17 May 2025
Close this search box.

How to taste whisky – a five step guide

Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 4

Illustrations by Mark McCormick

On the rocks, with soda water, with a mixer, in a cocktail – there’s only one way to drink whisky, and that’s whatever way you like. However, some will feel it’s important to appreciate the spirit in its most simple state from time-to-time. This is particularly true if it’s a whisky you’ve not tried before. So, here’s a simple guide to the art of tasting, created to get you (and your taste buds) going. We suggest trying this with company – beyond the flavours in the glass, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in comparing notes with another person and seeing where your interpretations overlap and where they diverge.

Our five step tasting guide:

  1. Examine the appearance – Admire the colour the wood has given the whisky. Every one is slightly different. Make it approachable by relating it to what you know.
  2. Check out the viscosity – Swirl the glass and look for the streaks of liquid which run down the inside of the glass. These are known as the ‘legs’ and indicate viscosity or ‘mouthfeel’. The thicker the legs, the more voluptuous the mouthfeel.
  3. Shake the glass and watch – Put your hand over the glass and shake the whisky. Watch how long it takes the resultant bubbles to disappear. The longer it takes, the higher the ABV. Rub your hands together and smell the barley from which the whisky was made.
  4. Now the sniffing – Move your glass towards your nose while taking short, sharp sniffs. Keep your mouth open. Trust your nose. There’s no right or wrong – everything you smell comes from life experience and often the same scent will prompt wildly different associations from one person to the next.
  5. The first taste – Take a good sip of your whisky. Taste comes from the tongue while flavour comes from your nose, so breathe to aid your orthonasal perception. Take in the texture and swallow.

We’re always keen to hear about readers’ first tasting experiences – those lightbulb moments that can lead to a lifelong appreciation – so please feel free to find us on Facebook or Twitter and tell us about your experience. What were the whiskies you drank? How did they compare? What language sprang to mind?

Nose on certificate

How to nose whisky in seven simple steps

It’s an unfortunate thing that it holds an air of pretence, because the nub of it is, we can all learn to enjoy whisky. The journey there – to discovering what you enjoy – is all part of the fun. Here’s our guide to helping you (and your nose) along the way.

Read More
Close up of a person holding a dram of whisky in a Glencairn glass

What is single malt whisky?

Often considered ‘superior’ among aficionados, single malt whisky has been made in Scotland since the 18th and 19th centuries. But what actually makes a single malt unique?

Read More
Photo of whisky and grain by Charl Folscher on Unsplash

How is whisky made?

The alchemy involved in making whisky could be considered both science and art. We’re exploring the magical processes behind our favourite spirit, so get your lab coat and notebook ready and let the lesson begin…

Read More