At a glance, the world of scotch whisky can seem a daunting place for newbies. With almost 150 distilleries in Scotland, knowing where to begin can seem pretty overwhelming.
The outdated perception that scotch whisky is an older man’s drink is being challenged by an increase in young adults, specifically women, taking to the spirit. The misconceptions surrounding scotch whisky may have turned people away in the past, however, consumers are continuously challenging the way whisky is being portrayed as we see an explosion in whisky experimentation, especially within the bar scene.
Geographically Australia couldn’t be further away from the best whisky producing regions of Scotland, but it is now crafting world-beating premium quality spirits. Some of them are so sought-after that distilleries cannot meet the demand for bottles.
With that in mind, there is no better time to start exploring scotch whisky than now! So, to help simply the process, here are five top tips for whisky newbies.
Knowing where to start
With so many scotch whiskies on the market, knowing where to start, or what you like, can take a bit of time to discover. When it comes to knowing what whisky to start with, I would recommend reaching for something with a lighter flavour profile that has a smooth finish. Blended scotch whisky, meaning that is crafted form the finest single malts and gain whisky to create a taste that is indulgent and beautifully balanced.
To help whisky newbies decide where to start, it's handy to know there are five regions where scotch whisky is allowed to be produced. Those regions, all in Scotland, the home of whisky (not Irish or American whiskey) include the Highlands, Lowland, Speyside, Campbeltown and Islay. Those regions produce distinctly tasting scotches with Speyside, the most common region, being sweeter and heavier than the light, softer whiskies of the Lowland region.
Discover how you like to drink it
Although there are many different ways to enjoy scotch whisky, ultimately it comes down to your personal preference. I’d always encourage those who are new to drinking whisky to try it neat before adding a splash of water or ice. By adding a few drops of water, you lower the alcohol percentage and release the aromas in the whisky, which can make it more accessible to your palate. This softens alcohol vapers and allows you to appreciate the flavours of the whisky.
An emerging trend within whisky is the Highball. Refreshing and simple to create, combining whisky and soda in a tall glass with ice and a citrus twist is a great way for whisky newbies to explore how they like to enjoy scotch. There is no right or wrong way to drink scotch whisky, it simply comes down to your own preferences and how you best enjoy our blended scotch.
When you're tasting whisky, nosing, the act of bringing your whisky to your nose and taking a sniff, is a step that a lot of people skip, but they shouldn't. Smelling your booze can help you pick out flavours and aromas that you won't be able to detect through sipping alone. It's an important part of the process.
Attend different whisky tastings and masterclasses
The best thing about whisky tastings and masterclasses is that you have the chance to try a variety of different whiskies, which is great way to get familiar with what you like and what you don’t. Tastings and masterclasses not only allow you to try whiskies, but you also gain knowledge about the production, heritage and craftsmanship of whisky. The key thing to keep in mind when tasting whisky during classes is having confidence in identifying tasting notes – we all have different tastebuds, so no two palates are the same, meaning that you may be able to identify certain flavour notes that others may not, and vice versa.
Don’t be afraid to experiment
One of the most exciting things about whisky is its versatility. The perception that scotch is an older man’s drink to only be enjoyed neat is aging, and continuously we see the boundaries of whisky being pushed further. At the end of the day, whisky comes down to personal preference – so don’t shy away from experimentation when you drink it.
When it comes to whisky cocktails, the Australian bar scene is showing exactly how exciting and accessible scotch can be. Cocktails are also a great way to be introduced to a new spirit. If you are drawn to something classic with a kick, why not try out a Old Fashioned or Whisky Sour? Or if you’re looking for something more contemporary, Summery and refreshing, an Algonquin Cocktail with pineapple juice and dry vermouth is the way to go. There truly is a style of drinking scotch for everyone.
Be open to trying new whiskies
Although it’s a great idea to gain an understanding of what kind of scotch you enjoy drinking, it’s always good to keep an open mind and try new whiskies when you can. This is made easy with the number of incredible whisky bars in Australia, offering customers a wide variety of whiskies from across the globe. It’s also important to note that your palate changes with time, so a more smoky whisky that you may have avoided as a whisky novice is perhaps something that your palate would enjoy further down the line. We’re spoiled for choice as scotch whisky drinkers, so why not make the most of it and try a wide variety of them when you can.
Hollie Atkinson is Chivas' whisky ambassador. If you're interested in becoming a seasoned whisky pro, Hollie's running whisky workshops across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Gold Coast this November until March 2020. You can book your ticket for The Blend by Chivas here.
I used to get in debates almost every time I drank whiskey on whether or not it was appropriate to add water to the stuff. A few aficionado friends would always argue that the only way to drink whiskey was straight up, and I was ruining it with a few drops of H2O. I'd argue most whiskeys were a bit better with a few cubes of ice or a tiny bit of water. The fact of the matter is you should enjoy it however you prefer it, but now there's actual science to back up my watery claims.
This article was originally published on 20 November 2019.