The Easy-Genius Whiskey Tasting Guide

When a person reaches the drinking age, there’s a certain scenario that plays out over and over again. After starting with sips of beer and wine, interests tend to move onto other types of alcohol, such as frozen margaritas, or cocktails made with Coke. From there, individual paths may diverge, but the drinker becomes more and more interested in new ways to imbibe. For some, the next chapter begins and ends with tequila shots. For others, it might be stronger craft cocktails, or dirty martinis. Eventually, though, a drinker arrives at a pivotal moment in life: the decisions to try whiskey.

For many, whiskey is the most daunting of spirits. I mean, even though other types of liquor have a multitude of variations in the way they are distilled, none have the rich distilling history of whiskey. Who’s ever heard of debating potato versus wheat vodka? Not in North America, anyway. Whiskey tasting does require a bit of knowledge, but it’s not necessary to become a scholar before taking your first sip. As whiskey tasting events pop up from coast to coast, and more people start learning how to drink whiskey, the need for a good solid knowledge base becomes more and more important. Here is an easy-to-follow, fun and interesting list of tips to get you ready for the awesome world of whiskey tasting.

How to Choose Your Whiskey

Choosing the best types of whiskey for tasting is the trickiest part of the process. Some people join a whiskey tasting club to guide them, but anyone, when armed with a little bit of knowledge, can drop into a good liquor store and leave with an arm full of great options. In the chart below, we’ve separated out the four major types of whiskey available in the US and Canada. Bourbon is a type of whiskey that’s native to the United States, and distilled almost exclusively in Kentucky and Tennessee. Scotch carries the namesake of its home country, Scotland. Irish whiskey is made right next door to the Scots, and Canadian whiskey comes from that great land between the Arctic Circle and the Great Lakes. Within each region, there are many variations to the ingredients and distilling processes, but for the beginning whiskey taster, those are of minor importance. It’s okay to intentionally buy different varieties, such as one single malt whiskey, one rye, one blend, and so on, but not mandatory. Here is a detailed list of whiskey recommendations, ranked for absolute beginner, to the seasoned expert.

Whiskey Tasting Guide

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Tasting Glasses

If there is a Whiskey Tasting 101 course out there, and I’m sure there is, the tasting glass would be your text book. Whiskey glasses are steeped in tradition, much like the whiskey itself. The most common glass for everyday drinking is the double old fashioned, also known as the whiskey tumbler or rocks glass. Rocks glasses are great for bars and parties, but for proper whiskey tasting, you need something a little different. You need a tulip, or snifter style glass, which is made with a large cavity in the bottom of the glass, and graduates up to a smaller rim. This gives things like single malt Scotch, and young bourbon whiskey room to breath, and absorb the oxygen it needs to reach its full potential. The narrow rim helps keep the aromas inside the glass, enhancing the taster’s ability to notice the full variety of flavors. Glencairn whiskey glasses are high quality, traditional snifter style tasting glasses, especially good for Scotch whiskey tasting.

Glencairn Whiskey Glass

Glencairn Whiskey Glass

If you’re feeling especially enthusiastic, try a whiskey tasting set, many of which provide tasting glasses, a journal, and other fun tools.

Preparing for the Party

A good whiskey tasting party brings together friends and loved ones to enjoy the whiskey tasting experience together. When inviting guests to whiskey tastings, you’ll need to make sure an gather a few things. In addition to finding whisky to sample, you need plenty of ice and water. The water is necessary not only to accommodate the drinking preferences of some guests, but to stay hydrated. Even experienced whiskey lovers know that a drink of water is called for between each sample, to cleanse your palette and prevent you from drinking too fast. A variety of whisky glasses are helpful, so try and have at least 2 for each guests. You want to keep the bourbon glasses separate from the Scotch whiskey glasses, of course, so there’s no risk of the flavors mingling.

