To say whisky is an acquired taste would be stating the obvious. There’s a reason why teenagers head straight for WKDs and Lambrinis on their first forays into drinking, and not for a bottle of fine golden dram. But, like blue cheese, sushi or craft ale, learning to love whisky can be one of the most rewarding gastronomical efforts you make.
If you’re keen to go on your own exciting spirit journey and start drinking whisky like a pro, here are some expert pointers from Mark to help you on your way:
1. The first mouthful of whisky can often feel way too spicy and hot. Try swirling it round your palate and breathing out through the nose after swallowing. It will seem harsh and spicy, but if you give your olfactory senses a chance to recover, the second mouthful (and aroma) always offers up a much more pleasant experience.
2. Whisky doesn’t last forever in a bottle and it can spoil once opened. A little bit of argon gas, commonly used in the wine trade to preserve wine, will see your dram stay in tip top condition over time – or, just drink it quicker. Oxidisation occurs after a period of about 9-12 months but a wine wine-pump can help get the oxygen
3. The best way to enjoy a dram? Quite simply, there are no rules and anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t live in the modern world. Whisky, over any other drink category, seems to be shrouded in ritual and rules. But at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that whisky is a drink and, furthermore, that you paid for it. So enjoy it how you want.
4. Get a bunch of friends to buy a coupe of miniatures each and host your own tasting. It’s a good way to try many things across different styles and makes for a fun night
5. Don’t store bottle in sunlight or heat. Both damage it
6. Keep two or three bottles open at a time so you have variety to try and contrast
7. It’s not all about a glass full. Try a little whisky in your sauces for dinner, or a spray of mist over scallops just before serving
8. For a mushroom risotto like no other, replace vermouth or white wine in your rice with a glug of Glenfiddich 15-year old. It’s rich and earthy, and will elevate your dish to a new level
9. Do your own experiments with glassware. You’ll soon discover the subtle differences that can be found from drinking whisky from a red wine glass, a classic rocks glass and everything in between.
10. Pre-dinner, why not chill a glass and keep some whisky in the freezer – a sherry glass works ace for this. A dash of chilled mineral water and a twist of lemon completes this perfect pre-dinner refresher.
11. Don’t be scared to experiment. Whisky has changed many times over its life, and now is no exception. I recently popped a bag of toffee popcorn and a bottle of whisky into a soda stream. A few blasts later and I had popcorn infused whisky. It made for fun old fashioned cocktails without the fuss of overnight infusions.
12. Don’t be bullied. Just because your pal orders an older variant of whisky doesn’t mean he or she expects you to. Enjoy whisky your way and if your palate likes the character of a younger dram, good for you.
13. Rich game meats work best with something a little darker in character, such as Glenfiddich’s 15-year-old Solera reserve. It’s a great combination as its oily, nutty character keeps up with the bold flavours of game.
14. Well-marbled meats such as Kobi or even rump need less spice when pairing a whisky with them. As the fat renders down with cooking, it offers a sweeter style of meat so a lighter whisky goes great.
15. Cuts cooked in a water bath, which offers a slow, low temperature cooking method, often need to be finished off in a pan to create a char to the meat. This offers a great chance for a whisky such as our rich and fruity 18-year-old to get to work on soft sweet meat with a savoury edge.