The Non-Whisky Drinker's Guide To Drinking Whisky
Not a whisky fan? You will be after this.
What do you think of when someone says the word 'whisky'?
A roaring fireplace, leather armchairs, tweed jacket-wearing gentlemen sipping and swilling?
That's totally fair, because whisky does have a bit of a stuffy 'old-men-only' image.
It's certainly not a bevvy many young'uns would order on a night out, particularly with sexy stuff like espresso martinis, rosé and Aperol spritz on the menu.
Sinea Weintz, whisky expert and brand ambassador for Allt-A-Bhainne -- the latest offering from Scotch whisky specialist Chivas Brothers -- agrees that there can be a lot of barriers to enjoying a dram or two.
(FYI a 'dram' is fancy speak for a small shot -- there, you're learning already!)
"People think they have to know lots about [whisky], or be an old man in an armchair to drink it, but that's not true at all," she told 10 daily.
So why should we put down our old faithful vodka and Red Bull in favour of a whisky?
Well, the two aren't that dissimilar according to Weintz. Both whisky and vodka are grain spirits and so start out in a similar way.
The difference is that whisky is aged in oak casks or barrels for 10 to 15 years -- which gives it that trademark colour, flavour and smell -- and traditional vodka isn't.
So instead of seeing whisky as foreign, inaccessible and 'not for me,' just think of it as vodka and gin's sophisticated -- yet still fun -- older cousin.
Weintz has a simple tip for newbies wanting to drink whisky, which is to simply drink it.
Cozy up to your whisky-drinking pals, or hit up a whisky bar and don't be afraid to ask the bartender for a recommendation -- that's what they're there for.
Don't be put off after the first taste, either, as whiskies are all different, so there are lots to try on your way to finding the drop for you.
A whistle-stop tour of the world of whisk(e)y
Scotland, where Weintz is from, makes five types of whisky, but two are most popular -- single malt and blends.
As the name suggests, single malt whisky comes from a single distillery, while a blend is a mixture of single whiskies from different distilleries.
According to Weintz, one type isn't necessarily better than the other, it just comes down to the drinker's taste.
Whisky doesn’t have to come from Scotland, however, even though Weintz admitted to being biased toward a dram from her home country.
Whisky is a spirit that's now produced worldwide, and the differences come down to nitty-gritty details around how they're made.
Irish whiskey is a close cousin of Scotch, with the key difference -- aside from the spelling! -- is the use of unmalted barley, as well as malted barley, giving it a distinctively creamy mouthfeel.
Single malt Scotch whisky uses 100% malted barley in contrast.
Further afield, the Japanese are producing whiskies based very closely on the Speyside style of Scotch whisky.
In the US, many types of whiskey are produced, the most popular being bourbon, made using mainly corn and matured in new American Oak casks, giving it a distinctive sweetness.
Weintz told us that there are even distilleries popping up in Australia, proving just how popular whisky is becoming -- in fact, the single malt category has grown almost 20 percent growth year-on-year in Aus alone.
The art of drinking
For novices, a good starting point is a single malt such as Allt-A-Bhainne, which is light and fruity with orange and honey notes.
"It's a nice style if you're not used to whisky," said Weintz. She also recommends giving Chivas XV Regal a go aswell.
It also has a nice bit of smokiness to it because of the master distiller's adventurous decision to dry the malt above a peat fire, which is unusual for a whisky from the Speyside region.
It's this unconventional mix of 'sweet and peat' that sets Allt-A-Bhainne apart from other whiskies out of the Speyside area in Scotland.
How you drink it is up to you, Weintz told 10 daily.
Straight or 'neat', watered down, on ice, in a cocktail, or with soda -- refreshingly, the choice is yours although Weintz does have her favourites.
"I would 100 percent recommend an Old Fashioned or a Whisky Sour,' she said.
But if you really want to get your head -- or mouth -- around what it tastes like you're best to have it straight. Remember to 'nose it' -- give it a sniff -- before you go in for a taste.
Adding one or two drops of water to dilute the whisky isn't actually a cop-out. Far from it -- lots of experts do this Weintz said as the water disrupts the oils in the whisky and releases aromas, making makes it easier to smell and taste.
At the end of the day -- or night -- Weintz's motto is pretty relaxed. "If it tastes good, drink it."
Cheers to that.
Buying a bottle
The whisky aisle in a bottle shop can be intimidating for newbies. If you're not sure where to start when it comes to picking a drop, follow Weintz's tips:
- Check the back of the bottle -- many whiskies have tasting notes written on the back. Go for flavours that you like the sound of, but don't be stressed if you're not 100 percent sure what it all means
- Anything from Speyside, Scotland is usually nice and fruity and light
- Don't feel pressured to blow the budget -- "A high price equals scarcity, it doesn't mean it'll be to your palate. Taste is very personal," said Weintz.
Feature image: Getty.