Whisky Drinking 101

02-12-2016 By Whisky of the Week

Whisky Drinking 101

Your first exposure to whisky may have been when a friend poured some bargain whisky into a Coke and gave you a sip. Or you saw pictures of an handsome man, staring dreamily over a New York rooftop with some expensive whisky in his hand. He looked very suave - if a little intimidating - and while the brand proposition might have been alluring, the advert didn't really help you understand how to enjoy whisky. And of course, the whisky in his glass was one of the more expensive drams available on the market and it was beyond what you were willing to spend to satisfy the curiosity the advert might have piqued... So, where do you begin?

Liquor stores can be daunting: the prices for Whisky range from a few dollars to unlimited (a down payment on a house, even!) Will that $20 bottle taste decent or be completely undrinkable? Is the $200 bottle of world-famous Single Malt Whisky really worth it? Where do you start? How do you choose?

With online tools available - such as Whizzky App - and whisky tasting notes found on down-to-earth blogs that demystify whisky like Whisky of the Week, you can find a whisky to suit your taste, mood and budget. You only need to experiment a little.

You do need to know what flavours you like as there is such a vast array of Whisky flavours and aromas from sweet to floral or woody, smoky to earthy, which leads us to the first step.

Step 1. Define your taste.

whisky tasting profiles

What sort of food do you like? Do you have a sweet palate and like fruitcake, chocolate and honeyed flavors? You'll most likely enjoy a whisky from Speyside - check the label as most whiskies will have their origins on the bottle. Do you like a more smoky, woody taste with lots of spices? Chances are that this whisky would be from somewhere in the Scottish Highlands. And if you are a fan of bourbon, vanilla and toasted oak, you will most certainly appreciate a Bourbon Whiskey from America.

What does an earthy flavor taste like? If you like strong, smelly cheese, the full-bodied, earthy, peated drams from the Isle of Islay are peaty and you'll possibly be one of the people who love peated whisky - it's one of those flavours that you either love or hate.

Peaty whisk, dark chocolate, oysters blue cheese lamb chops

If you’re on the opposite end of the flavor spectrum and prefer fruit salad with vanilla custard, more than blue cheese and biscuits for desert, there are quite a few whiskies from Taiwan and Japan out there to suit your taste and budget. Or perhaps a simple Glen Grant Major’s Reserve or a more expensive Macallan Fine Oak 12-year Old. Through experimentation, you will find a whisky that will match your flavour preferences.

sweet whisky camembert cheese lamb chops fruit cake

When there's the choice between Blended Whisky or Single Malt, Irish or American, Single Grain or Single Cask: with all the options out there, you can rest assured that there really is something that will suit your palate; it’s just a case of being open to trying new things. Whether it’s made in Scotland, Ireland or the USA, Europe, Japan, Taiwan or South Africa, each country also offers great drams. As soon as you know what sort of flavor you like, the Whizzky App can help you find something in your price range. Go and read up on the whisky tasting notes to get an idea of what you can expect. (We will also be publishing an article on the different types of whisky aside from flavour profiles, soon so keep an eye out.)

Now that you know what you like and you have bought a bottle, how do you really enjoy the Whisky? Well, that leads us to Step 2.

Step 2. Pour a dram

You don’t need a fancy glass to taste whisky. A glass with a narrow opening, similar to a tulip wine glass, works well.

Pour a shot into your glass. Breathe over the top of the glass with your mouth open. Take note of the aromas.

Close your eyes and imagine what the aromas make you think of. Each person associates smells differently. Does it make you think of wood or a meadow? Do you smell fresh flowers, sweet honey, marshmallows or French vanilla? Can you identify the smell of the soil and autumn leaves after a rainstorm? There is no wrong or right answer. It is about what you smell.

Add a few drops of room temperature Spring water. Smell (the correct term is nose) your whisky again and see how the water releases different aspects of the whisky. Can you smell more sweetness or more peaty earth?

Take a sip. Swill the whisky around in your mouth, coating it. Drink slowly. If you need, add a little bit more water. Do you taste the flowers, smoke or the sweetness that you noticed when nosing the whisky?

If you want to taste whisky flavours, be careful with ice. The coldness constricts the whisky aromas and limits the full taste of whisky. When you have tasted the flavors you can add a block or 2 if you like your drink colder. This leads to the next step…

Step 3: Share with a friend

Sit back and relax. Kick off your shoes and enjoy the complex flavours in the glass in front of you. Invite some friends’ over to try it with you. Ask your neighbor to come and join you for a sip. There is a whisky for everyone out there. You just need to find the right one. The whisky world is your oyster with hundreds of whiskies to try. The most important thing is to take that first step.