How to Taste Whiskey

Learn how to taste whiskey from the experts at NYC's Rye House in this Howcast video.

Whiskey is a wonderful beverage. It’s full of flavors and smells and it’s something you want to savor, especially if it’s something like a very nice Scotch.

There’s a lot of hidden potential in this glass, and it takes a few things to really meet it half way and find its really wonderful, unique flavors. Scotch whiskey is often diluted slightly with water, you know, mineral waters from the springs of Scotland if you’re terribly pretentious or tap water if you’re a hustler.

Once you have your beverage, I often use a nice wide bodied but small rimmed glass, it’ll concentrate the flavor, you can swirl it around a little bit and vaporize some of the more volatile chemicals, and it smells strong, and it smells sweet, it smells soft.

A few drops of water, especially with Scotch but this works with high proofed bourbons as well, will open it right up. You don’t have to be fussy about it. Get it warm in your hand, and you really want to get your nose in there. Stick your nose into the glass, not so far that you actually get it on your nose but you really want to smell what you’re smelling. Keep your mouth open a little bit so it circulates through the back of your mouth over the Jacob’s organ. You can smell some really nice, complex flavors in there, flowers and heather bushes.

What you’ll get too is that different areas in the glass will smell like different things. So the higher up you go the more the front of the nose you get and the lower the more alcohol you’ll smell. Around the sides are some more savory and floral notes. So you’ll get the barrel up top, caramel, vanilla, a little bit of mustiness. Down at the bottom it’s hotter, it’s spicier, you can get a sense of how much alcohol is actually in the whiskey. Then on the sides, you have more of the more volatile flavors, the passive things will get about the middle of the palate. And you can get a sense for it too. Up top this is what you taste with the tip of your tongue, this is the finish, and around the sides, and what you’ll taste in the middle of your palate.

Sip it slowly. Hold it on your tongue for a moment, let your saliva dilute it naturally. You’ll get a broader experience of the flavors, the aromas of the whiskey, and a nice long finish as it goes down. You can do the same with American whiskeys, ryes, things like that. Doesn’t have to be in a fancy container. Making that cross shaped motion, like a plus sign will give you a nice, wide array of the flavors. You can also do that. So there are a lot of ways to taste whiskey depending on what you want to get out of it.

That’s a simple way to taste whiskey.