Whisky Tasting Order

In which order should Whisky be tasted? In the following article, we show you tips for your own tasting of Single Malts and American Whiskey. But this is not set in stone, since there are often particular reasons to mix the order up.

The Order of a Scotch Single Malts Tasting

Some of you may want to go right ahead and taste the first Whisky. But there are some things, that must be mentioned before we start. The first one is: How many Whiskies in one sitting? If we look at some official tastings, like for example at a winery, there are often about ten different Wines in one sitting. Those samples are usually given to the participants at a volume of 0.1 litres. That does not sound as much. But if we add all samples, it results in 1 litre of Wine per person. Depending on whether you ate a meal beforehand, this may lead to feeling very stuffed, or to slight tipsiness. You should consider, how much you eat prior to a tasting and which Wine from the menu you really want to drink. It is absolutely ‘ok’ to leave some of it out. But what about Whisky? If we apply this to our tasting, it is best to minimize the numbers of Whiskies. We suggest about four Whiskies for one tasting. With this, you won’t feel stuffed, and you can appreciate and experience the individual bottles more with an extra sip.

Eating During a Tasting

But what if you eat during the tasting? The first thought is that this should slow down the effect of the alcohol. That is why in most tastings, you will be served white bread or cheese. But in reality, it is not exactly convenient for a tasting. Because when we eat bread, our mouth salivates the eaten food and especially with bread is filling our mouth with enzymes to better digest the food. And those enzymes split the starch into sugar. This leaves a slightly sweet taste in our mouth. The flavour of everything we drink after eating bread will be slightly distorted with a sweet note.

Cheese is not a better option. The fat and protein are laying heavily on the taste buds and this is also falsifying the following taste with different enzymes. Considering those facts, it may be better to leave the snacks out of a tasting. It is better to neutralize the taste in the mouth with plain water without flavour.

Determine the Order by Age

What gives the Whisky its taste? Mostly the casks. The longer a Whisky is maturing, the more intense is its flavour. The spirit depletes the young aromas and gains more deep ones. Those voluminous Whiskies are best enjoyed at the end of the order. The complex tastes of those would overshadow light Whiskies.

Determine the Order by Smokiness

If the malt is dried over a peat fire, the Whisky will gain an intense, almost aggressive smoky peat note. And those smoky aromas will mostly cover our mucous membranes, like the mouth, the palate and the nose. Just like old Whisky, peated ones should be moved to the back of the order.

Determine the Order by the Alcohol Content

Most Whisky connoisseurs enjoy the liquid straight. No water, no ice. If the Whiskies are tasted without dilution, the order should list high alcohol content towards the end. The reason for this is the fact that alcohol numbs the taste buds. Alcohol in bigger doses is also a neurotoxin. If we drink a Whisky with over 50% alcohol percentage, the nerves in our mouth are paralysed, which means that we can’t taste as much anymore. Meaning, you get more out of the Whisky if you taste the ones with high alcohol content at last. When water or ice is added, the alcohol percentage is not a big factor anymore.

Determine the Order by Sherry Casks Influence

Whisky is not bound to only mature in one cask. Often it is matured or finished in different types, like used Bourbon, Port Wine or Sherry casks. This will give the Whisky the strong aromas of those liquids. And especially those can overpower other notes of taste. Therefore, Whisky with Sherry Influence should also be tasted at the end of the order.

An Example of a Tasting Order for Scotch Single Malts

What Whisky would we taste in which sequence? Let’s have a look at different Whiskies: We explain the character of the Single Malt and why we would arrange them in this way. But do not get us wrong: Like stated earlier, we advise to only include about four Whiskies in one tasting. There are more on this list, but this does not mean we would taste all on the same occasion. To better show a possible order, we include more examples.

The Non-Peated Whiskies:

Glenkinchie 12 Years

To adopt the mentioned order, we like to show it directly with Whisky examples. Beginning with the mild, soft Whisky Glenkinchie 12 Years, a ‘Lowlander’. With 43% alcohol percentage and its sweet, fruity and floral notes, it is a good start for a tasting.

