Whisky tasting is the analysis of whisky through visual examination, taste and aroma. Whisky tastings are often conducted in groups of people, either for reference purposes or as a social activity.
The generally accepted industry standard for whisky tasting glasses is shaped like an elongated sherry glass, with a stubby stem. The most famous of these is the Glencairn whisky glass.
Although there need not be any formal structure to a whisky tasting, more often than not the process will be broken down into the following stages.
Throughout the tasting process notes may be taken for future reference, or for publication. These will often be separated into notes on the nose, palate and finish. Tasting notes might be literal, such as a hint of TCP. They may also be more emotive, for example, someone might suggest that the nose of a whisky reminds them of their grandfather's old study, invoking musty books, leather and possibly tobacco aromas.
The whisky glass is held at a 45 degree angle, often against a white wall or ceiling, to give a clear view through the spirit. The depth of colour may give clues as to the age of the whisky, the maturation that the spirit has had, whether or not it has been chill filtered and whether or not any artificial colours have been added.
Next the whisky is swirled, so that it rises up the edges of the glass, and allowed to settle. The spirit will leave legs on the side of the glass. The thickness of the legs and the length of time they persist for will give clues as to the ABV of the spirit.
The spirit is sniffed so that the aroma (nose) can be examined. Depending on the strength of the spirit being analysed, it is advisable not to put the nose too far into the glass and inhale too deeply at first, in case of burning from the fumes. Once comfortable with the strength of the spirit, it's typical to take deep sniffs of the spirit with the mouth open, which has the effect of opening up the palate and making it easier to detect aromas.
The whisky is tasted, often a little at first, and then in larger amounts and with the spirit being moved around the tongue.
The flavour of the whisky will linger on the palate and will change over time as the flavour decays in the mouth.
Optionally, the entire process will be repeated with a small amount of water, which changes the flavour profile of the spirit.
There are several publishers of tasting notes, including the following.
- Jim, Murray (2013). Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2013. Dram Good Books Ltd. ISBN 978-0955472978.
- Michael, Jackson (2010). Malt Whisky Companion 6th Edition. Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 978-1405319669.
- Ian, Buxton (2013). 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die. Hachette Scotland. ISBN 978-0755360833.
- "How to taste whisky". Retrieved 2013-05-13.