Whisky has been enjoyed and appreciated by generation after generation. What draws so many people to this spirit is the craftsmanship and skill inherent in its creation and the resulting complexity it can offer your senses.
Whether tonight’s sharpener is a dram of whisky, or it's something you indulge over on a special occasion, we’ve put together a few pointers on how you can get more enjoyment from your favourite libation.
DEVELOP YOUR PALATE
Whisky is a drink that offers endless possibilities, a multi-faceted experience for your senses. We are firm believers at Whisky Auctioneer that there is a whisky for everyone. With a huge and fascinating variety of expressions from over 400 whisky distilleries, each can offer the enthusiast a different experience.
The most effective way to develop your palate and enjoyment of whisky is to learn and taste as much as possible. Immerse yourself in the world of whisky through online resources, books, distillery visits, festivals, organised tastings (hey, you could even organise your own whisky tasting with friends). Every opportunity you take to learn more about the subject and taste as widely as you can will develop your palate, understanding and passion for the industry.
HOW DO I TASTE WHISKY?
The most important part of developing your palate is of course tasting. Each time you sit down with a glass of whisky approach it with an open mind and follow our 5 steps to tasting whisky.
[note: of course any glass is suitable, but preferably use a glass which narrows at the lip (such as the famous Glencairn glass) to funnel the aromas to your nose]
Hold your glass against a white background and assess the colour of the liquid. How much intensity does it have - is it pale or dark in colour? Here you can play a bit of a guessing game, what might this tell you about what you can expect on the palate? If you would like, give the glass a swirl and study the ‘legs’ (the tears left behind post-swirling) which can help determine the strength and spirit character of the liquid.
Before you take a sip (I promise we’re getting there!) swirl the glass to release aromas and inhale (it’s important to keep your mouth open slightly). It is always worthwhile to nose the whisky again as the first time can be overwhelming. Make a note of what characteristics you can identify from the nose of the whisky. On the first approach you should be able to make a first impression, but continue to nose so that you can pick out some of those trickier secondary and tertiary aromas. The magic of whisky is it’s ability to capture a moment in time and transport you to that moment with your olfactory system!
We're here! Take a small sip and draw air through your lips. It’s also important to allow the whisky to sit in your mouth for a few moments so that the alcohol has the chance to dissipate before swallowing.
After you have swallowed, what are you left with? What flavours are lingering and how long are they there for?
What do you think? Make a conclusion based on each of the above steps. It is also worthwhile to keep a record of your tasting notes so that you can keep track of what whiskies you particularly enjoyed, and which not so much.
FIND YOUR SWEET SPOT
Now that you have opened yourself up to the world of whisky you can start to refine your drinking choices based on what you are enjoying. Is there a theme to the whiskies that have hit your sweet spot? Perhaps it’s a style you can resonate with such as light, floral and fruity whiskies or maybe you prefer richer, bolder drams. Can you recognise regional qualities that you have an affinity with? The heavily peated malts of Islay or light and grassy Lowland malts?
Once you have identified your sweet spot, now is a good time to start playing around with various expressions and vertical tastings to explore this nuanced area of whisky.
BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS AND BOOST THE FUN
You've now found your sweet spot and most probably gravitate toward your favourite distilleries, regions and go-to bottles, but that doesn’t mean your whisky journey is anywhere near over. In fact, now that you've developed your palate and got a grip on what you like and dislike, you’re primed to explore some of the equally delicious alternatives on offer!
Whether you love Ardbeg for their briny peated malts or Glenfarclas' light, fruity and multi-layered whiskies, you’re bound to have some new favourites out there, just waiting to be discovered. Now is the time to broaden your horizons and boost the fun back into your tastings with something a little different. Perhaps start exploring new distilleries and what they can offer, or if you like the smoky coastal drams from Islay you can begin exploring other island malts from Orkney or peated expressions from the mainland such as Ardmore to point your lifelong whisky adventure in a whole new direction.
Along the journey it’s important to keep track of your experiences. You can start a spreadsheet storing the whiskies you have tasted, your tasting notes and personal scores. There are also websites and mobile apps available for you to monitor and store your tasting experiences alongside being able to engage with fellow enthusiasts and discover what they think of the whiskies you are also tasting.
Keeping a record of what you have tasted (including where and when!) is such a valuable asset when embarking on a journey of discovery. Once you have something in place, an interesting activity is to go back to old whiskies you have tasted to compare how your palate has changed and if you would make a different judgement as your preferences evolve. Time and place has a huge weighting on an overall tasting experience so taking this into consideration can also be eye-opening.