How to organise your own whisky tasting at home
At Walkers we love our whisky, especially from the nearby Speyside distilleries close to our HQ in Aberlour – and we love to pair whisky and shortbread too. We often participate in whisky tasting events, for instance at the recent Speyside Whisky Festival, where we supplied palate cleansing Oatcakes and matched shortbread to whisky – and we thought we’d help those who weren’t able to make the festival with a guide to tasting whisky at home. It is not as hard as you think, simply follow our simple tips and try it yourself!
What you need for whisky tasting at home
The most obvious ingredient for a whisky tasting is the whisky itself. You can taste any whisky, but it can often be exciting to pick a theme and compare whiskies that have some common ground. Try a selection of Speyside whiskies and see how they differ, or choose several vintages from the same distillery and note how the finer nuances develop over time.
Make sure you choose the right glass to bring out the aromas and allow for full enjoyment of the whisky. The best glasses for whisky tasting have a stem and tulip-shaped bowls, like classic sherry glasses. If you have enough, give everyone a new glass for every whisky. If not, rinse and dry the glasses between each new whisky.
Pen and paper
Making notes is an important part of whisky tasting. Give everyone a notepad and pen where they can make notes of nose and palate, colour and finish. If you are not doing a blind test, the tasting master can share notes and information about the whiskies you are trying, including some history, tasting notes and interesting facts about the region, history or production.
As part of the whisky tasting, one traditional technique is to notice how the whisky changes character with the addition of a little water. Provide distilled spring water in little pouring jugs to make it easy for everyone to tipple just a little into the whisky. Do not use sparkling water, but you can use water from the tap, unless it has a distinctive taste.
Too many whiskies on an empty stomach are a recipe for disaster. Make sure you offer your whisky tasters something to eat before, during and after the tasting session. Oatcakes are a classic, and Walkers have some delicious oatcakes that serve as palate cleansers between whiskies. Try our iconic Highland oatcakes for instance if you want that true Scottish experience.
How to taste whisky
It’s often hard to know what to look for when tasting whisky but it’s actually quite simple and consists of several phases. Prepare the glass by ensuring it is completely clean, then adding a small swig of whisky and swirling it around inside the glass to cover it completely. This whisky can be discarded, and you can now fill the glass with the whisky you’ll be tasting – a small amount is enough. Hold the glass at the stem to avoid heating up the whisky with the body heat from your hand. Now you can start making notes.
- Appearance: The depth of colour of the whisky, the legs it leaves when you swirl the glass and other visual aspects.
- Nose: Release the aromas by swirling the whisky in the glass and sniff carefully to identify the smells and associations the whisky invokes. Sniff with your nose and breathe with your mouth open, and be careful to avoid that burning sensation when a strong whisky overpowers your nose.
- Palate: Take a small swig and let the whisky roll around inside your mouth. Keep it there for long enough to let the flavours develop. Note any sweetness, characteristic flavours, tannins and structure.
- Finish: When you have swallowed, think about how the whisky lingers at the end. Does it have a long or short finish, is it dry or smooth, are there any new flavours developing?
- Adding water: When you have done your first taste, add a drop of water and note how the flavour changes subtly. Is the whisky opening up, are the particular flavours stronger and can you notice other aromas?
When you have compared all the whiskies, you can all discuss your favourites, try some of them again and enjoy the best of the whiskies with a delicious Walkers shortbread to bring out the sweetness and the round flavours.