The world of whisky is your oyster, so we invited David Robinson, UK Glenlivet Ambassador, to give his top tips on getting the conversation flowing at your next whisky tasting night.

As a national Brand Ambassador, I often speak to whisky tasting guests who are initially worried to offer their thoughts and experiences when assessing the whisky. Bringing them out of their shell and giving them the confidence to discuss is one of the most rewarding things I do. 

That’s why I’ve listed five top tips that can help you build you and your guests confidence in exploring whisky, expanding your skillset, and feeling comfortable in offering opinions in your next whisky tasting evening.

This first one might sound a bit nerdy, but hear me out! Sometimes, it is hard to formulate our experiences with whisky into words so for this reason, I always recommend bringing a pencil and some paper along to a whisky tasting, for you to formulate your initial ideas.

This doesn’t even have to be you writing down a specific aroma or flavour note, it can be something such as a picture, a poem or memory (something which is discussed further in Tip #3).

This little trick adds a brand-new dimension to your whisky tasting and truly lets you understand the whisky in your glass. You can also use white paper to assess the colour of your whisky more easily, which will help formulate the basis of your ideas.

Colour can provide us the first clue of how our whisky is matured and for how long. It also provides us with our first actual assessment before we even get onto the aroma and taste of the liquid itself, helping to influence our decisions and give us confidence in what we are tasting.

By law, Scotch Whisky must be matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years, but where these casks are sourced from can vary, with American Oak (having previously held American Whiskey) and European Oak (traditionally having previously held Sherry) offering the two most adopted sources.

Why is this all key?

Well, the faintness of a whisky can firstly offer an idea of age, especially in the case of Single Cask releases, with whiskies darker in colour generally older and more complex.

Darker, amber coloured whiskies suggest the use of European Oak, where we can expect characteristics such as dried fruits, nuts and dark chocolate on the nose, whilst brighter, gold-coloured whiskies on the other hand suggest the presence of American Oak, where flavours such as vanilla, butterscotch and sweet baking spices can likely be found.

It’s always worth noting that caramel colourings can sometimes be added to whiskies to heighten or alter their appearance without adding flavour, making the best tool for assessing whisky your sense of smell. That said, using this simple guide to colour can really help you formulate the initial thoughts that are on your mind, with American Oak offering sweeter influences and European Oak offering spicier influences.

Our sense of smell is the most emotive and evocative sense that we have. It is something that is truly unique to each individual, evoking memories, emotions and other concepts that help us to really react with the whisky and gain an understanding from our past experiences.

A nosing note doesn’t have to be a physical object such as an apple, piece of toffee or chunk of pineapple, it can be a memory of your childhood for example, something that tells you all you need to know about the whisky and how you will enjoy it. 

This is where the model of a traditional whisky tasting often goes wrong – it forgets to consider the individual experiences of the guests and it is these that truly determine the assessment of the whisky.

Of course, if you smell something like vanilla, you can be largely comfortable in the knowledge that the whisky will have American Oak influences and may be sweet and fruity, but I encourage you to think beyond this.

What does it remind you of? Where does it take you? This is the true assessment of a whisky on the nose.

Furthermore, never be afraid to add water to your whisky when nosing! A little water goes a long way and is a fantastic means by which to assess what lies within, as it creates what we call an ‘exothermic reaction’, promoting strong chemical bonds that allow the more volatile aromas of ethanol to sit back and allow the true nature to the spirit to shine through. The blending team at The Glenlivet will usually nose and assess whiskies at 20% ABV during the maturation process for this very reason.

Once you’ve assessed the whisky’s colour and aroma, it’s time to taste. Remember that most of our whisky assessment happens with the nose, but the taste on the palate also gives us key insight.

Taking the notes you made whilst nosing your whisky into account, assess whether these are present on your palate and consider the weight of the whisky, the sweetness, and level of alcohol present before adding your observations to your initial notes if you desire.

Sip once and let the whisky coat your mouth, before returning to the glass and sipping again. Consider how the whisky may have changed, reinforcing your ideas and your observations and think how these tie into your emotive memory.

Whisky should, of course, remain a conversation for everyone to share and everyone’s different experience of the liquid is relevant, so do be sure to listen to what everyone else has to say.

That said, it is very easy to fall into the trap of trying to find aromas that other people in the room may have identified, with your own assessments falling to the back of your mind as a direct result of this. 

Sometimes of course, you will identify the aspects that others have identified, but it is often when we can’t find something on the nose or palate that we start to lose faith in our own assessments, subsequently losing confidence in our ability to understand the whisky. 

Always listen to everyone in the room, but more to the point, allow for your own aroma and tasting notes to formulate the basis of your conclusions. Remember, whisky is unique to each individual and your assessments help build the ever-growing conversation around it – something which we truly champion at The Glenlivet!

the glenlivet caribbean reserve coco lime smash whisky cocktail

Coco Lime Smash

This simple lime and coconut cocktail delivers the tropical vibes within seconds. Bring the beach to your back garden with five simple ingredients.

COCKTAIL RECIPE
FOR
1
SERVE

INGREDIENTS

ml oz
Ingredients Unit
The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve
50 ml
Coconut Water
37.5 ml
Lime Wedges
2
Part Simple Syrup
12.5 ml
Mint Leaves
8

METHOD

  1. Combine simple syrup, lime and mint within shaker. Muddle.
  2. Add whisky and ice. Shake and pour into glass.
  3. Top with coconut water.
  4. Garnish with lime wedge & mint.

WHISKY AND SUMMER