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Everyone has to start somewhere.  But what do you do when you don’t want people to know you’re only starting out?

 
When talking to a bartender or a fellow enthusiast, you don’t want them to know just how little you actually know, but Whisky is a drink with a rich history behind it and it’s impossible to learn it all at once.
 
Until you do learn it all, here are some helpful places to start, so you can look like you know it all already!
 
Firstly, when ordering a whisky, ask for it neat. This simply means without ice. To some in the industry ice is considered sacrilege as it can dull the flavours of the dram. So no ice if you want to look like you know what you’re doing!
 
And also know the difference between a Single Malt and a Blend.  Single Malt is one Whisky made in one distillery, and a Blend is a mix of several Whiskies from several distilleries.
 
If you want to engage a bit, you could start asking questions.  This will make you look really knowledgeable while at the same time allow you to start a conversation where you can learn more.
 

Some key expressions to know here are “finish” and “maturation”. 

 
Maturation is the length of time Whisky spends in the barrel, interacting with the wood and taking on its flavours. 
 
A Finish is when Whisky is moved from the barrel it has been matured in and is allowed to spend some time in another barrel, to take on different flavours.
 
Some good questions to ask are “What is the finish on that” or “What barrel was used for maturation”.  You’ll be able to look like you know what those things are, while at the same time, learning more about the Whisky itself.
 
Another great question to ask is for a dram similar to one you already like.  This gives the impression that you know Whisky and are just looking for more options.  Maybe even find out what your bartender’s favourite is! 
 
Now when the bartender hands you the glass, don’t just down it immediately. Savour it, smell it, consider what you’re drinking. 
 
If you’re going in for a sniff, tilt it to one side and really get your nose in there.  Give it a little swirl and admire the legs as the cascade down the side of the glass.
 
To look like you know exactly what you’re doing you should really get your nose in there.  When nosing, professionals don’t do things by half!  So get you nose in there and take a whiff!
 
Once you’ve enjoyed your dram, you might want to continue the conversation, so here are some things you should probably know in order to do that.
 

Know your regions.  This is vital when talking to anyone about Scotch, if you don’t know the regions, I’m sorry to say but you’re a little bit screwed.

 

There are a few regions which you should know by heart, the Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Campbeltown and Islay. Each has a different flavour profile with some overlap in between.   

The Highlands are known for their varied malts, ranging from light bodied and floral to heavier peated versions from their coastal distilleries. 
 
This peated flavours overlap with the Islands that are known for their thick, smoky qualities with plenty of peat and sea brine. They are the ultimate seaside malts. 
 
Another region is Islay, is one of the most famous regions due to being where all the peaty whisky is from.  It has eight working distilleries, which are all well known for their heavily peated expressions.
 
Next we have Speyside, which is a pretty big one, being the most distillery dense region in the country. Big names in the industry such as Glenfiddich, the The Macallan and the The Glenlivet hail from here. These malts are typically quite light and floral, with some rich sweet fruits as well. 
Campbeltown is growing in prominence again, with Glengyle, Springbank and Glen Scotia rising in awareness owing to some amazing new releases and the presence of independent bottlers Cadenheads.
 
Lastly is the Lowlands, which is home to only a handful of distilleries.  These tend to be light bodied malts, with dewy grass and rich herby notes. 
 
So there you have the regions.  These will be a helpful jumping off point when someone starts debating the merits of Highlands vs Islands, or something similar.
 
Another little extra to know is the Angel’s Share.  This is the amount of Whisky that evaporates every year.  It is usually around 2% each year and distilleries have been trying to find a way to stop it, such as wrapping cling film around the barrel. 
 
However, it is actually quite good for the Whisky, as it shows it is interacting with the air, which helps to develop depth and different flavours.
 
There is also a devil’s share, which is the portion of liquid that is absorbed into the wood every year.  
 
Lastly, you should know how to pronounce some of the harder names in Scotch brands.  Laphroaig has a hard “G” at the end, so don’t go saying “Laph-roy”, no matter what any one tells you!  And Bunnahabhain, as scary as it looks, is simply pronounced “Bun-na-hav-in”.
 
Whisky itself is Gaelic for “Water of Life” and no matter what Whisky lover you talk to, I’m sure they’d all agree!
 
So now you have somewhere you to start you should definitely go and delve deeper into the wonderful world of Whisky.
 
With some practice and even this little bit of knowledge, no one will know you’re a beginner.  In fact, now that you have all this knowledge, I think you just stopped being one!

Also published on Medium.

One Response

  1. barry.bradford@sky.com'
    barrybradford

    A barrel is a wooden vessel of specific size, a wooden vessel for maturing whisky is known as a cask (even if it is a barrel). You will bluff much further asking about casks 😉👍

    Reply

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