Beginners guide to whiskey drinking

Beginners guide to whiskey drinking

Have you been considering getting into whiskey, that most manly of drinks? For beginners, this can be a daunting task. Which brand should you pick? What is the difference between a single malt or a single cask? Are whiskey and bourbon the same thing? These are a few things you might not understand.

Don’t worry! All is not lost. This handy guide will take you through the first steps of whiskey drinking – soon you’ll know your Glenfiddich from your Glenlivet.

Getting started: Whiskey, Rye, Bourbon & Scotch

A whiskey is the name given to a distilled spirit made from grain mash. Since ryes, bourbons and scotches are all made by this general process, they can all be considered as types of whiskey. What makes them unique is where the spirit is distilled and the type of grains being used.

The language of whiskey

When looking at whiskeys you’ll need to understand the types that are out there:

  • single malt whiskeys: made entirely at the same distillery. This will be the more common type of whiskey you can buy.
  • single cask whiskeys: where an entire batch is aged in and bottled from a single barrel. 
  • blended whiskeys: where two or more whiskeys (almost always of the same type) are blended together.

Tasting whiskey

The art of whiskey drinking is all in how you taste it. Pouring a measure and slinging it back like a shot is not going to achieve anything, other than getting drunk. 

Instead, try these 4 steps and really begin to understand just how complex whiskey can be (think of it as being similar to wine tasting).

  1. start with two fingers: Put two fingers at the bottom of your glass and that is the level you want to fill it to. For the glass itself, if you are adding ice a typical whiskey glass is called a rocks glass.
  2. smell before tasting: just as with wine, you want to smell the bouquet before you take a sip. This will help you taste more. Don’t stick your nose straight in though; the alcohol will overpower the subtler smells if you do. Move the glass to your nose slowly until you can smell it strongly. 
  3. Add a drop of water: yes! A touch of water is often regarded as a good way to taste your whiskey. Not only does it dilute it (whiskey to new drinkers can be very strong) but it also helps unlock the flavours. How much water? It should be minimal, you don’t want to water it down too much. Try a teaspoon as a measure.
  4. Taste: now taste it. How does the taste compare with the smell? You should look to coat your tongue in the drink to get the full flavour.

On the rocks or neat?

Many whiskey connoisseurs disapprove of ice, it too heavily dilutes the liquor as it melts. However, many people’s preference is to drink the whiskey cool. If you do add ice, start with one cube and keep tasting. Alternatively, add one large cube and remove it once your drink has chilled. Or go for steel ice cubes!

As a final note – how you wish to drink whiskey is entirely up to you! If you want it cold with lots of ice, then add lots of ice. This guide is the “approved” way of drinking whiskey from the experts. But to truly appreciate the drink you need to actually like the drink.