Mark Twain once quipped, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”
That’s truer now than ever. Inspired by distilling technology medieval monks brought to Ireland—the first recorded mention of the spirit was in an Irish history book from 1405—whiskey recently replaced vodka as the top-selling spirit in the U.S. And its popularity continues to grow. “We’re in the middle of whiskey’s golden age, with more brands and varieties available than ever before,” says spirits expert Noah Rothbaum, author of The Art of American Whiskey.
One of the best ways to enjoy the trend—and educate your palette in the process—is to try a whiskey flight, he says: “Wine lovers have been doing back-to-back comparisons for decades, but the whiskey flight is fairly new.” With that, we asked Rothbaum to create three custom flights to try at home with friends, each progressing in flavor and complexity.
But before you even think of lifting a glass, here are the basic tasting rules to follow to get the most out of each sip:
1. Pour lightly
Don’t fill your glass—you want an ounce or two at most.
2. Swirl the whiskey
…So it coats the glass, then breathe deeply with your nose about an inch from the liquid. Open your mouth as you inhale to let the alcohol fumes escape so you can better discern other flavor notes.
3. Add a splash of water to your glass
Seriously. Even a few drops will help reduce that familiar burn you get from the alcohol in the whiskey, enabling you to pick up the other subtle flavors present.
4. “Chew” your drink
Roll the liquid around in your mouth, exposing it to your entire tongue so you can pick up each unique flavor.
5. Breathe through your nose
…As you swallow so that the fumes rise up into your sinuses—the best way to appreciate the spirit’s finish.