Understanding, Appreciating and Enjoying your Whisky Some pointers

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Ashutosh Garg October 27, 2020

The love for whisky has remained constant and consistent over the decades and it is one of the fastest growing spirits in the world. Most nations brew some kind of alcohol but the whisky from only a few countries has now gained an international appeal.

How to drink should never be the subject of any paper and therefore this note simply outlines what to watch out for while enjoying your favourite dram. After all, since you will generally pay a lot of money in comparison to other types of alcohol, you don’t want to just drink and forget!

What's the difference between scotch and whisky?

The spirit from USA and Ireland is whiskey, whiskey spelt with an “e”. All other countries have “dropped the e”. Further, while all scotch is whisky but not all whisky is scotch. Scotch whisky is a legal term created to protect whisky made in Scotland. By law, Scotch whisky has to be distilled and matured in oak casks for at least three years in Scotland. Given the demand for whisky, most whisky distilleries are dropping the “ageing” of their bottles.

So you can get a Yamazaki or Hibiki from Japan, a Hammer Head from the Czech Republic, a Kavalan from Taiwan or a Brenne from France – all of these are whiskies but none of them is a Scotch.

What is a single malt?

Single malt simply refers to the whisky comes from one single distillery and the malt refers to the malted barley used in the whisky. 

On the other hand, a blended whisky like a Chivas Regal or a Johnnie Walker is made from a blend of whiskies made from wheat or corn and “blended” by master blenders – who are no different from the expert chefs in high-end restaurants.

So while you can find a malt distillery or a whisky distillery, there’s no such thing as a blended whisky distillery. It does not exist. 

Is older whisky better?

I have often seen people asking for old whiskies at duty-free shops. However, older does not mean better. Maturity and age are very different for a whisky. The time your spirit spends in its cask is not as important as the quality of the cask.

Brewing is a natural process. Sometimes the cask is good and sometimes it is not. What happens inside the cask is between the spirit and the wood of the cask. There’s no way for any distillery to control that process. What is needed is lots of patience. The better the wood of the cask the better the whisky.

However, since the older whisky occupies a longer shelf life in its distillery, it automatically takes in more investment and hence is priced higher.

How do you nose a scotch?

The first experience we have with our whisky is with its smell before it touches our lips and our tongue. Therefore, the first impression is the aroma. Every whisky has its own distinctive aroma and you would have heard terms like peaty, smoky, sweetish, etc. 

Nosing a whisky is simply about how it smells. 

After you have poured your drink into a glass (and while there are many shapes and sizes of glasses, the preferred choice for a malt is a tulip shaped glass which has a bulbous shape and a narrow neck) simply take the edge of the glass to the tip of your nose and take a deep breath of the aromatic liquid. You will first get the sweeter and lighter aromas followed by the richer aromas. As you “nose” more whiskies, you will be able to discern the many flavours in your chosen whisky.

When you think of flavours, dozens of impressions are created as you take your first sip. An easy way to start your journey is whether your whisky is sweet; does it have a vanilla flavour; what kind of a wood finish can your smell; is it smoky; is it peaty; does it have a medicinal taste; is it salty? Once you can start to make these differentiations, you can start to dive deeper.

Incredible isn’t it that you are able to enjoy your whisky even before you have taken the first sip.

Is there a special way to drink the whisky?

Ideally, take a small sip and let it roll over your taste buds. Then let the lovely liquid find its way down your throat as you take in the flavours. We have five sensations - bitter, salty, sweet, sour and savoury. The tip of your tongue senses the sweetness first. As you breathe the fluid you will get the other flavours at the back of your mouth.

Don’t swirl the precious liquid around your mouth like you would do with a mouth wash and don’t swallow it and feel the spirit burn the back of your throat!

How should I drink my whisky?

There is really no correct or right way to enjoy your whisky. Some people like to drink their whisky neat while others add a dash of water to open up the bouquet. Some add ice while other add the recently launched stone cubes to keep their whisky cold without diluting it. There are still others who love to add a large amount of aerated water or soda.

It is important to remember a few facts:

  1. If you are trying to learn the flavours and want to compare whisky, it is best to drink it neat
  2. Water breaks the surface tension of the alcohol and brings out the floral and citrus notes of the whisky to the forefront
  3. Ice chills down the oils and you get sweeter notes first
  4. Soda dulls all the notes with its carbon dioxide bubbles but if that is how you enjoy your whisky, so be it
  5. Then there are other ways that people drink whiskey with Coke or with a twist of lime or blended in a cocktail.

How you chose to drink it is your personal choice. One that you like to enjoy your whisky.

What is the “finish” of a whisky?

You must have heard people talk about a “short” finish or a “long” finish” of a whisky. Experts love to use terms that they think will impress people like us about their knowledge.

Simply put, finish means how long you can taste your whisky after you have swallowed it. A duration of fewer than 15 seconds is considered to be a “short” finish and anything longer is a “long” finish”. Once again, remember that neither short nor long is a factor to determine whether whisky is good or better – finish only differentiates between whiskies. 

What is “proof”?

The word proof is an indicator of the quantum of alcohol by volume in your whisky. Therefore, a 40% proof whisky means that in your drink of 30 ml, there will be 12 ml of pure alcohol. Proof varies in strength from 40% to 65% (there are more potent whiskies as well) based on the choice made by a distiller. Therefore, the higher the proof the more potent is your whisky and the more careful you need to be when you indulge.

Finally, always remember that if you have bought your whisky, you own the whisky. Drink it any way you want it but drink it responsibly. The way you like it is the best way to enjoy it.


The author, a whisky enthusiast over the past three decades, is also the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of the best-selling books, Reboot. Reinvent. Rewire: Managing Retirement in the 21st Century; The Corner Office; An Eye for an Eye and The Buck Stops Here - Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur.


Instagram: ashutoshgarg56

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