If you haven’t already, brush up on your Irish Whiskey basics with my previous piece here.
Now this is where things get comfy and cozy. Here’s a simple guide on how to appreciate and savor the flavors of Irish, Scottish, and Bourbon whiskey (or “whisky” depending where you’re from).
Pick your vessel. Like any alcoholic beverage there are specific vessels made to enhance the flavor of the drink. When possible, whiskey is best enjoyed from a glass to avoid tainting the flavor of the whiskey. There are endless options for types of whiskey glasses but the most common include a tumbler or a tulip-shaped whiskey glass to guide the smell of the whiskey into your nose.
Neat, water, or on the rocks? This is really a personal preference of how strong you like your whiskey, but do it some justice and taste it neat (nothing added) for the first time to really get to know the flavors it has to offer.
1. Now, time for a sip right? Hold it right there…The real first step in tasting whiskey, is actually to observe the color. Best viewed by holding it up against a white consistent background – this will allow you to make an educated guess at the type of barrel in which the whiskey was aged and how old the whiskey may be. Knowing the type of cask the whiskey was aged in will indicate what sort of flavor profile you can expect. for example American Oak casks infuse a mellow, soft vanilla flavor into the whiskey, while European Oak casks leave strong and spicy notes in the whiskey.
2. Next, we observe the body. Swirl the whiskey around in the glass coating the side of the glass. Watch as the droplets or ‘legs’ form. If the legs are thing and run quickley down the side of the glass then it is a light bodied whiskey. If the legs are slower and thicker this indicates a full-bodied whiskey.
3. And then we smell it, or to “nose it”. With your mouth slightly open, place your nose slightly in your glass and give it a gentle sniff. Assess for a few minutes and identify some of the scents you’ve encountered. A flavor wheel like this one can help those who are newer to the process.
4. Now, you may take a sip. After a couple of minutes of nosing, take a small sip of the whiskey, hold it on your tongue, then let it spread throughout your mouth. Then swallow and breathe out through your nose. This is where you observe characteristics like mouth feel and see if you can taste some of the aromas you identified earlier with your nose or if you taste something new. Another fun tip is to add water drops at a time, as this can bring out new flavors in the whiskey.
5. Finish. Observe the aftertaste and how long after you drink the whiskey can you still taste it. Does it disappear quickly or is there a long lingering finish?
This experience is for you to understand a whiskey’s components. Find what you like, what you don’t like. After all, the fun in whiskey is enjoying it in whatever way you seek!