The first thing to know about how to drink whisky is that only you can decide how you prefer to drink whisky.
Whisky comes in many different flavours, ages, colours, smells and serves.
Part of the fun of drinking whisky is finding which flavour, age, colour, smell or serve is the one you like the most.
The other part of the fun in learning how to drink whisky is working your way through a whole range of whiskies to find the serve you like the most.
The way I got into whisky was a happy coincidence where the stars aligned and my travels were to places famous for their whiskies – Scotland, Ireland and Japan.
In Edinburgh, we went to the Bow Bar, which has a large selection of fine and rare whiskies behind the bar. Rather then select by name, age or type, we went by the taste we were looking for.
My wife wanted a whisky that tasted like Christmas cake, so when she was poured a glass of Glendronach 40 year old and took her first sip, it felt just like Christmas.
That’s the magic of whisky.
There is no fun in telling others how they should drink whisky, or what whiskies they should be drinking.
Some people might say that the older a whisky is the better is. This isn’t true.
While older whiskies may have certain characteristics that younger whiskies won’t have, those characteristics don’t mean that those older whiskies are better.
At a whisky tasting I went to in Scotland, a seasoned whisky drinker tried a few different whiskies and declared at the end that one of the younger whiskies – a 12 year old – was his favourite. He had the confidence to know which one he preferred and not be swayed by how large the number on the bottle was.
Only you can decide which whisky is best for you, which is the one you enjoy the most, served your way.
Many people new to drinking whisky prefer sweeter varieties. Think American bourbons like Jack Daniels. A Jack and Coke is a modern classic and an introduction to drinking whisky for many people.
If from there they decide to try something with what might be seen as more sophisticated flavours, then that sweet bourbon has played its part in someone’s journey to discover the wonderful world of whisky.
Some people are put off by the strength of whisky when they first try it. The alcholo can overpower any sense of taste or smell that might be enjoyed.
To combat this, when first trying a whisky, hold the glass away from you at arm’s length. Gradually bring it closer and stop once you can smell the drink.
From this position, take several sniffs and bring it closer to your nose.
Taking your time to smell the whisky from afar at first means your nose can get past the alcohol smell and start to distinguish the smell of the whisky itself.
After a few more sniffs, you can bring the glass to your nose and inhale more thoroguhly. You should be able to smell more of the whisky flavours – sweet, spicey, chocolate, vanilla, wood.
Now for the taste.
Take your time.
Sip your whisky. No need to take a big gulp or you’ll be overwhelmed.
Take a sip and savour it in your mouth. Let the flavours come, as a whisky’s flavours might come when you first take a sip, when it hits your tongue, or when it’s trickling down your throat.
Take your time.
On second sip, more of the flavours should come through.
Take your time.
Enjoy the rest of the glass.
Take your time.
Don’t feel you need to finish the bottle in one session.
There are some other things to try that might enhance your enjoyment of drinking whisky.
Try adding a drop of water to your drink. Just a splash.
This has the effect of opening up he flavours of the whisky, but has different effects depending on the drink.
As an experiment, try a sip of whisky, then before the next sip add a drop of water. Which do you prefer, before you added water or after?
You might also try adding ice. Whisky purists would say that this dilutes the whisky and may contaminate the flavour, but try it for yourself and make your own decision.
I personally like drinking whisky in a chunky glass. I find that the weight of a hefty glass in my hand also adds weight to the occasion.
A hefty glass also makes me remember the craftsmanship that has gone into making this whisky, the weight of the whisky among tradition through the years.
One other thing that may affect how you drink whisky is the time of day and setting that you’re drinking it in.
A peaty whisky that burns the throat on the way down would suit a moody thunderstorm in Ireland.
A lighter, sweeter whisky works well with ice, perhaps with a mixer, and shared with friends as a pre-dinner aperitif.
An older, heavier whisky might lend weight to a special occasion, such as a graduation, wedding day or 80th birthday.
When and where you drink your whisky can be as important as what whisky you’re drinking.
In Japan, drinking a glass of Nikka in the oldest bar in Tokyo was a memory I’ll never forget.
That Japanese whisky happened to be more affordable than wine, which was often imported at great expense, and tastier than the local larger, which was cold and fizzy as it is everywhere else, also helped.
Trying different Japanese whiskies was part of the travelling experience
If you enjoyed reading my thoughts on how to drink whisky, you’ll love this piece from Matt Gemell, simply called Whisky.
My favourite passage from Matt’s writing:
"Wait for it to hit your sternum, and boom – heat spreads out through your chest. Feel free to vocalise, as if you’ve been doing this all your life."
"But wait: put the glass down for a minute, or at least go and stand at the window, looking thoughtfully out into the night."
Much more poetic than my practical piece, but enviably enjoyable and a wonderful explanation of the beauty of drinking whisky.
What I hope comes through in all of this is the learning how to drink whisky, or rather how you like to drink whisky, takes time.
And an appreciation of that goes a long way in enjoying whisky.
All whisky has taken time to make, sometimes more than 60 years being distilled in barrels.
Then there’s the many centuries of people learning how to make whisky and passing that knowledge down through the generations.
And that’s before you think about how many different types of whiskies there are out there for you to enjoy, from the traditional distilleries in Scotland to the newer drinks being made in all corners of the world.
Hopefully both this has inspired you to start your own whisky journey and find your favourite way of drinking whisky.
Take your time.
Believe me, it’s worth it.
All that leaves me to say, how do you drink your whisky?
I’d love to know.