Learn to taste neat spirit.
If your usual order consists of a pint or long G&T you may not be used to the ‘burn’ associated with sipping a neat spirit, but with a little practice you can learn to sip on a Scotch like a pro – and enjoy it. Whisky has some wonderful aromas but when ‘nosing’ (smelling) your dram, try not to shove your nose right in the glass. Hold it a few inches away and breathe in slowly through your nostrils, with your mouth slightly open (this helps amplify the aromas). When you’re ready to taste, take a small amount on your tongue. Hold it for a few seconds and swallow. If it’s too strong, add a few drops of water and re-taste until you achieve the perfect dilution for you. As you taste, try to consider which flavours you’re picking up – vanilla, fruits and toffee are most common. As you progress with tasting whisky you’ll find you may not need to add water at all.
As your mother no doubt told you – as you prodded the broccoli on your plate with an air of contempt – how do you know you don’t like it until you’ve tried it? Once you’re comfortable with tasting whisky neat, the absolute best way to discover which styles you prefer is to try as many whiskies as possible (in a responsible manner!). Don’t just stick to Scotch, Bourbon or single malt; make like Phileas Fogg and embark on a world tour of whisky.
Get clued up.
Learn to appreciate whisky’s diversity even further by reading up on the subject. There are countless affordable whisky books widely available for beginners right through to experts, though a good starting point might be www.scotchwhisky.com, where you’ll find details of every whisky distillery in Scotland along with reviews of latest releases. The website will be launching a beginner’s guide to whisky in summer 2017, so make sure to check back then to find out more.
Head to the bar.
Unless you have the personal wealth of a Kardashian, purchasing bottle after bottle of whisky can be an expensive habit. Whisky bars, however, offer the perfect solution to try numerous styles at a fraction of the price. Not only do these specialist bars have some seriously tempting whisky selections, but the knowledgeable staff will be able to guide you toward choosing a dram that suits your taste. They’ll no doubt host tasting evenings as well, where you’ll get to sample a range of whiskies guided by an expert who knows their stuff.
Take a tour.
Most of the UK’s distilleries are in Scotland, but there are many more all around the country making whisky and other spirits like gin and vodka. The majority offer tours and the chance to learn the fine art of making whisky. Having an appreciation of how whisky is made, from the skill of mashing, fermenting and distilling, through to the patient nurturing of the spirit while it rests in oak casks, will help you appreciate every drop in your glass that much more.
Forget the rules.
If anyone tells you to drink whisky in a certain way, shove ‘em off their chair (or just ignore them). There is never a right or wrong way to drink whisky, only your way. If you prefer to add water or chill it with ice, that’s your call. Drink your single malt in a cocktail or even add cola or coconut water (seriously) if that’s how you enjoy it. In fact, cocktails are a great way to ease your way into whisky. For a long, refreshing summer drink try mixing a blended Scotch like Johnnie Walker or Dewar’s with ginger ale, a squeeze of fresh lime and plenty of ice.
Becky Paskin is a spirits expert and editor of Scotchwhisky.com, the most comprehensive online guide to Scotch whisky.