The Temple Bar Pub’s Guide to Tasting Whiskey Like a Pro

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The celebrated dram known as whiskey (or whisky if you will, but here in Ireland it’s whiskey) is a complex little drink that deserves your attention. If you want to know how to taste whiskey and fully appreciate what distinguishes one from another, we’ve got a few expert tips for you.

First, get a suitable glass. To be honest, it’s not critical, but having a glass you can swirl without accidentally showering the person next to you, helps. A Glencairn glass is perfect, with its bulbous bottom giving space for a good swirl and the narrow rim helping concentrate the aromas. Tumblers or rocks glasses will do the job too, although you might lose a bit of the nose.

Anyway, let’s get onto the tasting.

Observe

Tasting whiskey and drinking it aren’t quite the same, so the first step in learning how to taste whiskey is giving yourself time to observe it in the glass.

Hold the glass up to the light and focus on the colour. It might be light and golden, like straw or vibrant amber, or maybe it’s a rich, deep nut-brown colour.

Take a moment to experience the colour, think what it reminds you of and how the colour might influence how you anticipate the taste.

Swirl

Swirl the whisky in the glass and watch how it behaves.

Do you see little streaks of liquid running down inside the glass? These are known as
legs and indicate the viscosity. The more viscosity there is, the more sensuous the mouthfeel – literally how it feels in your mouth. It’s an important part of imbibing enjoyment and is a different aspect of ‘tasting’.

Smell

Swirling the glass opens up the whiskey and releases more aromas, ready for nosing. But don’t snort those fumes in all at once or you’ll anaesthetise your scent receptors. With around 40% abv (alcohol by volume), that’s a lot of potency.

Take short, gentle sniffs, moving the rim of the glass under your nose. It can help if you keep your mouth open a bit, as smell and taste are closely linked.

Give yourself time to experience all the subtle layers and allow your imagination to make connections. Smells are powerful memory invokers, so let your senses take over a bit. There’s no right or wrong; it’s a personal impression.

Sip

Your nose has given you the flavour, and now it’s time to let your tongue give you the taste.

Take a sip. Just a little one.

Hold the liquid in your mouth and let it seep into all the corners. Different areas in the mouth experience flavours in different ways, so it’s worth the journey.

When your palate has adjusted to the alcohol level, swallow and take another sip. Compare. Is it different or the same? Again, it’s personal, with everyone’s impression being different.

Dilute and Repeat

Now you know how to taste whiskey neat, you can try the same process after adding a spot of water. Water unlocks different flavours and scents but doesn’t necessarily wash the life out of it.

Experiment with different amounts of water to find your preferred strength, which might, after all, turn out to be neat from the bottle.

In The Temple Bar Pub, we’ve revived the tradition of having our own special signature whiskey blends. Perfect if you fancy a night out, showing your friends how to taste whiskey.