The Art of Tasting Whisky

Over the past couple of months, I’ve reviewed the world of whisky – how it originated, where it’s produced, etc. Now it’s time to get down to business. If you want to buy a bottle, or at least try a sample, you have some decisions to make. Bourbon or scotch? Expensive or affordable? Does everything burn my throat and make my eyes water? The solution – try some.
There are lots of ways to taste different whiskies in order to find out what you like. Buy it in a restaurant or bar. If you’re not sure what to buy, ask the server. But be careful – lots of servers have personal preferences that might not be to your liking. Go to a whisky tasting or, even better, a whisky festival. You’ll get a chance to try a whole bunch of different products and you can ask questions and learn about products. Or you can just take the plunge and buy a bottle at your local liquor store. I’d recommend starting with something safe, like a Glenmorangie Original, an Aberfeldy 12, or maybe an Old Pulteney 12. Fairly classic single malt taste – mild and drinkable. If you choke on one of these and blow it out through your nose, then you have your work cut out for you. But don’t give up. When I first started tasting whisky, I found it vile and disgusting. The demon drink. My whisky drinking buddies convinced me to keep trying. After forcing myself to take a drink or so every week, after a few months I moved from disgust to tolerance. A few months later, I started to kind of like it. The rest is history.
Remember, everyone has an opinion about whisky preference. Not just country of origin, but the different styles and tastes that appeal to different people, especially as their tasting experience broadens. Some people swear by the heavy, peaty whiskies. The first time that I tried Lagavulin, I felt like I was like licking a campfire. My first Bourbon tasted like kerosene. But that all changed as I became accustomed to it and started to learn about it.
If you like the taste of whisky from that first sip, you’re lucky. If not, don’t give up. It’ll grow on you. I promise. And you’re not going to like every whisky out there. When you find one that you like, do a little research to find out why you like it. Is it the sherry taste or the peat? Is it the shape of the bottle or the tradition that the name carries? It doesn’t matter. When you like something, that’s all that matters. Start looking for other whiskies with similar characteristics, and then slowly broaden your taste.
A couple of hints for those early drams – if you find the taste too strong, try it over ice. The coolness will mute the taste a bit and the melt will dilute it. Makes it more drinkable until you start to get used to it. And sip whisky slowly. Always. If you want to get drunk, buy a bottle of vodka and have at it. Whisky is meant to be savored and enjoyed. So get over those early hurdles and get ready for something that your tastebuds will thank you for.
Next time, we’ll be talking about the different tastes of whisky and how they came to be. Enjoy!

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