I often get asked questions like „How do
you drink your Whisky? With ice, with coke, with water, …?“ or „What’s the
best way to drink Whisky?“ Well, here’s my take on this topic.
“THE” Glencairn glass
First I wanted to start with a statement
like „There’s no right or wrong way to drink Whisky“ but this blog is about my
favourite beverage and I’m going to tell you MY opinion on this topic. If you
don’t agree with it, that’s fine. I don’t mind having a different opinion than
First off, I have to tell you a very
important difference. You can either drink
Whisky or taste Whisky. That are two
totally different things. Well in fact they’re not, but I’d like to
differentiate between these two words. The word drink means to me, enjoying a dram or two with friends, family or
even alone (maybe with a book). Of course there is sniffing and sipping but the
main purpose is to enjoy the time with others or a good book. Usually I only
drink Whiskys I already tasted before. Oh, by the way, the Whisky can be in
that case neat, mixed with other beverages or in a cocktail (I never mix Whisky
with coke, that’s not what a Single Malt is made for).
Tasting means I’d like to get to know the Whisky. This will
require a special (nosing) glass and the Whisky will always be neat. The only
thing I’ll probably add is water. And it’s irrelevant if I already tasted (or
even drank) the Whisky before, I try to taste it as unbiased as possible. While
sitting with friends or reading can take of course some time (or even hours),
the tasting of a single Whisky can take up to half an hour or longer for me.
After pouring a dram (usually around 2cl) in my nosing glass, I tend to cover
it with a so called „watch glass“ to keep the flavour concentrated in the
glass. After inspecting the colour and the behaviour of the Whisky while
slightly swirling it, I start to nose my dram. I’d like to quote Jason S.
Turner here: „Tasting a Whisky is like getting to know a nice lady (or of
course a gentleman). Take your time, be nice. Hello there, how are you?“
Nosingglass by the SMWS

How to nose properly? First, you should be
aware if this is a cask strength Whisky or not. If so, be prepared that the
first sniff could be potential intense. Keep in mind that this Whisky might be
as intense on your palate when you start sipping it! Second, put your nose in
the glass but don’t inhale as you
would do after holding your breath for 30 seconds. Just start sniffing lightly
for two or three times. Then move back and let your nose rest. While doing
that, try to write down (or articulate in any way you want) what you just
smelled. Toffee? Vanilla? Oak? Spirit? Chocolate? Coffee? Then feel free to
start sniffing a bit more. Maybe just with one side of the nose. Then the other
side. And remember, just small sniffs! Alcohol (and Whisky has to have at least
40% of it!) numbs your taste buds (in the nose as well as in the mouth). If you
take a deep sniff you can stop tasting for the next 10 to 30 minutes as you
will not be able to smell/taste anything. Repeat the sniffing as often as you
wish. Remember to came back after taking the first (second/third/…) sip of
the Whisky. Often you will be able to smell new flavours after you drank a
portion of your Whisky.

Another nosingglass
Now let’s see how the Whisky tastes. I’d
like to take a nice sip of my Whisky, let it circle in my mouth for a few
moments and then swallow it (you can spit it out if you like but I don’t).
During the whole process I let my mouth closed and after swallowing the Whisky
I exhale though my nose to see if there are some new flavours present. After
articulating the flavours I just discovered I start sniffing again. And of
course I look at the finish of the Whisky. It can be anything between „I
swallowed it and it was gone“ to „It’s been already 10 minutes since the first
sip and I still can feel it in my mouth/throat“. Also I like to describe the
body of the Whisky with terms like „light“, „smooth“, „intense“, „oily“, and so
on. Remember, there is no right or wrong. If you taste the flavour „Vanilla“
and someone else not, it’s okay. And most important, take your time. It’s not
about how many Whiskys you can taste in „x“ minutes (I recommend to not taste
more than four to six Whiskys at a time – alcohol numbs as previously said your
taste buds). Nota bene: Men and women tend to taste different flavours better
at different times. The best time to taste a Whisky is –allegedly- around nine
o’clock in the morning…
Another shape
Let’s get to the glassware. I put four
pictures of very common nosing glasses in this article. The most known is
defiantly the „Glencairn Glass“. As you can see, all these glasses meet the
specifications for a good nosing glass I’m going to talk about. When tasting a
Whisky it is important that you use a glass that helps you in a way that it
concentrates the flavours. Therefore the glass should have the biggest diameter
at the point the surface of the Whisky will be when poured around 2cl into the
glass. The surface is maximized and the flavours can emerge easily from the
Whisky. To stop them from just leaving the glass in a hurry the diameter of the
glass should decrease from there to the top. Tumblers or even long drink
glasses are equally bad as glasses which just increase the diameter going from
bottom to top (and typically found packed to a lot of „Whisky Promotion
packages“). The flavours will emerge from the Whisky and you will not be able
to smell anything. The cause for this special form of a nosing glass is –as
said before- to concentrate the flavours. Some of them are very faint and
without this little trick you would never be able to find them. If the glass
has a steady diameter or even broadens the so called „chimney effect“ comes into
play. The flavours leave the glass quite fast, just like the smoke from your
fireplace is sucked into the chimney. I use the watch glass to even further
concentrate the flavours. But for the beginning a normal nosing glass without a
watch glass is perfectly fine.
There you have it. That’s the way I taste
Whisky and what glassware I use. I don’t have a favourite glass, but usually
when tasting alone I tend to take the glass from the SMWS. With friends or
family I use the Glencairn glass just because I collected throughout the
tastings I attended lots of them. The other both types I got on the TWE Whisky
Show in London and at the Whisky Weekend in Salzburg. Always remember, take
that kind of glass you like your Whisky best – that can even be a tumbler. But
for tasting I highly recommend using the special nosing glasses. If you want to, you can try tasting one of your favourite Whiskys in different shaped glasses
and see how the smell/taste varies from one shape to another. There might even
be differences between the four glasses I showed you here, but I guess they are
marginal. Maybe I’ll try that myself and write about it afterwards. That’s it
for this topic, if you have any further questions, leave a comment below or on
Facebook or Twitter!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s