How to Taste Whiskey like a Pro for St. Paddy’s Day

‘Slanté’ (pronounced slawn-cha) is the Irish toast to wish others love, health, happiness and good drinking! So with St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, this is wise to remember while pub-hopping through rounds of Guinness pints, Bailey’s, and shots of whiskey.

By no means am I against shots, but instead of rushing whiskey down the hatch, consider appreciating the spirit’s nuances. Colin Spoelman, Co-Founder and Head Distiller of Kings County Distillery, in Brooklyn, has an infectious passion for all things whiskey and dropped major knowledge on how to approach it with ease. Whether you are a novice or a whiz when it comes to whiskey, let your palate lead you.

Top: Bourbon whiskey
Bottom: Moonshine/ White Whiskey

Like many people who like various liquors but freeze up when talking about them, Colin suggests it’s useful to taste spirits blind. When it comes to whiskey or any other alcohol, visit a pub, (say this holiday weekend), and “ask the bartender to pour four different whiskey’s and without telling you what they are. Try all and form your own opinion. Then ask for the big reveal.” Spoelman, continues, “you’ll probably be super shocked at what you like and discover. Honestly, in a blind setting you learn to just trust your pallet and it can be hard doing that. Everyone’s taste is different, and so there’s no ‘one way’ to enjoy whisky. [If you are a beginner,] it’s best to do a blind tasting flight and pick out the flavors [you detect]. That will help you decide which type of whiskey you care about and why.”

Do you notice vanilla? Caramel? Maybe a slight smoky essence? This is active tasting and you are becoming an expert in your own right. The more you actually note different flavors in each sip, the more you can appreciate your experience, thus learning to understand the spirit.  Also, to help lessen the “sting” of the alcohol, whiskey experts advise pouring spring water or ice into the whiskey to open up the flavor profile. The amount of water is up to you, as diluting the whiskey can help you identify various aspects to the whiskey. If some the original creators of whiskey, (the Scotch and Irish) prefer to add water, you can too! Here in the U.S., some people tend to add ice, but remember, whether you are drinking a spirit straight, wine, cocktail or beer, it’s your own adventure. You decide how to enjoy it. From there, you may want to know more about the brand and its backstory which may lead you to further connect with its mission, other products, and tell others about it.

Manhattan Cocktail using Kings County Distillery Whiskey

When buying a bottle, Colin advises customers to keep a few things in mind: the occasion, try local brands, and when in doubt, ask! The reason for buying whiskey matters: if purchasing the bottle as a gift, or celebrating a milestone perhaps a rare edition or slightly more expensive choice could be worth the investment. Yet, if you’d like to keep a stash on-hand, you don’t have to opt for pricier choice. “Common misconceptions I like to address are people think the older a whiskey is, the better it will be. As well as the more expensive, the better,” Spoelman expresses. “Those aren’t necessarily true. Older isn’t always better, it may be rarer, and sometimes rarity is fun, regardless of taste! On the other hand, you can find a pretty great whiskey hiding at an inexpensive price. If you are mixing it, for example, making an Old Fashioned which is very flavorful, there’s no reason to spend lots of money.” It’s always a solid idea to support local businesses, so if a store has a fantastic selection of local products, try that first and support your neighbors, aside from buying national brands. And of course, when you aren’t sure, always ask the knowledgeable clerks because they are trustworthy and believe in their inventory.

Interested in King County’s Selection? Here’s a bit of a teaser.

Three flagship King County products:

Straight Bourbon: 80% New York organic corn, 20% English barley; aged for at least two years in oak

Tasting notes – caramel, cinnamon, and spicy notes. Very smooth and touted by the New York Times, award winning by the SF World Spirits Competition

Peated Bourbon: 75% corn and 25% Scotch-grown barley  (meaning a technique use to influence a whiskey’s flavor during aging by  exposing it to peated smoke—a particular type of smoke on the barrels)

Tasting notes – dry, complexed bourbon, not heavily peated but the smoke creates a subtle Scotch-like after taste…basically the love-child of bourbon and Scotch.

American Single Malt: (single malt means the whiskey is from one single distillery and made from a malted barley grain) Tasting notes – honey, hay, burnt orange peel, dry, sophisticated

Moral of the story, explore the limitless world of whiskey with an open mind and palate!If you are in the Brooklyn Navy Yard area, a great place to start your exploration is at the Gate House of Kings County Distillery for an engaging tour and tasting. Slanté!

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