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When making any well balanced serve it is important to refine and develop your palate to understand the flavours in the recipe. Learn how to train your taste buds with this useful guide.

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 can help you craft a well-balanced serve and also help you create exciting new cocktails. Most importantly you will be able to give your customers the best recommendation that suits the flavours they are looking for from their drink.


A great way to start refining your palate is by doing tastings with your bar team. It is a perfect opportunity to all sit down together and compare what aromas and flavours you are experiencing.

What you’ll need:

Spirits - Around 750mls will provide enough for 16 tastings.

Water - To cleanse the palate in between tastes - spring bottled water is best.

Glassware - Stemmed glasses are best to capture the aroma.

Measuring cup - For measuring the spirits into the glasses accurately.

Notebook - To record your findings for discussion with your team.

What you’ll look for:

Appearance: Begin by assessing the clarity and colour to clarify if the spirit is clear, bright, cloudy, light or dark?Next, look for bubbles - the more bubbles there are the higher the volume of alcohol.Finally focus on the viscosity, looking for legs or tears in the glass when swirled. Legs identify a higher level of alcohol in the spirit and slow falling legs show 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 take a small sniff, do not inhale fully and focus on identifying the first aroma you smell. 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. The first taste is always a shock to the tongue, so take a small sip first, so then you can really focus on the flavours in your second taste. Take the second sip much slower allowing the liquid to roll around your mouth and the vapours to float into your nose.

Taste: Be sure to taste every ingredient in your serve separately as to learn its flavour. Hold the sample in your mouth whilst assessing the flavour profiles. If its citrus notes what specifically do you taste, is it lime, lemon or orange? This will give you a better understanding of what to add when you are making a new cocktail or tweaking a drink to a guest’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 during the tasting. Jot down your initial thoughts on the aromas and flavours in each liquid, and over time these notes will help you identify distinct aspects of each spirit and discuss them more confidently.

Tasting flavour wheel

The perfect way to help develop your palate is to become more familiar with some key flavours. Use this flavour wheel to help you discuss flavours with your team.

Key tasting descriptors

To help identify and become more aware of common flavours in different spirits, use the below descriptors to help you talk about different variants.

Gin - Herbal flavours such as coriander. Also juniper berries, citrus and ginger

Bourbon - Woody resin, caramel, toffee, honey, tropical and ripe fruity flavours, sweet treacle and fudge

Tequila - Woody oak, sandalwood, strong coffee, sharp citrus, vanilla and caramel

Rum - Sweet and sugary vanilla, spicy ginger and cinnamon

Blended Scotch - Sugary vanilla and honey, floral and perfumed, nutty, smokey, malt and fruit

Vodka - Citrus, spices, liquorice

Top tasting tips

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