How To Taste Scotch

Knowing how to taste Scotch properly is one of the most basic elements of enjoying the amber nectar, however it isn’t always as easy as just taking a sip. Often, experienced whisky drinkers will talk about the nose, the palate or the finish of their favorite Scotch, and to fully understand what is meant by this, you need to be aware of the right and wrong way to try a new whisky variety. In this article, you can find out more about the best way to taste Scotch so that you can enjoy the best possible drinking experience.

What Is Scotch?

The term Scotch refers to a whisky that has been made in Scotland and which has matured for a minimum of 3 years in an oak barrel. A single malt is a Scotch that has only been distilled from malted barley at one distillery. When the spirit leaves the still it tastes somewhat similar to vodka and is clear in color, however when it has been aged in an oak barrel it will develop its flavor and distinctive color. A blended Scotch is a mix of some malt whisky (usually from more than one distillery) and some grain whisky which has been distilled from a cereal grain that is not malted barley. This tasting method can be used for any kind of whisky, or indeed any kind of alcohol which should be savored rather than “shot”.

Pouring Whisky

You should always choose a glass which tapers towards the top, such as a brandy snifter, tulip glass or wine glass. Pour out a shot glass full (1 to 1.5 oz) of whisky into your glass and gently swirl it in the same way that you would a glass of fine wine. This will release the vapors while allowing you to see its viscosity.


whiskey tasting and nosingThere is a school of thought which says that more pleasure can be derived from smelling whisky than by tasting it. Whisky is fill of countless volatile compounds which are detected by nosing the glass. Place your nose around 1” above the glass’s rim and tilt the glass gently towards you. Breathe in carefully through your nose, but if you feel a burning or prickling sensation in your nostrils you should pull back the glass a little. Conversely, if you can’t smell the whisky properly, put your nose more deeply into the glass or tilt the liquid towards you further. Concentrate on what you can smell and try to identify any individual notes or aromas for around 60 seconds, while you adjust the positioning of your nose and the glass to draw all of the aromas out. Swirl the glass occasionally and more of the compounds will be released.


When you take your first taste, be sure to sip only a small amount – just enough to ensure your tongue’s surface is covered. Keep the liquid in your mouth for no less than ten seconds. If you don’t usually drink spirits straight, you will probably feel a burning sensation on your tongue and your eyes may water, but stay with it as after a few seconds, the burn will wear off and the whisky will start to taste sweet. Swirl the liquid around in your mouth and coat your tongue’s entire surface, attempting to identify all of the individual flavors before swallowing.

The Finish

Once the whisky has been held in your mouth for 10 seconds or more, it should go down smoothly without any burning sensation in your throat. If you sip and swallow whisky immediately, you will experience burning in your throat, even in the case of a quality single malt. After swallowing, open up your mouth and breathe out slowly and you will discover that the flavor will remain on all the surfaces of your mouth. This sensation is called the “finish” and may last as short as a couple of seconds right up to several hours. Breathe in gently and taste the volatile aromas that you have savored.


There is no need to rush through whisky tasting, and trying to get through a number of snifters quickly will confuse the palate and prevent you from experiencing the full aromas. Sip water in between tasting different varieties of whisky and jot down your thoughts about the aromas, flavors and finishes that you are identifying. Whiskies are complex and you are bound to have plenty to note down.

Be Independent

It’s very easy to be influenced by other people tasting whisky with you, however you should never be afraid to be independent and to express your own thoughts and experiences. You may pick up a taste or scent that no one else has identified and you may enjoy varieties that others do not because of personal preferences.

Water Or Ice?

water-or-ice-in-whiskeyMany people wonder whether they should add ice or water to their whisky, however the answer may be down to your personal tastes. When first sampling a whisky, you should always try it in its natural state before adding water as this will help you to identify the deeper complexity and flavors that come to the fore after the water is added. This is especially true when sampling a cask strength or high alcohol whisky. The amount of water that you add should also be down to personal preference, however avoid adding too much as this will dilute the flavor too much. Ice is probably best avoided when tasting a new whisky as it lowers the temperature of the drink, preventing many of its essential characteristics from being experienced. Instead of adding ice to cool down the whiskey, you can use chilling stones that won’t affect the taste.


Now that you have learned how to nose and taste whisky you should try experimenting. One way is to hold a larger amount of whisky in your mouth while tilting back your head a little and gently breathing through your mouth. You will probably need to practice this to stop yourself from choking, however this is a great way to identify more tricky flavors through aeration. You should also try sampling your whisky from a range of glasses to experience the variations in aroma.


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