5 Basic Tips For A Budding Whiskey Drinker

The Glenfarclas whisky

The world of whiskey, though long considered an “old boys club,” is slowly opening its doors to the masses.

In fact, more women than ever are drinking whiskey, Pernod Ricard recently USA CEO Bryan Fry told Bloomberg Businessweek.

In business, it’s also important to know the basics of whiskey, said Claire Bertin-Lang, a spirits expert and owner of CBL Liquid Consulting. Like wine, it’s seen as a status symbol because there’s so much to learn about it, but people also bond over it, à la Mad Men, she said.

I’m a novice when it comes to whiskey, but recently picked up some tips for tasting at a chocolate and whiskey pairing event hosted by Richart Chocolates and pop-up retail shop STORY in New York.

Know what you’re tasting.

“Whiskey,” you should know, is different from “whisky.” Whisky without an “e” only describes the ones from Scotland; all other types—from Ireland, Kentucky, Canada, etc.—are spelled with an “e.”

The first sip is just to shock your palate.

If you’re pairing whiskey with food, taste the whiskey first to acclimate your palate to the high alcohol content, Bertin-Lang said. Take a small sip, swish, and swallow, then wait before taking another sip. Then try the food, and then the whiskey again to see how it’s changed. I tried a 12-year-old Balvenie, which had an oakey taste that turned more cherry after eating a vanilla macaron.

You won’t taste what others taste.

Also like wine, different people can get different notes from the same whiskey. And the notes you get can also change depending on what you’re eating with the whiskey.

It should taste strong.

Bertin-Lang says that a good whiskey should have a strong taste, but it should become more subdued as you acclimate to it. However, a good whiskey shouldn’t burn going down. I tried an Ardbeg Corryvreckan, and the first thing I noticed was a strong taste of smoke and iodine. But despite the taste, it didn’t burn at any point. 

Ice and water are totally acceptable.

It’s completely acceptable to put a splash of water or a little ice in your whiskey if the taste is still too strong for you, Bertin-Lang said. Just be careful not to dilute it too much. A good alternative is a little water, plus a couple of whiskey stones to also keep the drink cool.

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