Whiskey Styles 101: Learning to Understand the Different Varieties

Whisky glass and ice cube

As autumn rolls in once again, let’s all celebrate by warming up with one of the finest methods available. For the whiskey connoisseur, this article may be useful to test your knowledge and learn some trivia, and for the gentleman just about to embark on his first journey into the world of whiskey, this article will give you an insight into which style to try first.

Whiskey, originally coined “water of vitality” gained its popularity rapidly and had become one of the most popular drinks in the entire world. The whiskey we know, today was first distilled around the 1400’s and most likely in Scotland. It soon became the drink of choice in England and Ireland and contributed to 40/50% of the nation’s tax revenue.

The brave few that went on to North America to colonise the land ensured the popular beverage crossed the Atlantic. Famously, George Washington converted to the drink as his favourite vice, opening his own distillery at Mount Vernon, which ended up being one of the biggest distilleries in the young nation, and they continue to create whiskey today.

Whiskey is a drink that gentlemen have enjoyed the pleasure of for many centuries. Gentlemen like Winston Churchill (often accompanied with a fine cigar), Mark Twain and Clark Gable enjoyed the water of vitality regularly.

Whiskey embodies masculinity, conjuring up the vision of a gentleman in a tweed jacket, cut crystal glass in hand sat by the fire, or frontiers men sipping from the same tin cup in the northern snowy winter.

For those of you wanting to explore the tradition of whiskey drinking, we hope to broaden your knowledge as a whole, especially how to enjoy it.

To thoroughly enjoy whiskey, first, you need to know some of the basics regarding the spirit itself; mainly the styles and how to pick a bottle yourself. Whiskey can be defined as an alcoholic beverage that has been distilled from fermented grains and then aged in wooden casks.

The best way to distinguish different whiskies would be by their nationality and then broken down into various types, such as; single malt, rye, blended, etc.’

Scotch whisky – Tends to be very peaty and smoky, distilled in Scotland mainly from barley and aged for three years. They have blends, which is different scotch whiskies mixed together, or single malts, which is a whisky brewed in a single distillery from malted barley.

Irish whiskey – Light bodied yet robust in character, distilled in Ireland and aged for at least three years.

American whiskey – Sweeter than most other whiskies, distilled in America and aged in barrels for normally two years. They have bourbon, which is distilled from at least 51% corn, rye, distilled from at least 51% rye and Tennessee bourbon that is distilled in Tennessee and filtered through charcoal.

Once you get an idea as to which whiskey you fancy, we advise picking a few different varieties from the same style over the course of a few months. First, try a cheaper bottle of between £15-£25, then a middle road bottle at £25-£35 and then treat yourself to a good bottle at £35-£100 and compare tasting notes. Spend a month or so with each bottle and get to know the flavours.

You should note how smooth the more expensive bottles are. The longer the whisky is aged, the more the cask takes away the harshness or burn, allowing more time to work out the intricate flavours. With a bourbon, there is a definitive difference in taste between percentages even as little as 3-5%.

Over time your taste buds will mature, and you will be able to distinguish between flavours and styles of whiskey. We advise starting on an Irish whiskey as they are lighter and calmer, then move on to American whiskies which have a larger variety of flavours, and finally, Scotch whisky has the “harshest” and more distinct characters, which can be difficult for some to swallow.

Just like fine cigars, whiskey tasting requires time and patience for the taste buds to mature, but we can assure you, it is a fantastic journey to embark on that only rewards dedication.

 

 

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