How To Drink Whiskey: 5 Techniques to Taste Like a Pro

Tasting Whiskey with The Crafty Cask

How to get the most from your dram…

Up your whiskey tasting game using our 5 whiskey tasting techniques to help you learn more about your palate. These are the 5 steps that the pros use to capture the full aromas, flavors, and experience of whiskey. By following along to do the same, you’ll enjoy your whiskey even more and be more likely to discover great new whiskey to enjoy. So pour yourself a dram and join us for an interactive whiskey tasting tutorial, then learn even more with these articles in our whiskey archive!

If you love trying new craft whiskey, make sure to check out our Craft Whiskey Exploration Kit to get delivered to you at home so you can put these tasting techniques into practice with 6 different whiskey styles from 6 different craft makers in 6 different regions! Or join SipScout by 9/30/23 to get our exclusive American Single Malt tasting kit and join in on the fun for our virtual tasting party in October! 

Highlights

1:20 – Visual Inspection 

3:36 – Swirling 

4:08 – Nosing

12:28 – Sip

About Your Hosts

The Crafty Cask celebrates and supports craft alcohol makers through engaging consumer content, events, virtual tastings, and online education. We help craft enthusiasts drink better and craft makers market their brands better to build thriving small businesses that keep #TipplerNation drinking well!

Your hosts for this event, alongside the featured maker, are Suzanne Henricksen, Founder of The Crafty Cask and Evan Rothrock, sommelier, certified cider professional, mixologist, and bespoke wine tour guide.

Bottles of craft beer, wine, and spirits

Are You A Craft Drink Explorer?

Do you want access to exclusive, hard to find, or lesser known craft alcohol like those we featured here?

Then you, my friend…are in the right place! Join the first and only rotating craft alcohol membership club to get each kit that goes along with our monthly SipScout party and join in on the fun!

Join SipScout

Read the transcript

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Hello, hello everyone I am Suzanne. I’m the 
founder of The Crafty Cask and we are all about  

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celebrating and supporting craft alcohol makers. 
And my name is Evan. I’m a certified sommelier,  

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a certified cider professional, and whiskey 
enthusiast. And as part of our corporate events  

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that we do a ton of, gosh we did seven this week 
I think, we teach whiskey tasting techniques quite  

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a bit and so we thought we would share our 
whiskey tasting techniques with all of you!  

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So, we’re going to walk you through the five steps 
to whiskey tasting techniques and grab your dram  

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and let’s get going! So, these are techniques 
that can be applied to pretty much beverage  

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tasting across a lot of different categories. 
There’s a few variations that we’ll talk about  

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with regard to whiskey and spirits tastings more 
generally, but basically there’s Sight, Swirl,  

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Sniff, Sip and Savor none of these are done 
exclusive to others – you go back and forth  

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between them. But initially the visual inspection 
of, you know a spirit or in this case a whiskey,  

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is going to tell you a little bit about the grain 
characteristic and the aging that might have  

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gone into the whiskey as well as the barrels 
that were used to age the whiskey. Right,  

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so not surprisingly the darker the whiskey likely 
the longer it’s spent in a barrel. The lighter  

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the whiskey likely the less time it’s spent in a 
barrel. Now, that’s not a hundred percent accurate  

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all the time of course – there are always 
exceptions and variations based on the grains  

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they’re using and things of that nature, but 
that’s definitely one thing to kind of glean  

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a little insight on when you’re taking a look at 
your whiskey before you take the next step. The  

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darker the whiskey maybe the longer or the more 
charred and the deeper the toast on the barrel has  

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it is and the lighter the less. One other 
thing you’re looking for when you’re looking at  

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your spirit for this first step here is how clear 
it is or if there’s any cloudiness to it. Now  

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this is something that we like to spend a little 
bit of time on because a lot of people if they see  

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a cloudy spirit something that isn’t 
perfectly pristine and crystal clear  

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they think that maybe that doesn’t mean it’s good 
quality, but in fact a lot of craft makers – which  

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you know we are all about at The Crafty Cask – 
a lot of craft makers choose to non-chill filter  

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their spirits. And if you don’t chill filter your 
spirits it will indeed have some cloudiness in  

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it at certain temperatures or you may at certain 
temperatures see things kind of start to fall out  

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of solution. That is NOT a bad thing because when 
you think about filtration the more you filter  

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something the less kind of flavor, mouth feel, 
esters, complexity it’s pulling out of there.  