Bladnoch Samsara

This Single Malt is also made in the Lowlands. Bladnoch Samsara is an original bottling with 46.7% alcohol percentage. Bourbon casks were used for the maturation before it was finished in Californian Red Wine casks. The aroma is mild and described to have fruity and malty notes, which are still on the sweet side of taste. The Whisky is placed after the first one because of its stronger alcohol percentage and the mild influence of Red Wine casks.

Cragganmore 12 Years

This Whisky is one of Diageo’s Classic Malts of Scotland. Distilled in the Speyside, it matures for 12 years in Ex-Bourbon casks. While the taste is a mix of fruit, malt, sugar and spice, its alcohol percentage is down to 40%. Why is Cragganmore listed behind a Whisky with more alcohol content? That is because the Whisky has a light but long-lasting smokiness in the finish.

Dalwhinnie 15 Years

One of the most sold Classic Malts of Scotland. The mild aroma of this Highland Single Malt contains fruity and sugary notes, with hints of heather and peat smoke in the finish. After 15 years of maturation, this chill-filtered Whisky has an alcohol percentage of 43%. And with the higher age, the taste has more volume and concludes the listing after the Cragganmore.

Glenfiddich 14 Years Bourbon Barrel Reserve

With the finish in fresh American Oak casks, this 14 year old Single Malt is intense in its taste. The expressive vanilla and caramel notes are mixed with light citrus and an oak aroma in the finish. With 43% alcohol percentage it is a smooth Whisky. Glenfiddich 14 Years Bourbon Barrel Reserve is the last in order of the non-peated Whiskies.

After you tasted all the non-peated Whiskies, we advise you to take a short break. Drink plenty of water to neutralize your taste buds and reset your senses.

The Peated Whiskies:

Oban 14 Years

Living up to its origins: this Single Malt is distilled on the coast and has maritime and aromatic spicy notes. The taste and the finish are characterised by peat smoke. The 14 year old Whisky has 43% alcohol percentage. Oban 14 years is starting the order of the peated Whiskies, because it has less ‘smoke’ than the following bottlings.

Caol Ila 12 Years

The first Whisky from the Isle of Islay on the list. Caol Ila 12 years is also one of the Classic Malts of Scotland and its character is marked by peat smoke. The aroma is complemented by a light sweetness in the beginning and salty, maritime notes. This Whisky has an alcohol percentage of 43%. Due to the heavier smoky character, Caol Ila 12 years takes its place after the coastal Whisky.

Lagavulin 16 Years vs. Laphroaig 10 Years

The last two are the hardest to sort. Both Lagavulin and Laphroaig, along with Ardbeg, are considered the most peated and intense Whiskies from Islay. The distilleries of those three are located in the same area on the southern coast.

Laphroaig is smoother in its alcohol because of the form of the used Pot Stills. The Laphroaig distillery uses pot stills, which filters the heavy alcohol molecules out of the spirits due to a shape that heavily constricts the flow to a slow, steady one. In contrast, Lagavulin uses pear-shaped pot stills, where nothing is constricted. Therefore, many flavours (and according to some people also fusel oils) are staying in the spirit.

But in which order should the two be tasted? The tastes of both Whiskies are very similar. Intense peat smoke accompanied by salty, maritime notes and flavours of seaweed. The difference is the percentage of alcohol and the smoothness. Lagavulin has 43%, while Laphroaig only has 40%. Adding the fact, that Laphroaig has a smoother texture of alcohol, we suggest tasting it first and the Lagavulin later.

