How to Drink Whisk(e)y and Develop your Palette | Erica Macasso | Skillshare

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How to Drink Whisk(e)y and Develop your Palette

teacher avatar Erica Macasso, Whisky and Gin Specialist

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Your Assignment


    • 3.

      Flavour Wheels


    • 4.

      What is Whisk(e)y?


    • 5.

      How To Drink Whisk(e)y


    • 6.

      What is Whisk(e)y Made from?


    • 7.



    • 8.

      Barrel Aging


    • 9.

      Smokiness in Scotch


    • 10.

      Let's Taste!


    • 11.

      Cheers! Thanks for watching


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About This Class

If you're someone who enjoys whisky but would like to learn more about flavour, or you have been interested in getting into whisky but find it intimidating, you should take this course! You'll learn from a professional how to pick out individual flavours and become more aware of complex flavours in your favorite drinks. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Erica Macasso

Whisky and Gin Specialist

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: hello and welcome to how to drink whiskey and develop your palate. This course is all about learning Count, appreciate and pick out the fine flavors that are present in a glass of whisky. Before we get started, I'll just tell you a little bit about myself. I'm Eric and the Caso and I have a masters of brewing and distilling science from Heriot Watt University in Scotland. So I'm very into the science behind all spirits and beer. But today we'll just focus, really, on whiskey. My whiskey experience comes from working as a whiskey blender for some pretty big brands and then doing some consulting work for smaller distilleries, getting their whiskey blends right where they want him. And so I've also worked as a distiller and a tour guide at Distilleries, and part of my experience as a tour guide was offering samples. Teoh people who came through for two hours and things obviously, but often I would here like No, I'll skip it. I don't know anything about whiskey like you're just gonna waste it on me, and I hear that you know, like New Year's Eve parties and things I'll I'll have a whiskey that I'm really enjoying and I want to share it and people will say, Oh, don't waste it on me I don't know how to taste it. So if you're one of those types of people, thank you for being here and whiskey is for everyone. So it's not something that's beyond anyone's palette or capability. If you want to learn how to drink whiskey better, you've come to the right place and hopefully, by the end, you'll feel confident that you can pick out specific flavors from the whiskey. 2. Your Assignment : our class project for this course is to create an aroma kit. So essentially, we're going to focus on the smells before we even taste with me. The first thing we do to really get to know it is smell it. So we're going to learn how to do that better. Basically, you might read the back of a label and see words like smoky or green apple were spicy or whatever other descriptors air on there. There are plenty of how different whiskeys smell and taste, but we're gonna pick a label or we're gonna I will show you some flavor wheels, and then you can look around your house to see if you can find anything that matches the descriptors on the flavor wheel. So maybe cloves or cardamom or sticks of cinnamon, green apples, other fresh fruits, chocolate leather cigars, things that you have around the house that you can add to your new aroma kit. So you can either gather those things right now, or as we go through these next two lessons, I'll have a couple of suggestions as well. But check out this flavor whale that all set show you up next, and we're gonna bring those things together, and then you you've got to list what they are, and then with each one, take a few minutes and, like close your eyes and released, just start to smell it and then describe it. So I want you to definitely write down your experience with each of these things you've gathered and more than just naming it. So if it's cloves, for example that I'm working with, I don't want to just say it smells like cloves. I want to say it's spicy and earthy and medicinal and warming and cozy and Christmassy. So the MAWR description. We can give it the better and then better six in our memory so that the next time we smell that within all the other flavors in a whiskey were better at picking it out and identifying it. So that's the assignment, and there are no wrong answers, and actually the weirder kind of the better. So embrace it and take your time and really get descriptive of all the things that you're putting in your aroma kit later on, we'll do a tasting and will reference back to this list, and it's even better if you keep these actual physical items handy as well. You'll end up meeting some whiskey to try it against. So if you've got some just random things around your house spices, fruits, mothers, all that kind of stuff, as well as a whisky of your choosing, could be a bourbon or Scotch or whatever it is. Those are the things you're gonna need to make this coursework. Let's get started. 