Whisky Advocate

Conducting a Whisky Tasting

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

Invite the right people

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

Pick a theme

You have hundreds of whiskeys to choose from. Come up with an interesting theme. Consider tasting them “blind,” so you don’t know what whiskey 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 whiskey’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 whiskeys 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 whiskeys they don’t want to finish. Taste another whiskey 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 whiskey. Make sure the water you have for your whiskey is non-carbonated, room temperature, and clean (e.g. spring water).

Serve the right food

For your first whiskey tasting, serve the food before or after the tasting. Whiskey 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 whiskey. 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 whiskey? What turned you off? Why? If you think you might forget some of what you learned (and you probably will), take notes. Keep a whiskey 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 whiskey (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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