Become a whisky expert in 15 minutes

Plus: two exclusive Heathrow Rewards competitions

April sees the return of our annual Whisky Festival. Once again we’ll be celebrating all things whisky with a perfect blend of tasting events, dining experiences and even a chance to win a distillery tour for two . But even if you aren’t flying through Heathrow, you needn’t miss out. Here’s how to impress your friends with your whisky knowledge (as well as a home-mixed cocktail or three).

Ready to be an expert?

Charles MacLean

Whisky is acknowledged to be the most complex spirit in the world. It takes great skill to make, and a long time to mature, so it rewards contemplation and proper appreciation.

Whilst it may take 15 years or more for some whiskies to reach their full maturity, we can turn you into a connoisseur in just 15 minutes. Let’s hear from Charles MacLean, a leading expert and World of Whiskies‘ chief adviser.

The Art of appreciation

1. Flavour

Flavour is a combination of smell and taste. Much of the assessment and appreciation of whisky is done with the nose, so it is essential that the glass you use has a bowl (so the liquid can be swirled and warmed in the hand) and a rim which narrows (so as to direct the aroma to your nose).

2. Appearance

The first stage of appreciation is to look at the colour of the liquid, which will range from pale gold to deep amber. The colour comes from the casks in which the spirit has been matured. If you like, you can then swirl the liquid and consider the droplets which slide down the glass, called ‘legs’. Slow, thick legs suggest the whisky will have a big texture; fast, thin legs indicate a lighter style.

3. Aroma

Swirl the liquid in the glass and sniff it. Your first impression is likely to be simply ‘whisky’, but sniff further. Does it have any physical effect – prickly, warming, cooling?
Try to distinguish groups or layers of aroma: are there any cereal/malty notes? Fruity notes (fresh, dry, tinned, cooked, citric)? Floral notes? Peaty/smoky/medicinal notes? Woody notes (vanilla, oak)? Do any of these scents remind you of anything? Add a drop of water and try again.

4. Taste

‘Evaluation by mouth’ is usually done at reduced strength, after you’ve added water. Hold the liquid in your mouth for longer than usual and first assess its texture (smooth, creamy, acerbic, etc.). Then note the distribution of primary tastes: sweet (front of tongue), sour/acidic, salty (sides of tongue), bitter/dry (back of tongue. ‘Smoky’ — not a primary taste — is also registered here). Note the length of finish (short, medium, long) and any aftertaste.

5. Development

Set the glass aside, then return to it after 10 minutes and see how the aroma and taste have changed. Sit back and simply enjoy it without analysis!

Whisky cocktails to try at home

Boulevardier cocktail

60ml whisky, 60ml Campari, 60ml sweet vermouth, ice, orange slice for garnish
Combine the whisky, Campari and sweet vermouth in a cocktail shaker and fill it halfway with ice. Stir until the outside of the shaker is frosted, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the orange twist. Serves 2.

Pear Fizz cocktail

Muddle 1tbsp tarragon with 60ml whisky and 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Add 300ml pear juice and shake over ice. Strain into coupe glasses and top with prosecco. Garnish with a slice of pear and a sprig of tarragon. Serves 2.

Enjoy a cocktail at Heathrow

Whisky Festival mixes from airport restaurants and bars.

Lazy Old Fashioned

The classic cocktail with a bartender’s twist, made with Monkey Shoulder, flavoured bitters and fresh orange.

£7.95 from:

Jameson, ginger and lime

A simple combination of Irish whiskey, ginger and lime. Add lashings of ice. Enjoy.

£7.25 from:

Competition Time

For this year’s Whisky Festival we, in association with Heathrow Rewards, have not one but two great competitions.

The Glenrothes Distillery, Speyside

Win an exclusive Glenrothes Distillery tour

To celebrate The Glenrothes 19 Year Old Heathrow Exclusive Single Cask, you can win an exclusive tour of The Glenrothes Distellery for two people in Speyside.

Enter for your chance to win

The Jamesons cocktail kit

Win a Cocktail Kit with Jamesons

Join Heathrow Rewards today for a chance to win one of 10 Jameson cocktail kits, complete with canvas roll-up bag and Jameson Caskmates IPA bottle.

The kit contains a Boston shaker with two tins, hawthorn strainer, bar spoon, wooden muddler and a Sine Metu branded jigger. You’ll also a bottle of the new Jameson Caskmates IPA Whiskey. Each kit is worth over £80

These fabulous kits are up for grabs to help celebrate the launch of the new Jameson Caskmates IPA triple distilled Irish whiskey. Finished in craft IPA-seasoned barrels, the result is a whiskey that features the signature smoothness of Jameson alongside hints of light hops, fresh citrus and floral notes, and can be served neat, on the rocks, or paired with a beer.

Enter the prize draw today

Heathrow’s Whisky Experience

Celebrate the wonderful world of whisky with us. Our April festival brings, whisky-inspired dining, special offers and more.

Order whisky to collect at Heathrow


Please drink responsibly, and remember that you must be 18 or over to buy whisky in the United Kingdom.