3. Flavour Wheels: the first place to start when we are looking for some flavor wheels is obviously Google. So if you start by typing in whisky flavour wheels, that will bring up a lot of different search results. As we can see here, there are a lot to choose from. So if we pick one, we'll see. The general outline of a flavor wheel is broken down into categories, so within the center here were given broad categories of flavor that are found in whiskey. Then, if we take a closer look, each of those categories is given a descriptor, and each of those descriptors is followed by a list of things that fall under that description. So you can start using a flavor wheel to help gather ideas of what you can use in your aroma kit. We have a few different options, so look through some different ones again with the categories and specific descriptions. So now that we understand the general layout, we can look at a few different options and get more inspiration from different charts, maybe different types of whiskey, so different bourbons or Canadian whiskey and gather these materials based on these categories. Check out a few, and then we can get started 4. What is Whisk(e)y?: Before we get any further, let's just take a minute to talk about. What is whisky? In the case of this course, I'm just gonna focus on whisky in general without going into too many specific details about Scotch or Irish whiskey or Canadian or American whiskey or Japanese whiskey. So without getting too bogged down and types of whiskey or single malt versus blend things like that, just the general overarching term of whisky kind of the umbrella term. So we're gonna look at different ingredients that can be used to make whiskey, the fermentation process, the aging process and a little bit about where smoke comes from and how all of those individual aspects affect flavor that we end up with in our final glass. So in this case, whiskey is made from grains, and it's fermented and distilled and aged in oak. In the next few lessons, L focus on different places that flavors come from in the finished product. I might mention some whiskies from certain places that are good examples of the flavors were discussing, so that's one way to tie in place with flavor 5. How To Drink Whisk(e)y : First up is a hotly debated topic about how to drink whiskey. What is the right or the wrong way? You know? Do you have it? Meat. Can you have it with ice or with water? Can you have it in cocktails or with a mixer? What's the wrong way? What's the faux pas? As a whiskey professional, I would like to tell you, right way to drink Whiskey is, however you like it best. So if you prefer whisky in a mixed drink with ginger ale or coke, have at it. As long as you're drinking whiskey and you're enjoying it, that's the main thing. There's no wrong way, and it's for everyone. That being said, there's some interesting things I just want to point out here. So if you are kind of new to drinking whiskey, I might suggest having it with ice ice will dull the hot burn oven. Alcohol so kind of gets rid of that alcoholic sensation when you're drinking whiskey, so if you're not used to drinking spirits without mixers, it might be a good place to start on. On that note, I recommend larger ice cubes rather than smaller or crushed ice. Large ice cubes will be cold for longer. They'll take longer to melt so they won't dilute the whiskey as much. But if you prefer more diluted whiskey, that's cold. Go ahead. Don't let me stop you for me. Personally. I always try to drink whiskey neat before I add anything to it just to kind of understand it more on a base level first and then Generally, I will add water in small drops, so I'll just show you what I mean here. So if I'm gonna add water to whiskey, I only want to do it a small amount of the time. And that doesn't take any fancy equipment, so I'll show you. Hear what I do. I've gotten a whiskey, I've got some water and a spoon. I'll dunk the spoon and then put a few drops into the whiskey so I'll start with it neat. I'll add a couple drops, maybe one or two. Give it a swirl in a smell, and I'll see how it changes. And it will change. So something that's fun to do your way. When I get to that sweet spot, I'll stop adding water, and I know that it's right where I want to be when I am enjoying the rest of that glass. One thing that I do think is important is glassware, so you don't necessarily need the tulip shaped Glenn Karen glass, but something with a tapered top compared to the bottom. So it's thicker here and thinner here. I do think that's worthwhile. So you want something that you don't fill up all the way, and you can give it a swirl. But then this head space above the liquid will trap some the aromas, and it will funnel them into your nose. So a glass like this is very good for being able to really smell the aroma from the whiskey , so I do think that's important. 6. What is Whisk(e)y Made from?: the first place that we get. Flavors that are affecting our final whiskey product are the starting materials, or what the whiskey is actually made from. So all whiskey is made from grains. But those grains could be barley, rye, wheat, corn or even rice. And each of those starting materials comes with their own unique flavors. So some of whiskeys you might be familiar with as being barley or anything that's labelled multi or single malt. Those air made with barley bourbon has to be made with at least 51% corn. That other 49% could include more corn. Or it could be wheat. Or it could be rice or a combination of different grains. So a 51 at least of corn for bourbon? Um, some whiskies air made with wheat like maker's mark. But we'll get into that in a second here. So as long as we know that this starting materials are grains and each grain has its own set of flavors, that's a good place to start. Barley is probably one of the most common grains used. Your whiskey is labeled as a single mult than