So, Whisky Beginners, you want to start drinking Whisky. It’s a pretty versatile drink and caters to many tastes. It also makes you look cool and sophisticated, so what’s not to love?
But where do you start? With so many different brands and expressions out there, the Whisky world can be a maze for Whisky Beginners as they start their adventure.
Scotland alone has over one hundred working distilleries to choose from. That doesn’t even include blends and the countless different age statements, finishes and flavour profiles that exist.
But do not fear! There are simple and easy ways to figure out what you like and how you like it.
First off, if it’s Scotch you’re interested in, read up on the four regions of Scotland. These include the Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside and Islands.
Each has a different flavour profile, from the light and floral offerings of Speyside to the intense peated qualities of the Islands, there is something in Scotland for everyone.
There are a few other things to consider as well, such as age, finish and alcohol content.
When considering age, it is not always true that the older a Whisky the better it tastes, so don’t be fooled by larger age statements. Some 12-Year-Olds can be just as good, if not better than some 20-Year-Olds and price is usually a better indicator of quality.
Next to age we have maturation and finish. Whisky is matured in oak barrels, and this is where most of the flavour comes from.
The majority of the barrels used these days have been previously used to mature other liquids, such as Sherry or Bourbon.
This will of course, alter the taste, as the Whisky interacts with the molecules soaked up by the wood. Sherried expressions tend to be sweeter, while Bourbon are characteristically smooth.
The longer a Whisky is matured in the barrel will have an effect on the flavour as well, so consider maturation and finish alongside age. This will give you some idea of how the flavours in the barrel have effected the liquid.
Finally, we have alcohol content. This isn’t just so you can tell how bladdered you’ll be at the end of the bottle!
Alcohol content is important to consider as it too has an effect on the final flavour. Most Whiskies are bottled at somewhere between 40-50% and are diluted with water to reach that strength. It is a legal requirement that Scotch be bottled at 40% or above.
Some Whiskies are bottled at Cask Strength, meaning whatever alcohol content they came out of the barrel with and are not diluted.
Obviously at a higher alcohol content the liquid will be stronger and unless your well used to the taste, can make it a bit harder to savour.
The important thing is to find something you like. Discover your own tastes and then build on that.
Here are some of our suggestions of great Single Malts and Blends that are perfect for those looking to discover their first dram.
Bottled exclusively for GreatDrams, this limited edition Ardmore 8 Year Old Single Cask Single Malt Whisky bottling is a release of just 299 bottles globally. Once it is gone, it really is gone.
To celebrate the launch of my new book, The GreatDrams of Scotland, I worked with the fine folks at Douglas Laing to choose a cask that I would bottle in commemoration, and after going through a number of samples, this Ardmore 8 Year Old Single Cask Single Malt Whisky hit me as the one to choose; not only does it taste fantastic, but Ardmore was actually the first Scottish whisky distillery I ever visited, and happens to feature in the book for being part of the Teacher’s blend recipe.
This is a super smooth, triple distilled expression from Auchentoshan in the Lowlands. It is perfect for beginners as it has a nice, sweet disposition that will ease you into the world of dramming. At the same time, it is high quality and dense with different flavours, so you’ll get the full effect of the Bourbon barrel used for maturation. It is full of vanilla oakiness, with coconut and light citrus fruits in the background.
Buy here: Auchentoshan American Oak
This is a dram that packs a full Islay punch; it sacrifices nothing in its pursuit of peated perfection. The nose opens with a soot covered fruit bowl of flavours and undertones. The peat is obvious from the get go but the sweet, saccharine notes of pears and apples underneath give it a nice background. It is refined and sophisticated, with red leather and mahogany jumping out.
There are also notes of chilli spice that give it a warmth and depth. This ties in well with the peat and fruit, giving the nose a spicy sweetness to finish with. On the palate these flavours are blown up, almost literally considering the amount of smoke in this dram.
This has a good age statement to it and is matured in two different barrels, to give it extra smoothness and depth. Again, it is quite sweet and has a wonderful honey note that really stands out. This is the perfect dram for you if you are looking for something easy going in terms of both flavour and mouth feel.
A’bunadh has a fantastically creamy mouth feel that makes it highly enjoyable. It is also full of character and it a truly classic single malt. You will not be disappointed if you begin your whisky life with this malt. it is sweet with plenty of cinnamon spices to go around and keep you warm over these cold winter nights!
Another classic is the Glenmorangie Tùsail. Made from Maris Otter barley, this dram is rich and malty and a testament to the quality of Glenmorangie. The Glenmorangie Original is quite well known itself, but this gives you a little something more interesting and less well known to try. The key flavours are rich and earthy with a little bit of sugary sweetness and cinnamon spice as well.
This is an Irish Whisky that is the perfect first dram. It has been matured in Rum casks to give it a little something extra in the spice department and due to the characteristic Irish triple distillation, it is super smooth and velvety soft. It also has some earthy notes on the palate and some wonderful hints of lemon juice and caramel.
Another Irish Whisky, this is also a wonderfully smooth expression, packed full of flavours and depth. It is a lot fruitier than the Teeling and has a rich honeyed note throughout. The depth of Redbreast will give you something to really consider if you choose this for your first dram. There are plenty of flavours for you to really get your taste buds around!
This is a blend of unpeated and peated Whiskies from Clynelish, Allt-a-Bhainne and Caol Ila. As such it has great depth and sophistication. The hint of smoke wafts throughout and is perfect for those seeking something with only a hint of peat. This is a really good blend to invest in if you’re seeking to get onto more of heavily peated stuff, but want to take things slowly.
Also on the smoky route is the Craigellachie 13 Year Old. This is a dram that will bring you back to every bonfire night and fireworks show you’ve ever been to. It is full of fire and smoke with a delicate sweetness and fruity note in the background. This is a good first dram as it is a good quality malt that won’t break the bank and still has depth to it.
Despite being packed with peat, this is a light and easy going dram, perfect for those looking for a peated malt without choking yourself on it the first time. there is also a healthy does of sea air in this liquid that will ensure the Islands become your favourite region. This is a great introduction to the Island region and will definitely have you coming back for more!
Why better way to end than on a Christmassy note? Big Peat is a blend brimming over with peat and has been a huge success every year it has been released. It is made up of some of Islay’s biggest names, including Ardbeg, Caol Ila and Bowmore. The peat is excellently warming and deep, with those coastal overtones of sea brine and sand coming through. Perfect for those wanting to enjoy their first dram with a seasonal theme!
This expression was matured in first fill ex-Bourbon barrels and was first distilled in 1993. Air and kiln dried American oak barrels were also used in order to impart a subtle change in flavours. It was released as part of Laphroaig’s 200th Anniversary celebrations and was first sold to members of the Friends of Laphroaig.
The first fill Bourbon barrels come through with first whiff of the nose. There is a gentle sweetness with a cinnamon, vanilla spice in the background. This adds a nice depth to the fruity flavours that are apparent in the overtones. There are tangy pineapple and citrus fruit flavours that bounce off the more subtle peated tones.
The smoke and sea brine that is so well known in Islay malts are also present in the nose, but only slightly.
Buy here: Laphroaig 21 Year Old Limited Edition
Also published on Medium.