When it comes to whisky, you either love it or hate it and usually, there is no in between. I fall into the latter category so I was really surprised when I attended the Johnnie Walker Keep Walking South Africa event and actually enjoyed whisky for the first time in years. Reginald Mthembu (or Reggie), Reserve Brand Ambassador guided the tasting and showed us how to taste whisky.

How to taste whisky like a pro

Reggie recommends that you always start with a clean glass so there is no cross-pollination of flavours. We generally eat/drink with our nose first before we taste, so this is important.

how to taste whisky

  1. Pick up the glass, bring it to only your right nostril and leave it there. Inhale the whisky for a few seconds. When done, switch and repeat on the left side. You’ll notice that each nostril picks up different scents.
  2. Place the glass just above your upper lip, open your mouth, keep it open, breathe in with your nose and out with your mouth. You’ll be able to taste the whisky this way too!
  3. Take a block of ice and put it in your mouth for 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, take out the block of ice and have a small sip immediately after taking out the block of ice. WARMS
  4. Take another block of ice and add it to the whisky, let it rest for a few seconds, and take a second sip.
  5. Add a few drops of water, then take another sip.
  6. If you like mixers, add a mixer of your choice, but only like 50ml, then take your fourth sip.

You would’ve tasted whisky in four different ways by now, and there is no wrong or right way. “It’s important to find a way that works best for you,” says Reggie.

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If you are a beginner, Reggie suggests starting with a cocktail, however, if your palate has got to a point where it understands whisky, you can have it neat or with a block of ice. I hadn’t touched whisky in years and actually loved the cocktail. It was refreshing and delicious.

whisky cocktail
The Grocer: Johnnie Walker Gold with lemon juice, vanilla syrup and apple juice topped with soda and garnished with orange zest.


We got to try Johnnie Walker Blue, R2289 and I couldn’t believe how smooth and warm it was when I had a sip after the ice. It was actually really good.

Whisky or whiskey?
If it is Scottish, it is whisky. The Irish spell it whiskey, with an extra ‘e’. American whiskeys often use the Irish spelling.

Now that you know how to taste whisky, which whisky should you try?

According to Reggie, there are three main categories in whisky: Single Grain whisky, Single Malt Whisky and Blended Whisky and he recommended trying the following:

“When trying out Single Grain Whisky, Haig Club Clubman is the one to start with as its really delicate and delicious with toffee, salted caramel and crème brulee, really welcoming and friendly.”

Haig Club Man how to taste whisky
Haig Club Clubman, R289


“Looking at Single Malt Whisky, Cardhu is the one, the first distillery to be operated by a female called Helen Cumming. Her warm heart and kind nature transcended into her recipes and you can feel it in the whisky as is oozes with apple, honey and peach notes.”

cardhu scotch whisky how to taste whisky
Cardhu Scotch Whisky, R519


Lastly, with blended whisky, there are two options. “If the person tasting is looking at sweeten the whisky so that it accommodates their palate, I suggest Johnnie Walker Red as it goes well with Ginger Ale. The gentle spices from the Ginger Ale negotiate well with the spices, honey and deliciousness of the Johnnie Walker Red.”

johnnie walker red how to taste whisky
Johnnie Walker Red, R264


“Secondly, if the consumer wants to try a whisky neat, I would suggest the Johnnie Walker Green that has four single malts and lends a single malt buffet kind of experience.”

Johnnie Walker Green how to taste whisky
Johnnie Walker Green, R689


Once you’ve bought a bottle of whisky, it is important to store it correctly.

“Whisky should be stored away from any place that has heat, for example, the window because of the sun, any warm place whether in the kitchen or heated place in the house. Cold environments are better but never freezing. It is important to also lay the bottle on its back so that the cork is damp all the time.”

Any final thoughts?

“A lot of people think that whisky is harsh but it’s actually not. The metaphor that I use is that whisky is like a cologne when you put it on, it’s overwhelming, but if you give it some time, it makes sense.”

Always drink responsibly and enjoy life every day in every responsible way.