a row of glasses of different coloured wines

Refining your palate

Refining and developing your palate is everything when it comes to understanding flavours. Learning how to do it will improve you as a bar professional and this article will help you on that journey.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

The importance of the palate

What we refer to as our palate is really how we taste with our various senses. There are several ways that you can improve your palate and over time you’ll be shocked at how differently you perceive the taste of spirits as you detect their subtle nuances.  

Having the ability to recognise key flavours will help you craft a well-balanced serve and also help you create exciting new cocktails. Most importantly, you’ll be able to give your customers recommendations that suit the specific flavours they’re looking for.


A great way to start refining your palate is by doing tastings with your own bar team. It’s a perfect opportunity to sit down together to compare the aromas and flavours you’re experiencing.  

What You'll Need:

  • Spirits - 750mls will provide enough for 16 tastings. 
  • Water - To cleanse the palate in between tastes, spring water is best. 
  • Glassware - Stemmed glasses are best to capture aroma. 
  • Measuring cup - For measuring spirits accurately. 
  • Notebook - To record findings and discussions. 


Appearance: Begin by assessing clarity and colour. Is the spirit clear, bright, cloudy or dark? Next, look for bubbles. The more bubbles you have, the higher the volume of alcohol. Finally, focus on the viscosity. Looking for ‘legs’ in the glass when swirled identifies higher levels of alcohol, while slow falling legs shows higher sugar content. 

Follow Your Nose: A finely tuned sense of smell can often tell you more about a spirit before you actually taste it. Bring the glass slowly towards your nose and, take a small sniff, but don’t inhale fully, and focus on identifying the first aroma. After an initial sniff and taste add a drop of water and then reassess the aroma to see if you can detect any changes. 

Take Your Time: To truly taste in a way that educates your palate, you have to slow things down. Take a small sip first, so then you can to focus on the flavours. Take the second sip much slowermore slowly, allowing the liquid to roll around your mouth and the vapours to float into your nose.  

Taste: Try to taste every ingredient in your serve separately, learning its flavour. Hold a sip in your mouth and assess the flavour profiles. Is itf its citrus, is it lime, lemon or even orange? This will give you a better understanding when making a new cocktail or meeting a client’s preference. 

Record your reflections: Our sense of smell is closely linked with memory, so use expressive or emotive words to describe what you’re experiencing. Jot your initial thoughts down on aromas and flavours and over time these notes will help you identify distinct aspects, allowing you to discuss them more confidently. 


The perfect way to help develop your palate is to become more familiar with some key flavours. Learn more about tasting with these  resources and articles which you can share with your team. 


Use the below descriptors to help you identify and talk about different variants. 

  • Gin - Flavours such as coriander, juniper berries, citrus and ginger.  
  • Bourbon - Woody resin, caramel, toffee and ripe fruity flavours. 
  • Tequila - Woody oak, sandalwood, sharp citrus, vanilla and caramel.  
  • Rum - Sweet and sugary vanilla, spicy ginger and cinnamon. 
  • Blended Scotch - Sugary vanilla and honey, floral and perfumed, smokey, malt and fruit.  
  • Vodka - Citrus, spices, and liquorice.  

Key Takeaways

  • Always ensure you’re comparing other spirits from the same category. 
  • Always taste from lightest strength to the strongest strength.  
  • Ensure liquid is always at room temperature. 
  • Don’t taste too much in one tasting and take your time. 
  • Taste in daylight to see the natural colours.