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So, while we’re all very well trained to think 
like bigger is better – so filtered five times,  

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filtered ten times – right a lot of us think that 
is better, but that’s not necessarily true when it  

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comes to craft spirits. So, if you see something 
that’s a little cloudy or things are falling out  

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of solution a little bit don’t be scared, that 
might actually mean that there is more flavor and  

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more complexity and more kind of nuance and mouth 
feel in that whiskey than those that are super  

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pristine and filtered very heavily and crystal 
clear. Very true, very true. Next step there,  

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swirling the whiskey in your glass. 
This is something that you don’t want  

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to necessarily be too vigorous with, 
yeah with spirits in particular yeah,  

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but moving the the liquid around the glass is 
going to be exposing more of the surface area of  

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it to the surrounding environment and it’s going 
to be releasing more of the volatile aromatics so  

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that when you get to the next step, sniff, there’s 
more there for your nose to pick up on. It just  

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kind of intensifies the smelling of the of 
the spirit. Now, we’ll give you a quick watch  

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out here as we get to this next step if you’re 
familiar with tasting wine and we all stick our  

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nose deep into that glass as Evan has taught 
us to do in his wine tasting techniques video,  

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slow your roll, slow your roll a little bit. You 
want to do this a little bit more slowly because  

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it’s high proof. Yeah so, if you stick your nose 
deep in there you’re gonna burn your nose out  

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a little bit and not be able to smell much else 
after that. So we have a couple of techniques when  

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it comes to nosing your whiskey. Yeah, so with 
with nosing spirits and and whiskey in particular  

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it’s important to kind of gradually 
introduce the spirit to your nose.  

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I start with this spirit down here at my 
chest and I just kind of slowly raise it up  

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sniffing as I go and I find that about the point 
that the glass reaches where my chin is I start to  

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perceive it and that’s where you want to start to 
slow down. You don’t have to like stay there but  

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just be conscientious and slowly introduce it 
from that point because as Suzanne was saying  

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you can very quickly and readily kind of knock 
your olfactory out with a high proof – you know  

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high alcohol content – spirit that will shut your 
olfactory down. And it’s nice to notice what that  

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first note is that you are smelling so as you’re 
bringing it up and you don’t smell anything,  

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you don’t smell anything, and all of a sudden 
you’re like, “Oh I do smell something,”  

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pausing for a minute to say what is that and for 
me right now I’m smelling very like grainy, almost  

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like oatmeal, like cooked grains a little bit for 
that very first note. Now I know there’s probably  

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more in there for me to smell and there’s a few 
different techniques for us to help us get there  

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after that first kind of notice of what you’re 
smelling. So, as you begin to acclimate your  

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nose to the spirit there’s a few things that you 
can play around with that will help you pick up on  

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different elements of the spirit and they relate 
to different components of the process of making  

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your whiskey. There are aromas that are kind of 
more volatile and they’re escaping the glass.  

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And there are aromas that are heavier and they sit 
basically just right on the surface of the liquid.  

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The more volatile ones tend to come from the 
source material – you know if you’re drinking  

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bourbon that’s primarily corn, if you’re 
drinking rye that’s primarily rye – with a  

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lot of whiskies it’s bourbon. And so notice, he 
said the more volatile ones kind of come out of  

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the glass a little more quickly and when I first 
was bringing this up the first thing I noticed was  

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graininess oatmeal – right that that’s coming 
from that source material. That first thing  

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that I noticed when it’s further away from my nose 
and I’m not kind of as deeply focused on it yet.  

