How To Train Your Nose and Palate To Distinguish Spirits

How To Train Your Nose and Palate To Distinguish Spirits

How To Train Your Nose and Palate To Distinguish Spirits

Have you ever disliked a popular spirit-based cocktail? If so, you are not alone. Simply gulping it down can cause a burning sensation which will mask the unique flavors.

Learning how to nose and taste distilled spirits can be a fun and rewarding experience. You can make better cocktail decisions and confidently order drinks at your favorite bar or store when you know how to distinguish the flavors and aromas of various liquors.

In this blog post, we will provide step-by-step instructions and tips to help train your nose and palate to better appreciate the nuances of spirits. Whether a beginner or an experienced drinker, this guide will help you develop your skills and enjoy your drinks even more!

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How to Nose and Taste Distilled Spirits

In this tutorial, Master Mixologist Brian Van Flandern shows how to nose and taste the Ron del Barrilito Rum. This Puerto Rican rum is produced by the Fernández family, who have been making this premium distilled spirit since the 1880s.

The Ron del Barrilito 3-Star Rum is deep amber, aged between 6 to 10 years in Spanish white oak sherry barrels. It is made in limited batches and contains no artificial ingredients or colorings.

Step 1: Smelling the spirit

The human nose can distinguish between trillions of different scents, whereas the tongue can only perceive five basic tastes.

When it comes to spirits, most of the flavor comes from the aromas rather than the taste. This is why nosing is such an important skill for spirit tasting.

Use the acronym A-F-E-W, which will allow you to describe the various smells and tastes specifically:

A ⇒  Alcohol (Ethanol, Isopropyl, Acetone, etc.)

F Fruit (Apple, Banana, Cherry, Apricot, Pineapple, etc.)

E Earth (Nuts, Spices, Granite, Chalk, Leather, Grass, etc.)

W Wood (Oak Barrels, which offers caramel, vanilla, and soft and mellow flavors)

Hold the glass at a 45-degree angle and ensure a space of two inches between your nose and the glass. Breathe through your nose and mouth, careful not to breathe in too deeply.

Swirl the spirit around in the glass to release more of its aromas, and take another sniff. See if you can identify any specific aromas, like floral scents, citrus, vanilla, oak, etc.

One nostril may perceive the smell of liquor much more strongly than the other, so try to sense it on the side that mildly perceives the scent.

Step 2: Tasting the spirit without breathing

Hold your breath, take your first small sip of the spirit, and hold it on the tip of your tongue to detect the different flavors. If you simply exhale after taking a sip, you will miss out on the aromatic experience.

Try and identify various tastes using the A-F-E-W acronym described above. Once you swallow the drink, you can exhale and continue breathing normally.

Step 3: Tasting the spirit while breathing

Now that your tongue is coated with the natural oils from the distilled spirit, breathe through your nose and mouth, take a bigger sip of the liquor and swallow it.

Doing so ensures the alcohol creates warmth, flowing from your chest to the back of your tongue and through the nose when you exhale.

This will also bring various flavors and help you experience diverse aftertastes. Once again, try to detect the taste using the A-F-E-W acronym.

Pro Tip: If you plan on tasting multiple batches of liquor on the same day, drink water in between to maintain hydration and reset your palate from time to time.

Ron del Barrilito Old Fashioned Recipe

Ron del Barrilito Old Fashioned Recipe

Now that you know how to nose and taste distilled spirits, here's a quick recipe that is sure to please! Featuring Ron del Barrilito Rum as its base premium aged spirit, this cocktail is a delicious and refined twist on the classic drink.

The Classic Barrilito Old Fashioned has a very smooth taste that is perfect for any occasion, whether you're sipping it by the pool or enjoying it at a party. Simply mix all the ingredients and enjoy!



  1. Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass. Stir it for 10 seconds.
  2. Strain the drink into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice.
  3. Squeeze the orange peel on top and place it on the glass.
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Tips for Nosing and Tasting Spirits

Tips for Nosing and Tasting Spirits

Neutral surroundings

The first step to nosing and tasting spirits is finding the ideal setting. You'll want to find a quiet place with little to no distractions so that you can concentrate. The area should also have some natural sunlight or a white background to assess the drink's color accurately.

Additionally, a neutral setting means the venue shouldn't have any strong smells or fragrances. Avoid areas with flowers, fresh layers of paint, perfume, or any foodstuffs. Similarly, keep away from cigarettes and other such aromatic substances.

Start with a clean slate

Make sure you haven't just eaten anything spicy or strongly flavored, as this can affect your ability to taste and smell different spirits.

Taste in the morning

As per The Herald, it is best to taste and smell wine or liquor when our tasting and smelling powers are at their peak. Consequently, you can detect every note in the flavor and even subtle aromas pretty well in the morning.

