The 3 Drunken Celts have found the following methods and suggestions to work extremely well. As with anything, follow the methods which work for you.
1. Pick up your glass and examine the color
2. Gently swirl the liquid about to get an idea of its viscosity and admire the “legs”
3. Cup the glass in both hands, one over the top of the glass trapping the vapors, and hold it close to your heart for a few moments to warm the liquid.
4. Remove the covering hand and pause for a few seconds.
Note: This is a safety procedure. When you warmed the whiskey in the glass you released both ethanol vapor and aromas. The ethanol will rush out before the aromas so pausing will save you from inhaling pure ethanol which would be “bad”.
5. Nose the dram. Go ahead an just stick your nose right down inside the glass and give a good long whiff or two. Some prefer to make two goes at this. One at the edge of the glass and the second right down in there.
6. Take a mouthful and move it around in your mouth making sure you hit all the taste zones and swallow or spit as occasion merits. Jim Murray would have you make “the fish face”. (This must be shown. Words to not quite capture it. If you ask real nice maybe Fergus can show you.)
7. Linger a moment and pay close attention to the finish.
Some Key Points to a Successful Tasting:
The right type of glass is very helpful. A good glass will help you properly nose the libation and warm it for taste should that be your preference. A proper whiskey tasting glass is usually round at the bottom and constricted towards the top or tall and thin to hold the vapors and aromas. Thistle shaped glasses are now getting more common on the market, in our opinion, these are the best. Riedel makes a good traditional tall glass. A brandy snifter is also fairly good choice in a pinch but not what I’d recommend for a purchase. This is generally what I end up drinking from when I’m in a typical bar setting. (A good pub will have the right glass for each type of drink though they usually won’t pull them out unless you ask, so ask.)
Limit the number of whiskies to 4-6. Jim Murray espouses that a whisky tasting just isn’t worth it unless you’ve 10-15 on the table. I’ve been to one of his tastings, 12 whiskies in under 2 hours. I couldn’t tell you a thing about the last 4 we had.
If you are going to put 30 different bottles on your table, spitting is encouraged. I know it sounds like a sin, but if you ever make it to the grand tasting at the Whiskies of the World Expo in San Francisco, you’ll learn to spit, end up in a hospital or miss ¾ of what is on offer.
To add a drop (of water) or not to add a drop, that is a damn good question; not to mention about as contentious a subject as the whole Mac vs. PC thing.
The argument for adding water is that when you add a drop or splash (depending on who you talk to) of water to whiskey, the flavors “blossom” and the full complexity of the whiskey can be detected. I have done this and it does work.
The argument against water is,as championed by Jim Murray of the Whiskey Bible, simply put that; For it to be whiskey the beverage must be at least 80° proof, so why would you go an add water and make the Whisky you just paid good money for not Whisky anymore? Further, you can achieve a very similar “blossoming” effect by simply warming your whiskey with your hands by cupping the glass. I have also used this technique and it works as well.
Cleansing the pallet
Black coffee is recommended by Jim Murray (referred to as “JM” elsewhere in this presentation) of the whiskey bible
Good quality unsalted crackers are recommended by Anthony Dias Blue of the Complete Book of Spirits
Water taken between different drams can be helpful
Semi Sweet or other bitter chocolate is also recommended by some
Cheese tends to confuse the pallet and should be avoided unless specifically paired to the drink.
Strong lingering flavors of any kind