How to Drink Whisky
Tasting tips from master distiller David “Robbo” Robertson.
(1) Drink before lunch or dinner. Your senses are heightened as you begin to get really hungry. (2) Group your scotches from mild to robust. That way, your tongue won’t get anaesthetized and you’ll be able to pick out distinct flavors even after ten tastes. (3) Use a small wine or sherry glass. The top of the glass is narrower than the base, so all the delicious aromas are concentrated there. (4) Add roughly the same amount of water as whisky. Sampling whisky neat is likely to hurt the nose and numb the tongue, rendering both senses less acute than they should be. Use bottled water. Tap is chlorinated, and its smell could affect what you taste. (5) Look at the color of the whisky. It’s an indicator of cask type, strength, and age. A pale yellow malt usually means it was fermented in bourbon barrels; a dark mahogany color signifies sherry casks. Beware: Many companies add spirit caramel to artificially darken the color. (6) Tilt the glass. The liquor that slides down the side is called the “tears”—the slower they run, the thicker, older, and stronger the whisky—a sign of quality. (7) Watch for bubbles. If they persist within a few seconds of pouring, you’re probably dealing with a cask-strength whisky and you may need to add more water. If tasted undiluted, whiskies this strong will go round your heart rapidly and you may overheat. (8) Price isn’t everything. Some old whiskies taste like sucking on a log. If you like that, great. If not, buy 100 bottles of a more reasonably priced dram instead.
On the Taste Trail
Scotland’s single-malt regions.
1. The Highlands is the largest region and therefore the hardest to define. Coast whiskies might have a touch of smoke, while inland products tend to be more honeyed.
2. Islay malts are the most distinctive, easily identified by their smoky smell and peaty taste.
3. Speyside is home to more than half the distilleries in the country; they produce sweet, fruity, and very drinkable whisky.
4. Lowland distilleries number fewer than in any other region; their whiskies are lighter and softer, with citrus overtones.
Malt What’s left after barley has germinated (thereby changing the starch to sugar). Single malts are purer and more distinctive than blends.
Cask The barrel used to store whisky is usually oak and always secondhand (for flavor). Distilleries sometimes use sherry, bourbon, and port casks for flavor variety.
Cask strength Whisky that has not been diluted after aging. Often more than 50 percent alcohol by volume.
Peat Dense vegetation found in large fields throughout Scotland. Used as fuel, also burned to dry malted barley, which accounts for the smoky taste of many whiskies.
Whiskey vs. whisky The former is the Irish spelling; the latter, the Scottish.