all of the green 100% has to be barley. Barley has a very distinctive cereal note, so I mean, it's hard to say Try single malt. And that's what barley tastes like. Cause no to single malts are gonna taste the same. If you do, try to single malt side by side. You can try to pick out that serial note that's common to both of them. Another grain is corn, and corn has kind of a distinctive taste. It's a little bit sweeter, and it's also the fattest of all the grains that can be used. So it's very rich and very smooth mouth feel if you've got a tin of corn at home, that kind of works. But I suggest more. A fresh call of corn, a fresh ear of corn like and sniffle parts of it, the husk on the outside and right the way through to the corn. But like specifically hot buttered corn, that's bourbon. Then there's things like rye rise, typically a bit more spicy, so things like cloves or cinnamon or even cumin or cardamom, often those air flavors that are associated with rice. So check your cupboards, and then there's wheat, which is a lot more delicate wheat sometimes has a Citrus or floral hint to it. So if you're lucky enough that someone recently bought you flowers, give those sniff and add them to your assignment. Otherwise, think of flowers, air, the garden, maybe things you've smelled in the past and maybe some Citrus zest or some lemon juice. Those are things you might find with wheat, so examples you might wanna try. Um, corn would I would suggest a bourbon wheat. I would suggest Maker's mark, which is bourbon made with wheat. Or, if you're in the UK than head, club or head Clubman, our wheat barley again single malt. And often you can get mixtures of these sayings. RAI 100% rye would be a crown oils northern harvest rye. That's 100%. You might find a ride. That's only a portion of the ingredients used, so you have some Ryan, some barley, and you get a combination of flavours coming through that gives you a baseline of the flavor that comes from the main ingredients. And then we'll build more layers of complexity. On top of that, with the upcoming stages 7. Fermentation : one very key process, which, I might argue is the most important process in the making of whisky is fermentation. That's the stage that takes the sugar, which comes from the starting materials, the grains and that sugar gets converted into alcohol, without which we wouldn't have whiskey. And that's done by the yeast. So the yeast are responsible for fermentation, which makes alcohol from the sugar. That's their main goal is fermentation, but on the side. They also produce other flavors, so this is a kind of a trickier one to get examples for. For example, all of Scotland uses the same strain of yeast, so you won't get different nieces to strain variations on their associative flavors coming from Scotch but certain distilleries in other parts of the world. So like there's a few American distilleries that are quite proud of their different yeast strains. So if that's something you want to learn more about, you could go and purchase whiskey from a distillery that has a range of whiskies fermented with a range of yeasts and try them side by side to see the way that the fermentation characteristics change the overall flavors in the whiskey. So this one's a little bit trickier to understand or to pick out flavors from. But it is another way that you can have different flavors ending up in your whiskey. But I mean yeast itself. You can add that tear flavor list. Maybe you make pizza, dough or bread. Give that a smell and add the smell of yeast to your flavorless. 8. Barrel Aging: If yeast are the most important part in making whiskey, I'd have to argue that aging and maturation is the most important part in contributing flavor toe whiskey. After spirits are distilled, they take on a lot of flavor in the maturation process. So to begin with, you have your own ingredients. Then that gets for amended to make alcohol than that gets distilled to extract that alcohol than the alcohol goes into a barrel. And these barrels are made of oak. So part of the aging process is a bit mysterious because we don't fully understand as scientists what actually happens in the barrel. There's a lot of mystery that still goes on. What we do know is that where the oak comes from changes the flavor. If we start by looking at bourbon, which has to be aged in new American oak barrels, first thing we can look at is the fact that the Okkas American and typically we know that American Oak has more vanilla tight flavors. It's a little bit sweeter somewhere vanilla cream, soda root beer, some things like that, and we also know that it's new, so nothing else has been put in that barrel before, which means that it's quite dry. A lot of the tannins that air in the oak are gonna move into the liquid, and they're gonna end up drawing your mouth out so you can feel the astringency when you have a bourbon, which is directly because of the oak. Then there's European oak, which is generally more tannic and spicier, so it's a little bit more drying. You can feel it on your tongue, Um, but it also has things like cloves and allspice flavors. So that's the types of oak. And then it depends on how many things the barrel is held before it's held that whiskey as well. So in the case of bourbon brand new oak, full flavor impact from the barrel. Once that's done, you can't reuse that barrel to make more bourbon with it. But you can use it to make other types of whisky in different parts of the world, so you could use it in Scotland or in Canada or in Ireland or Japan, and that would be the