How to drink whisky


‘How to drink whisky?’ might sound like it warrants a fairly straightforward set of answers (tip the glass and swallow). However, there is a little more of an art to it. While everyone is free to enjoy whisky however they please, we at World Whisky Day want you to get the absolute most out of your whisky tasting experience. 

World Whisky Day founder Blair Bowman takes us back to school with some whisky history and tips on how to drink whisky like a pro. 

“In its simplest form, a single malt scotch whisky is made from only three ingredients – water, malted barley and yeast”, Blair explains. “They all go through the same processes, and what comes out is the spirit. But as as you know they all taste incredibly different. The spectrum of flavour is just so broad.”

Whisky colours 

“You can tell a lot about a whisky before you’ve even put it near your mouth or nose”, says Blair. “Using a Glencairn glass really allows you to concentrate the flavours and the aromas, it gives you a good chance to look at the colours of it. 

“You can also tell a lot from the colour just by looking at it. It can tell you about the kind of casks that it’s been in. If it’s got an amber colour, that can indicate that it’s been in a sherry cask, so it’s going to give you what you’d think would be lots of berries, spices and Christmas flavours. 

“A yellowy, straw colour can tell you that it has been in an ex-bourbon cask – which will typically give you notes of vanilla, tropical fruits, coconuts and pineapples.

“When you swirl it around and you let it stop, teardrops will form around the edge of the glass. If they’re very thick and heavy viscous, that can tell you it’s going to be a high strength whisky, which can prepare you in advance before  putting it near your mouth.” 

Nosing the whisky

“Put it under your nose but don’t go in too fast. If you go in too fast you’re going to get a lot of the alcohol burn. If you’re not used to nosing spirits, this will essentially send your body into fight or flight mode! 

“It’s quite hard at first when you’re getting used to whisky, but noticing different aromas comes with practice. Try sniffing on different nostrils or at different heights. You can start at your waist and lift the glass up towards your nose, too.

“A really good way to practice is to just go into your kitchen and smell everything. Smell all the fresh fruit and vegetable you’ve got, if you’ve got different types of apple in your fridge try to differentiate between them, or go into your spice cabinet and smell all the different types.”

And sip!

“That first taste is always just cleansing your palette. Don’t overthink it. Now go in for a second sip. Try and leave it in your mouth for ten seconds and swirl it around. Then swallow, and breathe out slowly. 

“Tasting whisky this way is going to give you a lot more extraction, a lot more bang for your buck. Just slow down and take your time. Say a bottle of whisky takes ten years to mature – many people would argue you can give it at least ten seconds of your time.

“The more you can savour it and really linger with it, the more you’re going to benefit from that and really start to notice all these different layers. We can smell so much more than we can taste. If you combine taste with aroma, that’s how we paint these pictures of different subtle compounds that are appearing within the whiskies.” 

Doubling down

“It might sound a little strange, but a great way to drink whisky is actually to drink two whiskies at a time. This is so you can compare and contrast. If you’re just drinking one thing in isolation, it’s really hard to reference how that relates to other things.

“So this works for lots of things, whether it’s wine or a different spirit, it’s good to have an ‘A’ and a ‘B’. Even if you can’t express the differences between the two, you can start to notice one is sweeter, for example, and the other is smokier.” 

 ‘Playing detective’

When I’m writing tasting notes, its almost like I’m playing a game of Guess Who. I’m trying to think – right, is this a citrus fruit? If it is, I can then zoom in and think; it is an orange? Is it a grapefruit, or a lemon or a lime? Let’s say it was an orange – is it a blood orange, or a Seville orange? Or the peel?’

Again, smelling things as much as possible is a great way to train your brain, so that when I smell it in a whisky I know what it is.

The beauty of all of this is that there’s no wrong answers. Your sense of smell is completely connected to you, and mine is connected to me, and nobody can argue with that.”

We hope this has given you some helpful guidance on how to drink whisky!