Whiskey 101 - How to enjoy Whiskey
Drinking whiskey may seem like a complicated affair reserved only for Whiskey connoisseurs. The type of whiskey you like depends on so many different factors. From the oak barrels they come from such as single malts and blended whiskey. The country of origin also comes into play, such as American whiskey, Canadian whiskey, Irish whiskey, Japanese whiskey and Scotch Whiskey (and much more!). There are many different types of whiskey. Even our own Australian whisky, from Tasmania is taking the world by storm. But did you notice as you were reading this, that even the spelling of the word itself is different from country to country? Then there's what your taste buds prefer. Peaty, smoky...**record scratch**...STOP!
So let's just go back to basics! If you're a beginner to Whiskey, we think the best way to enjoy it, to keep it simple. Go to a good whiskey bar to start with. The bartenders usually have a great way to ask you the questions about what pleases your taste buds. They can then give you a few options and you will eventually develop your own way of choosing the right whiskey for you, you budding whiskey enthusiast!
There's no one right way to enjoy whiskey. Instead, enjoying this beverage is an individual journey that may change from week to week or day to day. This guide works well for any whiskey produced anywhere in the world. We'll go through the basics, but ultimately we recommend you follow your own taste buds.
What is Whiskey?
Short answer: Whiskey is a distilled spirit made primarily from grain. To reach the distillation point, a maker must mash up the grain to release its natural sugars, which they then ferment into alcohol. Distilling creates a stronger spirit. Whiskies are usually made from corn, rye, wheat or barley (malted and unmalted), but they can be made from any number of grains. Other grains such as millet and quinoa are used on occasion, but the four we just mentioned are the major players. After the mash has been fermented, it usually then spends some time in a barrel, where it develops its flavour and colour.
How is Whiskey served?
Learning the way that it is served is essential to understanding how you can appreciate Whiskey. So here's a quick and easy guide to help you on your journey to Whiskey appreciation.
Neat - Just straight out of the bottle of whiskey and into a lowball glass (aka rocks glass). You should at least try every whiskey neat and as it is. Enjoy by taking small and slow sips, to really take in the complex and subtle flavours.
With Water - No, no, no, not a glass of water - just a few drops of water (with a water dropper). Doing this can make the whiskey more interesting, by releasing more aromas on the nose, because whiskey is hydrophobic (repels water).
On The Rocks - This simply means over a large block of ice or ice ball. Don't be tempted to drop in a smaller ice cube or two. These will melt too fast, diluting it more, making it easier to drink (no judgement!). Ice however, numbs your palate. So if you still like your whiskey neat, but cold, try putting in a whiskey stone (blocks of actual stone that are stored in the freezer).
As a Mixer - This one is straight forward! Popular mixes include Coke, Soda Water, Dry Ginger Ale and Ginger Beer.
In a Cocktail - The perfect way to drink it, if you simply don't like the taste of whiskey by itself or want to try something different. Classic whiskey cocktails include: Manhattan, Whiskey Sour, Old Fashioned and Mint Julep. For those who like coffee, there is of course the Irish Coffee!
Shot Glass - No, don't you dare! No talking about it...just no! Sip it. Just Sip it. Sip whiskey.
How to Enjoy Whiskey
Whiskey begins with tasting it. Tasting is more about evaluating and understanding than just drinking, in order to better appreciate the Whiskey. Here are our tips and tricks for getting the most out of your beverage.
Use a Proper Whiskey Glass
A properly-designed whiskey glass is designed to reduce the impact that alcohol has on your taste buds and maximise your enjoyment of its aroma and flavour. Proper whiskey glasses or nosing glasses are tall with a wide bowl.
