exchange ideas and thoughts

Discuss what you smell and taste. It will help you discover more aromas and flavors, and it will make you a better taster. What did you like about the whisky? What turned you off? Why? If you think you might forget some of what you learned (and you probably will), take notes. Keep a whisky diary.

Have a designated driver

Don’t drink and drive! Bring a friend or spouse as your driver, or take public transportation.

Have fun

Don’t get too serious or analytical. The primary purpose of drinking whisky (or anything else in life for that matter), is to have fun and enjoy the experience. Don’t lose sight of that.

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