Whisk(e)y How To

When Going Blind Is an Advantage


When it comes to whiskey, going blind could be your biggest asset. What am I talking about? Blind whiskey tastings of course. In this article, I’m going to talk about what a blind and double blind whiskey tastings are, how to have one, who it’s for, and what the benefits are.

What is a blind whiskey tasting?

A blind whiskey tasting is when you don’t know what’s in your glass, but you know what it could be. That definition is a little abstract, so here’s an example of what would happen at a blind tasting:

Placed in front of you are three glasses of whiskey. Also in front of you are three bottles of whiskey. You can read the labels so you know what the whiskeys are, but you don’t know which whiskey is in what glass. Your job now is to use your powers of reasoning and pair the glasses of whiskey with the right bottle.

That is a blind whiskey tasting.

What is a double blind whiskey tasting?

A double blind whiskey tasting is when you don’t know what’s in your glass, and you have no idea what it could be.

For example: You sit down to three glasses of whiskey. You have no clue what’s in them. You also don’t know from what bottles they were poured. The only thing you have to go on are your senses.

That is a double blind tasting.

How do you do a blind or double blind tasting?

First, you need an assistant to pour your whiskeys. It should go without saying but, they need to do it in a way that you don’t know what they’re pouring. Whether that means you go to another room, turn around, close your eyes, or whatever works for you. Your helper also needs to mark the glasses so they know - and you don't know - what’s in them. This is especially important if you’re trying multiple whiskeys so that nothing gets mixed up. On that point I suggest not doing more than three whiskeys at a time. Any more than three and your brain starts to get overloaded.

To keep it challenging, the person pouring can give you one of each, two same and one different, or all three the same. Knowing any combination is possible will help keep you focused. It’s at this point you need to decide if you’re doing a blind or double blind tasting.

If it’s a blind tasting, have your assistant show you the bottles the whiskey came from. Now you get to try and pair up glass to bottle.

If it’s a double blind tasting, have your assistant hide the bottles out of view. When you sample your whiskeys, you’ll be judging them purely on what your eyes, nose, and mouth tell you. This can be a lot of information to process, so I highly recommend writing notes on your observations as you go. An easy way to keep organized is to download and print off our free Whiskey Deductive Tasting Chart. For an explanation on how to use the chart click here.

So it’s fun for everyone, LeAnne and I take turns pouring for each other. That way we each get involved. If it’s not engaging for your assistant, they’ll likely get tired of pouring your whiskey and find something else to do. Then how will you have a blind tasting?

Who are blind tastings for?

They’re not for indifferent whiskey drinkers. They’re not for the reluctant. And they’re not for people who are afraid of being wrong.

Blind tastings require a lot of effort. While there is the effort of setting aside time, readying your supplies, and finding an assistant – the real effort is required mentally. You’re in a heightened state of observance, constantly deducing, comparing, and questioning. Then, when the answers are revealed, there’s a good portion of being wrong and going back to reevaluate, question, and learn.

Blind tastings are for the adventurous, the curious, and the humble.

Are they a lot of work? Yes, but they’re fun and the benefits are well worth it.

What are the benefits of blind whiskey tastings?

For one, you learn a lot. You’ll learn more about the flavors and characteristics of whiskey, because you’re forced to rely on your senses, than any other means of study. Instead of being an open-shut case, you’ll fall deeper into the whiskey and sip slower.

If you’re playing the match glass to bottle game, the times you don’t get it right are valuable learning opportunities. Go back and analyze why you mismatched. It’ll hone your tasting skills for the next time.

You’ll be free of bias and propaganda. Whether we admit it or not, advertising and personal bias – positive or negative – has a powerful effect on how we view things. Those views can flavor the way we taste our whiskey. By tasting blind, you’ll find out what kind of whiskey you actually enjoy, instead of what you think you like. Are you brave enough to challenge what you know?

A blind tasting will help you set aside your expectations. One time, LeAnne and I were doing a double blind tasting and I poured her three of the same whiskey. Her face was laced with concentration as I watched her repeatedly go back and forth between the three - smelling, swirling, and chewing. I’ve never seen her work so hard at analyzing something. I saw her face scrunch up into, what I can only call, agitation as her mental tug-of-war continued. Finally, she wrote down three different but similar tasting notes. Her face was priceless when I told her all three were the same. Even with the almost nil expectations you have with a double blind tasting, she was still expecting all three whiskeys to be unique. A powerful lesson was learned. When it comes to blind tasting, leave your expectations at the door.

For the whiskey enthusiast, blind tastings are a must. Reading about whiskey and doing open label tastings are beneficial, but there’s an end to how far that road will take you. To travel farther you’ll have to sail open seas blind, but not blindly. Your reasoning capabilities and senses will guide you to new places of understanding whiskey.

Are you ready to set sail?

— Zac Smith