Make no mistake – scotch whisky is a difficult & intimidating drink to get into. Many folks I know had their first scotch experience on a dare, an ill-advised birthday shooter, or poured from a dusty decanter by a grumpy old bugger while picking up said bugger’s daughter for a date. Not exactly ideal tasting conditions.
Sadly, most of these people never go back to scotch. Without giving it an honest try are missing out on something they’d come to truly enjoy. It probably goes without saying that those of us at AllThingsWhisky.com view this as a terrible waste!
So why scotch?
- Flavour – scotch whisky flavours range all over the map – floral, sweet, smoky, salty…you can likely find a flavour to suit any mood or setting.
- Growth & Variety – as a scotch drinker you will never be left wanting for something new. Every distiller and every release have something distinct to offer, and they’re hard at work using innovative techniques to differentiate their product from the others. It’s not uncommon for your favourite distiller to release different expressions of their whisky.
- Quality & Craftsmanship – unless you’re buying absolute gut-rot, a great deal of care goes into the product you’re drinking. At its best, single malt scotch whisky such as Ardbeg Corryvrecken is created with strict attention to detail in every step of the process. Blended whiskies like Johnny Walker Blue Label cannot exist without the great nosing & tasting skill of the master blender.
That sounds good…so what next?
You’re going to have to buy a bottle of something or another. What you choose is totally up to personal taste. Given that you’re doing this for the first time, I would avoid spending any more than $50 CDN or so on a bottle. Simply put, you don’t have the palate to appreciate it yet, and if you don’t care for your initial selection, you’re going to be well pissed off.
My suggestions for your first selection are below – you really can’t go wrong with any of these ones. For those of you who aren’t first timers: feel free to debate & post your own suggestions in the forums.
My “first timer” choices are:
- Highland Park 12 – a nicely balanced whisky that offers a hint of many scotch flavours
- Glenmorangie Original – a nice, mellow whisky that serves as a logical jumping-off point to other expressions (Quinta Ruban, Lasanta, Nectar D’Or). Great complexity – you’ll never grow bored of this one!
- Balvenie Doublewood – a straightforward, easy-sipping whisky that gives you a taste of sherry and oak that you can explore further in your next purchase.
Pop the cork!!!
Now that you have your whisky and are ready to pour a drink, there are a few considerations that must be made:
- Glassware – much of a whisky’s flavour comes from the nose. As you’ll note on this site, Curt dedicates 25% of his score to the nosing. You will pick up much more flavour if drinking from a glass with a narrow opening. An inward taper helps further. When getting started a wine glass is a sufficient, practical choice. If you choose to do so at a later time, you can invest in glassware specifically designed for whisky. The Glencairn Glass, Riedel, and others are all fine whisky glasses.
- Pouring – no fancy tricks here – just make sure that you’re pouring between 1 – 2 oz at most.
- Ice – DON’T!!! Ice will do two very bad things to whisky – it will “tighten” the whisky and kill the nose, and as it melts, will add more water to the whisky and thus change your perception of the drink with every sip.
- Water – is completely to your discretion. Room temperature is best so as not to kill the nose. Add water slowly and sip to taste. Be careful not to “drown your dram”. If your whisky tastes like funky water, you’ve gone to far. Good news is, more whisky will fix this for you asap.
- Drink Slowly! – keep in mind that at minimum, your whisky is 40% alcohol. Basically, a 1 oz drink should last you at least as long as a glass of wine would. If you drink your whisky too quickly you’ll miss out on much of the experience. Let it sit for a while in your glass and allow the nose to fully develop. Take your time between sips and enjoy the flavour and feel of the finish.
And finally – if you have any family, friends, or neighbors that are game enough to join you for a drink, share! There’s nothing quite like a conversation between friends over a nice scotch whisky.
Next up – branching out from the initial purchase, and establishing the cornerstones of your whisky collection.
I’ve read in a few places about a miniature version of the glencairn glass, with names like the perfect dram and the perfect whisky glass. Some say it’s even better than the glencairn.
When I first tried Forty Creek Confederation Oak (my favourite Canadian whisky to date) at the distillery the sample was served in a glass matching that description. And in fact, I think it tasted best in that glass (though it’s just fine in the GC).
Has anyone seen any of these and do you know how to get them in Canada?
I have a couple. Nothing more than novelty.
Don’t forget…your glass needs to have a big enough bowl to allow the spirit to open up and diffuse.
I spent a couple of weeks in Scotland in July and was able to narrow down my particular preference in whisky. Can you tell me which if any of your recommendations above come from the Highland or Speyside regions? Thank you
Highland Park is from the Islands. Glenmorangie is a Highland malt. Balvenie is a Speysider. These recommendations were from another gent who used to contribute here a long while back. I’d advise not getting too bogged down in regional delineations. They mean less every day, as lines and styles get more and more blurred. Try as much as you can and let your tastebuds be the ultimate arbitrator.