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How to taste whisky from the comfort of your home

how to drink whisky Ballantines

You don’t need to visit a distillery for a pro whisky tasting experience. 

With a bit of know-how and an open mind, whisky tasting can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. Plus, it makes a great addition to a house party, summer gathering, stag/hen do, or however you like to get your kicks.

This guide will provide you with that all important whisky tasting knowledge – so you’ll know how to get the most from your whisky tasting at home, and be able to show off to your pals, too.

First things first though…

Why bother whisky tasting in the first place?


Stripping whisky back to its bare bones can provide you with a unique sensory experience. 

Whether you’re a whisky tasting beginner or a seasoned scotch lover, tasting a tipple carefully can reveal its true characteristics and push you to use your senses in new ways.

We often take our senses for granted. Most of us don’t really notice all the sights, smells and sounds when watching a bartender mix something special or whilst sipping a new drink.

But taking some time to be immersed in our senses is a great way to spend an evening – and whisky tasting at home is the perfect way to do this. 

Convinced? Cool, let’s get cracking.

What you’ll need for the at home whisky tasting experience

how to drink whisky ballantines

Apologies for stating the obvious, but you’ll need a glass… and some whisky. And preferably some friends to make it a group experience.

Traditionally you would taste whisky in what we call a snifter glass. It’s a bit like a wine glass but with a shorter and stubbier stem and a narrower opening. The idea is that there’s enough room to swirl your whisky around (more of that shortly), but the smaller opening means aromas will be more intense when you give the snifter a good, well, sniff. 

If you don’t have any snifter glasses in the cupboard however, no worries. A normal wine glass will do for now. We’re not picky.

Glasses sorted?, Now you can rely on your senses to take you through the rest of the whisky-tasting-at-home experience – no more equipment necessary.

How to look at whisky

Now your whisky has been poured into the glass, it’s time to use your sight. Give the whisky a good swirl around to really appreciate its colour and check its viscosity.

On the whole, the darker the whisky, the longer it’s been aged. For example, Ballantine’s 12 Year Old is a rich honey tone, whilst Ballantine’s Finest is a light golden colour.

Then there’s viscosity. Notice the streaks that form on the glass after you’ve given your whisky a good swirl? These are what the pros call “legs” – the thicker the legs, the higher the viscosity.

If your whisky has a high viscosity, that suggests a fuller, more sensuous mouthfeel… cheeky.

How to smell whisky

We’re not quite ready for that mouthfeel yet however, as it’s now time to give your whisky a proper sniff. 

When learning how to taste whisky, we believe it’s better to go in with zero expectations. Try not to read the notes on the label, and if your friends have tried that particular bottle before, encourage them to keep their opinions to themselves before you’ve all given it a go.

Our brains are clever (most of us anyway). If we expect to smell or taste a certain thing, we probably will. But whisky tasting should be about your personal experience and the unique, individual notes that you pick up on.

Remember that there is no right or wrong answer. You may be learning how to taste whisky, but when it comes to what you smell and taste – anything goes.

A bit of advice though, don’t push your snozzle right inside the depths of your glass. Whisky has a high alcohol content, and you only need to sniff from the opening to experience the aromas.

How to taste whisky

Now it’s finally time to taste. Take a small sip and then gargle by sucking in air – but don’t throw your head back, you’re not using mouthwash here.

Gargling may seem a little odd to whisky tasting beginners, but it helps you to uncover every level of flavour and experience the finish, otherwise known as that all important whisky burn.

Switch between gargling and swishing the whisky in your mouth, and allow yourself to be surprised by what you taste. Does the whisky taste different to how it smells? Do you notice a high or low viscosity? Is the finish long, short or sweet?

Round off your whisky tasting at home experience by comparing what you taste with your friends. If you plan to try several whiskys, be sure to have a few sips of water between each one to cleanse your palette.

So that’s how beginners can learn to taste whisky at home. Easy, right? Go in with an open mind, and be prepared to come out with a new found appreciation of whisky. 

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