Our dedicated team of writers spends hours crafting tasting notes on thousands of whiskies. They work hard at developing the most apropos phrasing to capture a whisky—from its aroma to its taste, and everything in between. How do we do it, you ask? Well, we’ve created this little guide to give you an edge (and a window) into writing delightful and informative tasting notes for your whisky adventures and beyond!
It’s not you – it’s me With all the diversity of expressions and distilleries, from bespoke blends to new bottlings and long-lost casks, there truly is a whisky for everyone. It’s just about finding the right one for you.
So, how do you go about finding your whisky soulmate? That’s right: tasting! If you’re like me, you can’t remember anything that happened more than 5 minutes ago. What to do? NOTES! Indeed, making and taking notes on your whisk-venture is a sure-fire way to finding your one true love in that sea of heartbreakers.
NB: tasting isn’t just about knocking it back and bracing yourself for the burn down the old oesophagus. It’s about accessing all 5 senses to properly size up the dram that’s now sitting before you in that lovely crystal tasting glass, tumbler, chalice, or riding boot.
Approaching a whisky is like meeting someone at a party. You want to size them up, engage in some good chat, get to know something about them, and then make your judgements. Keep an open mind (and nose), and take the whisky from the top of your head, working your way down.
Appearance: This one is easy. What does it look like? Quick tip: don’t write ‘whisky’. You’ll sound like a buffoon. Think of easily recognizable objects from the world around you – golds, ambers, yellows. These objects don’t need to be viscous (honey, chardonnay, urine) but can be evocative, and even poetic. ‘The flaxen blonde hair of the girl who ignored me in primary school,’ or ‘Sun shining on the bark of a redwood in October’ are just as compelling as ‘yellow gold’. Have fun with. Sound like a cheeseball. Just get the damn image across.
The Nose The olfactory system is our most ancient form of perception. It’s also highly delicate, so you don’t want to go around shoving your nose into anything and everything. Rather, let the aromas come to you. Whisky can knock your boots off (especially the high ABV fellas), so be sure to sniff gently when you’ve got your nose in the glass.
And repeat. And repeat.
Dig deep in your hippie heart – search your brain for nostalgia! Some of the best nosing notes I’ve ever heard come as memories. A grandfather’s desk (leather, wood, age, mustiness), Christmas with the family (Christmas cake, dried fruits, sultanas, port), the hayloft in summer (dried grass, wood). You don’t have to get too specific with the notes (tannins, esters, phenols, feints) but you should get descriptive. Remember, the object of the game is communicating your opinion – there are no wrong answers, people!
Pow! Right in the kisser!
Nosing and tasting go hand in hand like teenage lovers – you really can’t separate them and if you try to, they’ll end up back together, probably in a bike shed. When tasting whisky, remember to let it coat your mouth – some folks say you should let it sit in the ol’ piehole one second for every year of its age. However, 58 seconds is a long time to keep anything in your mouth. Really, can you even handle 30 seconds of Listerine?? It’s alcohol for cryin’ out loud!
When you’ve got a gob full of malt, think about what flavours you are tasting, moving from the front of your mouth to the back, then down your throat. What’s changing over time? Is there a difference between the flavour when the whisky hits your tongue and then after you swallow? How long are you experiencing the sensation of taste after the swallow? Write these things down in your copy book.
A helpful way to break flavours down is into a few broad categories: rich, light, smoky, sweet. A sherried whisky might be rich and sweet, while an Islay sherried whisky could be rich, sweet, and smoky. As you get the hang of it, you can break down these major categories into smaller segments (fruity, floral, woody, cereal, peaty…you get the idea).
Share and share alike This is the MOST important guideline to tasting and writing about whisky. Share and compare! What do your friends think? What about bloggers? You may even want to pick up a volume containing notes and reviews – Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible is comprehensive and published yearly, so even old editions are handy.
Search on Google for other tasting notes, or better yet, invite your pals over for some free whisky and get their opinions. You’ll likely hear something you yourself might never have thought of, like barbecued bananas.
Keep a journal. Do it. Go to Paperchase and purchase an address book so you can alphabetize your notes like the giant nerd you are. Keep this journal on you as much as you can – you never know when you’ll be offered a dram.
Even the nerdiest of us forget our whisky journals at home sometimes, but never fear. That’s why God created napkins and coasters. You’re likely drinking your whisky at a bar, and they may even have coasters on the bar in front of you (see photo). If you’re blowing your cash at a fancy place, ask the bartender or waiter for paper and a pen. Just make sure to record your strokes of brilliance because you won’t remember them in the morning.
For further reading and inspiration, check out the notes on these dynamite drams: