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:
• American Whisky tends to be sweeter than whiskies from other countries.
• Scotch Whisky tends to be earthy, with a distinctively smoky taste.
• Irish Whisky tends to be light-bodied and less over-powering.
• Canadian Whisky tends to be light and fruity.
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:
• American Bourbon is distilled from 51% corn and will contain no more than 80% alcohol content. It has a subtly sweet taste.
• American Rye Whisky is distilled from at least 51% rye, as the name suggests. Rye provides a slightly spicy flavor and rye whiskies are more bitter than Bourbons.
• Tennessee Whisky is a form of Bourbon, distilled in Tennessee and filtered through charcoal to give it a smokier taste.
• Single Malt Scotch is distilled using malted barley as the only grain ingredient. They tend to possess a fruity softness with a dry finish.
• Blended Scotch is quite literally two different whiskies from different distilleries blended together. They tend to have well rounded flavors, with a lingering finish.
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 works just fine, though if you are big whisky fan, you might consider special tulip shaped whisky glasses 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.
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:
• Strong, earthy whiskies are best paired with smoked white meats, salmon, strong cheese and hearty European or Middle-Eastern style meats.
• Medium bodied cask whiskies go well with roasted meat and root vegetables, harder cheeses and steak.
• Light, sweet whiskies can be matched with sushi, salmon, goat's cheese and a range of sweet desserts.
• Smoky whiskies are a great accompaniment for spicy, Indian foods.
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:
• The Manhattan - 2oz whisky, 1oz sweet vermouth, 3-4 dashes of bitters mixed together and stirred for 30 seconds, topped off with fresh cherries.
• The Revolver - combine 1.33oz Bourbon with .33oz coffee liqueur and 2 dashes of bitter orange. Garnish with orange peel.
• The Rusty Nail - Fill a tumbler with ice, add equal parts Scotch and Drambuie, add a couple of dashes of bitters and stir thoroughly.
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.