Ok, so you know all about the basics of what whisky is. Thing is, the truly important part is learning how to, you know, actually drink it.
Lots of people get this wrong. Very wrong.
A Familiar Scenario?
You walk into a bar, and order a single malt scotch.
Congratulating you on your exquisite taste, the waiter asks you calmly, “How would you like it?”
You pause and feel a nervous ummm forming on your lips.
“Maybe with coke and ice?” the waiter offers helpfully.
You find yourself nodding vaguely. You tell yourself, it can’t be too bad, since the waiter recommended it.
You almost always have the option of mixing your whisky with coke, green tea, soda, petrol, toxic waste, etc.
My suggestion is not to do it. You’re buying a drink that has a very specific set of flavours, carefully selected and/or mixed so that it tastes the way it does. In fact, for blended whisky, there’s always a master blender working in the distillery whose entire job is to make sure that every bottle tastes pretty much the same.
When you add the mixers, you won’t be able to enjoy the result of the painstaking work that went into making the whisky. You won’t be able to taste the complex mix of flavours that make up each dram.
Another way of thinking about it- you bought yourself an expensive drink. Do you really want to be tasting coke instead of that?
You might be afraid that the whisky is going to taste like cough syrup. Don’t worry, it won’t.
How about ice?
This one’s a tough one. I confess- I started drinking whisky on the rocks.
It does diminish the taste just a little, just like adding ice to any other drink. Ultimately, it’s really up to your own personal preferences and tolerances.
Do note that chilling the whisky actually changes its taste, as well.
Might I suggest you try your whisky neat (just the whisky) for at least the first sip?
Step 1- Take a good look
You might not have expected this, but you should always take a look at what you’re drinking, so you know what to expect.
Start off by swirling the alcohol in the glass. Look at the colour of the whisky that you’re drinking- it could range from a darker amber to a light yellow colour. You should see rivulets slowly moving down the sides of the glass.
Those are called the “legs” of the whisky. The slower the legs move down the side of the glass, the stronger the alcohol is.
Step 2- Sniff
Almost 75% of what you taste actually comes from your sense of smell. That’s why food quickly loses its savour when you have a stuffy nose.
The best way to enjoy the whisky is to start by smelling it.
Put your nose close to the lip of the glass and take a good whiff, like you’re smelling flowers. The best way? Your nose should actually be inside the glass for best effect.
Breathe deep. Try to make out what you’re actually smelling.
Quickly move the glass away from your nose, then take a second sniff. This time, you know what to expect, so you’re really savouring the smell and seeing if you have missed anything the first time round.
Take another sniff if you like. Take another two.
Step 3- Don’t drink it just yet
If you’re drinking your scotch neat, don’t drink it just yet. Add a few drops of still, cool water into it. Not icy water, just cool water will do.
The reason you’re doing this is to release the flavours in the whisky, and also to dilute the whisky slightly so that it doesn’t burn the tongue when you actually taste this.
Step 4- Taste it
Now you’re reading to start drinking. Take a sip, but don’t swallow it just yet. Swirl it around your mouth so that the whisky goes through all the taste centers in it. Savour the flavour. Try to play a small game of trying to figure out what the tastes in it are. Then swallow.
Just enjoy the moment.
Step 5- Enjoy
That’s all there is to enjoying it, really. Sit back, relax and have the rest of your scotch. There’s no hurry. Take your time.
I’ve mentioned the glass before, and you’ve probably seen the tumbler, which looks something like this:
This is actually NOT the glass you want.
It’s not designed well for smelling the whisky. It is actually designed for adding ice easily- which you should try to avoid if you can.
I’m being quite cryptic, but what you’re looking for is this:
It’s called a Glencairn glass.
You might have noticed the shape is just a teensy bit different from the tumbler. That’s because it’s designed to help concentrate the smell of the liquor so that you easily pick it up from the mouth of the glass.
It makes a huge difference. Immense.
The only trouble is that it’s quite hard to get in Singapore. Some specialty whisky shops might sell them. I’d suggest Quaich Bar.
Can’t get it? I’d suggest you try any tulip or flute shaped glass.
Not ideal, but better than letting the smell go all over the place.
1. Look at what you’re drinking. Swirl it around.
2. Take a good whiff, or two or three.
3. Add a touch of water.
4. Sip the whisky, taste it.
Stay tuned, we’ll share even more in upcoming articles which will help you enjoy whisky even more!