Appearance, Aroma & Flavor in Tasting Whiskey

Using Appearance, Aroma and Flavor to Understand Whiskey

We’re looking to do our best to objectively analyze what’s in our glass and move beyond basics of simply liking or not liking a sample. To help better understand the reasons you may enjoy or dislike a particular whiskey we focus on 3 basic criteria:

  1. APPEARANCE
  2. AROMA/SMELL
  3. FLAVOR

By focusing on these 3 variables we can guide our senses through the tasting process. These cues also help set our expectations for what we’re about to taste. Think expectations don’t matter when tasting? Think of the last time you were handed lemonade and thought it was iced tea.

1. APPEARANCE

The first interaction most of us have with whiskey is appearance. Three things we’re looking for when we look at a sample: Color, Clarity & Viscosity. Appearance can be tricky. Generally speaking older whiskey will be darker in color, but not always.

2. AROMA/SMELL

Although it’s called a Whiskey Tasting, the aromas or smells are a vital component of analyzing whiskey during a tasting. While only 5 primary flavors exist (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami) equaling approximately 3,125 flavor combinations, its recognized the human nose can detect over 10,000 unique smells.

3. TASTE

1st Sip Unless you taste whiskey regularly, the first thing you’re probably going to notice is the burning sensation on your tongue. Over time you can train your tongue to get past that sensation.

2nd Sip Allow the burn to dissipate, swirl the glass a bit and try to take a second sip. With that second sip, try to move the spirit around your mouth to different regions of your tongue. Do you notice any individual flavors? Flavor combinations?

3rd Sip See if you can pick up any structure – does it have a distinct beginning/middle/end? Which of the flavors or flavor combinations you noticed appear during each stage? Is it well balanced? Do all three parts compliment one another?

Ideally a whiskey will be well balanced and enjoyable. The one common trait of all well made whiskeys is the enjoyability of individual flavors and the harmony of those flavors as they interact in the glass and on the palate.

 

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