Beginner's Guide to Whisky

This guide was written with the sole purpose of providing basic knowledge to the clueless that wishes to step foot into the world of spirits; instead of ordering that oh-so-boring pint of Asahi everytime you step into a bar with your friends, by the time you reach the end of this article you will be ready to dazzle your friends with your confident demeanour as you strut towards the bartender to place your order of “A glass of Bowmore 18, neat”

 

1. Age, Single or blended Whisky

For this, the main difference you need to know is that:

Single malt whiskey is made and bottled in one distillery, and blended whiskey is made with two or more whiskies.


For example: 

Talisker Single Malt Scotch Whisky 10 years means the whisky is a single malt and aged in barrel for ten years.


Johnnie Walker Green Label Blended Malt Scotch Whisky 15 years, it means the whisky is blended with at least two or more whiskies that have at least aged fifteen years in the barrel. 


The year shown on blended whisky is the minimum years that the whisky aged in barrel.


Both Single and Blended are equally enjoyable.


2. The Barrels/Casks

The type of barrels/casks that whisky stays in also affects the taste & color of the Whisky.

Cask type Tasting note
Bourbon Coconut, Vanilla, Honey, caramel, oak, leather, nutmeg, almond, butter scotch
Sherry
fig, dates, raisins, nutty, cherry, cinnamon, clove, marzipan, ginger, fruit cake
Port
plum, blackberry, sultanas, redcurrant, dried apple, oak, cranberry, dark chocolate
Rum
vanilla, tropical fruit, apricot, caramel, cinnamon, ripe banana, pepper, molasses
Wine  

red berries, cherry, plum, bread, caramel, green apple, pear, buttery

Cognac

sultanas, liquorice, oak, rich fruits, nutty, caramel


3. Type of  Whisky

In the world of Whisky, there are regions as well. And, each of the regions have their own unique characteristics.  Here are some type of whisky good to know:

1. Scotch Whisky

When talking about whisky, we have to mention Scotch Whisky. Their national soccer team might not be the best, but their whisky, in terms of popularity, choice, variety, experiences and fan group, is one of the best. The whisky produced in Scotland is either made with malt or grain and is serious enough to pass a law that distillers must follow. The minimum age for whisky to stay in the oak barrel must be at least three years and with each bottle’s age statement reflecting the youngest aged whisky (if it is blended).

Some popular whisky: Macallan, Glenfiddich, Johnnie Walker etc.

 

2. Irish Whiskey

Irish Whiskey uses malt, same as their neighbour; the whisky must stay in the wooden cask for at least three years. Irish Whisky uses little or no peat, so smokiness won’t be present in the whiskey. And, Irish Whiskey tends to have a smoother flavour. 


Fun fact, Whiskey in Irish is uisce beatha, which also means ‘Water of life.’


*Whisky vs Whiskey: The extra ‘E.’

Irish & Americans tend to use Whiskey instead of Whisky; the popular belief is during the 19th century, Irish and Americans want to differentiate their whiskey from scotch. Some also believe ‘E’ stands for excellence. 

Some popular whiskey: John Jameson, Connemara

John Jameson 

3. Bourbon Whiskey/ Tennessee whiskey

The American-style whiskey is made from at least 51% corn and aged in a new oak barrel. Unlike Irish and Scotch Whisk(e)y, Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey have no law stating they must stay in a barrel for minimum years. However, this didn’t put them at a disadvantage; whiskey such as Jim Beam and Jack Daniel still attracts a huge number of fans around the globe!


Some popular whiskey: Jim Beam and Jack Daniel

Jack Daniel

4. Japanese Whisky

Japanese Whisky announced their entrance to the whisky world with their high standards. Breed brands like Hibiki, Mars or Suntory have won many awards throughout the year. 

Their distilling method is very similar to scotch.


Some popular whiskey: Hibiki, Yamazaki, Iwai ‘Tradition

 

Hibiki Harmony

5. Other region Whisky

In the whisky world, there are many other types of whisky besides those mentioned previously. You have Canadian Whisky, Taiwan Whisky, Finland Whisky or Germany Whisky, so on and so forth. It is hard to cover all these under one blog. We will continue diving into this humongous whisky world; to explore, enjoy, and appreciate the unique character,  history, and taste of each whisky.


