Whisk(e)y Wisdom, Whisk(e)y How To

Should You Swirl Your Whiskey?

I’m told you’re supposed to swirl your wine when tasting it. Does this also apply to whiskey? Let’s find out.

The answer to the above question is found in another question. Why do you swirl your wine? If we understand why wine is swirled, then we can see if the same holds true for whiskey.

Wine is swirled to introduce oxygen. Why? Because when wine oxygenates it starts to break down. That breaking down process “opens up” the wine’s aromatics and flavor. Wine oxygenates relatively quickly, that is, within a few minutes. That’s why swirling for a couple seconds actually does change the flavor.

Now, does your whiskey need to oxygenate, like wine, to open up the flavor?

In short, the answer is no. Why? Because your whiskey would evaporate before it could oxygenate the way wine does. Distilled spirits, like whiskey, oxygenate much slower than wine. How much slower? Consider, once opened a bottle of wine needs to be consumed in one to five days before it goes stale. A bottle of whiskey? Once opened you have about five years to drink it, if properly stored. That’s around six hundred and eight times longer.

Well, we now know you don’t need to swirl your whiskey, like wine, to open it up. In fact, the evaporative effects of ethanol do plenty to oxygenate and open up your whiskey’s flavor.

So, should you swirl your whiskey?

Maybe. It depends on what you’re trying to do. While you wouldn’t swirl your whiskey for the same reasons you would wine, there are other things swirling does.

Swirling lets you check the viscosity, or legs, of your whiskey. Give your whiskey a swirl and then watch how the legs run down the glass. From this, you can learn things like proof and age.

Swirling evaporates ethanol. Does your whiskey taste or smell too hot? Give it a few swirls and then let it sit. Swirling does to ethanol what shaking does to carbonation. The more you swirl, the more ethanol evaporates, the less your whiskey burns.

Swirl for show. Come on, who doesn’t want to look like they know what they’re doing? Whether you like it or not, swirling your glass can makes you look like an expert. Now please, don’t be obnoxious about it. A subtle swirl and contemplative glance are all you need. (Warning: This behavior can be linked to snobbery.)

What conclusion have we arrived at? Whiskey is not wine. You can swirl, but you don’t have to swirl. As with most things whiskey, it’s a matter of preference.

— Zac Smith

P.S. A word of caution. If you do swirl your whiskey, give it a moment before dipping your nose in for a smell. As mentioned, agitating your whiskey will release a plume of ethanol. Trust me, that’s not the first thing you want hitting your senses.