How to Drink Whisky: Everything You Need to Know

If you're keen to commence your foray into the world of whisky-drinking, here are a few pointers to help you on your journey.

Whisky is currently riding a huge wave of global popularity. It’s an amazingly versatile spirit that, through the wonders of distillation and aging, can vary in taste and smell.

Does your whisky have flavours that remind you of smoked seafood? It might have been distilled on one of Scotland’s remote western isles.

Does your whisky tend to have some sweet, caramel flavours or perhaps have a toffee nose on it? It may have been aged in an ex-bourbon barrel.

In fact, with so many whiskies on offer, it can be quite intimidating discovering the process of how to taste and nose whisky.

Follow this guide to help you in your exploration of the whisky world.

1. Choose your glass with care

Glassware, as strange as it sounds, plays a larger-than-expected role when tasting whisky. While I adore drinking my drams out of large crystal tumblers, it isn’t the best choice when it comes to getting the full aroma and flavour out of your chosen whisky. When I taste whisky, I tend to choose a glass with a tapered nose that focuses the scents towards a central point. In fact, so nuanced has our understanding of the nosing and tasting process become, craftspeople such as Denver & Liely have created specialised whisky tasting glassware. Does it make a difference? You bet!

2. Fun facts about colour

What colour is your whisky? Whiskies that tend to be lighter in colour (think golden or pale yellow), generally have been aged in ex-bourbon casks. Whiskies that are darker in shade (perhaps an amber or ruby) might have been aged in ex-port, ex-sherry casks, or even ex-rum casks. Try holding your glass of whisky up to the light to see what shade your dram is.

3. Look at the 'legs'

The next thing I tend to do when I taste my whisky is to swirl it around the glass. Look at the tiny teardrops running down the inside of the glass. These are known as the ‘legs’. If they are running thin and fast, it means that the whisky is light in body. If it is slow and thick, the whisky is going to be oilier.

4. Smell your drink

After admiring the legs, we get to nose the whisky. When I first got involved in the world of whisky I struggled to pinpoint specific aromas. I suggest trying to see if you can find a general smell. Perhaps your whisky might remind you of citrus. Once you’ve got that first inkling of a scent you’ll be surprised how quickly you can differentiate from lemons to mandarins to grapefruits. The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to identify these individual essences.

5. Finally, you can taste it

Now to the fun part, the tasting! I tend to take a wee sip into my mouth then hold it on my tongue for a period of about five seconds. Try to let it seep into your palate. Also, you might want to try keeping your mouth open just a tad to allow the flavours circulate through all your senses. Again, as with the aromas, try not to start too specific. You’ll slowly but surely recognise the flavours. If you’re still struggling, try to find a ‘whisky flavour map’ online. These graphic tools aid in finding precise flavours

6. With water or ice?

If you’re still struggling with your whisky you can try to ‘open it up’. To do this, try adding in a little bit of water into your single malt. By softening the alcohol, some people find they can pick up more on their palate. All whiskies will change with a touch of water. Experiment with a drop or two and keep adding until you find a balance that you enjoy. Ice will perform a similar function.

It's always handy to remember that this is a guide to tasting whisky and, at the end of the day, you should drink it how you feel most comfortable.

For me, whisky is a social drink first-and-foremost, and should be treated as such. You’ll find me enjoying my drams with some good company and fantastic chat.

Richard Blanchard is a whisky expert and an ambassador for Glenfiddich.

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