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So, one of the ways to more readily perceive 
those types of aromas is playing with the way  

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that you smell. So, the more volatile aromas need 
to be essentially kind of triggered in your nose  

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rapid fire and one of the ways to do 
that is breathing in and out rapidly  

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kind of like a dog would sniff. Yeah, exactly kind 
of like a dog sniff. So, you know when you, if you  

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have a dog, and they kind of sniff all around? 
One of the reasons they’re doing that. And you’ll  

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notice – so if you listen and see Evan’s glass 
a little bit right now it’s steaming up a tiny  

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tiny bit. And so dogs, when they’re sniffing like 
that those quick bursts – they’re sniffing in and  

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sniffing out, sniffing in and sniffing out – what 
they’re doing is they’re adding humidity because  

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if they add humidity to things it helps them find 
whatever they’re looking for when they’re smelling  

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and it’s the same thing with whiskey. So don’t 
be gun shy if you steam up your glass a little  

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bit while you’re doing these little dog sniffing 
techniques because by adding humidity into your  

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glass it’s going to help you find those types of 
aromas a little bit more easily. Yeah very true  

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moisture is a really important component to 
your perception of things for better for worse.  

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You know if you’ve ever spent a summer in Arizona 
and then by contrast spent a summer in Florida,  

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uh things smell a bit more ripe when 
there’s humidity in the air! Yes,  

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for sure so the moisture content that you you 
know contribute by exhaling into the glass  

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while you’re smelling it can be very helpful, 
yeah. Conversely, the aromas that are heavier  

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and are not just kind of like leaping out of 
the glass, a fun technique and way to be able  

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to smell them is tilt that glass on its side and 
try and bring the liquid kind of right to the edge  

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of the rim of the glass. And then 
carefully, slowly raise it to your nose  

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and then go ahead. Well, I was gonna say what 
you want to think about as you’re looking at this  

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visual of what Evan is doing is if you’re familiar 
with dry ice at all and those vapors kind of fall  

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over the edge of whatever container they’re in 
that’s the same idea. These kind of heavier aromas  

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are kind of wafting down and you’re catching them 
essentially in your nose as they’re coming by  

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that’s why this technique is so helpful. And 
you look like a cool person who knows what  

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you’re doing your friends will be like, “what 
are you doing?” and then you’ll explain to them  

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and then you’re like, “I know all about how to 
nose whiskey!” So, by doing this you’re able to  

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get your nose really close to the surface of 
the liquid where those heavier aromatics sit.

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And then if you, again, vary the way that you 
smell things and in this case you want to do  

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a long slow sustained inhalation – your yoga 
breath if you will or your meditation breath –

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the heavy odorants that sit right on the surface 
that aren’t as volatile need a more sustained  

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presence in your olfactory in order for your nose 
to perceive them. They have to be there kind of  

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in perpetuity for a little while as opposed to 
like multiple triggers when you’re doing those  

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those dog sniffs. Yeah, and it’s interesting 
because when I do this – in this whiskey – so  

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originally and when I did those kind of smaller 
sniffs I was getting the graininess in this. Now,  

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I’m getting some coffee kind of notes and some 
like almost chicory and like caramel kind of  

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notes off of that. So, not surprisingly, when you 
think about it – when maybe when I say it – but  

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these brighter more volatile lighter 
aromas that your nose picks up better when  

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it’s further away from the spirit. And when 
you’re doing those multiple repeated inhalations  

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are described more readily with like adjectives 
that are more floral, citrus, brighter, lighter,  

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grain cereal. Yeah, and then by contrast those 
heavier aromas are things like coffee, molasses,  

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chocolate, leather, tobacco – and can you guess 
where those are coming from? So if the previous  

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ones we were talking about are coming from the 
source material these other ones that need a  

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little bit of a longer more sustained inhale 
in order to find are coming more from kind of  