Whiskey Tasting Notes

One of the most important, and often neglected, aspects of the tasting process is the taking of whiskey tasting notes. After four or more drams, you won’t be able to remember every single minor detail, so be sure to write it all down. Important things to keep track of are the name, the distillery, and the year it was made. Make tasting notes about the color, comparing it to things such things as honey, straw, and different types of wood. Describe the flavors you taste by thinking about the intensity of sweetness, herbal notes, woodsy fragrances, and any types of fruit you might detect. There are not wrong answers. You are merely keeping track of what you yourself discover, so you can compare, and choose determine with type of whiskey you might want to try again. Here’s a video that dives a little deeper into the process for whiskey tasting.

How to Drink Whiskey

Once you’ve tasted a few whiskies, you’ll start finding your personal preferences and favorites. As you begin to drink whiskey socially, you’ll find that sipping small pours and writing down the flavors isn’t always necessary. When you find a bar that carries the best bourbon, for example, you’ll already know what’s coming. Here’s how to drink whiskey in the four most popular ways: neat, with water, on the rocks, and in a cocktail. Don’t be afraid to mix it up, and try new things. Most bartenders know that the star of any glass should be the whiskey itself, so if you call for something you love, it’s likely a safe bet.

How to Drink Whiskey

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Whiskey Tasting Set

Whiskey Tasting Set

Whiskey Tasting Journal

Whiskey Tasting Journal

Tasting Flight Set

Tasting Flight Set

The Ultimate Guide to Single Malt Scotch: What It Is, And Why You Should Stock Up Right Now

Smoky, peaty, smooth… no country in the world does whisky like Scotland. This fantastic brown liquor has caused more hangovers than our editorial department cares to admit, but it’s distinctive flavor keeps us coming back for more.

So what is single malt scotch? Why do aficionados turn their noses up at “blended” scotches?

And what, pray tell, is the difference between Scotch from the Highlands and the islands to the south?

In the words of Hank Williams, Jr., it’s time to get whisky bent and hell bound. So let’s break single malt scotch down:

Single means the whisky was distilled by a single distillery.

Malt refers to the grain that is used. Single malt scotch is always distilled with malted barley (unlike bourbon, which can be distilled with corn or rye).

Scotch is the easiest to discern; if it came from Scotland, it’s Scotch! Other countries make whisky and dubiously label it Scotch (much like American wineries label sparkling wines as Champagne) in order to capitalize on the name.

That’s not to say that all foreign scotch imitations are cheap knockoffs.

Not too long ago the Japanese beat Scotland in a blind tasting of single malt whisky. Surprisingly, no scenes of Braveheart were recreated upon the decision.

Single malt scotch, unlike its patrons, must reach a level of maturity before hitting the bars. The bare minimum is three years in oak casks, though most single malts are aged between twelve and twenty-five years.

And unlike wine, the aging process stops once Scotch is bottled.

In other words, a 12 year Macallan bottled in 1985 should be very similar to another 12 year Macallan bottled in 1989 (assuming no one’s finished the bottle).

Single Malt Scotch Ingredients

Barley, water and yeast are the only ingredients needed to make single malt Scotch, though additional flavor is added via the oak casks the Scotch is stored in.Scotch Whiskey Glass

Barley (malt) is a grain left to soak for 2-3 days in water, which allows it to germinate and create fermentable sugars.

Water is a crucial ingredient, and many distilleries choose their location based on the ready availability of pure clean spring water.

Yeast is the magician. If it weren’t for yeast we’d had nothing but sickly sweet, non-alcoholic syrup.

Yeasts are like the perfect guest: they eat everything put in front them and leave copious amounts of alcohol behind.

How Should I Drink Single Malt Scotch?

The jury is still out on this.

Purists believe a single malt is like a National Park: best left undisturbed. Others argue that a few drops of water help aerate the Scotch and releases its aroma.

Try this experiment: Pour a single malt into a snifter glass and inhale slowly through your mouth (the alcohol burns your nostrils and impedes your ability to smell).

Now, add three drops of water, swirl and smell again in the same fashion. You should notice a much fuller aroma, while the taste should remain the same.

What you should NOT do is add ice.

It ruins the body of the scotch, dilutes the flavor and will invite raised eyebrows from pub-mates.

