From bright lively fruitiness to fathomless oaky earthiness, the flavours of Australian craft whisky span the gamut. But how do you know what you’re tasting? And how do you make the most of it? Here’s our easy 5-step guide to tasting whisky.
Many top whisky aficionados compare tasting whisky to tasting wine. And there’s a lot of truth to that.
The same elements from wine-tasting come into play when we’re looking at whisky, and there are even a few flavour profiles that are similar too.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a science.
Our sense of taste is unique to each of us, and what tastes good is about as subjective as it gets. It’s what you do while you’re tasting that can really flesh out your opinion of a whisky.
The first (and most important) question you should be asking yourself as you taste is ‘do I like this whisky?’ But the second question should always be: ‘why?’
So pour a little of your Australian craft whisky into your glass, then consider these five elements as you enjoy your dram.
Hold your whisky up to the light or against a sheet of paper. Darker colours often mean there’s been more interaction with the barrel, so there could be more oaky or toasty flavours.
Swirl the whisky a little and watch the ‘legs’ that run down the sides of the glass. The faster the legs run down the glass, the lighter it will feel in the mouth. The slower and wider they go, the thicker the mouthfeel will be.
Here’s a more complete explanation on whisky legs.
Waft your glass under your nose a few times until you can smell the whisky. Don’t push your nose all the way into the glass at first like you do with wine - neat whisky can have a potent alcohol vapour that’s not popular with most.
Does it smell sweet or musty? Can you find fruit aromas? Often there are dried fruit, red berry and stone fruit notes. Can you smell any smoke or oakiness?
Having your mouth slightly open as you smell can help magnify and clarify aromas. I also find closing my eyes helps for some reason!
Take your first small sip and run it around your mouth. There might be a bit of alcohol burn, and tingle on your lips and tongue at first. I promise you’ll grow to love it!
Think about whether the aromas marry up with the flavours you’re tasting.
Taste again. Run this sip around your mouth, rub it into your gums with your tongue and let it play across the sides and back of your mouth.
What other flavours you can detect?
On the third sip, pay attention to the structure and balance of the whisky, and the texture and finish.
As you taste that third sip, think about the texture and mouthfeel of the whisky. Is it light and melts on your tongue? Is it pinchy or spiky? Is it dense and oily? Does it coat your mouth?