To Swirl or Not to Swirl; That is the Question – Bourbon Dispatches Issue 8

This week Katelyn Best of the Whiskey Wash took on the subject of swirling whiskey. If you came over to the Bourbon tasting world from the Wine tasting world, you might believe this is an essential part of tasting whiskey.  Plus, it makes you look and feel sophisticated, like a real Whiskey snob.

But the question --- is it absolutely necessary to enhance the tasting experience?

I'll let you decide that for yourself.

But here's Kate's breakdown:

Wine changes substantially and quite quickly (within minutes or hours) when exposed to air, which is why experts recommend decanting, at least with certain wines. Spirits oxidize much more slowly than wine. That means that while the swirl encourages those aromatic compounds to evaporate, that’s about all it does—you’re not substantially changing the character of the whiskey by exposing it to more air.

The Pros of Swirling

  • Swirling Gives You a Gander at a Whiskey's Legs

One reason for swirling is to let you get a look at a whiskey’s legs—the drips that form as the liquid recedes from the sides of the glass. Legs can tell you a few things, if you know what you’re looking for: since alcohol is more viscous than water, heavier, slower-moving legs indicate higher ABV. Heavier legs are also said to indicate an older whiskey.

  • Swirling Evaporation and the the Nose

The other reason to give your whiskey a spin before you sniff it is to promote evaporation, which sends aromatic chemicals towards your nose. Evaporation is crucial, since without it, you wouldn’t be able to smell whiskey at all. On the other hand, it does occur without your help; a quick swirl merely speeds the process along.

The Con of Swirling

  • Swirling Leads to Burning Sniffs

You can’t get aromatic compounds to evaporate without also encouraging alcohol to evaporate, which is why you’ll get a harsh ethanol burn if you inhale those aromatic vapors too sharply.

If You Swirl, Sniff Lightly

So Best's conclusion (which I tend to agree with) is "just be more delicate than you would with a glass of wine and you’ll be fine."