When talking to a bartender or a fellow enthusiast, you don’t want them to know just how little you actually know, but Whisky is a drink with a rich history behind it and it's impossible to learn it all at once. Until you do learn it all, here are some helpful places to start, so you can look like you know it all already!
And also know the difference between a Single Malt and a Blend. Single Malt is one Whisky made in one distillery, and a Blend is a mix of several Whiskies from several distilleries.
Some key expressions to know here are finish and maturation.
Maturation is the length of time Whisky spends in the barrel, interacting with the wood and taking on its flavours.
A Finish is when Whisky is moved from the barrel it has been matured in and is allowed to spend some time in another barrel, to take on different flavours.
If you’re going in for a sniff, tilt it to one side and really get your nose in there. Give it a little swirl and admire the legs as they cascade down the side of the glass.
To look like you know exactly what you’re doing you should really get your nose in there. When nosing, professionals don’t do things by half! So get you nose in there and take a whiff!
But there is always a place to start. When you’re asked what you taste, begin with the big flavours, if you taste peat, say peat, if you smell malt, say malt. Don’t be too quick to try and impress people, just be honest.
Now if you want to build on that, really consider what you smell.
Does it remind you of anything? The olafactory system often works alongside memory, so if you remember anything similar in terms of smell, you may be heading in the right direction.
For example, if you remember childhood summer days, you could be smelling fresh cut grass, floral or wooded notes.
If you think of a day at the beach, you’re probably sensing sea sir, brine, sea weed, salt and lots of other smells that go along with this setting.
So think hard about what the smell brings to mind and you may just be hitting the right notes!
So how does it feel both when it’s in your mouth and in the finish, when you’ve swallowed it? Is it smooth, dry, crisp, warming? What ever you feel, describe it. This is a great way to build on your description of taste and will at least give you something to say as you consider the taste.
And the best news? After reading this, you're already one step closer to becoming a Whisky connoisseur. Enjoy the journey!