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the aging process, or you know the barrel, things 
of that nature. So, if you know and this is often  

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you know this kind of goes to a lot of people 
think like the older the whiskey the better,  

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right? That’s a very common kind of belief out 
there – but the older the whiskey the more you’re  

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going to get those vanilla caramel coffee 
chicory kind of heavier notes to it because  

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it’s in the barrel longer. Whereas if you really 
like those kind of floral, grainy, citrus notes  

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to your whiskey you actually might prefer a 
younger whiskey because it doesn’t have as  

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much barrel aging. So being able to identify with 
your nose a little bit like what’s going on there  

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gives you some clues as to what, you know, what’s 
happening with that particular whiskey and if it’s  

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gonna fit your flavor profile. Very true, very 
true. Next step, take a sip! And when you do so  

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it’s important that you leave the 
spirit in your mouth for a little while.  

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You know the initial impact that 
is is going on when you take a sip  

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is just kind of a shock to your palate and you 
don’t really truly get to taste the whiskey  

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until four to five seconds pass. And even 
then we would both, I think, advise that  

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you try not to pass judgment or decide one way 
or another whether or not you like the whiskey  

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on that first sip. Never trust your first 
sip! That is one of my cardinal rules  

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never trust your first sip, never trust your 
first bite because really, like Evan was saying,  

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that first sip is – especially with spirits, 
especially with high proof spirits like this – it  

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is really just your mouth being like “whoa 
alcohol! Like what’s happening, right?” And  

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so it’s really, it’s reactionary. It’s hard to 
assess it properly, yeah. So, after you do that  

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and if you can – if you can manage this it’s kind 
of a challenge but – I often try to encourage  

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people to think of their first sip as essentially 
like a primer coat. Yeah you’re seasoning  

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your palate, you’re not really tasting 
and enjoying and evaluating just yet.  

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On the second sip do that again leave it in 
your mouth do what Suzanne was doing and kind of  

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move it around a little bit, yeah. Yeah there’s 
a difference here – you don’t want to do like the  

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Listerine swish, right? Remember those commercials 
where they were like like doing like really crazy,  

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because that’s going to aerate it and what that’s 
going to do is it’s going to make that alcohol  

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burn increase a little bit just like with that 
mouthwash you know it burns a lot. You really want  

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to like chew it more and you want to the, the idea 
is you want to get it to touch every part of your  

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mouth. The front of your gums, the sides of your 
cheeks, the roof of your mouth, underneath your  

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tongue because you’re trying to get your entire 
mouth acclimated so it’s not a fast swishing it’s  

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more of a chewing. And actually in Kentucky 
I believe they do call this the Kentucky chew  

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when you’re tasting bourbon. And so but we really 
recommend this for all types of alcohol for your  

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first and maybe even second sip. Yeah, i’ll take 
that sip and I’ll kind of gently use my tongue  

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to push it up into the roof of my mouth and let 
it kind of cascade down my cheeks and pool up  

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between my cheeks and my gums and then squish it 
into the inside of my mouth underneath my tongue  

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and then kind of roll it forward and back and 
then swallow it it takes like four to five  

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seconds but it really kind of – for four to five 
seconds to be clear not 45 seconds! Just because,  

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because we do want to say this is 
high proof, so if it starts to feel  

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burny in your mouth you’ve done it long enough 
because you don’t also don’t want to burn out  

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your palate you don’t want to like completely 
destroy your mouth so it’s relatively quick  

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but important .On that note, and that’s a really 
good introduction, there’s a really important role  

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that saliva plays in tasting things. Yeah, it 
not only acts as a conduit to transmit flavors  

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from whatever you put in your mouth 
to your, you know, your taste buds  

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but it also acts as a protective layer and coating 
to the inside of your mouth and it’s a really  

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vital component of digestion. So, incorporating 
your saliva to anything that you put in your mouth  

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is highly advised -both for the enjoyment of 
it and the you know consumption of it. Yes  

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and you know, in particular, with things like 
spirits or anything that’s high acid or spicy  

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saliva is going to act as like a buffer and it’s 
going to protect your mouth essentially. Yeah.  

