1. Look For the Whisky's Origin
You will be faced with a huge amount of choices when picking a whisky. This is great news of course, but can also lead to problems relating to the agony of choice! The whisky's country of origin is a good place to start when deciding which is best for you because, just like wines, whiskies distilled in different countries come with unique characteristics of their own. Here's a quick summary of the characteristics of whiskies from four of the more common whisky-producing countries:
Each drinker will have their personal preference, and it's best to move through a process of trial and error in order to settle on your favorite.
2. Recognize the Different Types of Whisky
Different American and Scotch whiskies are also distilled in different ways and can even use different base ingredients, each of which produces a distinct flavor:
3. Choose Your Glass
Many drinkers will have their opinion on this topic, but in truth there is nothing wrong with drinking whisky from a plastic cup if that is all you have in hand. That said, some vessels are said to maximize the flavor. Others also look great, which can add to your enjoyment. An old fashioned short tumbler (see the picture on the right above) works just fine, although if you are big whisky fan, then you might consider special tulip shaped whisky glasses (see above left) which are designed to filter the vapors and flavors through your nose as you drink.
4. Does Age Matter?
Drinkers tend to believe that the older the whisky, the better, but this is not always the case, even though aged whiskies will usually be more expensive. The type of grain and water used during the distillery process, the alcoholic content, and the proportion or ratio of ingredients are much more important considerations when judging the flavor of a whisky than how long it has been sitting in the barrel. So don't make your choice based on age alone.
5. Take Your Time
Whisky should be savored whether you drink it straight or with ice. Try and hold the liquid in your mouth for a few seconds in order to taste all the flavors (this is particularly important with Scotch whisky). Some connoisseurs are said to 'chew' their whisky, and you should roll it around in your mouth before swallowing it. If you just chuck it down your throat, you will miss out - to take half an hour to an hour to drink a decent sized glass is a quite dignified habit.
6. Straight or On The Rocks?
There are few more fierce debates amongst drinkers than the age-old argument about whether whisky is best consumed neat or with ice. Some enthusiasts may decry the use of ice but it can take the edge off the alcohol and allow the full range of flavors to come through. Some people will even add a small dash of water to particularly strong whiskies to fully unlock the flavors. Your first taste of any new whisky is probably best taken neat and distilled. That said, there's no right or wrong way, and you should develop your own personal preference.
7. Use Your Nose
The way we identify and judge 'flavor' is informed by both taste and smell, and it is often said that the nose informs the mouth. This means that particularly complex flavors, like those found in whisky, can only be fully unlocked if you use your sense of smell as well as your taste buds. Before you take a sip, you should make sure you lock the glass against your nose and take a sizeable sniff. You will need to have two or three good sniffs to get the full benefit. After the third sniff, take a sip and roll the whisky around in your mouth as described in point 5.
8. Pairing Whisky with Food
Specific considerations regarding pairing whisky with food would once have been considered unconventional, but drinkers are increasingly attuned to the possibilities. General rules suggest that:
Try some of these the next time you eat out or host a dinner party.
9. Try Something Different
Although most people will drink their whisky either neat or on the rocks, you can try something different. You can make yourself the High West Campfire by mixing equal parts bourbon, rye and scotch whisky, while certain specialty whiskies come prepared with different finishes, such as sea-salt (Old Pulteney's) or sugar (Balcones Brimstone).
Then there are cocktails. Their increasing popularity has brought whisky to a whole new audience. Some cocktails are wonderfully tasty, like these:
10. Relax and Enjoy
These suggestions provide a guideline and some tips you can try. But there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to enjoy whisky - find your own favorite and enjoy this fantastic and fascinating drink as you wish...just in moderation of course! If you really want to know more, then download the Smartphone app Malt Whisky, which provides a comprehensive guide to the numerous whisky brands around the world. And to help you along, we have also listed below the 12 fantastic whiskies voted the best at the International Wine & Spirit Convention:
1. Laphroaig Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
2. Ben Nevis Single Cask Highland Single Malt Aged 15 Years
3. The Glenlivet 21 Year Old Archive
4. Johnnie Walker Black Label Deluxe Blend Aged 12 Years
5. Oban Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
6. Talisker Single Malta Scotch Whisky Aged 10 Years
7. James King Scotch Whisky Aged 15 Years
8. Glenmorangie Single Malt Aged 18 Years
9. Kingdom Aged 12 Years
10. Grant's Scotch Aged 18 Years
11. The Balvennie Single Barrel Single Malt Aged 12 Years
12. The Balvennie Single Malt Speyside Aged 30 Years
Did you know that whisky has health benefits? You can find more about them here.