Woodsmill Distillery » How To Taste

There really is no right way or wrong way to “Taste” Whisky. The goal, we think, is to discern between beverages which are pleasing to you and those that are not. Beyond that, I suppose there is value in being able to convey your ideas and impressions to others, but your personal pleasure is the priority. Here at Woods Mill we have a slightly different need and we want to share our system with you. Woods Mill has developed a standard procedure, applicable to any spirit tasting. Please feel free to use our method or come up with a method of your own. The goal here is to grow an appreciation of distilled spirits. Whatever method you use… grow that appreciation! Feel free to use it or not; it seems to work for us. Please just enjoy your spirits responsibly.      Woods Mill Distillery

Spirit Tasting


Unlike casual tasting, it is important that WMD personnel be capable of sampling spirits in a consistent manner from which process adjustments can be made. This is in addition to the marketing uses of normal tasting notes. WMD personnel must be able to discern subtle nuances of spirit and determine the required process adjustments to mitigate or enhance any particular characteristic.

As a result WMD uses a systemic evaluation of any spirit which judges the appearance (eye), smell (nose) and taste (mouthfeel, palate, and finish), of a spirit sample. The sample is then assigned a score ranging numerically from 0 to 20. It is important to know that this score is for general appreciation and will help determine a trend in spirit development. This 20 scale is also an industry standard for spirit makers and will help to gauge WMD products against peer groups.


1. Pour the sample
2. Collect the data (Brand, Vintage, Bottler)
3. Evaluate the Eye (visual appearance, straight)
4. Evaluate the First Nose (initial smell, straight)
5. Evaluate the Mouthfeel (first sensations of tasting the spirit, straight)
6. Evaluate the Second Nose (more detailed evaluation of the smells after (dilution with water added).
7. Evaluate the Palate (Second tasting with more detail, diluted)
8. Evaluate the Finish.
9. Score the Spirit.

Obviously notes are imperative for reference of the spirit at a future date and collection of various tasting notes (of an aging spirit for example) will help document the development over time. Also notes will help in the marketing efforts of individual spirits.

Pouring the Sample:

A small sample should be collected in a clean, tulip shaped, smooth walled glass. Shape is important to help trap and hold scents dissipating from the spirit. A smooth wall is needed so as to not hinder visual evaluation. Give the sample a good initial swirl to allow the spirit to climb the walls of the glass, the set it down and collect the data from the source bottle or data sheet.

Collecting the Data:

Make note of the type, brand, distiller, vintage, strength, place of origin, bottler & location.

Evaluate the Eye:

Beyond simply gauging the color (which can be done against the linear chart on the worksheet), we are looking for clarity and body. For example, is there any cloudiness, and following the initial swirl, how does the spirit cling to the wall of the glass and for how long.

Nose 1 (undiluted, Straight from the bottle):

What is the initial impression of the spirit using the sense of smell? Generally we lump this initial impression into one of five general categories… Smooth, Smokey, Sweet, Sherry, or Mouthfeel (undiluted, Straight from the bottle):

Here we are looking for the initial impression of the spirit on the palette. Specifically, what is the texture (Warming, Cooling, Prickly, or Oily), then where on the tongue is the prevalent sensation (front, back, sides, and is the impression of sweet, sour, salty, or bitter?)

Nose 2 (Diluted):

At this point we add just a bit of water (preferably distilled water). The goal is to add just enough water to watch the “cloudy” swirls in the spirit. This indicates the vastly separated alcohols in the liquid adhering to the water. These newly formed “globules” of alcohol and water will often provide a much more intense fragrance and an obviously softer taste. Often, these intense fragrances and tastes will have a more discernable note and the taster must dig deep to recall these nuances. On our tasting sheet, we have listed the 8 typical categories from the Whisky Tasting wheel. We normally rank the top three notes of both nose and palate, and circle the predominant notes from those categories.

We combine two distinct characteristics within the “finish”. First would be the length of the finish (long, lingering, short, crisp); second would be the balance. Balance is a term we use to evaluate the continuity between the nose and the palate, and between the undiluted and diluted spirits. For example, if a first nose presents a sweet or sherry nose, but the second nose delivers a sulphury smell, we would call this unbalanced. Similary, if a spirit has a sweet nose and a sour tatse, that too would be unbalanced. We rate this on a scale of 1 to 3, with the higher number being more balanced.

To assign the final score of appreciation, we rate the general appreciation of the eye, nose, palate and finish, each on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the greatest appreciation). The sum of those scores would range from 5 to 20.

General Appreciation Score:

<5 Poor

5 to 7 Need to mix with something

8 to 10 A correct Spirit

11 to14 Good and enjoyable

15 to 17 Very good, Recommended

18 to 20 Outstanding!


Click here for a good Tasting Chart from WhiskyMag.com