First and foremost this methodology is how I do it. Maybe you might want to try it, maybe you do it another way. This is simply how I choose to do it.
Secondly this relates to the evaluative process I undertake as a whisky reviewer, please don’t think this is how I always drink whisky. When it’s a dram at the end of a long shift at work I try not to think too hard about it and try to switch my analytical approach off. Easier said then done however…
1. I usually try and avoid any strong tasting foods before tasting. This means spiced, sweet or any extreme flavours. Similarly try and find a space away from distractions and without any strong smells (eg scented hand soap, air fresheners or fragrant candles)
2. Clean glassware is essential. Make sure there is no soap residue in the glasses. I always tend to rinse in hot water after washing to avoid this.
3. I usually pour my drams out for a few minutes before I try them. This allows time for it to settle into the glass. Some people pour and cover them so that no vapours escape, It’s neither right or wrong, it’s just not what I do.
4. If I’m pouring several samples I like to ensure that I have a guaranteed way to tell which is which without getting them mixed up. I either leave the glasses in order with bottles behind or place them on paper with names clearly written. Seems like common sense but you would be surprised how easy it is to get mixed up.
5. There are several types of tasting / nosing glasses available. My personal taste is a Copita style glass. I do love using a proper heavy based tumbler for general dramming, just not for evaluation.
6. I like to start off with a tune up dram. This gets your palate ready for tasting. I usually turn to something I’ve had numerous times and know the aromas and tastes well. Clearly this is not the place to start with a peaty or particularly strong dram. My preference is for a generic Speysider or similar. Leave the Laphroaig until later.
7. Similarly you must order your drams properly. I wouldn’t tend to evaluate more than 3 or 4 in one session. (Although I once did 51 samples in a single morning…) Try to start with the softer drams and leave the cask strength until last.
8. I divide my notes into Nose (the aroma) Palate (the taste) and Finish (aftertaste) I also like to consider other factors such as balance, appearance and viscosity.
9. After time to settle its on to the nose. Study the aromas gently, there is no need to sniff so hard the vapours make your eyes water. Take as long as you need, no need to rush. Think about what you can smell and also how it changes when you go back.
10. Take a small sip, again there is no need to rush. Let it settle in your mouth for a moment or two. Don’t swizz it about like mouthwash. Again take your time, study and think about the flavours you find. Take another small mouthful and see if the flavours change. There will be flavours you didn’t notice before.
11. I tend to go back to the nose again at this point and see if I can pick out any extra aromas.
12. take another sip, analyse and then think about the aftertaste. How long does it linger, what is left flavourwise in the mouth? Terminology such as long, medium or short relates to how long the flavours linger.
13. When looking at flavours at any point it is often useful to refer to a flavour wheel. A quick google search will find what you need. To simplify it is a process of elimination. Is it a sweet flavour? If so is it sweet like candy floss? Is it like sweet like brown sugar? Perhaps it’s a savoury dram. Is it perhaps slightly smoky? Is it like peatsmoke? Perhaps it’s woody. Like cedar? Or is it more like Oak?
There really is no right or wrong here. What you taste is what you taste. This is 90% memory of previous aromas encountered and as such is personal and unique to you.
14. By this point you should have a note of the flavours. Now it is time to consider the other aspects of the dram. I also look for balance. Is there a good relationship between the nose, palate and finish. Is it particularly overpowering at any point?
15. Now I like to repeat the process with some water added. This doesn’t have to be much, just a few drops or teaspoons. This will help open up the dram by lowering the abv and perhaps you will find new aromas once partially hidden under the alcohol vapours. When reviewing I like to add water to the point where it almost dilutes it too far, just to make sure I can get everything out of it that I can. No point doing this however if you are simply enjoying a dram.
16. Time to cleanse the palate and move on. Some use plain bread, others use oatcakes. I’m usually ok with sparkling water.
As I said, this is simply my methodology, I keep it the same to allow for accurate reviews every time.