Setup For Tasting

I’ve enjoyed whisky for years, but never took the time to do any tastings. What I mean by that is that I hadn’t taken the time to really analyze whiskies that I tried.

What’s the difference?

Well, I’m glad you asked! Just enjoying whisky is a great thing to do, first of all. Enjoying to me means that I would take a sip, let it roll over my tongue, let me tastebuds register enjoyment of the whisky, then I’d swallow it and repeat. Maybe I’d register some particular flavors or impressions, but that’s mostly it. It was, still is, and will remain the way that I drink most whiskies.

Tastings, on the other hand, are much more deliberate. I have an app I’m now using, iMalt, which allows me to register the whiskies I own, want, have tried, etc (more on this another time). I also set up an area with the whisky I’m going to taste, a glass filtered or spring water (still), a spoon to use to transfer water from the water glass to the whisky, my iPad with iMalt running, and a tasting glass.

Tasting glass comparison

You might be asking now, “What’s a tasting glass?” It’s pretty simple… It’s just a glass used to help “taste” the whisky. It can be a regular old glass of any sort, but there are some that help more than others. A highball glass is fine for just drinking whisky, but the straight sides and short glass don’t do much to help concentrate the scents coming from the whisky. Glencairn makes a couple different glasses… The standard Glencairn glass has a small, solid glass base, a small bowl, and narrows near the rim, concentrating those scents. Glencairn also makes a nosing glass, which is more like a short-stemmed wine glass, and has a narrow opening, also concentrating scents. Actually, a decent glass I’ve found is from Crate & Barrel, and has an even shorter stem, but similar shape the nosing glass.

With that in mind, I pour just an ounce or so, then spend a bit of time on the nose of the whisky, trying to see if it reminds me of anything, trying to decipher scents other than just malt and barley and the like. Some have toffee scents or licorice or seasalt, some are medicinal, some have combinations of lots of things. I don’t try to especially find the same thing another person might, but just what I get out of the scent. If I just got the same thing someone else did, why do my own? Everyone has different tastes, different experience and different noses.

After I write down what I get from the nose, I take a sip and let it sit in my mouth, then swallow. I again just try to get impressions of different things. I’ll find a variety of flavors, sometimes depending on what part of the tongue the whisky sits at the time.

Then I note how long the whisky’s flavors stick around, and if they change over time. Some whiskies have a really long, long finish, while others seem to disappear as soon as swallowed.

That’s basically it. It’s fun to see if I can find things that mean anything to me, and it makes me try a variety of whiskies instead of just sticking with one or two. Scotch has more variety in flavors over the area where it’s made than any other spirits, or so I hear. I’m looking forward to trying some I’ve never had before, and with the help of the BBQ group that I’m doing this with, we’ll all get to try some pricier whiskies along the way! Oh, now and than I will include, with their permission, input from some of them, too!

I hope you enjoy what’s coming up… I know I will! And I hope some readers go out and try some new Scotch whisky soon!

New Glass - C&B

The original Glencairn glass seems to be something of an “official” Scotch glass. It does a great job for nose and taste both, and it’s a very sturdy glass. My cat, MacGregor, the Maine Coon terrorist in my house, knocked one off the end table, and it bounced nicely but didn’t break!

Water Added

My favorite, however, is the Glencairn nosing glass. It comes with a snooty glass lid, which I guess would work very well if I had a whole series of tastings to do, but for one whisky, I don’t use it at all. The nose is a bit stronger, and the taste just a bit more present, maybe due to the nose being more obvious.

Wild Scotsman 15 year old

The process for the tasting is pretty straightforward. However, some rate the appearance of the whisky. While I notice it, the appearance has very little to do with the taste, in my opinion. Some of my favorite whiskies are extremely pale in appearance, while some that are dark and impressive looking don’t carry through in the tasting.

I generally will try a sample of a whisky with no water at all to see how I like it at bottle strength. I have a tendency to like cask strength whisky, but I’m not so macho as to think that cask strength Scotch can’t have water. I look at it as I’m getting more than a bottle, as most at high strength seem to carry too much alcohol to notice some of the subtler qualities of the whisky. So I generally try it neat then add water. The higher the alcohol content, the more I might add. I’ve also found that a couple of drops of clean water can open up a whisky so that more of the variety of flavors become apparent. So I will generally note with or without water in my notes.

About Curt McAdams

I guess I'm a bit of a foodie, learning to cook from my mom, then getting obsessed with outdoor cooking, competition barbecue, bread baking and just about all things food. Lately, I've been trying to upgrade my photography skills a bit, though I still have a long way to go.


  1. I’m enjoying the new blog, Curt. I’ve enjoyed scotch for many years, but never really got into tastings. I want to do that now to help broaden my knowledge of scotches. There are so many different distilleries with so many different flavor profiles. I know what I enjoy, but want to try others to see what they’re like. I’m looking forward to trying some of the Islay labels. As I taste more scotch with reviewing in mind, I hope to get better at picking out the different aromas and flavors. I know tasting is a personal thing, but it’ll be interesting to compare my notes with others for the same label.

  2. Hi!

    One of the main reasons I want to participate in scotch tastings is to help myself find smooth, aged liquor to drink neat. I drink significantly less now in “middle age” than I did before and I find myself craving smoothness and quality over quantity. For the occasional times I do drink quantity, I like a straight liquor even more because it gives a gentler ‘next morning’ than beer, wine or sweet drinks. I’ve been able to find rums and a bourbon that are a pleasure to drink neat and I’m intrigued by accounts of the variety in flavour among scotches. A friend poured me a glass of Talisker several years ago that I loved so joining a scotch tasting group seemed like a good way to see what else I might love in that world. I appreciate the fact that in my BBQ >scotch tasting group I have the opportunity to try scotch I might not have bought otherwise. Reading a report recently on our BBQ forum about “a scotch that is so smooth it will make you cry” was a powerful incentive, too. It’s exactly the kind of elixir I’m looking for and hope to find through these tastings.

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