Whiskey Tasting – Quick Thought #3 “To like or not to like”

Tell me what you taste.. Not what you like.

I will say right up front I may get criticized for this post!

At times when we sit down with people at whiskey tasting, you can overhear people comment ” I like this” or ” I don’t like that”.

This is completely natural and the joy of finding new whiskey we like is great.

However, I believe that to really develop our tasting skills, develop our palate and broaden our whiskey appreciation it is crucial to suspend judgement of what we like or dislike. It should be irrelevant when we are analyzing a whiskey.

This whiskey is not good, Is that true? – or is it a case that we just dont like a particular whiskey?

If we only use our personal preference as a yardstick for “judging” whiskey then we cannot progress our appreciation of whiskey. Our terms of reference will, by definition, be biased. I have stated openly that I find it hard to “get into” bourbon. I find that the flavour profile does not suit me. I do not buy bourbon and I will choose an alternate every time.

I still try and understand bourbon and will try and break down each bourbon I sample to write tasting notes.

The like/don’t like issue makes it very difficult to progress our critical judgement of a whiskey. Judging whiskey could, I suggest, be structured around 4 key questions and our personal preference can get in the way of answering these questions.

Question 1.. Is there duff notes in the whiskey.? If one dislikes a whiskey (like my Burbon!) then I may misinterpret a dislike for duff notes.

Question 2.. Does the whiskey work? this is a BIG part of whiskey assessment and what it really means is do the component parts work together and make sense. Is there imbalance in the whiskey, Has it been over maturated? etc..

Question 3.. What are the descriptors of the individual component elements of the whiskey? front to back (nose to finish ) and from top to bottom (signature main notes to subtle nuances)

Question 4.. What style/ category and bracket does the whiskey fit into? how does it compare with ( or more importantly how does it differ from) other similar styles / type of whiskey? If we have too narrow a viewpoint from our likes and dislikes we will not be able to compare objectively.

(We will explore these 4 key questions and others in more depth in future Quick Thoughts)

At the start of this Quick Thought I said I may get criticized, the reason being is that to bring whiskey tasting to a clinical level of ignoring what one likes or dislikes can appear cold and undermine the pleasure of whiskey drinking

I believe that the joy of discovering new whiskey and learning the nuanced differences between different whiskeys far outweighs the disadvantages of spending time clinically sipping while documenting every possible note and nuance.

The joy can be in expanding our vocab of tasting notes, developing the ability to categorize whiskey better and learning how to reveal the layers and layers within each whiskey.

That makes the ” hard work” worthwhile I believe.


3 thoughts on “Whiskey Tasting – Quick Thought #3 “To like or not to like”

  1. Intriguing post! I think your four questions have a lot to offer, and I look forward to your further discussion of them. As for the issue of like-or-don’t-like, my take is generally different. I don’t think posing that question upfront is somehow inimical to doing a good analysis, unless one simply stops there.


    1. Hi thanks for your comment.. you are right of course you can decide if you like it or not and then go on to do more detailed analysis. I think it’s helpful, however, to practice trying to push that question to the background as it allows me to prioritizing the more analytical questions. My first question is always “what am I getting from this” I find I’m more open minded that way.. but whatever works for people.. thanks Ivor


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