I Asked an Expert to Teach Me How to Taste Whisky, and Here's What I Learned
Depending on who you talk to, enjoying whisky can either be simple or incredibly complicated. For most people (including, very likely, your least favorite tito) whisky is just a smooth, fancy brown liquor to enjoy after dinner and at the end of a long day—nothing more, nothing less. But if you’ve spoken to whisky enthusiasts, who obsess over the drink and spend huge sums of money on the right kinds, it can feel so difficult to understand as to be impenetrable.
That’s mostly how I feel about whisky, as someone who enjoys it but can’t so much as distinguish smokiness from peatiness. I enjoy whisky on the rocks, and occasionally, as a highball, but I can’t seem to taste the romance and poetry in it that others do. When I hear people talking about notes of sherry and pear and chocolate, and about tasting the particular wood of the cask in which the whisky was aged, I can’t help but feel like I’m doing it wrong, like I’m missing something. It’s almost like a weird whisky imposter syndrome, and I’ve found that it keeps me from fully enjoying the drink: Is my palate so unworthy? Have I yet to acquire this taste truly? Should I just go back to beer town, where I belong, and sip on my bottle of Gold Eagle?
But recently, I told myself no: I won’t be daunted by beautiful descriptions of brown liquor. I’m going to drink whisky, I’m going to enjoy it, and I’m going to learn to do it right. So I decided to partake in a guided whisky tasting session, recently hosted by Globe Platinum exclusively for select subscribers via Zoom. Whisky tastings are the kind of events that can still just as well be held online, with everyone safe and comfy at home, so I figured it would be the quickest way to learn how I can more properly enjoy my drink of choice.
Globe Platinum’s whisky tasting session, which was held in partnership with SHOOR and The Refuge in Bonifacio Global City, featured The Macallan Edition Series—a rare and highly limited release by Macallan, a label that’s been called the Rolls-Royce of single-malt whisky. Prior to the event, vials of these were delivered to participants so that on the night, they could taste along with a professional guide: Hans Eckstein, a Macallan brand advocate and a whisky enthusiast for over 10 years.
The whole tasting session, in which Editions 2 to 5 of the Edition Series were sampled, lasted about an hour and a half, and was packed with insights that could help even beginners understand whisky better. Eckstein, for all his knowledge and expertise, was never too difficult to understand, and even accommodated questions to help the uninitiated. If you’re new to whisky or would like to enjoy it better, here are some of the helpful things I picked up from the tasting session:
Get yourself a “Glencairn”
Don’t borrow your tito’s novelty whisky glasses. Get yourself a serious one—like the kind that characters in Mad Men brandish for dramatic effect. Then if you’re really serious, get a Glencairn, for nosing. Like an hourglass, Glencairns have wide (read: thicc) bottoms, which taper upwards to focus the aromas. It’ll help you detect the notes you’ve been missing.
You’ve seen in the movies that people who enjoy and savor wine swirl it around. Don’t do that with whisky. According to Eckstein, there’s no need to “agitate” the flavors of whisky, because unlike wine, they are already evaporating naturally.
Eckstein also says that beginners to whisky tasting can sniff three times: once with the glass held just below your chin, then again near your mouth, then directly to your nose. This helps you distinguish the flavor in layers, so you can take everything in, bit by bit.
Enjoy it like steak
One of the more straightforward pieces of advice discussed at the session was to treat your whisky like steak. Resist the temptation to scarf it down and you’ll be rewarded with fuller flavors. Sip your whisky slowly, let it move around in your mouth, and observe how it tastes at every step of the way, until after you’ve gulped it down (this aftertaste is referred to as the whisky’s “finish”).
Practice, practice, practice
It’ll involve a lot of drinking, but there’s really no better way to understand whisky than to drink different kinds and compare for yourself. Eckstein says it’s about “training your nose and palate to handle it.” By the same virtue, don’t expect to fully get whisky if you haven’t tasted more than two or three different kinds. Be patient.
Whisky is all about storytelling
Perhaps what’s most reassuring of all about this tasting session is that while there was an authority to guide everyone, it still felt subjective, as if the goal were just to share your own thoughts and experience of the whisky. There are stories about the casks and the aging processes and the years, but at the end of the day, these should all lend themselves to your own appreciation of the drink you have in your hands. Like any hobby, it’s just fun to share that appreciation with others.
The Macallan Whisky Flight is just one of the many experiences Globe Platinum has in store to delight customers as they stay safe at home. Learn more about how you can recreate the extraordinary by visiting the official website of Globe Platinum.