Want to appreciate ‘the water of life’ but don’t know where to start? Follow these four simple tips.
Choose the right type
The wall of golden spirits staring at you in the bottle shop can be intimidating if you can’t decipher the different between bourbon and rye or blended and single-malt. Bourbon, rye and Tennessee are the three types of American whiskey (which tend to be sweeter), while Scotch whisky (from Scotland, and smokier in flavour) and Irish whiskey (you guessed it, from Ireland, and lighter bodied) are also common. And the difference between blended and single-malt? Single-malt whiskies are distilled at the one distillery (and single-cask whiskies are distilled, yep, in a single cask), whereas blended whiskies mix together different whiskies of the same type. Beginners will find it easier to compare a few different lighter Irish whiskies rather than diving in the deep end with a smoky Scotch.
… and the right vessel
If you’re going for those old school Mad Men vibes, then an Old Fashioned glass — also known as a rocks glass or a lowball glass — is what you’re after. But if you really want to get a good whiff of your whisky, then invest in a tulip glass that retains the aroma. When you stick your nose in — and get past that initial ‘this just smells like pure alcohol’ phase — try to pick subtler scents than just the booze. The whisky might be delicate and floral or full bodied and smoky, it might have notes of citrus and berries or cinnamon and salt spray. These delicate aromas are difficult to sniff out at first, but become easier with practice.
Decide how to drink it
There are four ways to drink whisky, not including out of a flask in your office trying to emulate Don Draper’s chronic alcoholism. You can add it to a cocktail, but that masks the flavour. You can take the spirit on the rocks, but ice cubes dilute the whisky (a problem that frozen whisky stones do solve). You can have it neat, but having whisky straight can numb the taste buds and diminish the flavour. Or you can have it with a couple of drops of water, which is advisable for beginners because it just knocks the edge off the alcohol and helps you appreciate the flavour without burning your tongue. This is a hotly debated topic among whisky connoisseurs but a splash of water is the most accessible option for rookies.
Savour the flavour
Don’t rush it — take a series of small sips, swish the whisky around your mouth, and let it linger on the tongue before swallowing. The first sip or two — especially to a virgin palette — might taste a little medicinal, but once the burn has dulled, try to identify the same sorts of flavours you detected with your nose — notes of spice or smoke, caramel or vanilla, nuts or fruit. Take a whiff in between each sip and take your time working out what flavours you can detect. Compare a couple of different drams and hey, you’re practically an expert.