Are you biased when it comes to your favorite whiskey? Perhaps you gravitate toward a certain brand because it’s what you’ve always liked or a relative first introduced you. Or maybe you love the story behind a particular whiskey because it calls to mind a memorable time on vacation. Whatever the reason, have you considered tasting whiskey blind? Tasting “blind” is a way to taste without knowledge of a whiskey’s identity and the main reason to do it is to get rid of any biases. As a result, you can learn to really taste the whiskey, rely on more heightened senses and cultivate a true awareness of your own preferences.
Maybe you’ve heard about the studies that revealed the “snob effect” where subjects favored a certain wine or spirit because it was higher in price. If two identical wines were served, the subjects preferred what they believed to be the more expensive option. Turns out, there’s a psychological reason behind this interesting behavior. “The reward and motivation system [of the brain] is activated more significantly with higher prices and apparently increases the experience in this way,” says professor Bernd Weber of the Center for Economics and Neuroscience at the University of Bronn. In a nutshell, consumers correlate price with expected quality. And in some cases, the more you know about a whiskey beforehand, the higher chance you have of being influenced before you’ve even tasted it.
As most whiskey (and other spirits) fans know, quality is subjective. Your own personal feelings, tastes or opinions will always factor in. All the more reason to try tasting blind. The main goal behind it is simple: blind tasting eliminates any way for outside factors to influence your assessment of the overall taste. This could be through price, labeling, the look of the bottle or even the actual color of the spirit. Ready to give it a shot at your next virtual whiskey tasting? The five tips below can help you get started.
5 Tips for Tasting Whiskey Blind
Designate a tasting coordinator
Before you get together for a tasting, designate someone neutral who can coordinate the whiskey. The only thing participants should know is the general style of whiskey you’ll be tasting. And when the time comes have everything be prepared in another room.
Use dark-colored glasses
A study in the Journal of Consumer Research involving 60 to 150 undergraduate students revealed that the color of orange juice had an impact on its perceived sweetness. When in doubt: go with dark glasses to hide the color of the whiskey.
Include a benchmark
This step is optional but it can be helpful to have one whiskey that everyone knows to provide a valuable benchmark while blind tasting. This approach can help calibrate your palate as you’re tasting different flights of whiskey while taking into consideration how the blind whiskey compares to the benchmark.
Save discussion for later
When everyone is tasting blind, be sure to save the discussion until everyone has had a chance to taste the whiskey. Again, the point is to eliminate any kind of influence, and having an obvious positive or negative reaction can sway a fellow taster. This is especially true if there are various levels of experience. You should also avoid trying to guess the whiskey’s identity.
Commemorate the details
The discussion is the fun part! When it’s time to reveal the whiskies and begin discussing, have a handout that includes the date of the tasting, as well as the name, proof, price and style of each whiskey for tasters to refer back on. It ends up being a helpful reference for future tasting and purchasing.
In summary, when assessing the quality of a good whiskey, there’s really no way to be completely impartial is unless you taste blind. Of course, there are also good reasons to not taste whiskey blind, like learning about a whiskey’s story before you decide to try it. If you’re looking for an easy way to be introduced to and find unique types of craft whiskey, check out RackHouse Whiskey Club. RackHouse scours the U.S. looking for the best distilleries with the most interesting stories to curate a unique subscription box filled with full-sized bottles of hard-to-find small batch whiskey. We’re building a community of premium craft whiskey drinkers and you’re invited. Join us!