Answer to the most common beginner question about whisky
You’ve probably seen it somewhere in the numerous Facebook groups, on Reddit pages or maybe you’ve even asked it yourself. The question is:
Hey (insert group name), what should I drink or what whisky would you recommend me?
While this is usually asked in a good way, responses rarely help. Depending on the group, you are going to hear a lot of Ardbeg 10yo, Monkey Shoulder, Buffalo Trace, Glenfiddich 12yo, etc. I like to call some of these answers a copy-paste from another whisky “influencers”.
While other people start their conversation about your personal preferences and that is surely a better way than to blindly pick a whisky bottle and tell others, “Yeah, that’s the one.”; I still think there are far better ways to educate yourselves, so let us prioritize them:
1. If you’re doing this just because of some algorithm or because you want to have higher engagement with your posts, then certainly, you do you.
2. I know it’s the time of the pandemic but I would urge you to try and find a local whisky club (I wrote in one of my earlier articles about a local club in my home country). You pay a fee of €20-40 for a tasting line-up of 4-6 whiskies and you also have a guide talking you through this who can answer all your questions. The people you meet there are also a huge bonus. After all, they can be your whisky friends since you share the same passion. Most of the clubs hopped on the trend of Zoom workshops and that’s fantastic because now you can join in on the workshops that are 200km away or even in another country or continent. There are also virtual whisky shows currently, they are a great place to learn a lot of information and taste interesting packs/sample boxes. In the past, you could simply attend these shows in person and buy drams but . . .
3. Arm yourself with knowledge. I know this sounds cliché but if you want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes, you have to do the homework. Luckily for us, now you can consume your media in any way you want. If you like books, go with Ingvar Ronde’s: Malt Whisky Yearbook 2021. You can also go with the classics and by that, I mean anything from Michael Jackson, Charles Maclean and Dave Broom. If you want to get into some technical details, I would suggest Misako Udo’s the Scottish Whisky Distilleries: The Ultimate Companion for The Whisky Enthusiast or the Whisky: Technology, Production and Marketing 2nd edition. If you like blogs, there are a lot of them, obviously, but words of whisky, whisky notes, whiskyfun, malt, nomunication are the ones I read the most. If you like YouTube, I would recommend Roy from Aquavitae, Horst Lüning from Whisky, Ralfy, Rex & Daniel from Whiskey Vault. Full disclosure – I prefer reading articles online than watching a 10-minute video about a bottle of whisky. It’s important to find someone who has a similar palate as you or someone who has the same preferences (peat, sulphur, sweetness, etc.). This is the way most people usually purchase their new whiskies, especially if we’re talking about higher price range and impossibility to try them before.
4. Splitting a bottle with your friends is one of my favourite things to do. As we speak a couple of friends and I split the Caperdonich 18yo and Glenmorangie Malaga 12yo. If you see something, you’re not sure about, why not split it with friends. How you may wonder? By splitting I don’t mean getting together and drinking it in one evening. What my friends and I do is we pour the whisky into smaller containers. Maximum people splitting the bottle should be 7 or 14. Why? If there are 7 of you, each one gets a 100ml and if the bottle in question is in four figures, you can add 7 more and buy that Port Ellen or Brora if you want. In my experience, the most splitting is between 4 people and occasionally 7 (if it’s a really good bottle of whisky).
5. Mini’s or whisky samples are an inexpensive way to try something before you buy it and most of the online retailers and stores have them. Why pay for the whole bottle when you can buy a sample for a fraction of the price. They usually come in 30ml or 50ml packaging. Popular whisky brands usually have their versions of a bundle core range which can be a great way to try that 12yo, 15yo and 18yo.
6. Lastly, go blind and buy something that catches your eye and it will be a great learning experience. When I started my whisky journey, I bought a lot of 12yo single malt and Jack Daniel’s because those were the only available inexpensive whiskies, I was able to find in my stores. Years later I still have some of these bottles closed, waiting to be opened or given to someone as a gift.
I almost forgot one of the most important things in experiencing whisky and that’s the glassware. There is a big difference between a nosing glass and a classic tumbler and each has its purpose. But, there’s always a but, if you look closely into YouTuber scene or if you decide to google how master distiller or master blender does their job, you’ll most likely find them holding a Glencairn, Copita or Bormioli nosing glass. Therefore, if you want to have the best nosing and tasting experience, give these glasses a try. They are not just a marketing gimmick.