Tasting Tips 101 for National Bourbon Day

As Americans and Proud Whiskey drinkers, we are pleased to inform you TODAY IS NATIONAL BOURBON DAY!  Seriously.  We didn’t make this up.  Google it. It’s a thing. 

So, because we are eternally optimistic here, and today is clearly not a day to be endured, but celebrated to the best of our ability, we are here to help you do just that.  We love Bourbon and we want to assist you with your carpe diem-ing. 

Books, guides, handbooks, videos …  they’re all out there, available… for novices and veterans keen on tidying up their Whiskey assessment skills for this most holy of national holidays. 

Here, we don’t proclaim, nor pretend, to be anything other than reasonably experienced.  Whiskey is our friend, obviously… we spend many, many hours with thoughts pertaining to our beloved.  Yesterday, while discussing the Holy Bourbon Holiday, a friend asked me, in a somewhat pedantic, rude fashion, for a brief synopsis of tasting – a 101 if you will, to aid in her celebratory imbibing. 

I thought twice about making said friend all the more well equipped to be pedantic, but I folded. It’s a national holiday for appreciation of our beloved American Whiskey. And ignorance isn’t necessarily bliss when it comes to Whiskey.  Furthermore, since Cleveland Whiskey usually is preferred in blind tastings, I thought I d equip this future patron with some knowledge I could impart.  Here’s what I told her.  

Room.  If the whiskey is chilled it will omit less of the heavenly aromas.  Conversely, gently embracing the tulip shaped glass will release them. 

Glass shape
Yes, you read correctly.  A tulip-shaped glass is the preferred chariot to deliver Whiskey.  The sides should close inwards towards the top to concentrate the
aforementioned heavenly aromas. Just to mess with her, I further told her there were actually standards for the glass mandated by the ISO. Yup, that’s a thing.  International Standards Organization.  I was just being cruel – we all know really any glass shape serves us our whiskey perfectly. But the ISO truly does back the tulip shape. 

Look at the Whiskey.  Behold its beauty.  Assess the clarity.  Is it clear and bright or cloudy?  If it’s dull rather than bright, then it hasn’t been chill-filtered. Swirl the glass and assess our beloved’s viscosity by noting the “legs” or “tears” that create a pattern on the interior.  Are the legs thin or fat? Are they making large curves or are they close together? Typically, long legs equate to high alcohol and tears that seem to hang rather than fall suggest an oily spirit. Generally, the slower the legs slide down the glass, the more full-bodied the Whiskey will be in your mouth. 

Professional Blenders tend to assess samples more by the aroma than by taste.  Smell is a chemical sense, and Whiskey smells good.  We know.  Bring the glass slowly toward your nose.  Swirling the glass will release ethanol notes rather than the heavenly nuances, hence our caveat “slowly”.  The first whiff is always the best.  Mouth open, mouth closed – to each his or her own. Just breathe. Allow your nose to do what it does best. At room temperature.  Nosing is fun.

Aaaah, finally.  The 5 basic taste sensations our mortal tongues can define: sweet, salt, sour, bitter and savory. Hold the first taste in your mouth and allow yourself the full experience.  Look for flavors you can identify.  Are their citrus notes?  Floral notes? Spicy notes?   Think about what you’re tasting – every sip may reveal a different secret. 

Happy and Sad feelings here. Does the flavor linger? Which one(s)? Is it more spicy than Sweet? 
More Sour than Savory? 

Adding water always opens up certain aromas, but use distilled or mineral so to keep the Whiskey honest. Taste the Whiskey first without, so you have a baseline against which to compare, and only add a few drops at a time.  You don’t want to dilute it too much or break its structure.  More, possibly different, aromas will be brought forward by adding water. 

Now, Rinse and Repeat.  Tulips are your favorite flower now, and preferred glass of choice, are they not?   

So, Cheers.  Enjoy today to its fullest.  Our favorite Bourbon Appreciation Day, a national treasure of sorts, only happens once every 365 days.