How do I… drink whiskey like a true local from Scotland and Ireland?
Whether you spell it whiskey or whisky, there’s no denying that the spirit has an air of sophistication about it. Being able to knock back a shot or sit on a tumbler for a few hours without grimacing at every sip seems to be the sign of a refined drinker (according to Mad Men anyway). When figuring out the best way to consume whiskey, it’s best to go all the way back to where it came from and learn from the locals.
And because they’re the masters, let’s check out how they drink the good stuff in Scotland and Ireland.
Is there a difference between Scottish and Irish whiskey?
We’re so glad you asked. First, only Scottish whisky can be called Scotch (obviously), while in Ireland it’s just called Irish whiskey. Second, the Scots spell it whisky and the Irish prefer whiskey, so as far as we’re concerned, either is acceptable.
Whiskey is made from grain, the most common being malted barley. Rules are always broken, especially in the age of alcohol experimentation—you only have to look at avocado beer and sewer beer to know this is true—but generally, Scotch is double distilled, and Irish whiskey is triple distilled. The one thing both countries do agree on though, is the ageing process where the minimum age of a batch should always be at least three years.
Whiskey comes in many forms
If you want to call yourself a whiskey expert when you roll up to the bar, it’s best to you learn the different types so you’re not getting your single malts and single pot stills confused (that’d just be embarrassing).
Blended: this is two or more whiskeys mixed together (i.e. from two different distilleries or involve mixing a single grain and single malt) and tend to be lighter and more palatable for beginners.
Single malt: these are produced at a single distillery from only malted barley. Flavours (smoky, smooth and floral for example) will then differ depending on the type of barrel it’s aged in.
Single grain: also produced in a single distillery, this variety is a mix of different cereal grains and differs from single malt because barley isn’t always used. For this reason, they are often lighter, sweeter and play well in blends.
Single pot still: more common in Ireland, a single pot still is the same as a single malt but instead of just using malt barley, smaller amounts of unmalted barley and other cereal grains are added to the blend. These will usually have the most intense taste and texture.
This is the correct way to drink whiskey
The correct way to drink whiskey is one of the most contentious and debated topics amongst drinkers and people most can be categorised into two camps: people who drink it straight up (AKA neat), and those who add a splash of water. Yes, water, NOT ice. Do not be tricked by the tantalising image below! For a true whiskey purist, ice and other mixers destroy the aroma and flavour so avoid ordering it on the rocks or with a soda if you’re in a serious whiskey establishment in the UK. When it comes to professional tastings, the experts drink whiskey with water in it. Just a dash ‘opens’ the flavours of the spirit.
If you don’t name a particular brand when ordering, you’ll likely be asked two questions: what kind you want (see above) and what price range you’re after. Usually there will be a whiskey menu if you want to check, but top-shelf will usually the highest quality and most expensive. No good whiskey-loving bartender will be annoyed if you ask for a recommendation and if you really have no clue, order from the bottle that looks the most empty—it’s probably the most popular.
How to drink whiskey if you really don’t like it
If you’ve read all this and you’re still not tempted to order an un-mixed tipple but still want to enter the world of whiskey, try easing yourself in by ordering it in a mixed cocktail such as a Manhattan or whiskey sour. That way, you’ll still taste the alcohol notes but without the full force of the flavour.