Although many alcoholic beverages are typically something you just pick up and drink, without much thought of how or why you’re drinking it, whisky is something that needs much more attention. The thought process behind choosing and drinking whisky is part of the experience, making sure you maximise your enjoyment from each sip.
If you’re looking to dip your toe into the pool of whisky drinking for the first time, then there are some considerations you’ll need to take into account before grabbing a bottle and pouring a dram. Things such as flavour, strength and style will all dictate the drinking experience, so these should be kept in mind when selecting your bottle. In this article, we’ll be diving into what beginners to the whisky world should consider, the various styles of drink available and how to go about selecting your first bottle.
First and foremost, there are four main styles that whiskies conform to, these are:
Single malt – this is a malt whisky that is typically produced from a single distillery and commonly associated with Scotch.
Blended malt – a whisky made using the malt of various different distilleries and blending them to make one drink.
Single grain – similar to singe malt, but a whisky made from one grain that isn’t malted barley, from one distillery.
Blended whisky – this is the result of blending single malts and grains from various different distilleries.
It’s important to note that although the production method for these whiskies can differ, they do not necessarily affect the flavour. This means you can have a single malt with similar tasting notes to a blended whisky. Although there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to styles, ‘typically’, blended whiskies will be of a lower quality of the four, depending on price point etc. With blended whiskies, the likelihood is that the blender will have used one or more lower quality ingredients (malt/grain) and added in a small amount of high-quality ingredient to balance the flavour. Not all blended whiskies are bad, but typically price will reflect quality, more on that below.
As with many things in this world, the price will often dictate the quality. That said, there can be exceptions at either end of the spectrum; either a cheap whisky can be delicious, or an expensive one can be rough. Overall, pricing is subjective to what you’re looking for from a drink. If you want something to mix with cola or Irn-Bru, then grab a cheap bottle of Jack Daniels and drink away. But, if you’re going to invest in the drinking experience, then something a little better will be required.
For a beginner bottle of whisky, you could expect to pay up to around £50 for a good blend. We’d also recommend starting with a sweeter drink as this can take away some of the harshness of the whiskey. An American or Irish whiskey would be a good place to start as these are typically sweeter or fruitier. Our Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old (US) is a fantastic option, or you could opt for the Teeling Single Malt Irish Whiskey (Irish).
Once you’ve bought your first bottle or two, you should have an idea of what you do and don’t like about the drinks you’ve tried. Maybe one was too smoky? Or too sweet? The likelihood of finding your perfect bottle first time around is pretty slim, so make the most of the experience and enjoy the learning curve. The flavour of the whisky is perhaps the most essential aspect, as this is the main reason you will be purchasing a bottle. Flavours can be changed, enhanced or dampened by adding water or ice cubes, so try experimenting with different combinations to find your preferred style. You can also use different shaped ice cubes to test melting times or use whisky stones to chill the drink without diluting it.
Because of the close link between the senses of smell and taste, nosing the drink is an excellent first step. Common flavours found are vanilla, toffee or caramel, as these are imparted when whisky is aged in a barrel. For Scotch, you can expect anything from smoky leather to fruity notes, so you’ll need to test a few different drinks to find your feet. Equally, Japanese whisky will offer strong fruit notes when nosing, followed by fruity flavours.
Overall, it’s hard to pick specific whiskies for beginners as it really depends on what flavours you’re looking for. If you’re looking to grab one of your first bottles, we have Scotch, Irish, American and Japanese whisky for sale. Or you can check out our blog for more great whisky tips and information.