Regions of Great Single Malt Scotch

Highland Single Malts are the most popular around the world. They have a balance most other regions cannot match: more flavor than lowland scotches, less fire than Islays. Most highland single malts are smooth, with notes of vanilla, honey and (sometimes) sherry.

Speyside is a sub-region of the Highlands and is where some of the smoothest, most full bodied single malts call home. Named after the Speyside river, the crystal clear water is the main reason so many distilleries can be found here. Some famous Speyside distilleries include Macallan, Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie.

Islay (pronounced Eye-Luh) Single Malts are renowned for their smoky aroma, which comes from the large amount of peat-moss grown in the area. The two most popular Islay distilleries are Laprhoaig and Lagavulin (my personal favorite).

Lowland Single Malts
are among the most mellow scotches, and a great way to introduce yourself to quality brown liquor. Start with Auchentoshan- a laid back single malt that has been distilled three times- before working your way up the food chain.

Campbeltown Single Malts are the up and coming region for quality single malts. Combining the smooth texture of the Highlands with a milder peatiness of the Islays, Campbeltowns are sure to please a wide variety of Scotch aficienados. Springbank is a personal favorite and you can find both the 10 and 15 year at BevMo and any bottle shops.

Great Single Malt Scotch Moments In Film

The Departed. An Ode to Drunken Anglos. When referring to a suicide mission, Leonardo DiCaprio offers the gem of a line: “Why don’t you just give me a bottle of Scotch and a handgun?”

Anchorman. A circa-1970’s newsman who sings “I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly…” when the camera stops rolling. It takes a special kind of man to drink on the job and sing about it. Kudos.

Photo Credit: rbrwr

3 Valentines Day Gift Ideas for Him and Her

It’s that one day a year where you’ve got to show your significant other exactly how much they mean to you with a gift that not only says, “I love you,” but one that says, “I understand you.” If you’re reading this, then it’s safe to assume your guy or girl likes to drink and have fun. Whether it be wine, liquor, or beer, we’ve got a few ideas that could help you say what you need to say, but without spending a lot of dough.

Gifts for Her

1. Giant Extra Large Wine Glass

It’s so big, there’s three words that say how big it really is: Giant, Extra, Large. This handblown mega-glass is so massive it holds an entire 750mL bottle of wine. Do yourself a favor and get a few, so not only could she share a pleasantly wined evening with you, but she could also have an amazing night in with the girls.

2. Parisian Chic High Heel Wine Holder

What is the number one thing girls love the most? If you guessed purse-size animals or jewelry, you’re on the right track, but oh so wrong. Shoes are a girl’s real best friend, and this glitzy high heel wine bottle holder is the perfect mixture of “chic” and “cute” that fits wine bottles of all sizes.

3. Leopard Flip Flop Bottle Opener

In the realm of all things “cute,” a flip flop bottle opener takes the cake. But this isn’t just any slick bottle opener, it’s got that leopard print extra that girls love to wear. Does your girl not like the leopard? Don’t worry, we’ve got it in pink and zebra striped too.

Gifts for Him

1. Simply Class Whiskey Glass Set

Men love feeling like the elite wise-guys of Madison Avenue, and those elite wise-guys drink whiskey. Set your man up with a set of hand blown crystal whiskey glasses. These hold 14 ounces of awesome in a four-inch rim. These beautiful glasses will take you back to a simpler time where having class was respected and the finer things in life were gained through honest, hard work.

2. Personalized Saloon Man Cave Sign

Give your man the expressed right of claiming his territory, without making the mess that your pets do. This 18″x14″ saloon savvy sign, made with real wood, can be personalized with your guy’s name so that all his friends will know they’re entering his domain. What happens in the man cave, stays in the man cave.

3. Vintage Dude Beer Mugs & Flasks

Made from durable, lightweight plastic, with a classy description authorizing your man’s right to just sit, relax, and enjoy his brew. These mega-mugs are perfect for barbecues or hanging out for the big game. We’ve also got decade-personalized tankards available for ages 30, 40, and 50, as well as flasks for 30 and 40.

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