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This article is for people who harbour a desire to try whisky but don’t know where to begin and for those who may have given it a shot but had a rough experience. A little information can go a long way towards getting the best out of the experience.
On too many occasions I’ve seen someone knock back a whisky and pull a face like they’ve been poisoned. The real key to the enjoyment of any spirit is time.
It may sound blindingly obvious but whisky is strong – 40% alcohol by volume as a minimum and often stronger. Knock it back and you’re likely to experience a strong burning sensation whilst accomplishing nothing more than a state of inebriation and then, illness.
Slow down. Take a sip. Let a small drop of whisky roll onto the tip of your tongue and slowly work it back. Give it time to spread across the tongue. Be prepared for a bit of heat and don’t expect to be blown away at the first sip. Your senses may take time to adjust but when you’re comfortable with the heat, swirl it around, chew on it even. Before long you will notice an array of different flavours and maybe then you will start to appreciate why people like me spend so much time talking about the stuff.
An oft-quoted tip is to hold a whisky in your mouth for a second per year of maturation. So 10 year old whisky = 10 seconds on the palate. Now, whilst I’m not sure that you need to be quite so specific, it could prove useful as a starting point.
Most ‘experts’ taste whisky with water. It helps to open the spirit and bring out more flavour. For my part, I find some whiskies are improved by water and some aren’t. Try experimenting by adding a couple of drops at a time and keep increasing it until you find your sweet spot. Don’t feel you have to though, if you like a dram neat, that is just fine.
Don’t let anyone tell you what is right or wrong. Unless of course, we’re talking about ice…
Whether or not it’s ok to add ice to your dram is a question you will hear asked again and again and there are many diplomatic answers to it. There is however only one correct response and that is to loudly declare that no, of course it isn’t, before challenging the Luddite in question to some sort of duel.
In truth of course, there’s nothing wrong with putting ice in your drink if that is how you like it but at low temperatures, oils and acids within the spirit coagulate, causing some of the flavours to shut down. Add that to the numbing effect ice can have on your taste buds and it is perhaps not the best way to experience a dram at its full potential.
The only real rule though, is to drink your hard earned dram any way you damn well choose. If you like whisky with ice, water, lemonade, cola or whatever, then that is how you should drink it. It’s just worth pointing out that a lot of chilling may subdue the liquid a touch.
This is whisky after all. A spirit that has been lovingly crafted and cared for, in many cases, for a great number of years and it is often expensive. It’s worth ensuring that you get the best out of your purchase.
Still, everyone has an opinion and that’s all I’m expressing here. With any luck though, my rambling utterances will prove helpful to someone and allow them to get more out of their dram. At the end of the day, that’s what this is really all about.