Updated: Nov 26, 2020
Thinking of having a virtual whisky tasting party with some friends? Then read on to get some hints and tips on how to make it a successful one.
Tasting whisky with a group of like-minded whisky lovers is so much more fun than doing it on your own. What I am amazed at when I taste with friends, is how much our comments can vary (or match) when we are tasting the exact same liquid in our glasses. The ideal is to start with a “gentle” whisky and progress to stronger tastes and build up to the strongest whisky (ABV or taste).
What you need
Everyone on the same video conferencing platform e.g. Zoom, Skype, Google Meet etc.
Glasses for each of the whiskies, preferably a “tulip” shaped one e.g. a Glencairn glass but white wine glasses will also do.
Water for drinking between whiskies and to “open” a whisky
Snacks e.g. crackers, chocolate
Tasting journal to make notes
Appearance or Looks
Pour about 10-15 ml into a glass then look at it. How a whisky looks can tell you many things about the whisky in front of you. From the colour to the “legs” in the glass. A dark whisky may indicate maturation in sherry or wine casks or that it is “old”, however, be aware that it is legal to add colouring to a whisky so check to see if it states colouring (or specifically, no added colouring) before jumping to conclusions.
Nose or Smell
Whisky should be experienced at room temperature as lower temperatures can diminish the smell and taste of the whisky. It is also recommended not to “swirl” the whisky in the glass too vigorously (like you do for wine) as this can release a lot of alcohol vapours which can overpower your sense of smell. I very gentle swirl while holding your hand over the top of the glass will release the aromas without blasting your senses with alcohol.
What impressions do you get when you nose the whisky? It takes a lot of practice to start detecting and discerning the subtle aromas of a whisky so if you stick to simple ones like fruity, floral, sweet, smoky, earthy, spicy or a mixture of these. Write these down in your tasting journal. What is interesting is that the nose does not always match what the whisky is going to taste like.
Palate or Taste
This is the fun part (it is a “tasting” after all). Take a small sip and roll it around your tongue. You will feel the alcohol “burn” to various degrees and a range of flavours. In the same fashion as when you nosed the whisky, try to identify the basic flavours that you can detect i.e. fruity, floral, sweet, smoky, earthy, spicy etc. You may taste different flavours in the front and back of your tongue too. Finally, swallow the whisky. How does it feel going down your throat? Is it a warming sensation or more of a “burn”? Take note of how long the flavours last in your mouth. This shows the “finish” of the whisky.
Some whiskies lose the flavours very quickly and some whiskies “hang around” for ages (peated ones in particular). Now take another sip. You may find that there are new flavours detected. Write down as much (or as little) as you want as you will be revisiting these notes later. You might want to add a few drops (literally 2-4) of water. This can sometimes “open” up a whisky (and yes, there is science behind this, but I will leave that for another post)
If you still have some whisky in your glass, leave it there and move on to the next one. Repeat the whole nosing and tastings routine again and make more notes. Then, have some water to cleanse your palate and go back to the previous whisky. Nose and taste it again. Do you detect any changes in either the nose or palate? If so, why do you think this happens? Most whiskies will change their nose and flavour profiles when some water is added or when there has been some oxidation with air, much like wine (well, the air part anyway)
As you can see, there are many facets to appreciating whisky. Some whiskies you will love initially but not after 10 minutes in the glass and vice versa. Some taste better with water and some without. If you are tasting "cask strength" whiskies (over 50% ABV), water generally helps but I have had 66% ABV whiskies that were fine on their own.
If you're looking at hosting a "discovery" tasting with your friends, why not look at our "Parliamentary Tour" set or explore some great value whiskies with our "Budget Night" set. Then again, you could ask each friend to suggest a whisky they want to try and just DIY you tasting sets.
Ultimately, the type of whisky you prefer and your how you drink it is entirely up to you including whether it is a blend or a single malt and if it is an older whisky or one that is younger, with ice or with Coke (heaven forbid!). It is your taste, so enjoy what you like but whatever you do, drink in moderation and drink to discover what the world of whisky has to offer you.