How to Develop Your Whisky Taste Buds

let’s begin

Ever read tasting notes for your favourite dram and wondered just how the experts could taste so many different things? Maybe you want to take you taste buds to the next level of whisky expertise and become a whisky master?

We like to encourage safe drinking here a GreatDrams, but we also like to encourage GOOD drinking. Here are our tips on how to develop your taste buds to get the best tasting experience.

The Nose

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again, the nose is key to whisky tasting.

The first thing you need to do is take a good long whiff of your favourite tipple. Really get your nose in there, embrace it!

The best instrument for this is a tulip glass. This shape of glass funnels and collects the whisky in the end. This means there should be a higher concentration of whisky particles about when you introduce your nose to the mix.

And when you do, don’t just take a sniff and assume you can’t smell anything special. Concentrate. The nose connects to the brain, so all the work is done by concentrating and analysing what you smell.

Taking notes can also help at this point. Don’t read any tasting notes until after you’ve done your own tasting. Then, when your finished, you can compare and see how your own nose measures up against the greats!

Don’t expect big things the first few times. The nose is an instrument in itself, and you need to learn how to play it before you see any real results!

Have a snoop around a Macallan tasting here.


This is where we get really specific.

The tongue is divided into four main areas: the tip for sweet, either side for sour or salty, and the middle for bitter.

The key here is to let the liquid linger on your tongue. Each region takes a second or two to light up, so give your tongue time to appreciate the flavours washing over it.

Combine what you taste in your mouth with what you have previously smelled. This will help you to pick up on new flavours coming through in the taste.

The nose, as afore mentioned, is a powerful instrument for picking out different smells and flavours within whisky. A trick that some whisky tasters try to use is to breath through your nose, as you taste the whisky.

Now I know this sounds a bit ridiculous, as of course your going to breathe through your nose when you taste whisky because otherwise how would you breath without spilling anything?

But there is something more significant to inhaling with whisky in your mouth.

As your tongue is working out all the different flavours in your mouth, our nose is doing the same. (If any men out there want to use this as proof of the male ability to multi-task, please, go right ahead!)

By inhaling as you taste, you allow your nose and tongue to work together to interpret the liquid in your mouth.

The Simple Things

There are small things you can do to improve your tasting experience. Ok, so they may be pretty obvious, but take note and remember these points the next time you go to decipher a dram.

Try not to eat flavoursome foods before you taste whisky. Or if you do, them make sure to rinse your mouth out before you try your favourite tipple.

Foods encourage reactions within your mouth and can leave residue. Spicy foods may also overwhelm and dull your taste buds. Enter the tasting ring with a cleansed palette, and half the battle may be won.

Don’t expect big things if you’re ill. Illnesses such as colds and flu dull our senses. When your nose is blocked, you may find that you sense of taste is dampened as well.

This is because it’s all connected. The mouth, nose, even the ears, are all joined up (although please don’t try tasting whisky by listening to it). So if you’re ill, you’re never going to have a good tasting experience.

And finally, enjoy it. Don’t get caught up in trying to decipher every single smell and flavour that has ever been written down about a whisky.

The people who do these flavour profiles are mostly professionals. They are literally paid to taste whisky, which may be a dream job if you can get it, but not suited to everyone.

Everyone has different sensory strengths and weaknesses. So don’t get too down trodden if your best mate can taste cotton candy, but all you’re getting are some light sugary hints.

Take your favourite dram and savour it. Taste it and appreciate it for exactly what it is: whisky.

Photo credits from top left, clockwise: Zaveqna, Dale, Michele Catalano and Pajiym

Tags: DrinkWirenosenotesnovicepaletteTastingtipsWhisky
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My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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1 thought on “How to Develop Your Whisky Taste Buds”

  1. I started tasting Whisky a little over 6 months… but I can definitely say I made the most of those 6 months… maybe too much. Crazy how you get used to the burning, spicy feeling in your tongue and can start holding the whisky in there for quite a while longer.

    A couple weeks ago however, after probably going a bit to crazy a few days in a row, I noticed my tongue had black stains that wouldn’t come off… I googled it and apparently those stains are simply dead cells and it goes away rather quickly. My tongue is nearly as good as new now, and I’m pretty sure this happened due to whisky tasting in excess… not getting drunk or anything, but maybe this tiny bit everyday was a bit too much for my unexperienced tasting buds. Oddly enough I couldn’t find any comments regarding people experiencing this after drinking whisky…

    I’m guessing maybe it’s rare to find people who have only been on Whisky for 6 months drinking more or less 3 little glasses on a daily basis. Perfect Storm?


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