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Yeah, and so actually if especially if you’re 
new to whiskey tasting where you don’t drink  

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spirits straight very often it can be a good 
idea to kind of get that saliva flowing in  

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your mouth a little bit before you take it, 
before you take that first sip yeah that will  

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help protect your mouth a little bit and get you 
prepared for it take use of that – let the saliva  

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mix with the with the whiskey and as you 
swish it around see how the flavors that  

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you might have expected from the way receiving 
it from when you were smelling it yeah how they  

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transmit and and follow. Or perhaps how they 
don’t. And neither of those are a bad thing,  

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by the way. Like it can be really fun to smell 
a whiskey and then take a sip of it and be like,  

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“oh my gosh that tastes exactly how I thought 
it was gonna taste and i’m really excited about  

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that.” But it can also be equally as fun to smell 
something and think maybe you’re not gonna like it  

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or maybe you’re really going to like whatever 
and then you take a sip and it totally tastes  

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different than what you thought, and those are the 
times when it makes sense to slow down a little  

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bit and kind of back up through these steps 
and like pay a little more attention to it.  

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Yeah, a couple other things you know as you’re as 
you’re experiencing the way the the whiskey tastes  

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paying attention to the the tactile sensations 
that you’re experiencing on top of what you’re  

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tasting. So the drying sensation, the heat 
from the alcohol, anything else other than  

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like actual taste perceptions are important 
to make note of not only for like determining  

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whether or not you like them or not but 
really as they connect to your ability to  

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going forward describing what you like and being 
able to ask for something. Like “I want something  

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that has like a little bit of like astringency 
and you know something that’s been barrel aged  

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for a long time in heavily charred barrels” it’s 
going to give you like a kind of like a drying  

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sensation on the inside of your mouth and some 
people really like that and some people don’t, but  

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it’s a person, it’s a personal preference. So, and 
on that note it’s also important you know we’re  

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big believers in never saying anything like, “I 
only like bourbon or I don’t like rye” or you know  

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or vice versa, right? Like we’re big believers 
of never completely opting out of a category of  

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alcohol because we really do feel like the better 
you can learn about your own palate the better you  

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can assess and use some of these techniques to 
say, “this is what I like about this whiskey,  

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this is what I don’t like about this whisky” 
will help you then explain to bartenders,  

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bottle shop owners, distillers, whatever, and say 
to them this is what i really love in my whiskey  

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without having to categorize yourself as a rye 
enthusiast or a bourbon enthusiast. And really  

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because you might be surprised – you might think 
you’re a bourbon drinker and you might explain  

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to someone what you’re looking for in a whiskey 
what you really love about whiskey and they might  

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say you know what you should try this rye and 
you might love that rye but you wouldn’t have  

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never asked for it because you don’t think 
you like rye you think you like bourbon.  

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And that’s why it’s so important to really take 
a little time with this and not just say I don’t  

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like this whiskey but understand what don’t you 
like about this whiskey is there anything at all  

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that you do like about this whiskey and that’s 
what these techniques can really help you do.  

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And then our last step but not least after you 
taste it a couple of times – remember don’t ever  

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trust your first sip – swallow, savor, sip 
spit. And this is a step – and at this point  

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you’re paying attention to how the impressions of 
the spirit when it was in your mouth when you were  

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smelling it linger. How long they persist. The 
finish of a spirit , it’s often referred to as  

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is a really good indicator of the overall quality. 
And something that continues to be enjoyable on  

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your palate, you know in your olfactory, once 
you’ve taken that sip you’ve swished it around,  

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you’ve swallowed it, and you’ve set the glass 
down, it’s going to be there for a little while  

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for better for worse. And hopefully for better 
– and that’s what we’re looking to promote and  

