How (And Where) To Drink Whisky
Illustration by Mr Adam Nickel
It’s World Whisky Day this weekend! To celebrate, whisky expert Mr Colin Dunn shows you how to appreciate a good single malt, the steps for tasting and the best bars to sip a Scotch. Now the big question: ice or water? Or nothing at all?.
World Whisky Day is but a day away. You didn’t know? Well, we are here to tell you that tomorrow, because of the fact it’s officially World Whisky Day (got it now?), you can drink and enjoy the amber stuff more legitimately than at any other time of year. Sure, you may need little invitation to raise a dram whatever the day of the year, but one shouldn’t complain that we’re being actively encouraged to do so this weekend.
This is all well and good, but not so if we don’t enjoy ourselves responsibly – as we’re constantly reminded in the booze literature. Much like wine, however, few of us actually know what we’re doing when it comes to appreciating whisky properly. So we asked Mr Colin Dunn – a man with 30 years’ experience in the whisky business, and current Diageo malt whisky brand ambassador – for some pointers (including where’s best to drink it).
With whisky tasting, much like a good film or book, there is a beginning, middle and end. You’re looking for the aroma, the mouthfeel and the aftertaste. When you taste whisky, you have to ask yourself, is it giving off lots of different flavours or is it just giving one particular taste?
Step 1: "nose" the whisky
This is very similar to nosing a perfume. Your olfactory glands pick aroma compounds and transfer messages to the brain, which has a library of smells stored there – the main thing is to have an open mind and say exactly what you are thinking. The more you do it, the more you start to explain and explore the aroma in ways you did not think possible.
Step 2: the taste
Take a small mouthful and roll it around in your mouth as if it were a wine. After a few seconds, the alcohol in the whisky will probably give you a slight burn, but after a few more seconds, the saliva in your mouth dissolves this, and you will find the whisky becomes more concentrated and almost like a liqueur. The texture is a little heavier, too. This is the mouthfeel, and this is when you make a decision on whether you want to add some water to your next sip to suit your palate.
Step 3: the aftertaste
When you swallow the whisky, you will be left with the flavour compounds in your mouth. Try giving an opinion on what that flavour is. Ultimately, you need to do this a few times to really understand what I’m saying. Practise. Soon you’ll be using words to describe the taste that you never knew you had inside you.
Where to drink it
In no particular order, these are three of my favourite places in the world to drink whisky:
You can’t beat sitting at a window seat looking out to sea with a Lagavulin eight-year-old in your hand.
This has a stunning whisky room full of oak and leather with rare whiskies.
An old-fashioned boozer with wall-to-wall whiskies and good banter from the staff. A great atmosphere in the home of Scotch.