Contrary to a common misconception, whiskey appreciation doesn’t have to be a stuffy or boring affair. Matthew Fergusson-Stewart, Regional Brand Ambassador for Glenfiddich, explains.
If you’ve always eschewed whisky in favour of other alcoholic tipples, believing it to be a drink enjoyed exclusively by older gentlemen, you’ll be surprised. Increasingly, more young people — both men and women — are warming up to the joys of premium whiskey. This is especially apparent in Taiwan, whose Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique currently clinched the coveted “Best Single Malt Whiskey” at the 2015 World Whiskies Award.
However, unlike beer or wine, whisky does not appear to be immediately accessible. It’s like that quiet, mysterious dinner guest at a party, whom you have to take time to get to know. It’s not an unfair statement to say Matthew Fergusson-Stewart is practically BFFs with this reticent drink, so we hit him up for some tips.
I am a total newbie when it comes to whisky. What are 3 things I must know?
“First, whisky can be made anywhere in the world but each place tends to have its own rules on how it’s made. Second, whisky has to always be made with grain and aged in an oak barrel. Third, it was actually invented in Ireland (not Scotland). However, as I like to say, it was invented in Ireland and perfected in Scotland.”
What’s the difference between scotch, whisky, and whiskey?
“There are no legal differences between whisky and whiskey. The spelling ‘whiskey’ is typically used in countries like Ireland and America, whereas in Scotland, Japan, and Taiwan, they spell it as ‘whisky’. However, to qualify as a scotch, it has to be from Scotland.”
How do I even get started on whisky appreciation?
“There are no rules. You can enjoy whisky, whichever way you like. Some people get stuffy about it, believing you should only have it neat (no water, no ice), but I disagree. As long as you’re enjoying your whisky, that’s great.”
Are there any “wrong” ways to enjoy whisky?
“Some purists reckon you shouldn’t mix green tea or Coke with your whisky, but if you’re looking to enjoy a long drink, I think it’s fine. Just use a cheap whisky.For a single malt whisky, never use a mixer. Because you might get a whisky note but the strong flavours of the mixer will overpower the other subtler notes. Many people like to put ice in their whisky but I personally don’t recommend it – when things get cold, it loses a lot of its aroma. Aroma and taste is very closely linked, so if you lose the aroma, you lose a lot of the taste. That said, on hot days, I may still put a cube of ice in my whisky just to bring the temperature down.”
What should I be looking out for when tasting a whisky for the first time?
“When people smell whisky for the first time, they invariably say it smells like ‘whisky’ or ‘alcohol’. To get a better sense of the subtler aromas, here’s a trick: place your palm entirely over the glass and overturn it, then flip it back up. Cup your palms to your nose, and inhale. That way, you can get more of the other notes of the whisky. Just make sure you have clean hands!
Next, to explore the flavour notes of the whisky, let it move it all around your mouth – your tongue, cheeks, and gums. Finally, you can explore the finish. There are two aspects to it – how the whisky feels going down, and the flavour you’re left with in your mouth. Some whiskies have a consistent finish, but sometimes the flavours change and develop in your mouth.
When tasting a whisky for the first time, I usually try it neat first before trying it with a dash of water. Just two drops can make a huge difference in the expression of the whisky. If you find the whisky too harsh, don’t give up. Take your time to explore other whiskies.”
But the alcohol content in whisky is so strong. I’ll get drunk easily!
“If you drink it quickly like how you might drink wine or beer, you probably will get drunk quickly. However, whisky is meant to be a long drink; it should be sipped slowly.
The older the whisky or the more expensive it is, the better it is.
“Not true. While age does increase the subtleties and complexities of a whisky, it doesn’t necessarily make it a ‘better whisky’. It’s all up to personal preference – some people may prefer a younger and more vibrant whisky while others may prefer something oakier. Honestly? Just enjoy it!”