Take a Sip
You’ve seen. You’ve sniffed. Now it’s time to sip. “Your first sip, especially if it’s your first drink of the night, almost doesn’t count,” Tardie says. “Your palate isn’t sensitive to it yet. Always have a sip, get rid of it, then do it again. Then you’ll get more flavors.” Once you have passed through the initial shock waves, you’ll start to notice that actual flavor you’ve heard so much about, from sweet honey and caramel, to deep woody tobacco and leather, to spicy peat and salty brine.
Let the whisky rest on your tongue longer than you might another drink. Roll the liquid to the sides of your mouth and press it to the roof of your mouth. “You want it to acclimate. It’s also mixing with the saliva,” Tardie says. A good mantra for neat scotch might be “drink less, taste more,” he adds. “Drinking whisky is about letting it sit on your palate and almost reflecting on it.”
Don’t Forget to Breath
You’ve heard it from your trainer at the gym, now you’re hearing it from your trainer at the bar: Remember to breath.
“After you swallow, open up your mouth and exhale,” Tardie says. “I think that’s one thing people get wrong when they drink whisky. They hold it in and that heat gets trapped in your chest. But if you take a drink, open up your mouth and exhale, that air moving across your palate will activate some of your taste buds.” It’ll also prevent the heat from building inside you like a hot air balloon.
Enjoy the Afterparty
Don’t discount those lingering flavors after you’ve swallowed that first sip. Before you go in for a second, really take note of how the whisky finishes. Insiders know the afterparty is the real party. “For me, what separates a good whisky from an amazing whisky is the finish,” Tardie says. “I look for a complicated palate, something that develops, building on your tongue.” As you savor the finish, you may find new tastes emerging from the whisky’s ethereal imprint on your palate.
Trust Your Instincts
It can be intimidating to sit in a crowded tasting room as everyone around you shouts out their thoughts on a whisky. Someone says they can taste peaches, while another claims to detect notes of tarragon, but all you’re getting is Frosted Mini-Wheats. Go ahead, call it out. Tardie insists that any answer to the question “what are you tasting?” is the right answer. After all, everyone has a different palate and frame of reference. Tardie also adds that those people who seem the shiest to speak up in a class are often the most insightful when they do offer tasting notes. And expressing those thoughts out loud can help others put words to their abstract impressions.