Your How to Guide to Tasting Whisky (and Other Spirits)

Your How to Guide to Tasting Whisky (and Other Spirits)

If you want to conduct a Whisky tasting (or, for that matter, a tasting of any kind of Spirit), we have you covered. Just follow our advice and steps on how to get started and you’ll be sniffing, swirling, and tasting like a pro in no time.

Let's start with the basics:

1. Tasting Selection of Whisky

The Flaviar Whisky Tasting Box is your starting point, as it is designed for tasting Whisky with friends, but you might opt to taste some other Spirits, too.

Taste them in flights of 3, and up to a maximum of 6 samples. If you wish to compare Spirits, it's best to choose them from the same family, i.e. taste Whisky only (or Vodka, Tequila, Rum, Bourbon, etc.).

2. Appropriate Glassware

You’ll want to have at least one tasting glass per person taking part in the tasting. Ideally, everyone should have a separate glass for each Spirit, as this, of course, makes it easy to compare them.

Generally speaking, if you're looking for a one-size fits all for any Spirit, go for a Glencairn glass or a small Sherry glass.

You also don’t need to pour more than three quarters of an ounce into each glass. That should more than suffice. After the tasting is over you can pour yourself a proper drink. If you're coming up short on glasses, try a small Wine glass.

What about a tumbler? Unfortunately, a tumbler doesn't allow you to properly savor or smell the liquor’s aroma. But don’t worry, in a pinch you can still use one.

Want to learn more?
- Tips on Whisky temperature and serving order
- How Whisky's flavor profile is influenced by the barrel

3. Water & Ice

Make sure to have plenty of water on hand. You’ll want to alternate sips of H2O and Whisky to clear your palate. After you take your first taste of Whisky, it’s usually a good idea to then add a bit of water, which sometimes opens up a Spirit.

So it's good to have a small jug of water handy. This can also take the edge off the alcohol, allowing your nose and mouth to detect the finer notes.

If your aim is really tasting the Whisky, skip the ice. And make sure to use spring water or soft tap water that won’t add their own flavor to the Spirit.

4. Snacks

If you’re tasting Whisky with big, bold flavors you’ll also definitely want to have some unflavored, unsalted crackers or small slices of bread to munch on between samples. This will help cleanse your palate.

Want to learn more?
- Food pairing with different Spirits

5. Friends

Tasting Whisky is best done in small groups with friends. That way you can expand your knowledge and enjoy the experience together.

Now, let’s start the tasting!

Tasting 101

After you’ve poured the Whisky, hold back on immediately toasting and draining your glass. Like the old joke says, it’s a tasting, not drinking. So take a moment to first analyze the appearance and aroma of your drink.

Appearance & Color

Hold your glass up to the light or against a white background and assess the color of your Whisky. This won’t necessarily reveal its age, but this may indicate how the Spirit was matured.

All of the color and much of the flavor of a Whisky come from the barrel. A new oak barrel will contribute more than a barrel that has been filled previously. So the intensity of the color can indicate whether the cask was used before.

How would you describe the color? Spirits can range from being completely clear to straw to even dark mahogany or reddish.

Now, it’s time to give your wrist a solid workout and swirl the Spirit carefully around the glass. Take note of the drips on the inside of the glass–we call these the legs or the tears.

If they’re thick and run slowly, it’s probably a heavier style of Spirit, and possibly older. If they're thin and run fast, it usually means a lighter and/or younger Spirit.

And a particularly long leg usually indicates that a Spirit is high in alcohol content.

The Aroma

Gently bring the glass of Whisky up to your nose. Don’t rush this step! You don’t want to overwhelm your nose and its ability to smell all the nuances of the Whisky.

Some people even like to nose Spirits with one nostril first, and then with both. Sometimes it’s worth sniffing just about glass where you may find additional aromas.

Whatever your technique, take your nose away from the top of the glass after each sniff. Trust the messages coming from your brain and believe the first thing that you smell. Then repeat this process and the other layers will slowly reveal themselves.

Can you name the familiar smells? This takes some practice and it helps to have scent references on hand, like jars of baking spices or orange peels. How strong are the aromas?

Be aware that after a while, you’ll need to give your nose a little break. So get some fresh air, have a sip of water and then you’ll be ready to go again.

If you find it difficult to describe them, glance over the tasting notes that come inside Flaviar Tasting Box, or, if you prefer something more visual (cough... less old-school...cough) look up the Flavor Spirals of your drinks in the Flaviar App. They are a quick, clear, and visually-appealing way to represent a drink's flavor DNA.

Taste / Palate

The final step is the one we all know how to do best, but here’s a little guidance on how to taste like a pro.

First, take a small sip and roll the Spirit over your tongue and around its sides, then all throughout your mouth. Savor the flavors and start identifying them.

Are they weak or strong? Clean or musty? Herbal? Woody? Floral? Chemical? Fruity? Spicy, perhaps?

At the same time, take note of the mouth-feel, which refers to both the texture and intensity of the Spirit.


The finish refers to the length of time that the taste of a Whisky lingers in your mouth (i.e. aftertaste) after you’ve swallowed it. It can be short, medium, or long. The best Spirits have a lingering and enjoyable finish.

To fully analyze each sample, you will want to repeat the whole process a few times. With each sip, you’ll be able to identify new smells and tastes that you might have missed the first time around.

Just remember: Tasting is believing!

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