Patrick Gallagher (not pictured) is the owner of PJ’s Irish Whiskey Bar in Sydney, NSW. Housing over 131 different whiskies from around the world, including 50 from Ireland, Gallagher clearly knows a thing or two about this particular distilled beverage. Here are ten tips from the man himself that will turn you into a womanising Don Draper type in no time.
The popularity of whisky in Australia has increased significantly over the past few years and with it, the face of the typical whisky drinker has changed dramatically. In any given month, Australians are drinking approximately three million more glasses of whisky than they were in 2009. The age of the average whisky drinker has also shifted, with new research showing that 25-to-34 year olds are now the most likely to imbibe.
If you're intrigued by whisky but aren't sure how to get started, here are ten tips that should steer you in the right direction.
#1 Understand the origins
Just like in the wine world, the location of the distillery will tell you what flavour and type of whisky to expect. Scotch whiskies from the coast have a whiff of sea salt, while whiskeys from Texas can have an undertone of Texan BBQ. Here are a few tasting notes based on country:
- Scotch whisky tends to have smoky and earthy flavours
- American whiskey tends to be sweeter than other whiskies as they are typically ‘Bourbon’ or ‘rye’ whiskies (distilled from corn/rye, not malted barley)
- Canadian whisky tends to be light-bodied and fruity and are typically blends
- Irish whiskey tends to be light-bodied, but more robust than Canadian whiskey
#2 "Whiskey" or "Whisky"?
Don’t be fooled, they are the same thing! The easy way to remember it is if the country has an ‘e’ in their name — Ireland and the United States spell it "whiskey", while Scotland and Canada both use "whisky". There is no right way to spell it, just like there is no right way to drink it. [Editor's note: Australia uses "whisky". Acceptance of "whiskey" as an alternate spelling is mixed.]
#3 Take baby steps
Often newbies find the peatier whiskies, like Laphroig or Lagavulin quite sharp, so ease yourself into it. Maybe start with a whisky cocktail or a sweet bourbon, just to get used to the flavours. Cocktails are also a great way to get into understanding how different whiskies go with other flavours. Try a Scotch Manhattan for a smokey taste or give The Old Fashioned a go.
#4 It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Whether you take your whisky straight or on the rocks, it should be savoured and enjoyed, not chucked down the hatch. The longer you keep it in your mouth, the more flavour you'll get. You may even hear of people ‘chewing’ their whiskies, see what works best for you.
#5 You can’t go wrong with whisky
There are guidelines about whisky... not rules. Whisky embodies the classic ‘each to their own’ mantra, and as such it really is for everyone. Many people will tell you that some whiskies are too good to be mixed, or that some need water to get their full flavour, but no matter how you take it, it’s correct!
#6 Age is just a number
The older whiskies are not always the best, although they are sometimes the most expensive. Do not be mislead by a price tag. There is much to making up a flavour including the type of water, the amount of grain/rye and the location of the distillery than just how long it has been sat in a barrel.
#7 On the rocks?
The age-old debate among whisky lovers. A bit of water can go a long way to unlocking the full flavour of some whiskies and often will give a much truer taste than a mixer. Give a thought to whether you prefer your whisky a little watery or just cold. One big cube is classy and will melt quite quickly, making it easier to drink. Many "experts" say you should never dilute a whisky, but revisit step 5 and remember you’re doing it just right, regardless.
#8 Selecting your vessel
If you want to play it safe, just get a big heavy tumbler. This is the original way to enjoy a whisky and nobody will question it. If you want to look more sophisticated and 'hip', go for a taller, pear- shaped glass with a stem.
#9 Pair it with food
Something that many people around the world are catching on to is whisky-food matching. It was once thought strange to drink whisky while eating food, now the opposite is happening; people are actually pairing whiskies with different dishes based on taste combinations.
#10 Finding a favourite
Below are a few whiskies you should be tasting to help decide what sort of whisky is right for you:
- Woodford reserve (Bourbon): Light, vanilla sweet and smooth.
- Laproaig 10 yr Scotch (Single Mailt whisky): Rich peaty / smokey and mature flavour. Saltwater influences the distilling process.
- Crown Royal (Canada’s most popular whisky): Smooth, lingering aftertaste. Maple/toffee flavours.
- Nikka (Japanese Whisky): Malt and grain blended whisky. Warming, full bodied, rich and deep in flavour.
The beauty of whisky is that it is a flexible spirit and can be consumed however you want. You can have it in the traditional method neat (straight up) or on the rocks (with ice), but there's nothing to stop you mixing with other beverages such as soda, ginger beer or cola - experiment and you'll find more flavours!