The Order of a Bourbon Tasting

All Bourbons are Whiskeys, but not all Whiskeys are Bourbons. The differences between Scotch and Bourbon are in the ingredients, production, location and the maturation. Explaining the production would be too much for this article (look it up here). But what is important to know for the Tastings of Bourbons is:

  • Bourbon is distilled in column stills, which results in very smooth and mild Whiskey
  • That Bourbon is maturing in fresh American white oak casks for at least two years
  • The ingredients can be a mix of at least 51% corn with barley, rye or wheat

Determine the Order by Age

As mentioned, fresh American white oak casks are used for maturation. Since the casks are fresh, they strongly influence the flavour of the spirit. That is also a reason why Bourbon only has to mature for a minimum of two years, unlike Scotch with three years. Although it is common to lengthen that time up to four years for high-quality Bourbon.

But just like Single Malts, the longer the Bourbon stays in the cask, the more intense the aroma is. This means for the order of the tasting, that old age should be pushed back.

Determine the Order by the Alcohol Content

This factor is also very important for the sorting of the Whiskeys. It is not uncommon for Bourbon to have a high alcohol percentage like 58% or 62%. This is not well known since the ‘mainstream’ Bourbons or Tennessee Whiskeys like Jim Beam often have less (usually 40%). Just like with Scotch Single Malts, the order should go from the lowest to the highest percentage of alcohol.

Determine the Order by Single Barrels

If Single Barrel is mentioned on the bottle, it means that every cask was bottled individually. The selection of the casks causes a more intense aroma. Bourbons which are Single Barrels, should be tasted in the middle or at the end of the tasting.

Determine the Order by Ingredients

One of the bigger differences between Bourbon and Scotch Single Malt: the ingredients. While for Scotch most commonly barley is used, in Bourbon it is normal to mix the grains. The only regulation is to use at least 51% corn. If more than 50% is made from rye, it is no longer called a Bourbon, but a Rye.

Most Bourbons vary between higher contents of rye or wheat. This results in a spectrum of taste between spicy and aromatic (rye) as well as sweet and mild (wheat). While the amount of rye is rarely stated on the Bourbon, it is common to state the amount of wheat. Therefore, there are ‘wheat Bourbons’ and ‘non-wheat Bourbons’.

If we apply that to our tasting order, we can place Bourbon with high contents of rye to the back, due to their intense, spicy aromas and start with wheat Bourbons.

An Example of a Tasting Order for Bourbons

Maker’s Mark

Categorized as a mild Kentucky Straight Bourbon due to its high content of wheat, this Bourbon is mild and light, with aromas of vanilla, honey, caramel and light fruits. The finish is short and does not lay on the taste buds too long. A good and simple start for a tasting.

Bulleit Bourbon

A step more spice: With 40% alcohol content a mild Bourbon, the aromas are spicier than the ones of the Maker’s Mark. The notes of oak, pepper and vanilla make this Whiskey a good follow up at the beginning of the tasting (and also a good Bourbon for Cocktails).

Knob Creek

With 50% alcohol percentage and nine years of maturing, this Bourbon is to be sorted in the later parts of the tastings.

Blanton's Original

This Bourbon is the first Single Barrel within our examples. It has 46,5% alcohol content, but the aroma is more intense because it is a Single Barrel. The taste is described as sugary sweet and oaky with spice.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed

The alcohol content is rising again with this Bourbon: 54,1%. What is special about the Rare Breed is, that the oak casks were heavily charred, giving the Bourbon a very intense aroma. With those two facts, this Wild Turkey is best enjoyed near the end of the tasting.

Bakers 107 Proof

A Bourbon with not only more alcohol percentage (53,5%), but also a proud age of eight years. This Whiskey is characterized by its intense aromas with caramel, oak and sugar. Its voluminous flavour brings this Whiskey to the later if not one of the last ones of a tasting.

Elijah Craig

The oldest one on the list of examples. 12 long years, this Bourbon matured in American white oak casks and was bottled with an alcohol percentage of 47%. His aroma is mild but very intense with a long and sweet finish. His flavour is noticeably on of oak.

With those examples, a good sequence is set. As we can see, a Whisky or a Bourbon Tasting needs a little bit of thinking beforehand. But what must be mentioned: The order with all its factors of sorting still depends on personal taste. This order is not more than advice.