5 Common Mistakes Beginners Make About Whisky
For years, the whisky industry has projected a certain image, and told drinkers there are certain rules to follow. These rules are one of the main stumbling blocks when you’re first getting into the spirit, and can feel almost overwhelming.
We’re going to break down some of the common misconceptions drinkers have about this most complex of spirits, some of which are fair, and some of which are not.
Adding Ice to Whisky
In Australia, we love a cold drink, but should we be adding ice to our whiskies?
At Whisky Loot, we don’t like to tell you what to do. We’re about education and letting you make your own decisions. What we are going to do though, is give you the information you need, so you know exactly what happens to your whisky when you add ice.
We’ve all heard that 80% of taste is smell. When you reduce the temperature of any liquid, there’s going to be less vapour evaporation therefore, fewer aromas will be released.
This is true of whisky too, and adding ice, whilst a refreshing and relaxing way to enjoy a dram, might mean you’re missing out on some delicious flavours. To get the full, unadulterated flavour of the whisky, you’re better off not adding ice.
We’re not saying don’t do it. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a Scotch on the rocks – but ice might be best saved for the simpler, daily drinking bottles that you ‘re already familiar with.
The best way to get full flavour from a whisky that you’re trying for the first time, or a particularly complex dram, is to leave out the ice.
But at the end of the day, it’s up to you! Different people will enjoy different things, and the optimal way to drink a dram is the way you prefer.
What about adding water?
With water, things are a little different. Adding a little water to your whisky can totally transform the experience.
When starting out, a lot of drinkers are a little overwhelmed by the strength of many whiskies. Adding a little water can help to soften the dram’s alcohol burn, and open up the spirit’s flavours.
With time, you might want to gradually reduce the amount of water you add, until you feel you can handle the whisky at bottling strength – then you can really enjoy the luscious mouthfeel that so many expressions possess.
Many whisky buffs will argue that drinking spirit “straight up” is the only way to go, but even for the seasoned aficionados, water has a role to play.
Water can actually break up the molecular binds that contain flavour – with a drop or two enough to release the aromatics hidden inside each glass.
As you get further into your spirits journey, you’re likely to encounter stronger, cask strength and barrel proof whiskies. These can get as strong as 65%!
Just be careful not to overwhelm your whisky – it's not cordial – A drop or two will do the job.
If you’re interested in the science behind adding water to whisky, we have a blog on the subject here.
Using the Wrong Glass
It might seem a simple matter of grabbing whatever’s to hand and pouring in your spirit of choice, but the glass you use can actually make a massive difference to your drinking experience. Here we will introduce some of the most common options, and what they bring to your dram.
For many people, the tumbler is the classic glass for whisky drinking. It’s the glass that fits in your hand nicely and holds a couple of ice cubes.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s exactly a tumbler’s purpose. When you get home from a hard day at work and want to kick back and relax with a whisky on the rocks, you’re going to grab your tumbler.
What a tumbler doesn’t do, however, is concentrate flavour and aroma towards your nose and palate. As it has a wide opening, the fragrances of your dram are allowed to dissipate across a large area, rather than focus in on where you’ll be enjoying them.
A better option is something that has a tulip shape or tapered neck, and a bulb shaped body. These will allow you to warm your whisky a little with your hand – much like an old school brandy snifter. But most importantly, the tapered neck will focus the spirit’s nose, meaning you get a better sense of the aromas and flavours in the glass.
At Whisky Loot, we prefer a Glencairn, but even a small wine glass will improve matters. There are many other glasses that do a similar job to the glencairn, but it remains the original and arguably the best nosing glass out there.
Only Drinking Whisky You Already Know
If you know you like a certain dram, why risk trying anything new?
The honest answer is, why not! If you limit yourself to just one dram, distillery or style, you’re missing out on so much of the joy that exploring a spirit has to offer. At Whisky Loot, we’re all about introducing drinkers to new experiences – to distilleries and bottlings they’ve never tried before.
There could be a dram out there you absolutely love, that you’ll want to return to again and again. A whisky that you will associate with a special occasion, and that will become important in your life – for the rest of your life. Nevertheless, if you don’t try new things, you’re never going to know.
Whisky is the most varied spirit in the world. The key to finding the styles, distilleries and bottlings you love is to try as many as you can!
Storing Whisky The Wrong Way
We all want to show off our collections, but you might actually be damaging your drams by doing so. It’s best to keep your bottles somewhere at a constant temperature and away from direct sunlight.
Hot temperatures can cause the alcohol in the spirit to slowly evaporate, leaving your whisky a muddy, watery mess.
Sunlight can actually change the chemical compounds, the things that provide flavour, in the spirit, leaving it tasting insipid.
This is even the case with our taster bottles, as direct sunlight and hot temperatures still affect smaller quantities of whisky. We take measures to ensure this doesn’t happen at our warehouse, but if you’re planning on keeping hold of your Whisky Loot tasters for a little longer, take care to store them properly.
If you’re also collecting or enjoying wine, you’ll know it's best to store them on their side, so the corks stay damp and expand to seal the bottle against oxidation. Unfortunately, this is not the case with whisky.
Whisky is much stronger than wine, and in some cases, the high alcohol can cause the cork and seal to degrade, causing cork taint in the spirit, or even the cork completely crumbling into the bottle!
Always store your whisky in a dark, cool area, standing upright – it's a simple way to keep your bottles tasting their best.
Never Breaking the Rules
“The rules” are whatever you make them. “The rules” are there to be broken.
We’re keen on breaking the rules a little ourselves. That’s why Whisky Loot started, and why it's still going.
In this blog, we’ve offered some humble suggestions, we believe will benefit your drinking experience. But at the end of the day, you’re the master of your own fate.
If you love your old Scotch with a cube of ice and a splash of water, if you want to create delicious whisky cocktails, or drink your drams out of a champagne glass – go right ahead!
The only rule we have is to keep trying new things, to keep exploring and learning about this most complex and delicious of spirits.
The best way to do this is to sign up for a Whisky Loot subscription, which you can do here.