Why is it so difficult to describe what you're tasting? It’s because your eyes, nose, and mouth are three highways that sensory data rockets down every time you sip your favorite dram. Those three roads cross at an intersection in your brain that has faulty traffic signals. Each of those poor little drivers sees nothing but green lights - full speed ahead! The ensuing collision leaves a mangled mess so bad the dental records can’t even sort them out. This catastrophic scene literally leaves you speechless.
How do you fix those faulty traffic signals? How do you turn all that raw data into an organized flow of descriptive words? By using a systematic approach to whiskey tasting.
So what does that mean?
It means you have to get your eyes, nose, mouth, and - most important – brain to work in the right sequence.
To help you do that, LeAnne and I developed the Sequential Tasting Method™ and created the Sequential Whiskey Tasting Chart to go along with it.
We’re happy to present it to you today for you to use free of charge.
Sign up here to get your free PDF copy of the tasting chart: Sequential Whiskey Tasting Chart. (You’ll need it to follow along.)
In this post, we’re going to talk about what the Sequential Tasting Method™ is, why it’s helpful, what it's for, and how to use it along with your Whiskey Tasting Chart. Ready?
What is the Sequential Tasting Method™?
Sequential Tasting is like Sherlock Holmes for whiskey. With just a few clues on appearance, aroma, and taste you’ll be able to make powerful deductions. For example, glance at your whiskey, take a couple whiffs, a sip, and you’ll know things like age, region, and base grain all without ever having seen the whiskey before. The smallest of clues will unveil a wealth of information to your keen senses.
What is the Sequential Whiskey Tasting Chart?
The Sequential Tasting Chart is a series of prompts for the appearance, nose, and palate of your whiskey. It’s like a detective’s notebook. It’s a place to write down your “clues.” It follows the Sequential Tasting Method™ in the order you should taste.
Why is the Sequential Tasting Chart helpful?
Because the chart systematically forces you to focus on specific sets of sensory data, thus fixing those traffic signals in your brain and preventing the collision we talked about earlier. With a little practice you’ll be able to successfully use the chart to analyze your whiskey and unlock tasting vocabulary.
What do you use a Sequential Tasting Chart for?
In addition to helping you figure out what’s in your glass at a blind tasting, we’ll also use the chart to help us dissect new and well-known whiskeys, and create a reference library. It’s both a powerful tool and a simple way to record tasting notes.
How do you use the Sequential Tasting Chart?
In six easy steps. If you’re in a setting where it’s possible, I suggest pouring yourself a dram to follow along with. I’ll be giving short explanations but if you have any questions or want further clarification, please use our Ask Us page. We’ll also be releasing some videos soon that show us using the chart.
Step 1: Forget everything you know about how your whiskey tastes.
This is the hardest part, especially for seasoned whiskey drinkers. If you’re new to drinking whiskey then you actually have an advantage here. This step is important because the more you know about a whiskey, the more preconceived ideas you’ll have about what to expect, and the more those ideas will affect what you “think” you’re tasting. The chart is designed to take nothing for granted and build the taste profile from the ground up.
Step 2: Hold the whiskey up against a white background, like a sheet of paper, and observe.
Here you’re using your eyes to learn what you can about the whiskey. You’ll be able to start deducing things like age, chill filtration or non-chill filtered, viscosity, etc. Mark your observations.
Step 3: Gently nose the whiskey with your mouth slightly open.
Start at the top of the Nose list and systematically work through. Don’t rush. Highlight or mark smells as you find them, and leave blank the ones not there. The scents listed aren’t every possible option. Instead, view them as prompts to jog your thoughts.
Step 4: Take a sip of your whiskey and mull it over.
By sipping your whiskey you’ll activate the smells that enter your nasal cavity via the back of your throat (retronasal olfaction) instead of from your nose (orthonasal olfaction). Start at the top of the Nose list and again systematically work through. You’ll probably find things you didn’t notice the first time.
Step 5: Take several slow sips and chew them, letting the whiskey coat your mouth.
Now we’re in the Palate section. Work your way through and mark your observations on proof, body, texture, finish, etc.
Step 6: Go over the whole chart noting what you did and didn’t mark, and make your deductions accordingly.
It’s time for the Final Assessment. Here’s where it all comes together. If you’re doing a blind tasting, make your final guess as to what you’ve been drinking. If you already know what’s in your glass, what did you learn?
When I’m done with my tasting chart I three hole punch it, date it and keep it in a binder for future reference.
This chart is a powerful tool in your learning arsenal. It gives your eyes, nose, and mouth an order of operation to work with, causing your thoughts to stay organized. Using it will let your tasting notes flow freely and be meaningful. It helps you focus on what you’re actually tasting so you get more out of your whiskey. And after a while you’ll have an index of tasting charts to reference, making you incredibly educated.
Friends, family, colleges, acquaintances, and passersby will beat a path to your door. You’ll be the go-to whiskey person.
You’ve got the chart. You’ve got the know-how. Now get out there and use it.
— Zac Smith