Whiskey Tasting Tips + Party Hosting!
The best way to enjoy a fine whiskey is to properly taste it — a process that involves all of your senses. Stick with us as we go over all the basic techniques needed to appreciate the many facets of whiskey. Then, find out how you and your friends can enjoy a casual tasting event — at home or with us!
First, let’s talk a bit about flavors or congeners. Congeners are minor chemical substances, produced during fermentation, that are responsible for most of the taste and aroma of distilled alcoholic beverages, but also contribute to the taste of non-distilled drinks. They are not ethanol, but are instead other alcohols called fusel alcohols. Keep this in mind as we go along.
Now that that’s out of the way…the best way to enjoy the special notes produced by whiskey congeners is to learn how to taste whiskey. Let’s start here:
- Start with some great whiskey. We recommend Thunder Road’s whiskies and spirits.
- Find a Copita nosing glass — an industry standard shape for whiskey tasting. This elongated sherry glass (almost tulip shaped), helps capture the congeners and lead them to your nose, thereby expanding the reach of smells that can be detected. If you can’t get one of these, opt for another crystal glass — just avoid plastic and other glassware when possible, as they introduce other scents. Choose Glencairn or snifters over wine glasses or shot glasses.
- Note the appearance. Along with the color (gold, amber, peach, the color of the sun), does the your whiskey remind you of anything? Be creative here — does it remind you of endless summer, someone’s hair, or something else? Think of what the color and the appearance evokes from the world around you.
- Gently swirl the contents to release the aromas — then bring it to your nose and gently sniff. Listen to your nose; your nose is perhaps the most important part of this little experiment, as it can detect more than thirty flavors on its own — more if you use the Copita nosing glass. In fact, many experts say that tasting is really just confirming what your nose has already told you. While you do this, pay particular attention to what the smells remind you of — is it leather, wood, smoke, a holiday, certain foods, or a particular event?
- Pay attention to the mouthfeel — that is, how it feels in your mouth. This will tell you how the whiskey is structured — is it drying, refreshing, lively, soft and rolling, or hot and immediate? Does it taste the same from beginning to end? How does it finish — short, medium, long, dry, or smooth?
- Consider adding some water, and offer some ice. When tasting whiskey, you can add up to a couple drops of room temperature water to gain more information about the whiskey’s flavor. The amount of water added will depend on personal preference and the alcohol by volume (ABV), but some master blenders will dilute to 20 percent. For the ice, only offer this to those who wish to drink their whiskey this way. Some will consider this an insult to the whiskey, but others will prefer it. Treat your guests well by honoring their preferred method of enjoying whiskey.
- Create a palate cleanser. To help differentiate the different flavor profiles of your whiskies, drink some water and sniff fresh coffee grounds between tastings.
Whiskey is best shared with close friends — and sharing notes on taste is just the same! To make a fun, eventful night out of the experience, consider inviting your friends over for a whiskey tasting. If you’re on a budget, ask each friend to bring a dram (or two!) of their favorite whiskey or spirit to share. Otherwise, stock up on some whiskies that fit within your budget. Five to six whiskies is pretty good for a mid-sized group, but if you’re hanging with connoisseurs, shoot for 7-8 whiskies. Bring enough for everyone to try each option, but remember to keep the pours small so that flavors can be enjoyed. Then, go around the room and discuss what you eyes, noses, and mouths detect, as well as what made each whiskey unique!
Don’t want to host an in-home whiskey tasting party? Come to Thunder Road Distillery for a FREE and unique whiskey tasting (plus other great spirits)! We’re located in Kodak, Tennessee, just off exit 407.