How to Serve and Taste Whiskey
Whiskey is some of the best liquor on the planet, but many people don’t know the first thing about it. Some people don’t know good whiskey from bad. Others aren’t sure if they’re allowed to put ice in their whiskey or not. And a few people don’t even know what kind of glass they should use for their drink! Don’t worry, though. Like a really good bartender, we’re here to take care of everything. That’s why we put together this awesome guide to understanding and enjoying whiskey.
What makes a Good Whiskey?
Many people like to talk about how whiskey is the best whiskey on the planet. But just what is it that makes whiskey so good?
Depending on individual taste, one possible answer is how it is made. Factors ranging from the water and amount of air used in distilling and the cask the in which the whiskey matures can give a range of flavor that ranges from sweet and smooth to downright fiery.
Whiskey also tends to be more subtle than other spirits. This is because some distilleries like to experiment with blending their whiskey with ingredients like corn and grain, creating a flavor you can’t find anywhere else.
Finally, the whiskey scene has really boomed in recent years. There are countless different distilleries now (both commercial and private) which has led to a significant uptick in craft whiskey.
Ultimately, what makes whiskey so good is that it offers a truly unique flavor one will never forget.
What makes a Whiskey Expensive?
While there are some exceptions, good whiskey has a reputation for being relatively expensive. It’s more expensive than many American liquors.
There are a few different reasons for this. Whiskey is legally required to be aged for (with the exception of corner whiskey) in charred containers of new oak. And whiskey cannot be more than 80% alcohol by volume, creating further restrictions on those who are distilling it.
These legally-mandated manufacturing requirements mean that the costs of production are passed on to the consumer. And other labels such as "bottled in bond" add more hoops, such as the whiskey being aged for a minimum of four years. In a nutshell, this is why whiskey tends to be more expensive.
What makes a Whiskey Smooth?
One adjective that is often applied to whiskey is “smooth.” There are a few reasons why whiskey is considered smooth, but one of the biggest reasons is the distillation process we described earlier.
The extra distillation requirements mean that whiskey is going to be smoother than something like bourbon. But there are still variations between different kinds of whiskey, meaning that some are smoother than others.
Whiskeys from other countries are sometimes distilled twice. This makes the drink have a smoother taste, but some drinkers find that the second distillation sacrifices some of the flavor it would otherwise have.
There’s a variety of glassware well-suited to drinking whiskey. The classic whiskey glass is the tumbler (sometimes referred to as a highball glass). This usually holds anywhere between eight and ten ounces of alcohol. That makes it ideal to sip the whiskey straight up or to drink it mixed into a cocktail of choice.
If you’re feeling fancy, it’s always possible to drink whiskey from a Tulip or Glencairn glass. These glasses have a stem as well as a wide bottom design that narrows towards the top. As the “Glencairn” name implies, this glassware goes back to Scottish traditions. Since whiskey was highly influenced by Scottish immigrants, this is a historically appropriate choice.
There is also the snifter, which is basically a shorter, wider Tulip glass. This type of glassware is often associated with brandy, but it works well for whiskey because the design helps one appreciate the smell and flavor.
Finally, there’s shot glasses. When someone wants to drink a good whiskey as quickly as possible, the shot glass is the way to go. Just don’t forget to pace things with a chaser after the shot.
What is Whiskey Made Of?
"What is whiskey made of" sounds like a simple question. However, there are different kinds of whiskey, meaning there are many different answers.
America has bourbon whiskey, for instance, that is made from mash with at least 51% corn. And like we said earlier, it must be aged in charred, new oak barrels. Corn whiskey is made with mash containing at least 80% corn, and there are no aging or barrel requirements.
As the name implies, malt whiskey is made with mash using at least 51% malted barley, while rye whiskey contains at least 51% rye. The close cousin of this is malted rye whiskey, which must be made (you guessed it) with mash using at least 51% malted rye. Finally, there's wheat whiskey, made from mash using at least 51% wheat.
To be called simply whiskey, these drinks must be distilled with no more than 80% alcohol by volume and aged in charred oak containers (except, as we said, for corn whiskey). There is no minimum aging for "regular" whiskey, but to be called a "straight" whiskey, it must be aged for two years.
Only water can be added to the final product: no color or flavor is allowed unless the product is advertised as a blended whiskey.
What are Common Whiskey Additives?
In the world of drinking, there’s debate about additives and whiskey. Some people prefer their drink have no additives at all and generally dislike whiskey with additives because they feel it’s watered down in some way. Other people enjoy whiskey because additives can create pleasant changes to the drink’s taste and color.
In America, additives are classified as "harmless" and "non-harmless." Despite the ominous title, most people are familiar with "non-harmless" additives in the form of flavored whiskeys, such as the popular Fireball drink.
For "harmless" additives, there cannot be more than 2.5% of the final product. These additives are sometimes added for color (caramel is a popular option for this) or flavor (such as the flavor behind your favorite sweet liqueur).
How are whiskey's rated? Who rates them?
There are few people or organizations that give any kind of “official” whiskey rating. The most official rating only happens once a year at the International Whiskey Competition. The competition takes place once a year in Chicago. Whiskeys are judged by in blind taste tests by professionals who then rate them based on sight, smell, taste, and finish.
Awards that range from “whiskey of the year” to “best value whiskey,” so even cheaper brews that might go overlooked have a chance to shine.
The tasting notes and results from this competition are used to create an International Whisky Guide each year. But whiskey ratings are largely a matter of individual taste. Enjoying whiskey varies greatly from person to person.
The term “jigger” may not be familiar to every drinker. A jigger is a tool from the bartender’s toolkit that allows someone to pour an exact amount of alcohol each and every time.
Many individuals pour drink amounts by hand. This leads to natural variations in taste and strength, as some pours will be heavier and some will be lighter.
Jiggers ensure a balanced drink for everyone, regardless of what they’re drinking. Jiggers really shine in the world of cocktails, as they allow mixers to follow complex drink recipes with mathematical precision.
Ice and whiskey is another subject of great debate. Some whiskey fans swear no one should ever put ice in their whiskey because it dilutes the flavor.
So what’s the truth?
It depends on what the drinker is looking for. It’s true that leaving ice out of the whiskey better helps someone appreciate all of the flavors that the whiskey has to offer. At the same time, the heat and strength of room temperature whiskey are too much for some people, and they may need ice to temper both the strength of the drink and the intensity of the heat before enjoying whiskey.
Obviously, some people object to ice in whiskey because they think it will melt too fast and water down their drink. An easy solution to this is to use really large blocks of ice (like many bars use). This ensures that the ice melts at a much slower rate.
Finally, water can be a good thing for whiskey. In small doses, water can unlock new tastes and smells. This is why even purists who hate ice might occasionally throw a couple cubes in their glass: it helps their drink taste that much better.
Getting Started Enjoying Whiskey
There is no wrong way to enjoy whiskey. To start enjoying this amazing drink, though, you're going to need the right glasses. Get the party started the right way by browsing our selection of fine whiskey glassware at www.WhiskeyGlasses.ca.