How to taste whisky


In a nutshell, there is no specific way to taste whisky. There is no right, and no wrong, no etiquette to be observed and no rules to worry about. Whisky is there to be enjoyed, and if you enjoy yours out of a watering can and loaded with pineapple slices then go for it.

There are however a few pointers that can make your whisky drinking more enjoyable and they’re listed below. If they work for you, then dive in, and if they don’t then just ignore them. It really is as simple as that.

To water or not to water?

Adding water to whisky can be a good idea because it actually alters the molecular structure of the dram and literally opens it up, allowing more flavours and nuances to be detected. This is why professional whisky tasters routinely water their whisky. But the amount is key. Literally a teardrop of water is enough to liberate new flavours, and from there you can keep adding fractions to taste if you feel more is needed for your palate.

Whatever you do, don’t drown it. That ruins the whisky and the water, and is the way most people first water whisky when they start drinking it. Unsurprisingly it tastes hideous, and they then decide water is the devil’s own wee.

Used (very) sparingly though, it can be a great addition and you’ll find some whiskies will actively benefit while others will blatantly become worse.

To sum up: experiment, enjoy, and do precisely whatever feels right for you

Ice Ice baby

Whisky on the rocks is called just that for a reason. It’s whisky, poured over rocks of ice.

Turn it around and drop a lump of ice into your whisky and you’ll damage it – the sensitive spirit doesn’t much like a freezing lump being hurled into it and will clam up as a result leaving you with less flavour to play with. So while there are no rules with ice, adding your whisky to your ice rather than the other way around will reap far better benefits.

Nosey parker

Most of our tasting is done by smell, so use your nose with your whisky by which we mean really get stuck in. Get your nose as close to your dram as possible without getting it wet, and inhale, slowly and deeply. Tease the aromas out of the glass and keep your mouth slightly open at the same time – breathing in slightly through here too will help you pluck more depth from your malt.

The more you nose, the more you’ll realise how much you’d missed before. Again, no right or wrong here, but there’s a whole world of wonder waiting if you’re prepared to stick your nose in.


One of the greatest pieces of advice we have ever received came from a veteran distillery manager who recommended holding a dram in your mouth for one second per year of maturation. So 12 seconds for a 12 year old, 18 for an 18 and so on.

This allows the whisky’s flavours to flood out, but you need to gently roll the dram around your mouth for this to work – this lets it contact all of your different tastebuds and catch every region of the tongue (different parts taste different flavours). At the same time the whisky will mingle with your own saliva, which acts like a drop or two of water to further liberate the tastes within the whisky.

The better the whisky, the smoother, deeper and more varied these flavours are and the longer they last.

The aftertaste

Good whiskies keep on rolling up the taste sensations long after they’ve left your mouth. Catch these after effects by breathing out gently after swallowing your dram and quietly allowing these final flavours to reach your palate. There’s a lot to savour.

And finally

Remember these are just suggestions passed onto us by a slew of whisky legends, they are not rules. As we said earlier, whisky has no rules and while the above can bring on a raft of new whisky experience, so can hammering shots of some fine 30-year-old into your eye while swinging from a trapeze on fire. Whisky’s there to be enjoyed, so go forth and enjoy!

Happy dramming

The USW team