Starting A Whisk(e)y Journey

A friend recently asked me how he could best start to explore whiskies. My first answer was to just try a few and see what you like. But after giving it some thought, realised that there is a lot of information out there and it can be a bit intimidating to jump into. There are also a lot of snobs in the whisky world. Aficionados who like to argue about the ‘right’ way to enjoy whisky.

So let’s get this out of the way early. The best whisky is the whisky you like to drink, and the right way to drink is the way you want to. This is not my idea, I borrowed it from The Whisk(e)y Tribe. Do check them out if you are interested in all things whisky related. Whisky to me is all about exploring, enjoying and sharing the experience.

Now I like to enjoy my whisky neat, meaning with no ice, or water, in Glencairn glasses. For many beginners this can be too intense. If you prefer a couple ice cubes, a little water or even a little soda with your whisky in a big old tumbler, by all means, do your thing. But for this introduction i’m going to recommend you try them neat or with a little bit of water so you can really choose the type of whisky you prefer now.

The intention of this introduction is to help you discover what region or general style of whisky you prefer and might want to continue to explore on your own. It’s basically like dividing a map into 5 continents, to help you identify one that attracts you most.

For this, you’ll need a friend or two, a decent local bar with a decently good selection of whiskies and an Uber or cab ride home. I know bars cost a lot, but it’s better than going out and buying large bottles which you might not enjoy.

That’s why I’ve chosen 5 different bottles that I believe represent the most different regions or styles of whiskies. I won’t describe them in detail. It is up to you to try them, see which you prefer, and continue the journey on your own.

So grab a friend, and head to a bar, and order the following flight. You’ll notice I’ve included alternative choices in case the first choice is not available.

First ask for 1 oz neat pours of…

1) Buffalo Trace or Woodford Reserve

2) Jameson Black Barrel or Bushmills 10 or Powers Signature

3) The Balvenie Double Wood or Glenfiddich 12 or Bunnahabhain 12

4) Lot 40 or Rittenhouse Rye

If the bar is willing give you 0.5 oz sample pours, that’d be perfectly acceptable, but many bars won’t do this.

Drink about 1/3 of each glass one at a time. Take your time. Smell. Sip like you would wine or warm coffee. Drink water in between sips, pause, and repeat.

Now rank them from favorite to least favorite sipping from one to another until there is only 1/3 left in each glass.Be honest about which you like or dislike.

Now order a glass of…

5) Ardbeg 10 or Laphroaig 10.

For the love of god, wait to have this last glass poured for you last. It will smell strongly, and will affect everything else you drink afterwards.

Finish off your drinks and see what whisky interests you most.

If you like 1) most, keep exploring Bourbons and American whiskies, if you like 2) keep exploring Irish and pot-still whiskies. If you like 3) keep exploring unpeated Highland or Speyside Scotches or Scotches with a sherry finish. If you like 4) keep exploring Rye whiskies or Canadian whiskies, and finally, if you dove into the 5) smokey Islay deep end and loved it, keep exploring peated Scotch!

Bonus tip, after you find a favorite from these, ask the bartender if they can recommend something similar to the bottle you liked.

This experience will cost you a bit, but it’ll be fun as hell and should give you a fun start to your whisky journey.

It’s cool if you and your friend like different things, you should at least go home with an idea of 1 or 2 bottles that you can happily pick up and sip on.