Long associated with elegance, sophistication and images of dignified mature gentlemen smoking cigars, the world of whiskies – and its flavours and brands – may prove baffling and even daunting to any beginner, but appreciating the drink isn’t as tough as you think!

Charles MacLean, leading whiskey expert and official ambassador of the Whiskey Festival at DFS Changi Airport, dishes four simple steps to appreciating whiskey – and sounding like a pro while you’re at it. 

Charles MacLean with a glass of whiskey in front of The Whiskey House Charles MacLean with a glass of whiskey in front of The Whiskey House

Charles MacLean is numbered among the world’s leading authorities on whiskey

Step 1: Examine the whiskey’s appearance

Charles MacLean examining the appearance of a glass of whiskey Charles MacLean examining the appearance of a glass of whiskey

Studying the whiskey’s appearance is the first step to determine its origins

Study the whiskey’s appearance after pouring a glass. This is as simple as identifying the whiskey’s colour. For instance, American Oak whiskies are a brighter shade of gold as compared to European Oak whiskies, which are a darker shade.

Charles also recommends putting the whiskey through the ‘beading test’ by shaking the whiskey bottle vigorously and studying the bubbles that form. How long these bubbles (or ‘beads’) take to dissolve will indicate the level of alcohol present in the whiskey.

For instance, shaking a whiskey with an alcohol level of less than 50% will result in bubbles that dissolve very quickly. Conversely, whiskies with alcohol levels of more than 50% will form bubbles that take a longer time to dissolve.

Step 2: Take a whiff of the whiskey

Charles MacLean taking a careful whiff at the top of the glass Charles MacLean taking a careful whiff at the top of the glass

Let the smell come to you and don’t try to search for any one scent as it’s usually a combination

After pouring yourself some whiskey, swirl the beverage around in its glass, lift it to your nose and take a whiff of its scent. The scents your nose picks up from these whiskies are called nose-feel effects.

Generally, there are two types of nose-feel effects – hot and cold. Some whiskies embody both hot and cold nose-feel effects. For instance, the Bowmore whiskey smells prickly and spicy initially, but also has a cool and drying scent towards the end.

Pro tip: Adding a few droplets of water takes away the extra prickliness and opens up new, subtle scents that you may have missed.

Step 3: Sip the whiskey and savour it

Charles MacLean taking a small sip of the whiskey from the glass Charles MacLean taking a small sip of the whiskey from the glass

Smelled enough? Get ready to taste your whiskey

Before you swallow the whiskey, swirl the liquid around in your mouth and consider the primary taste of the drink: is it sweet, sour, salty, bitter, or umami? Umami is generally a savoury taste reminiscent of meat or broth. On how to taste, Charles recommends to use the tip of your tongue to taste the sweetness, the sides for saltiness and the back of your throat for the bitter and umami tastes as you’re swallowing.

As you savour the drink, continue to  examine the flavours that surface gradually in your mouth.

Thanks to Charles’ handy Whiskey Wheel, beginners can now pinpoint a whiskey’s general taste, such as fragrant, fruity, woody or peaty.

An image of Charles MacLean’s Whiskey Wheel An image of Charles MacLean’s Whiskey Wheel

Charles Maclean’s Whiskey Wheel serves as a guide to describing your drink like a pro

If a whiskey tastes peaty for instance, a drinker should also attempt to identify some secondary notes that come across in the overall ‘peaty’ drink. The Bowmore whiskey for instance, has maritime flavours reminiscent of hemp rope used on ships, a whiff of sea breeze and even the scent of bonfires.

Step 4: Consider the whiskey’s aftertaste, or finish

Charles MacLean studying the whiskey’s aftertaste Charles MacLean studying the whiskey’s aftertaste

Don’t forget to keep track of your thoughts by writing them down!

After downing the drink, its aftertaste (or finish) may change as it slides down your throat. For instance some whiskies may leave fizzy, cooling, or fiery aftertastes, which may be different from the primary taste a drinker experiences with his first sip. Be sure to note how long the aftertaste remains: does it linger, or does it dissolve immediately?


Ultimately, even the cheapest whiskey might seem like the sweetest nectar on earth, depending on the occasion, company and ultimately, a person’s mood, said Charles.

Armed with these four simple steps, you’ll be more than ready to venture into the fascinating world of whiskies, and impress your friends with your whiskey appreciation knowledge.


The Whiskey House
DFS Wines and Spirits Duplex, Terminal 2, Level 2, Departure Lounge.

CONTEST: Win a set of autographed books from Charles MacLean!

Changi Airport is giving away a set of autographed books (Charles MacLean's Whiskypedia: A Gazetteer of Scotch Whisky and MacLean's Miscellany of Whisky) to three lucky winners! Follow the simples steps below and stand a chance to win. 

Step 1: Share this article with your friends on Facebook, tell us your favourite whiskey in the caption and tag @ChangiAirport. Do remember to make the Facebook post public.

Step 2: Email us at social@changiairport.com with the screenshot of your 'Share' on Facebook, together your email address linked to your Facebook account.

The contest will end on 18 August 2017. Winners will be randomly selected and notified, good luck!

Contest is open to anyone residing in Singapore. Changi Airport Group reserves the right to amend or substitute the prizes at any time without notification.


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