How do professional tasters taste? How do you properly smell and taste a whisky and describe your notes? Are there set guidelines, standards or norms?

The answer to the last question is:”yes their are!”.

Should you as a whisky blogger or whisky enthusiast abide by these standards? God no, but if you are aware that there are standards you might recognise the use of standards in tasting notes by some of the top whisky critics. They do know these standards and use them.

In the world of standard and norms there are industry standards, national standards, international standards and global standards. It is this last category I will use as a selection for this blog.

Global international standards are organised in an organisation called the International Organisation for Standardisation or ISO.

Within the ISO a system is made to categorise different subsets of standards. The subset for “sensory analysis” is part of the “food technology” grouping.

  • 67 – Food technology
  • 67.240 – Sensory analysis

Within the 67.240 are about 51 standards that are “published” or “under development”. There also are amendments that I will not list.

The standards have a fixed identification. For instance the ISO 3591:1977 Sensory analysis — Apparatus — Wine-tasting glass

  • ISO: to identify the ISO standardisation organisation,
  • 3591: a unique number for the standard,
  • 1977: the year the standard was published / updated,
  • Sensory analysis : reference to the 67.240 category,
  • Apparatus: identification of a subsection within the 67.240 category,
  • Wine-tasting glass: a general description of the standard.

There are several standards for “Apparatus”:

These are several standards for “Methodology”:

  • ISO 5497:1982 Sensory analysis — Methodology — Guidelines for the preparation of samples for which direct sensory analysis is not feasible
  • ISO 8588:1987 Sensory analysis — Methodology — “A” – “not A” test
  • ISO 11036:1994 Sensory analysis — Methodology — Texture profile
  • ISO 16820:2004 Sensory analysis — Methodology — Sequential analysis
  • ISO 5495:2005 Sensory analysis — Methodology — Paired comparison test
  • ISO 11056:1999 Sensory analysis — Methodology — Magnitude estimation method
  • ISO 4120:2004 Sensory analysis — Methodology — Triangle test
  • ISO 10399:2004 Sensory analysis — Methodology — Duo-trio test
  • ISO 8587:2006 Sensory analysis — Methodology — Ranking
  • ISO 6658:2005 Sensory analysis — Methodology — General guidance
  • ISO 13301:2002 Sensory analysis — Methodology — General guidance for measuring odour, flavour and taste detection thresholds by a three-alternative forced-choice (3-AFC) procedure
  • ISO 6564, Flavour Profile (tasting notes)
  • ISO 5496:2006 Sensory analysis — Methodology — Initiation and training of assessors in the detection and recognition of odours
  • ISO 29842:2011 Sensory analysis — Methodology — Balanced incomplete block designs
  • ISO 3972:2011 Sensory analysis — Methodology — Method of investigating sensitivity of taste
  • ISO 11132:2012 Sensory analysis — Methodology — Guidelines for monitoring the performance of a quantitative sensory panel
  • ISO 11136:2014 Sensory analysis — Methodology — General guidance for conducting hedonic tests with consumers in a controlled area
  • ISO 13299:2016 Sensory analysis — Methodology — General guidance for establishing a sensory profile

Next to all these there are standards that describe in a general fashion:

  • ISO 11035:1994 Sensory analysis — Identification and selection of descriptors for establishing a sensory profile by a multidimensional approach
  • ISO 11037:2011 Sensory analysis — Guidelines for sensory assessment of the colour of products
  • ISO 13300-1:2006 Sensory analysis — General guidance for the staff of a sensory evaluation laboratory — Part 1: Staff responsibilities
  • ISO 13300-2:2006 Sensory analysis — General guidance for the staff of a sensory evaluation laboratory — Part 2: Recruitment and training of panel leaders
  • ISO 13302:2003 Sensory analysis — Methods for assessing modifications to the flavour of foodstuffs due to packaging
  • ISO 16779:2015 Sensory analysis — Assessment (determination and verification) of the shelf life of foodstuffs
  • ISO 3103:1980 Tea — Preparation of liquor for use in sensory tests
  • ISO 4121:2003 Sensory analysis — Guidelines for the use of quantitative response scales
  • ISO 5492:2008 Sensory analysis — Vocabulary
  • ISO 6668:2008 Green coffee — Preparation of samples for use in sensory analysis
  • ISO 8586:2012 Sensory analysis — General guidelines for the selection, training and monitoring of selected assessors and expert sensory assessors
  • ISO 8589:2007 Sensory analysis — General guidance for the design of test rooms

As one can see there is a standardise way to asses a food. A liquid is part of what we call a food. Since whisky is a liquid it can be “sensory analysed” according to these standards. Some of the standards are not applicable, like the one to asses tea or green coffee.

Professional assessors are first selected. Then trained in the recognition of congeners. Then familiarised with then vocabulary. Then using the methods describe they can asses, rank and report on their findings. All this processes are described and standardised.