First of all, a distinction must be made between two types of spirits that are to be drunk or tasted. If it is a simple blend, many people will drink it on its own or mixed with other drinks. However, if it is a quality spirit, a luxury blend, a single malt or a quality bourbon, it will be necessary to focus a little more on tasting.
The shape of the glass is important. If you take a small glass with a very open shape, the aromas of the spirit will not open. Only a rise in alcohol vapours will be perceptible. It is advisable to take a tulip-shaped glass, rather flared, which is not too high. Connoisseurs have found the glass of Spanish sherry or copita to be the ideal glass.
Light spirits are best drunk as an aperitif. They will whet your appetite. These light spirits include young spirits, Lowlands spirits and Irish spirits. All these spirits have fine, light, fresh and subtle aromas. However, they are shorter on the palate and have less complexity.
Digestive spirits are much more complex and much more powerful. They include single malts from the Highlands, Irish spirits distilled three times, and old bourbons. These are spirits aged for a long time in oak barrels, which give them, among other things, that interesting woody, vanilla and toasted touch. Of course, you will also find in this category the single malts from the Scottish islands like Islay and Sky, so typical and strong with their iodised and peaty side. It should be noted that the spirit can also be drunk on other diverse and varied occasions. How about a long walk in winter in very cold weather and tasting a good spirit in front of a fire on the way back ?
Les amateurs de spiritueux vous diront qu'il faut soit boire et déguster votre spiritueux seul ou l'accompagner d'une légère touche d'eau. Les Écossais ont l'habitude de mettre une « brume » d'eau dans leur spiritueux. Évidemment, si par exemple le single malt titre plus de 45°, il conviendra de réduire quelque peu ce degré par adjonction d'un peu d'eau pour revenir aux 40 à 43° idéals pour les papilles. Les spécialistes savent tout de même déguster des spiritueux purs allant jusqu'à 65° d'alcool.
Spirits lovers will tell you that you should either drink and enjoy your spirits alone or with a light touch of water. The Scots have a habit of putting a "mist" of water in their spirits. Of course, if for example single malt has a titre of more than 45°, it is advisable to reduce this degree a little by adding a little water to return to the 40 to 43° ideal for the taste buds. Specialists know how to taste pure spirits with an alcohol content of up to 65°.
As far as the addition of ice to a glass of spirits is concerned, it is better to be more careful here. Ice can be used on poor quality spirits, but when tasting superior spirits, this is not recommended. Why not? Simply because ice cubes or crushed ice will have an adverse effect on the aromatic expression of the spirit by lowering the temperature of the spirit and drowning it in melting water.
In the mouth, the spirit will be first of all very cold and therefore not very expressive, then will be strongly diluted. However, if the consumer is used to using ice cubes in his spirits, he should be advised not to use ice cubes produced with chlorine-rich concession water, but rather spring water. As one can imagine, even small amounts of chlorine will have a very negative effect on the taste of the spirit.
Spirits can have different hues and shades of color. For example, there are young spirits with very light shades, very pale straw colors. If the casks used are new, one will find tones of old gold quite amber to strong amber copper. If the barrels used are second-hand barrels, especially bourbon barrels, one will find paler tones of gold rather green. Finally, if the barrels used are Oloroso sherry barrels, you will find shades of amber to brown. A slight touch of red will always be part of the hues of these spirits.
In the spirits, we find a great aromatic richness in the olfactory level. You will find cereal, herbal and floral aromas, fruit, woody and spicy, but also iodized, smoky and marine aromas; all this obviously depending on the type of spirit you are tasting. In each category, we will be able to develop many types of references. For example, in the fruit aromas we will have, depending on the spirits, fruit aromas ranging from apricot to lemon, banana, nut to dried fruit, fine to peach etc..
As in wine tastings, we will find primary aromas of fruits and other flowers, but also more complex aromas of a bouquet combining the complexity brought by aging in oak barrels and for example the aromas of peat and iodine due to the know-how and location of each single malt distillery.
In the mouth, spirits can also be very different. First of all the attack of these spirits will be creamy, light or rather hard and astringent. One will also find spirits giving impressions of acidity, bitterness or rather acid sweetness.
Bourbons, for example, have rather more acidic attacks with very little bitterness. In contrast, the first-price blends will be rather hard and often not very expressive. The aromatic development of spirits on the palate can be very different: the best spirits will have a very long aromatic development with great complexity and length on the palate, i.e. the aromas that develop successively will remain anchored on the palate for a very long time.
Obviously, all the parameters can cross and only the very good spirits have a great aromatic palette with complexity both on the nose and in the mouth. Their finish is very long. However, most spirits consumed, especially in basic blends, will not take you on a very long journey through the aromatic expressions of the spirit world. This is for a very simple reason, during their production, we preferred to obtain lighter and above all cheaper products (little malt, a lot of grain alcohol and continuous distillation) with a much shorter ageing capacity and less complexity. These basic spirits are elaborated for a quick and cheap sale. For the others, the production of a more complex spirit distilled several times in batch, with a strong typicity and a much longer ageing period, and therefore more expensive, is favoured.
In summary, there are as many types of spirits as there are different tastes.It is advisable to first get to know each other and then to taste several kinds of spirits in order to see which ones you prefer. Still, as with wine and food, you don't have to drink or eat the same thing over and over again. Some moments will make you prefer lighter spirits, others rather complexity, length in the mouth and shared pleasure.