Since you don't pour a lot of whiskey into the glass, there's enough room for air to get to it so the whiskey can breathe. This allows the ethanol to evaporate while the whiskey aroma concentrates in the rim. You’ll now smell less of the alcohol than you did before. Allowing air to get to your whiskey and letting the ethanol evaporate allows the whiskey’s flavours to open up. This is why some swirl their whiskey and some recommend that when a glass of whiskey is first poured it should be left to sit untouched anywhere from few minutes to a couple of hours. That’s why some people swirl their whiskey and others recommend that when a glass is first poured it should sit untouched for a few minutes to a couple hours.
On the other hand (or, in contrast), using a shot glass will do exactly the opposite of what you want. If you fill a glass to the brim and don't let any air get into the glass, the alcohol content inside won't evaporate. Without a neck in the glass, whiskey aromas won't accumulate. They will dissipate instead. There are no whiskey aromatics when drinking from a shot glass. When a whiskey's flavour remains closed, the ethanol remains, and when you drink a sip, you'll get an unpleasant face full alcohol fumes.
One of the most popular choices for drinking Whiskey are our Jacob Whiskey Glasses, which you can find here.
Sniff and Smell
According to some studies, your nose can identify one trillion different smells, while your tongue can only detect a fraction. To start tasting whiskey, you need to sniff and smell it. Swirl your glass. To avoid the burning sensation caused by the taste of alcohol, sniff gently and keep your mouth slightly opened.
Before you take any sip of Whiskey, you want to really get your nose in the glass and smell the aroma. Your nose will educate your palate. We like sweet things, so it's good to focus on that aspect first.
When tasting whisky, avoid smelling things like smoke or perfume. You don't want to confuse the flavours. Spend at least a couple of minutes concentrating on sniffing and evaluating. If you feel your sense of smell getting tired, you may be fatiguing your ability to get the best of the aromas. A rest for a few moments and then return to the Whiskey. Over time, the Whiskey will continue to take in air and its aromas may change and develop. Spend some time with your dram and see how it evolves over time.
Sip Whiskey and taste it
After a few minutes smelling your whiskey, take a sip. You should hold it on your tongue for a few seconds, and then let it spread throughout your entire mouth. Breathe out slowly through your nose. How does it feel in your mouth? is it oily, creamy, thin, rich? What does it taste like? Try tasting some of the aromas that you detected before or see if new subtle flavours emerge.
If you're going to drink or eat almost anything, you want to let the smell of it guide you. Flavour is a combination of smell (olfaction) and taste (gustation). For complex flavours, such as those found in many alcoholic drinks, the sense of smell plays an even greater role.
Take a few minutes between sips to evaluate the finish and the flavours that linger after you've swallowed. Is the finish long or short on your palette?
Enjoy and AppreciateIn the end, whisky is about enjoyment. There's no fancy way to enjoy it and you certainly don't need to be a whiskey aficionado. Just give yourself the opportunity to evaluate it and appreciate it. Ultimately you should drink it how you like it. The more whiskeys you taste, the more your vocabulary and appreciation of whiskey will grow, and with it your ability for describing each delicious aspect of your whiskey.
Common tasting questions
Should you add water or ice to whiskey?
Try both with and without water. Adding a splash of water to a whiskey will bring out different flavours. Ice tempers the intensity of the whisky and will gradually dilute it, so if you're at the beginning of your whisky adventure, this is a nice way to start. As the ice melts the flavour of the whisky will change as well.
To chill your drink without dilution, try using chilled whiskey stones instead. This way you can enjoy it neat and it will give you the opportunity to taste what the maker intended it to taste like.
Especially for high-proof whiskies, many experts will add just a little bit of tap water. This is to dilute the beverage a little bit, but also to soften the punch of the alcohol and let the whiskey flavour really come through. Keep sniffing your whiskey as you drink it, and feel free add a few drops of water at a time. Diluting your whiskey can bring out new flavours and aromatics, and it can also help reveal flaws. If you try this route, add just a tiny bit of water, see how it tastes, and add a splash more if desired. If you end up with too much water, your only remedy is to add more whiskey.