A Master Bourbon Distiller Shares 4 Tips For Tasting Whisky

tasting whiskyGreg Davis, master distiller, is part of the company’s 20-person tasting panel

Photo: Julie Zeveloff/Business Insider

Disclosure: Maker’s Mark paid for our travel and expenses to visit the distillery outside of Louisville, Ky.We recently had a chance to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto, Kentucky, one of America’s biggest bourbon producers.

Of course, no tour of a distillery would be complete without a taste of the final product.

We sat down for a tasting session with master distiller Greg Davis, who got his start brewing wine and beer in his college dorm room, and today runs Maker’s Mark’s entire bourbon-making operation.

He gave us some pointers about the right way to taste whisky. They’re good to keep in mind if you ever wind up at a work-related tasting event and don’t want to look like a complete amateur.

  • When tasting anything that’s high-proof, part your lips slightly. After you take a sip, breathe in through your nose.
  • Exhale in a long, smooth breath out of your mouth. Alcohol is volatile, and a controlled breath “keeps it from exploding in your sinuses,” Davis said.
  • Taste an amount that’s comfortable for you. There’s no need to swig the entire glass. And don’t be embarrassed to swirl and spit, if whisky isn’t your thing.
  • Pay attention to how the whisky affects all your senses, including the scent, the feeling on your tongue, and the colour.
whisky tasting

Photo: Julie Zeveloff/Business Insider

As for the right way to drink bourbon, it used to be standard to drink it straight up.But these days, anything goes, Davis said, adding, “bourbon is a bog, bold spirit. You can throw in ice and water, and you can’t mess it up.

Asked how he takes his bourbon, Davis said it depends on the season.

In the winter he drinks it with a few ice cubes, and in the summer he adds more ice.

Oh, and if you don’t know the difference between bourbon and whisky, here’s a quick guide:

  • There are lots of types of whisky, but all whisky is distilled from a mash made from grain (usually some combination of corn, wheat, rye, or barley), and aged in oak barrels.
  • Bourbon is a specific type of whisky distilled from no less than 51 per cent corn, and aged in new charred oak barrels. Bourbon doesn’t have to come from Kentucky, but most of it does.

Now find out how bourbon is made >

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