Guide to Tasting at a Whisky Festival
Remember to spend the night nosing and sipping. The samples are sized in order to nose the spirits and only a portion of the sample is needed to experience the flavor profile. Swirl the sample in your glass and letting it aerate and the ethanol evaporate. Smell the spirit. Add a couple drops of water if you like and smell it again. Take a small sip and let it coat your tongue for few seconds. As you sip, try breathing in as this lets the olfactory add to your sensory perception. After you swallow or rinse it back to your glass, notice the sensations and flavors left on your tongue and pay attention to how long it lasts.
Let’s do the math: Pours are a quarter ounce. Three ounces in one hour would be 12 samples and the equivalent of two drinks. This should be your maximum consumption per hour and possibly less. This would equate to 36 samples for a three hour event (36 of about 150 whiskies). Consume half your sample and you can taste 24 whiskies per hour or 72 in three hours. Although this is an excellent sampling of the whiskies present we would not recommend sampling this many as your senses will be burned and numbed after the first hour. To maximize your experience, sip enough to coat your tongue. Wash the spirit around your mouth for a few seconds and rinse it back into your glass and then dump to a dump bucket. This is the manor of a seasoned professional and takes practice. Realistically we know you’ll be swallowing some whisky. When the buzz hits, take a break and get something to eat. There is plenty of time, plenty of whisky and plenty of food. Be sure to take a drink of water between each sample of whisky.
Whiskies of the World® guide to writing tasting notes
The following is a guide for evaluating and tasting whisky.
1. Appearance, color and observations
Swirl the spirit in the glass. Observe the color, clarity and legs (the tear-dropped streaks that run down the glass). Slower dripping legs indicate a higher viscosity which may be an indicator of age.
2. Nose: How does the whisky smell?
Give the spirit time to breathe. Swirl the spirit in the class. Exposure to air and temperature will change the aromas. Always nose spirits with your mouth open to help the aroma roll through your olfactory organ. Holding your glass level, smell with your nose in the center of the glass. Alternatively, With the glass angled, you can now position your nose closer to the liquid. Smell with you nose at varying distances from the whisky. At different levels you will detect different notes (variants of the aroma).
Grainy, fruity, flowery, vegetable, botanical, herby, oak, sweet, wood-smoke, tar, iodine, sea-weed, leafy, grassy, leathery, tobacco, beeswax, resin, pine, nutty, cigar-box, honey, vanilla, buttery, sherry, bourbon.
3. Palate: How does the whisky taste?
This is the initial arrival of the spirit on the palate. Different regions of the tongue detect different tastes: sweet (on the tip) salty and sour (at the sides) and dry/bitter (at the rear). Allow the spirit to flow completely over the tongue and linger a moment as the sensory receptors work at various speeds, sending signals to the brain at varying rates.
Sweetness: Dry, off-dry, medium, sweet
Alcohol: Soft, smooth, warming, harsh
Body / Intensity: Neutral, Light, medium, full, pronounced (How fiery is the whisky?)
Flavor characteristics: Fruity, flowery, vegetable, grainy, botanical, herby, oak, sweet.
Additional characteristics are described in the references section.
4. Finish and Balance:
After a few seconds, the finish and balance can be described by answers to the following questions:
What is left on the palate? Is the palate clean and simple?
Is there some complexity? What can be observed after five or ten seconds? Did the whisky have a long or a short finish?
Description References: Aroma and flavor Characteristic
The following descriptions will help in identifying key characteristics of whisky and prove invaluable in writing your own comprehensive tasting notes
Fruity / Floral (Estery)
Citrus fruit: Orange, tangerine, grapefruit, lemon, lime
Orchard fruit: Apple, gooseberry, pear, apricot, peach, plum, red cherry, black cherry
Berry/ currant: grape, strawberry raspberry, redcurrant, blackcurrant, blackberry
Tropical fruit: Banana, kiwi, lychee, mango, melon, passion fruit, pineapple
Dried fruit: Fig, prune, raisin, sultana, citrus peel, fruit cake
Flowers: Elderflower, orange blossom, rose, violet, perfume, lavender, lilac, dried flowers
Cereal: Husk, porridge, barley, rye, linseed, malt, flour
Fresh vegetable: Bell pepper, mushroom, asparagus
Herbaceous: Grass, hay, eucalyptus, blackcurrant leaf, wet leaves, conifer
Botanicals/herbs: Juniper, coriander, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, lemongrass, mint
Kernel: Chocolate, coffee, hazelnut, almond, coconut, cashew
Oak / sweetness / spice
Oak: Toast, coffee, cedar, char, spice, sherry, sawdust
Sweetness: Corn, vanilla, butterscotch, menthol, caramel, burnt sugar, toffee, molasses
Spice: Anise, fennel, liquorice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, black/white pepper, cumin
Peat (phenolic): Peat, medicinal, smoked fish, earthy, smoky, seaweed
Animal: Leather, meaty, gravy, yeast extract
Rancio: Fruit cake, candied fruits, mushroom, forest floor, polish
Solvent: Peardrop, turpentine, paint, varnish
Feinty: Wax, leather, biscuits, tobacco, cheese, sweat, plastic
Sulphur: Rubber, spent matches, boiled cabbage, drains