Whisky drinking guide for beginners

Updated: 18 Jul 2017 | By:

If you have never drank a dram of whisky before, I'd suggest you give it a try.

You may have heard the saying that the golden elixir is for men of father's age, men of status, all that represents masculinity and therefore not for the faint of heart. I beg to differ, a woman who knows her whisky is very, very sexy because first, she understands herself (and her palate), second, she doesn't live her life to please others or for conformity. And third, she dares to try new things.

Taste is not gender-biased, this I mean just because you are a woman, doesn’t mean you like sweet; or because you are a man, you like punchy and bitter taste.

Everyone has different taste buds that determine the liking for certain flavours, except that it is natural for women to have more sensitive palates due to their genetics as a child bearer and protector against harmful and dangerous substances which normally taste sour or bitter.

On the other hand, the palate can also be trained, because when we taste something it creates a memory in us, just like one would describe soup that grandmother used to cook. So would you still use the description of whisky tasting like mothballs? Surely you haven't chewed on that (or maybe you have, so how would you describe a mothball?)

Never try, never know (Can you handle not knowing? If not, read on…)

Here's the thing - if you never try it, you'll never be able to describe it, hence a rejection of the spirit based on speculations or social perception simply can't contradict the popularity of the "water of life" (in Scottish term, whisky). How could so many people love the taste of something so much, they'd spend more on it for a dram than a bowl of excellent ramen, a beautiful dress or a flight overseas (AirAsia can fly from RM75 to Singapore). Are these people nuts? Sure, everyone has different priorities, and we don't mean that you have to spend a fortune on a bottle, so how about trying tasters to start with?

I'm going to share some of my personal tips on whisky tasting and at the end of it, I hope you know your preferred taste profile better. You can use the same method from Step 2 to 4 on other beverages like wine, rum, vodka, gin, beer, or coffee even!

Step 1: Choose a flight of different whiskies
First, try a flight of single malt whiskies. Start with the five different Scotch whisky producing regions: Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Islay and Campbeltown. Why, you ask, does it have to be Scotch whisky and not Japanese or Irish or American? Simply because there is a long and established history about Scotch and it’s the most accessible whisky in Malaysia. All the regions are available with many different brands to go for. And to start with single malt Scotch instead of blended malts for more purities when it comes to identifying flavour from one type of malt instead of numerous blends.

Whisky is normally served at 30ml, just like a shot but referred to as “dram” (originally only consisted of 3ml, like 1/10 of the current measurement! It is now wonder it was called a “wee” dram).

Step 2: Nosing (Smell it) & Tasting (Taking sips-y)
Secondly, nose every dram to find the difference in scent, then taste them individually neat. When tasting, take a little sip and swirl the liquid around your mouth then breath out so the scent covers your nostrils as well. Tasting always includes both nose and mouth because without one another, you won't get the full experience of what you are tasting. After tasting the drams neat, add a little water to "release the serpent" and allow the highproof spirits to "open up". This action agitates the tense molecules and break the scents apart so that you can smell and taste the elements more noticeably.

Step 3: Now put your taste into words
Thirdly, when trying the whiskies, try to describe it with words as this will strengthen the memory of the flavour profile. Make a mental note of how the liquid makes you feel and avoid saying simply "I like" or "I don't like" but rather, give a reason for why you have said so and what makes you feel that way.

Step 4: Pick the flavour(s) you like
By this time, you should have a pretty good idea which dram stands out. If you like what you have tried (it can be any brand) and remember the region(s) of the brand(s) then next time, try something from the same region or similar taste profile. Describe it to the bartender and ask him/her to suggest one for you. There are over 300 distilleries in Scotland alone, so now you have a head start on trying Scotch, there are a lot more on a bar's menu you can explore. Don't forget there are also other whisky producing countries such as Ireland, America, Japan, India, and Taiwan.

If you still haven't found a region of Scotch taste profile you like by the end of the session, I suggest you give Irish whiskey a go. Irish whiskey is normally triple-distrilled (compared to double-distilled to remove impurities in the liquid) and is smoother with cleaner character. If you'd like to share your experience, speak to the bartender or write to me editor@thirstmag.com. I'd like to hear from you.