Saturday, January 1, 2011

A word on enjoying your whisky. And spelling it.

As I sit here listening to Dark Side of the Moon and enjoying a dram of Lagavulin, it reminds me of a night out with friends.  I ordered a glass of the same while we were waiting for a table at a local restaurant.  The glass arrived and I held it in both hands, lifted it to my face, closed my eyes and buried my nose in it.

For those who know Lagavulin, you can relate.  It's a fairly aggressive whisky and there's a lot to smell.  As I sat drinking in the olfactory orgy, I noticed the conversation had stopped.  I opened my eyes to staring friends.  "You must really love your Scotch!"  And I do.

That's what I'd like to talk about.  Getting into good whisky can seem as daunting as learning about fine wines, fraught with rules, traditions and people telling you what to do.  I will offer you suggestions here, dear reader, but I will never tell you there's a wrong way to enjoy a dram.

The question I hear most often is, "Should I add water to my whisky?"  My answer is to taste the whiskey by itself first.  Then add water a few drops at a time and see what you think.  It will change many whiskeys dramatically.  I will often add one ice cube to a glass and enjoy tasting how the whisky changes as it melts.

I have heard that water ruins, masks, offends or otherwise spoils a whisky.  Hogwash, or the protests of a snob.  All whiskies (except "cask strength") have water added to them before being bottled.  Most whiskies will benefit from a bit of good water in your glass.  As I was told by a representative of Laphroaig at a tasting, "Add water until it tastes good to you."  He was wearing a kilt; it must be true.

The other suggestion I will offer you is to take your time.  Stick your nose in the glass and take in the aroma.  Don't swirl the glass like wine - that just releases harsh alcohol aromas.  Just breathe in for a bit and enjoy.  Then take a sip and let it hang out in your mouth a bit - a second for each year the whisky is old was suggested to me.

Oh, one last suggestion: find a friend and take the journey together.  Like so many things, whisky is best enjoyed in good company.  Often talking about what you're tasting will help you notice new things.

When I'm not posting about my barrels, I'll sample the many whiskies I have in my collection and you can take the journey with me.  Most are single malt Scotch whiskies - we'll talk about what that means in a later post.  I hope if you have a whisky I'm tasting you'll join in with your impressions.

Finally, on spelling.  You'll notice I've been using "whisky", much to the spell checker's dismay.  Whisky - without an 'e' - is the spelling generally used for Scotch whisky, which I'm usually talking about.  Whiskey generally refers to Irish and American whiskies.  You can check out the Wikipedia entry for more info.


  1. "He was wearing a kilt; it must be true." LOL!

  2. If it's Scotch, it's whisky...
    If it's American or Irish, it's whiskey....
    If it's Canadian it's crap. ;)

  3. Like the ice cube hint. I'll try that tonight as I unravel the mysteries of my generic WUO. I'll be anxious to taste it meander from shoe polish with a hint of raisin to something (anything) else.