Tasting Irish Whiskey with Colum Egan
Master Distiller of Bushmills Irish Whiskey
"To taste whiskey you will need your senses of sight, smell and taste. Plus a little guidance and an open mind. Taste is a personal experience so there is no right or wrong." - Colum Egan
Step 1: Prepare for the Tasting
The tasting room should be free of extraneous smells and should have good lighting. The right size and shape of the glass is vital and makes a huge difference in the ability to nose effectively. Do not use traditional whiskey tumblers. Instead use a snifter, which allows you to swirl the spirit and gather the aromas around the rim.
Step 2: Note Appearance
Pour about an ounce of whiskey. Hold the glass to the light, or against a white napkin, and take note of its color, depth and clarity. The whiskey's appearance should be a guide to how it has been matured and how long it has been aged.
Step 3: Add Water
Almost all whiskeys benefit from the addition of water, which will open up the spirit in most cases. It's always best to add water a little at a time. Older whiskeys (more than 20 years) or whiskeys aged in sherry can be damaged by the addition of too much water; the aromas break up and the flavor becomes flat. The water used to dilute the strength of your dram should be still and not too high in minerals. At professional tastings, distilled water is normally used.
Step 4: Nose the Whiskey
The aroma of a whiskey is called the "nose." To determine the nose, tilt the glass, swirl the whiskey and inhale slowly. Do not sniff too intensely or too often because the alcohol can inhibit your sense of smell. The aromas are often complex and multi-layered. With a little practice, you will learn to break smells down and identify what they are.
Step 5: Taste the Whiskey
Take a sip large enough to fill your mouth, then roll it over your tongue. It is important when tasting, to hold the liquid in the mouth and to make sure it coats the tongue thoroughly to help determine mouth-feel. First register the texture and smoothness of the whiskey. Then try to identify the primary tastes -- the immediate flavors your tongue collects. The finish, or aftertaste, refers to the sensation experienced after swallowing, as well as the flavors that linger in your mouth.