second time that barrel is being filled. Bourbon, in the first case, took a lot of the stronger tannin zone, and that really big head of oak. So the next time AGES whiskey, it's gonna be a bit mellower. It's not gonna have the same impact. There's other barrels used as well, so there could be barrels that used to hold wine or sherry. Nowadays, even things like tequila and rum are being experimented with. Barrels that used to hold one thing are now being used to age whiskey, so the previous content of the barrel will also impart flavour. Things like sherry barrels are pretty common, especially in Scotch, and they have more of, ah dried fruit flavor that gets added to the whiskey. Another thing to make note of is depending on where you are in which whisky region they could be called barrels or casks, so same idea aging in oak. 9. Smokiness in Scotch: I'm giving smokey whiskey. It's separate little section because I'm often told Oh, no, I don't like Scotch. It's too smoky. And that's something that's not necessarily true. So not all scotch is smoky. That smoky flavor comes from Pete. So when we think back to barley being the main ingredient in a lot of scotches, especially single malt scotches, barley before it arrives at a distillery goes through a process called molting. And without getting into all the details of that, there is just kind of the basics that we need to know is that the barley grains get wet and then they need to get dried off again using hot air. Sometimes that hot air comes from a fire that burns Pete. And if that fire burns Pete and that hot air moves through the barley to dry it than that, Pete Flavor will be making that barley into Pete id Multi, it's called, and anything that's made with petered malt will have a smoky flavor. A lot of the barley in Scotland is not Pete id, so you won't end up with that peaty smoky flavor in the whiskey. Um, but if you do some things, you could try without, like buying a full bottle of peaty whiskey. Just to kind of get an idea of the smells would be to try some lapsing shoe Shaun T, which is very similar to smokey whiskey or carbolic soap, or even sometimes smoked meat. So if you are interested in smoky whiskeys and that's something you also want to work on, there are definitely different smoky flavors within Smokey whiskey. It's not just Pete. Try adding different things to your flavor journal, including carbolic soap or lapsing shoes, song or smoked meat or a campfire, because they all manifest differently in different, smoky whiskeys. If you are interested in Smokey whiskey than you could try something from Isla, which is an island off the coast of Scotland where a lot of peaty whiskies come from So things like like a woolen or Lefroy Gorka Leela, Um, or you could try things from other islands like Isle of Skye has Talisker Distillery. They've got peaty whiskey or juror. A few of their expressions are PD, so that's a couple of options for you to try their This sounds good to you 10. Let's Taste!: Okay, Now that we know where flavor comes from, let's give it a taste. So in this case, we're gonna put all of the stuff we've gathered together to good use. So hopefully by now you've gone through smell that all major notes, very descriptive. And now we're gonna put them up against actually sampling whiskey. So to start with, grab your favorite whiskey that you've got and take a small poor of it and then add water about 50 50. So right now, we're not focusing on having an enjoyable DRAM. Well, it's still gonna be enjoyable, but we're more focused on learning how to pick out specific flavors. So by diluting at 50 50 we're taking away the influence of the alcohol. So we're not gonna overwhelm our senses with that burning alcohol and will be able to pick out better the actual individual flavors. So start by diluting it. Mix it together, give it a big sniff. Go ahead and close your eyes and just focus on what you're smelling. Yes, and then, especially if we read the back of the label and it's got things listed that you've got in front of you go back and forth between something you've collected and the whiskey. So for me, I'm almost getting something waxy. So I might smell a candle and then the whiskey and see if that pops out or a slice of green apple and then smell the whiskey or smell a stick of cinnamon and then the whiskey. Or, if you've got freshly cut wood, maybe in your garage. Sample that and then the whiskey and see if you can start to really highlight some of these flavors and learn to pick them apart one by one. Once you've found one, move onto the next. So try not to get too stuck on the one thing and have that overwhelm every other flavor because there's a lot happening in there. Once you've done that and you've written notes, which is important, to keep yourself engaged with it is to go back and forth, right the notes and then cheers. Take your time with it and have fun 11. Cheers! Thanks for watching: Okay, connoisseurs, we've done it. We've learned where the flavor comes from, and whiskey from the starting materials through fermentation, maturation and the molting process a little bit on. Then we've learned how to pick out specific flavors by comparing a whiskey to the actual things that are listed on the label or on a flavor wheel. The more things you smell, the more you can add them to your smell repertoire. So make sure to next time you're outside, maybe you smell freshly cut grass or you slice a lemon and you get that burst of Citrus. Add those to your sensory bank and pull them out. Next time you're smelling a whiskey, enjoy everyone.