After knowing some types of whisky, we will explore a little deeper into scotch whisky. Let's take a look at the various regions for scotch whisky.


4. Scotch regions

A Single Malt whisky refers to a malt whisky that is usually made of malted barley or rye and is the product of an individual distillery. Scotland has a total of 5 whisky regions. With knowledge of these regions you generally have an idea how the whisky will taste.

1. Speyside

The most densely populated Whisky region in the world, famous for fertile glens and, of course, the River Spey. Speyside whiskies are known for being frugal with peat and full of fruit. Apple, pear, honey, vanilla and spice all have a part in expressions from this region, which are commonly matured in Sherry casks.


Speyside Whisky: Macallan, Glenfiddich, Singleton, Royal Brackla etc

2. Lowland

Soft and smooth malts are characteristic of this region, offering a gentle, elegant palate reminiscent of grass, honeysuckle, cream, ginger, toffee, toast and cinnamon. The whiskies are often lighter in character and perfect for pre-dinner drinks.

3. Highland

This region, which also takes in the islands, has a huge diversity of flavours and characters. From lighter whiskies all the way through salty coastal malts, the Highlands offers a Scotch for all palates.


Highland: Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Highland Park etc

4. Campbeltown

Campbeltown whiskies are varied and full of flavour. Hints of salt, smoke, fruit, vanilla and toffee mingle in whiskies of robust and rich character.

5. Islay

Islay (pronounced ‘eye-luh’) is a magical island where the majority of its population are involved in whisky production. Famous for fiery, heavily peated whiskies.


Islay: Bowmore 12, Bunnahabhain 12, Lagavulin 16, port charlotte 10 etc


*We will dive deeper into the world of scotch whiskies in a future article, stay tuned!


5. Whisky styles in a bar

Now that you understand the different types of scotch whisky regions and how they generally taste, you will have a better idea of the flavor profile you prefer. However, there is still another issue, what do you say to the bartender? Here are some ways you can order your scotch whisky:

Neat (Image from Pexel)

1.Neat

This is whisky straight out the bottle, with nothing added. If its one of the first few times you are drinking whisky, this is not recommended because chances are, you will get put off by the taste of strong alcohol. 

 

         On the Rocks (Image from WhiskyFlavor)

2. On the rocks

This refers to whisky that is poured over ice. The ice will help to dilute the overpowering flavor of straight whisky without compromising the taste. Having too many ice cubes can water the drink down and ruin the flavor, using a large ice cube or ice ball is the best for whisky on the rocks.


But, before doing the rock style, try neat first!

         Whisky Cocktails (Image from Pexel)


3. Whisky cocktails

These are mixed drinks that contain whisky, usually mixed with syrup or juice or tea in varying amounts. These are for people that enjoy the subtle taste of whisky or those who are trying to get used to the taste of whisky.


4. Chaser/Back/Mixer

These terms all mean the same, referring to a beverage that accompanies your whisky. This beverage can be water or even carbonated drinks like coke, sprite etc. You can order a chaser with any of the abovementioned styles! Ordering one helps to acclimatize to the strong taste of whisky.


A standard format across most bars is: ‘Whisky type’, ‘Whisky style’, ‘Whisky Chase’. A typical order will sound something like: “Balvenie 16, on the rocks, with a soda water back”.  

6. Whisky tasting

This is a bit different from drinking whisky. 

1)First, you will need a whisky tasting glass.

If you don’t have it, you can also try it with a normal whisky glass 

(But put your pump over the cover, for about, let’s say, 10 seconds.)

 


One option of whisky tasting glass

2)Then slightly tilt the glass towards your nose (DON’T POINT IT TO YOUR NOSE DIRECTLY)


Step 2 (Image from Business Insider)


3)Inhale slowly, smell the whisky and try to break down and interpret the smell

4)Take a small sip, a really small sip, of whisky and let the whisky run around your mouth. Feel the ingredients and history of the whisky.



Another day, another whisky to enjoy.



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With that, you now have the knowledge needed to confidently place your order of scotch whisky in any bar! If you prefer to test out different whiskies in the comfort of your own home or with the quiet company of close friends, check out 3mk.sg where you can find a plethora of scotch whiskies that you can have delivered to your doorstep within the next hour!

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