Taste Whiskey Like a Pro

Why is it so difficult to describe what you’re tasting?

It’s because your eyes, nose, and mouth are three highways that sensory data rockets down every time you sip your favorite dram. Those three roads cross at an intersection in your brain that has faulty traffic signals. Each of those poor little drivers sees nothing but green lights – full speed ahead! The ensuing collision leaves a mangled mess so bad the dental records can’t even sort them out. This catastrophic scene literally leaves you speechless.

Wine sommeliers learned how to fix those faulty traffic signals years ago, thus turning all that raw data into an organized flow of descriptive words. How did they do it? By using a deductive tasting grid, or chart. While their purple coffee is quite different from our liquid gold, we all use the same tools when we taste: eyes, nose, mouth, and – most important – brain. We can learn from their techniques, and then apply that knowledge to whiskey.

That’s why LeAnne and I developed the first Whiskey Deductive Tasting Chart, and we’re happy to present it to you today!

Here’s your free PDF copy: Whiskey Deductive Tasting Chart

whiskey-chart

In this post, we’re going to talk about what a deductive tasting chart is, why it’s helpful, what it’s for, and how to use it. Ready?

What is a deductive tasting chart?

A deductive tasting chart is a series of prompts for the appearance, nose, and palate of whiskey.

Why is it helpful?

Because the chart systematically forces you to focus on specific sets of sensory data, thus fixing those traffic signals in your brain and preventing the collision we talked about earlier. Wine sommeliers successfully use their charts to analyze wine and unlock tasting vocabulary. You can learn to do the same with whiskey.

What do you use a deductive tasting chart for?

In the wine world, they use it to train themselves to quickly deduce everything about a wine in a blind tasting. Once they’re done training, they don’t really use physical copies of the chart. Our whiskey agenda will be slightly different. In addition to helping you figure out what’s in your glass at a blind tasting, we’ll also use the chart to help us dissect new and well-known whiskeys, and create a reference library.

How do you use a deductive tasting chart?

If you’re in a setting where it’s possible, I suggest pouring yourself a dram to follow along with. I’ll be giving short explanations but if you have any questions or want further clarification, please use our Ask Us page. We’ll also be releasing some videos soon that show us using the chart.

Step 1: Forget everything you know about how your whiskey tastes.

This is the hardest part, especially for seasoned whiskey drinkers. If you’re new to drinking whiskey then you actually have an advantage here. This step is important because the more you know about a whiskey, the more preconceived ideas you’ll have about what to expect, and the more those ideas will affect what you “think” you’re tasting. The chart is designed to take nothing for granted and build the taste profile from the ground up.

Step 2: Hold the whiskey up against a white background, like a sheet of paper, and observe.

apperiance

Here you’re using your eyes to learn what you can about the whiskey. You’ll be able to start deducing things like age, chill filtration or non-chill filtered, viscosity, etc. Mark your observations.

Step 3: Gently nose the whiskey with your mouth slightly open.

nose

Start at the top of the Nose list and systematically work through. Don’t rush. Highlight or mark smells as you find them, and leave blank the ones not there. The scents listed aren’t every possible option. Instead, view them as prompts to jog your thoughts.

Step 4: Take a sip of your whiskey and mull it over.

By sipping your whiskey you’ll activate the smells that enter your nasal cavity via the back of your throat (retronasal olfaction) instead of from your nose (orthonasal olfaction). Start at the top of the Nose list and again systematically work through. You’ll probably find things you didn’t notice the first time.

Step 5: Take several slow sips and chew them, letting the whiskey coat your mouth.

palate

Now we’re in the Palate section. Work your way through and mark your observations on proof, body, texture, finish, etc.

Step 6: Go over the whole chart noting what you did and didn’t mark, and make your deductions accordingly.

final

It’s time for the Final Assessment. Here’s where it all comes together. If you’re doing a blind tasting, make your final guess as to what you’ve been drinking. If you already know what’s in your glass, what did you learn?

When I’m done with my tasting chart I three hole punch it, date it and keep it in a binder for future reference.

This chart is a powerful tool in your learning arsenal. It gives your eyes, nose, and mouth an order of operation to work with, causing your thoughts to stay organized. Using it will let your tasting notes flow freely and be meaningful. It helps you focus on what you’re actually tasting so you get more out of your whiskey. And after a while you’ll have an index of tasting charts to reference, making you incredibly educated.

The result?

Friends, family, colleges, acquaintances, and passersby will beat a path to your door. You’ll be the go-to whiskey person.

You’ve got the chart. You’ve got the know-how. Now get out there and use it!

We’d love to hear how it goes. What did you find after using the tasting chart?

— Zac Smith

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