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advocate for. Paying attention to that is an 
important step as well, yeah. And if you swallow  

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it down and you find yourself 30 seconds later 
kind of being like, “hmm there’s kind of like  

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a weird bitterness in my mouth or there’s 
something going on there that I don’t like  

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that’s what Evan was saying before, we’re like 
something’s out of balance a little bit and so  

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pay attention to that, right. Because being 
able to differentiate between this is a quality  

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product but I don’t like it because of these 
things, this is what I don’t like about it  

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versus you know like just saying like I don’t like 
it and not being able to acknowledge that it’s a  

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good quality product and it’s made well and i 
can appreciate that – that’s what makes you a  

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00:21:20,960 –> 00:21:24,960
great taster, right? To be able to differentiate 
what you like versus what’s good quality and  

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what’s well made and being able to appreciate and 
give kudos to the maker for making a beautiful  

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product even if it doesn’t perfectly fit your 
flavor profile. And again, being able to decide  

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what your flavor profile is and how you can find 
more of those delicious whiskeys that you have.  

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And you know, as you’re working through some of 
these techniques, we don’t do this every time we  

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have a dram of whiskey. Certainly there are some 
times where we just want a whiskey. But we do tend  

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to do these techniques when it’s something new 
that we’ve never had before – right, we pause,  

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we slow down a little bit, we have a conversation 
about it, we talk about what he’s tasting, what  

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I’m tasting. I try to find what he’s smelling and 
tasting, he tries to find what I’m smelling and  

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tasting. Or if it is one of those break your neck 
moments – where you smell something you think it’s  

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gonna taste like this and it brings you in this 
other direction, then again we pause and we talk  

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about that a little bit. So you know, sometimes 
if you happen to be snacking on something,  

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that’s a great one, you’re like you take a sip 
of the whiskey and you’re like hey wait a minute  

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that’s weird uh let me circle back here. Yeah, 
that’s when it’s worthwhile I think to, yeah,  

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remember these techniques, these steps. Again 
– Sight, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Savor – and really  

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00:22:44,240 –> 00:22:49,200
the sniff, if we can double down on one of 
them that’s probably the one that we would say  

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don’t skip over that .Don’t drink out of the 
bottle don’t drink you know – pour it into a  

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glass spend a little time with it. But what 
if it’s Monday? I mean if you need a flask  

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and you’re at a thing like, all right, that’s 
a different drinking occasion. But you know  

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90%, I think this is the stat – something like 
that 80-90% of what you taste is your nose.  

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So, if you’re skipping on that step and you’re 
not spending a little bit of time with your  

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nose in the glass you’re missing out on some of 
those beautiful flavors that you paid good money  

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to enjoy and you’re not giving it the 
fair shot that it deserves either. So  

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spend a little bit time with that. If you need 
some help there are aroma wheels online that you  

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can find and those are really helpful to get 
you from grainy to something more specific or  

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00:23:35,040 –> 00:23:41,120
fruity to something more specific. This is 
lemon, right, and is it preserved lemon,  

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is it fresh lemon, is it lemon meringue pie? 
Right – oatmeal or an oat snack bar from  

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hidden valley that i grew up on, and oats 
and honey – exactly. And you know it really,  

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especially you know when you’re at home and 
you’re drinking, this is a way to take drinking  

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to an elevated level and travel a little bit with 
your drink and have an experience with your drink.  

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00:24:04,480 –> 00:24:08,000
There are times when we just want to pour 
something and watch a Netflix movie and not think  

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about it, but you know it allows us to appreciate 
and spend a little bit of quality time with our  

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drinks and with each other and really think 
about what we’re drinking and have an even more  

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immersive experience. So hopefully these tasting 
techniques help you do just that if you have  

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any questions at all always feel free to reach 
out to us or comment below. Otherwise, cheers!

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you

 

Until next time… Drink craft and drink the world. Cheers!

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