What is the right way to drink whisky? It’s probably one of the most debated topics in the industry, not to mention in bars up and down the breadth of the country. From adding water to the right glass whisky experts all have an opinion and they are not slow about expressing it. The old school experts and drinkers swear by just the tiniest drop of water to bring out the flavours, but try telling that to the thousands of Americans who add ice, and who love Scotch on the rocks.
Perhaps one of the reasons that whisky has been slow at garnering the attention of a younger audience is exactly because of these outdated rules. Because to be really honest there is no right or wrong way to drink whisky. You should drink it the way you like it. After all if you are spending the money on buying a dram you are entitled to drink it any way you want.
The most important consideration when you are starting out on your whisky journey is actually finding a whisky that you like. And although some people will say “I don’t like whisky”… they are saying that without trying, sometimes, even one of the vast range of whiskies that are out there. The number of times that I have been with non-whisky drinkers who are adamant they don’t like whisky, who try a few at a tasting session, and become fans. Of course a good bartender will help you on that path – they will ask you whether you have a sweet tooth, what do you normally drink and such like, and then will make a recommendation. Some will even pour you a wee smidgen of the whisky they are recommending, and there is no harm in asking to try it. After all beer drinkers do exactly that.
There is also the issue with blended whisky – that’s whisky that is derived from various malts from different distilleries and single grain whisky, and which most people drink with a mixer – either water, lemonade, ginger ale or coke. In Scotland and indeed in the UK, the poor blend has been ignored over the past few years. Whisky companies have been concentrating their efforts on Malts – whiskies of different ages from the same distillery. But if you look at the USA and the rest of Europe and the young people that enjoy whisky – it’s blends that they are drinking on a regular basis. In fact, just about nine bottles of blended whisky are sold for every bottle of malt!
It’s is a common occurrence for a group of friends in bars and clubs to buy a blend such as Ballantine’s or J&B Rare or Johnnie Walker, to share with a group, and they buy a bucket of coke bottles to use as a mixer. As a result brands like Ballantine’s tend to sponsor uber cool events such as Henry Saiz Boiler Room & Ballantine’s Stay True Spain Live Set… check it out on Youtube.
But the point is most people do not drink blended whisky straight up. They are drinking it over ice or with a mixer. And I don’t hear any whisky companies complaining about that.
Malt whisky on the other hand… for as long as I have been writing about whisky, has been very much suffering, in my view, from the old-fashioned idea that there is a right and wrong way to drink our national drink. Some suggest you should drink whisky in its true natural form – even without water. They say the real characteristics, and flavours from the whisky cask come through. Then there are those who say add a wee drop of water because you can open up more subtle flavours from the whisky, and it also increases its aroma. Then there is ice… probably one of the most contentious issues of all – some say it inhibits the flavour of the whisky because the temperature of the ice locks in the flavour. However, some also say that if you take ice cold whisky into your mouth and it warms naturally it is even more tasty!
Tom Jones, Global Brand Ambassador of Johnnie Walker likes his whisky on the rocks but says, “The best way to drink scotch is with friends. After that it’s how you like it. People are going to have their own opinions about water and ice, but that’s exactly it: they are just opinions. You should drink it the way you like it best. I personally like it on the rocks.”
While Andy Gemmell, Scottish drinks columnist and Director at The Drink Cabinet UK said when I asked him how he drank his whisky, “I’m not a total purest. It depends on my mood. I’m more than happy with a few cubes of ice in malts depending on the age, peat levels etc. Also a few drops of water just helps open up the more complex malts. There are also some I drink neat because they don’t need anything.”
David Beckham who has partnered with Haig Whisky says, “I like to drink Haig Club neat or on the rocks, or in the Haig Clubman, made with sparkling apple soda, ginger bitters and a slice of ginger root served over hand-cracked ice.”
This brings us nicely to whisky cocktails – of which I am a fan. There are far too many to mention from an old-fashioned, to the Haig Clubman. However I, personally, am not a fan of whisky cocktails that totally disguise the fact that there is whisky in the glass.
So to conclude, find a whisky you like, try sipping it before adding anything and then add what you like to make it your favourite drink. After all drinking whisky in different ways, will reveal the different flavours that exist in the whisky.
The last word goes to the Scotch Whisky Association who states, “The only rule is that you should drink Scotch the way you enjoy it as an individual.” And so say all of us!