Use a snifter – a short-stemmed glass with a wide bottom, narrowing towards the top. This shape allows you to swirl the whiskey and catch the aromas at the top of the glass. Don’t use a shot glass, which makes swirling impossible, or a typical whiskey glass, which allows the aromas to escape.
Start with light whiskeys, and then move to dark whiskeys.
Pour 1.5 ounces at room temperature into your glass. Chilled whiskey inhibits aroma; ice kills it.
Now hold the glass up to the light and observe the spirit’s clarity. The clearer the better. Observe the color. Whiskey color can range from light to dark. The lighter the color, the lighter the taste. Darkness can also indicate age; older whiskeys are darker in appearance.
Dilute the whiskey with a small amount of room temperature, distilled water before “nosing” it, or risk alcohol burn. Swirl your glass so that the water opens up the whiskey and releases its aroma.
Sniffing your whiskey is officially called “nosing.” Bring the glass to your nose and lightly inhale. What do you smell? Fruit? Vanilla? Pepper? Licorice? A strong inhalation will bypass the subtle, interesting flavors and leave your nostrils burning from the alcohol.
Take a sip and roll it around on your tongue. Can you taste the flavors you had detected while nosing?
After swallowing, wait 20-30 seconds. More flavors may be revealed. A second sip will complement the first, adding more nuances.
Cleanse your palate with unsalted crackers before tasting the next whiskey.