There is no specific way to taste whisky. There is no right, and no wrong, no etiquette to be observed and no rules to worry about. Whisky is there to be enjoyed, and if you enjoy yours out of a coffee mug and loaded with pineapple slices then go for it.
There are however a few pointers that can make your whisky drinking more enjoyable and they’re listed below. If they work for you, then dive in, and if they don’t then just ignore them. It really is as simple as that.
To water or not to water?
Adding water to whisky can be a good idea because it actually alters the molecular structure of the whisky and literally opens it up, allowing more flavors and nuances to be detected. This is why professional whisky tasters routinely water their whisky. But the amount is key. Literally a teardrop of water is enough to liberate new flavors, and from there you can keep adding fractions to taste if you feel more is needed for your palate.
Whatever you do, don’t drown it. That ruins the whisky, and is the way most people first start drinking it.
Used (very) sparingly though, it can be a great addition and you’ll find some whiskies will actively benefit while others will become worse. To sum up: experiment, enjoy, and do precisely whatever feels right for you
Whisky on the rocks is called just that for a reason. It’s whisky, poured over rocks of ice. So while there are no rules with ice, adding your whisky to your ice rather than the other way around will reap far better benefits.
Most of our tasting is done by smell, so use your nose with your whisky. Get your nose as close to your whisky as possible without getting it wet, and inhale, slowly and deeply.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I heard came from a veteran distillery manager who recommended holding a sip in your mouth for one second per year of maturation. So 12 seconds for a 12 year old, 18 for an 18 and so on.
This allows the whisky’s flavors to flood out, but you need to gently roll the whisky around your mouth for this to work – this lets it contact all of your different tastebuds and catch every region of the tongue (different parts taste different flavors). At the same time the whisky will mingle with your own saliva, which acts like a drop or two of water to further liberate the tastes within the whisky.
The better the whisky, the smoother, deeper and more varied these flavors are and the longer they last.
Good whiskies keep on rolling up the taste sensations long after they’ve left your mouth. Catch these after effects by breathing out gently after swallowing your dram and quietly allowing these final flavors to reach your palate. There’s a lot to savor.
Remember these are just suggestions , they are not rules. As we said earlier, whisky has no rules. Whisky’s there to be enjoyed, so go forth and enjoy!