Optimize Your Palate For A Better Time Tasting Whiskey - The Whiskey Wash

Optimize Your Palate For A Better Time Tasting Whiskey

By Katelyn Best / November 29, 2016

Whether you’re hosting a tasting or just sampling a new dram, an important part of the whiskey-tasting process is clearing your nose and palate. It’s especially important if you’re trying a lot of whiskeys in one sitting, when it’s easy for your senses to get overwhelmed.

Since sampling whiskey involves two steps—nosing and tasting—so making sure you optimize your palate is also a two-part process.

Resetting your nose is as simple as taking a whiff of something other than whiskey; lots of people use coffee beans or grounds for this purpose. That definitely works, but there’s another method that requires less forethought: between sniffs of whiskey, just smell your sleeve.

Optimize Your Palate

Tasting a lot of whiskey requires managing your palate. (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

As far as your actual palate, there are a number of strategies, some straightforward, some less so:

  • Rinse with room-temperature water (cold water can numb your taste buds). If you’re blessed with unchlorinated, neutral-tasting tap water, what comes out of your kitchen faucet is fine. Otherwise, bottled spring water or distilled water is the way to go.
  • If you find that water doesn’t quite clear lingering flavors, eat a plain Saltine or some white bread. Crucially, make sure it’s unsalted—as you probably know if you’ve ever used it to help pound a shot of bottom-shelf tequila, salt affects your palate.

Some more off-the-wall palate cleansers are also out there:

  • Sip on a light, unhoppy beer before you start tasting. The logic—which I find a little dubious—is that beer and whiskey are both made with barley. It’s like warming up for a run by jogging, I guess?
  • Instead of crackers or bread, try a bite of cucumber.
  •  Some people sip milk between drams. The idea here is that milkfat coats your tongue and neutralizes tannins. There are studies you can read confirming this, if you have a lot of time on your hands—but on the other hand, whiskey, compared with, say, red wine, isn’t all that tannic, so eliminating astringency probably isn’t the priority.
  • Speaking of wine, taking a peek into the world of wine tasting reveals some real oddities. One palate-cleanser favored by oenophiles is Graber olives, a low-salt, extra-oily brand. Weirder still, other wine experts recommend rare roast beef. Both are supposed to neutralize tannins.

At the end of the day, everyone’s palate is different, and whiskey tasting is highly personal. Experiment with a few ways to optimize your palate, figure out what you like, and go with that.


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