Men, Here's How to Get Started-and Get Serious-With Whisky
In the Philippines, more often than not, our first whisky experience would be from our fathers (or other older male relatives) who would cajole us to take a sip of the drink at a young age. Hearty laughter would erupt as you grimace, eyes tearing up as the drink wreaks havoc on your throat as it goes down. The lingering burning sensation remains as you mutter to yourself “adults actually enjoy drinking this brown firewater?”
However that was in the past and now you’ve grown. Matured. While you can still hold your own whenever the gang decided to start chugging beer, or downing shots of liquor until the wee hours in the morning, there is that growing itch for a drink that lends itself well to contemplative enjoyment. The growing popularity of whisky has made you reconsider the spirit, the past traumatic experience in your youth notwithstanding. “Perhaps my palate can now appreciate the drink. After all, I’ve tasted several different drinks over the years,” you think to yourself as you open the door to a whisky bar your friend recommended.
It is a dizzying array of bottles from all over the world. Scotch whisky stands shoulder to shoulder to Irish whiskey. Bottles of esoteric American bourbons and whiskies flank Japanese and Taiwanese heavyweights. (The trick to the spelling is that, if the "origin" starts with a vowel, add that other vowel, 'e'). Beside you, two individuals argue about the merits, or lack thereof of non-age statement whiskies. A gentleman seated at a table behind you sings praise to a particular Islay whisky while his companion stands firm, saying that the sweet Speyside whiskies reign supreme. You hear terms such as peatiness, glencairn glasses, ice balls, non-chill filtered. Entering the world of whisky can be a daunting experience to an individual and you just received a full blown information dump. You struggle to stay afloat.
However, whisky (or whiskey as it is called in other countries, but really, no need to be pedantic about it.) is not as imposing as others would make it appear to be. By doing some prepwork, anyone can take their first step into the wide world of whiskies and find that one dram which you can call your personal favorite.
First and foremost, take the time to read about whiskies. This spirit has been enjoyed for centuries now and understanding its history and how it became a part of the culture of whiskey-producing countries allows you to get a deeper understanding and appreciation for the drink. You find a distillery you fancy? Read its history. Read up on the bottles they have produced. Take time to browse some tasting notes so that you can have a general idea of what the whisky might taste like.
However, don’t take the tasting notes as the absolute authority for the taste of a particular whisky. While most celebrated whisky critics could be able to differentiate between the subtle nuances of aroma and flavor, this skill was developed over decades of practice, sampling a wide number of whiskies to be able to create their own tasting vocabulary. Look for terms, smells, and flavors that you have personally experienced and are familiar with. Also take into consideration that each individual has different taste perceptions. There might be some notes that you might not be able to find or some aromas that you can sense which do not appear in the tasting notes you read.
When someone is starting out, it is always a good idea to go to a reputable whisky bar instead of buying an entire bottle. While drinking in a whisky bar is more expensive, shot for shot, you can opt to try different offering from different distilleries for the price of buying a single bottle. Furthermore, a good bartender will be a dependable guide in your journey. State your preferences and ask the person manning the bar for their recommendations. It is their job to know the particular taste of each bottle being offered and they can be a wellspring of knowledge. Don’t hesitate to ask if they could pass to you an open bottle so that you can take a whiff of the liquid inside. The aroma of the whiskey is usually a good sign of how it will taste and the nose is able to pick up more distinctions in flavor compared to the tongue.
Whisky purists would always say to drink the whisky neat. While this might be good for individuals who want to do a highly critical tasting session, it can be a difficult task for someone who is not used to its high alcohol content. Whiskies are at least 40% alcohol by volume, even going as high as the mid '60s for cask-strength single malts.
Now if one were to ask how to enjoy whisky, the best way is however the hell you want. Neat, with some ice-cold water on the side? Go on ahead. A splash of cool water to dilute the whisky? Sure, why not. Served on the rocks? Whatever floats your boat. Made into a classic cocktail like a Whiskey Sour Boulevardier, or a Rusty Nail? Then shake that shaker bartender. Ultimately, what you want is to find and enjoy a whisky that suits your preferences.
Finally, take some risks and explore whiskies that you are not familiar with. Much like wine, whiskies made in different countries, even different locations in the same country, will have different flavors. Until it is bottled, whisky is alive, assimilating into itself the environment where it is made. From the smooth finish of a Scottish Highland whisky, to the silky mouth feel of Japanese whiskey, to the brash unapologetic forwardness of American whiskey, there is a multitude of flavors, aromas, and mouth feel that whiskies offer. Whether it is the highly-popular blended whiskies or the hard-to-find small batch single malts, each whisky is different and somewhere out there is that one whisky you could call your own. The fun lies in walking down that winding road. Just make sure to pause every once in a while, pour a generous dram, and enjoy the journey. Slante!