Whiskey Nips: Training Your Palate
Bourbon does not have any strict guidelines on how to nose, or taste, what’s in your glass. Over the past year, I have improved my techniques through various events and tastings, and want to share a few things that I’ve picked up along the way.
It’s good to start with glassware that is somewhat tulip shaped. This means that it tapers up to an opening that is narrower than it’s base. The iconic Glencairn glass is very popular, but there are many other brands and designs that achieve similar results. If you like to use a rocks glass, that’s fine, but you will get a better concentration of smell with something that tapers. Different glasses will bring out different aromas. It is fun to take different glasses and see how it changes.
To get the aromas going you should swirl it around a bit in your glass, bring it up to right above your lips, and take a few short sniffs with your mouth open. If your mouth is closed, the alcohol is more likely to burn your senses. Try to avoid getting that glass too close to your nose because that will burn your senses as well. Play with the angles because you actually only use one nostril at a time. If you find that you can’t really smell anything anymore, then you might need to reset. Do this by sniffing the back of your hand/arm/elbow. It is a scent that you are familiar with and will make the aroma of what’s in your glass more prominent again. On to the tasting.
On your first sip, get enough liquid to coat your mouth. Your tongue needs to ease in to the alcohol before it can get past it and on to the flavors. Nose again, take another sip, and swirl it a bit around your mouth. Some will refer to the swirling as a Kentucky chew. If you can, take simple notes on what you can easily recognize. I usually start with notes that just say sweet, spicy, earthy, or herbal. I also pay attention to the mouth feel and write down if its thin, creamy, or oily. I will repeat this to see if I can build on the simpler notes. ‘Ok, it’s spicy, but spicy like pepper or cinnamon?’ I usually take notes on my phone with the date so that I can refer back to them. Do this as you are nosing as well.
Lastly, on to the finish. After the second, or third sip, I try to see how long the flavor actually lasts in my mouth. I use the same note taking techniques for the nose and palate, and try to build on them throughout the night. If I can’t specifically recognize any notes, that’s fine. There are plenty notes on my phone that have only have one descriptor for only nose, palate, or finish. I’ll go back to that bourbon again another day and see if can build upon it, or if it changes. The environment in which you taste can highly affect your senses at any moment as well as what you ate for the day. Some bourbons will change over time and produce different notes. I will also look up reviews after making my own notes to compare. No matter what you taste in your bourbon, the most important thing is that you just sit back and enjoy it.
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