Is There A Gender Difference When Tasting Whiskey?

There are a lot of factors that can affect how you taste whiskey in regards to what characteristics you can pick out and what those characteristics may remind you of.

Michael Veach recently wrote of the ephemeral nature of tasting. While things like weather, how the whiskey is served, and mash bill can definitely influence how you taste whiskey, there’s more to the story. Your life experiences may also impact what you taste: “Remember this important fact – All whiskeys taste better when drank in the company of good friends and family. My favorite whiskey is still “free” whiskey but I find it all very good when drank amongst good company in a pleasant setting,” says Veach.

I’ve heard this echoed in other tastings, but Veach’s article cemented the concept for me. At a tour of The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience last fall, tour guide George Harrison described giving another tour when someone declared marzipan was the flavor predominant in the bourbon. Harrison said that was a perfect example of how your past experiences can influence what you taste in bourbon, because while he had never had marzipan in his life he described the flavor as a slightly different type of candy.

Then there are questions about whether men and women taste bourbon differently. There is some science behind this – women tend to have better olfactory senses for whatever evolutionary reason, likely childbearing related. This doesn’t account for all variations in tasting differences, but you can listen to this podcast from WFPL for more, on which both Michael Veach and I were guests along with Susan Reigler:

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl


  1. After 30 years in this business, I’ve distilled this down to a couple of factors from my perspective. First, there seem to be absolute biologic differences in olfactory (nose) sensitivity – women, it seems, have more receptor neurons and greater sensitivity to some elements of the aroma spectrum. Second, an Oxford University strongly suggests that taste is effected by environmental factors such as light (intensity and color spectrum) and sound (e.g., music). These also differ somewhat by gender. Thirdly, as one becomes accustomed to a particular flavor profile (negatively or positively) a flavor “comfort zone” develops which tends to direct sensory evaluation toward positive (and away from negative) flavor components. I think of this as a kind of flavor-aroma stereotyping or natural experiential bias. “The more you know what you like, the more you like it.” All of this leads me to believe that age, gender, cultural and experiential factors effect our appreciation of whisk(e)y over time. We feel, taste, smell, hear and see things differently for a variety of reasons as we experience them. Some of that, no doubt, does break down along gender lines from time to time. But it’s too simplistic for us to see it that way. The path to experiencing and enjoying whisk(e)y is different for each of us but it all leads to one place (for most of us) – loving it.


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