I've heard this from more than a few of my friends. My reply is invariably: "Hogwash!" Or a more colorful version of the same. Then there is the complaint about not knowing the lingo. To that I reply, "Who cares?"
Case in point: a good friend of mine is not much of a whisky drinker. She's been following my blog, and we got to talking about a party over a year ago where she tasted a few different Scotches.
She managed to remember the name of her favorite (Laphroaig), then explained to me that she wasn't good at knowing what she was tasting Scotch. In the same breath she went on to give me an astoundingly detailed description of the flavor profile of Laphroaig!
The phrase that stuck out the most was "sweet dirt". She was embarrassed to use it and look silly, but "sweet dirt" is probably the most accurate description of a peaty flavor I've ever heard.
That really made me smile, and was the inspiration for this post.
You may not know the Isle of Skye from Islay, Glennmorangie from Glenfiddich, peat from smoke. But I guarantee you know how to taste something and know if you like it.
You also may not be able to pick out every subtle taste you read on the side of the bottle. "This whisky is rich with the flavor of spring heather gently wafted across the Scottish highlands, caught by our expert maltsters and lovingly infused into the grain." Marketing horse puckey, at least in good part.
In my experience, everyone tastes things differently. Otherwise we'd all enjoy the same things. So never feel inadequate, dumb, or inexperienced if you "miss" a flavor, or taste something no one else does. Instead enjoy every sip. Don't worry about everyone else.
And always remember: whisky tasting is more fun with friends. Just...you know...in moderation.