Smell and taste on an empty stomach

Not only does the time of the nosing and tasting session matter, but also your appetite. When you're on an empty stomach, your senses are the strongest. More powerful senses help you pick up every fragrance and tasting note possible.

Pick the right glassware

The ideal glass for tasting and smelling distilled spirits is a flute or a tulip with a smaller circumference. The sides should taper inwards towards the top, resulting in the concentration of aromas going directly to your nose.

Compare spirits side-by-side

If you aim to sample multiple spirits, it is best to do so according to the type. Batching drinks together will help you compare them against one another and pick the best one easily.

For example, if you want to sample multiple single malts, you should first stick to this batch rather than tasting rum in between.

Refresh your palate with water

When tasting multiple spirits, cleansing your palate in between is essential. The best way to do this is to drink water, which can also help you stay hydrated throughout the session.

Taste at the right temperature 

If the spirit is thoroughly chilled, its fragrances reduce significantly. The coldness of the drink can also numb your taste buds, making it difficult to detect tasting and aromatic notes.

You cannot heat the liquor, so the best approach is to hold the glass in your hands for a couple of minutes to slightly increase the drink's temperature before slowly sipping it.

Things to Avoid During Alcohol Tastings

Things to Avoid During Alcohol Tastings


Smoking will overpower your senses and contaminate the area with the nicotine smell. Consequently, it reduces your ability to detect subtle fragrances of the liquor.

Gulping the drink down

Tasting a distilled spirit is different from drinking it. The first sip should be small, followed by a 50% larger sip. Doing so helps you focus better on the subtleties.

Strong fragrances

Before and during the tasting session, avoid any kind of fragrances, such as overwhelming perfumes, strong disinfectants, etc. Smell the empty glasses first to ensure they are devoid of detergent scent.

How Long Do Distilled Spirits Last?

An unopened bottle of distilled spirits, such as rum, gin, vodka, whiskey, and tequila, will last indefinitely if stored in a cool, dark place. But the quality of the spirit may decline over time, so it is best to consume it within 1-2 years of opening.

How Can You Tell If a Spirit Has Spoiled?

When it comes to distilled spirits, the most common type of spoilage is oxidation. This happens when the spirit is exposed to oxygen, causing it to interact with the liquor’s molecules and change its flavor.

Oxidation can occur during storage, transport, or while the bottle is open and sitting on your home bar. But because spirits are less reactive to oxygen than wine, their flavors will be consistent whether you store them in a decanter or the original bottle.

One way to tell if a distilled spirit has oxidized is by color. If the spirit was originally clear but has now taken on a brown or yellow tint, it has most likely oxidized.

Another telltale sign of oxidation is a change in flavor. Oxidized spirits often taste flat and musty and have lost their original aromas.

If you're doubting whether a spirit is still good to drink, give it a quick sniff and taste before consuming. If there are any unpleasant flavors or aromas, it's best to play it safe and ditch the drink.

Is Distilled Alcohol Stronger?

The alcohol by volume (ABV) in distilled spirits is higher than in other alcoholic beverages like beer and wine. This is because distilled spirits are made by distilling fermented grain, fruit, or vegetable mash. The distillation removes water from the mixture, leaving a concentrated form of alcohol.

What Mixes Well With Rum Besides Coke?

  • Lemon or lime: The citrusy flavors of lemon and lime can help brighten the taste of rum.
  • Cranberry juice: This is a popular mixer for rum because it adds a touch of sweetness and tartness to the drink.
  • Pineapple juice: The sweetness of pineapple pairs well with the rum flavors.
  • Ginger beer: This is a popular mixer for rum because it adds a spicy flavor to the drink.
  • Honey: This can be used to sweeten rum drinks.
  • Vanilla extract: A few drops can add a lovely flavor to rum drinks.
  • Chocolate syrup: This can be used to make a delicious Rum and Coke float!
  • Coffee: This is a popular mixer for rum because it adds a rich flavor to the drink.
  • Spices: Rum can also be flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, or other spices.

Is Rum Better Warm or Cold?

It depends on your preference. Some believe rum tastes better when served cold, while others prefer it at room temperature. Ultimately, the best way to find out is to experiment and see what you like!

There are also many ways to enjoy rum. It can be drunk straight, on the rocks, or mixed with various drinks. No matter how you choose to drink it, rum is a versatile spirit that is sure to please. 


Training your nose and palate to distinguish spirits is easier than you think. The key is practice, practice, practice!

Start with a spirit you know well and compare it to others by trying to identify the different aromas and flavors. Get involved with the online cocktail community and ask questions. There are also several great books on distilling that can teach you everything you need to know.

Once you’ve got the hang of it, move on to more complex spirits and continue practicing. With time and patience, you’ll be able to discern the nuances between types of liquor like a pro.

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