Whisky Straight Up

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How should you drink Scotch? It’s a question I’m asked all the time, and my answer is simple: “Enjoy it as you like. Appreciating it is another matter.”

Truth be told there are no official rules for enjoying Scotch. Don’t let anybody bully you into thinking differently. Have it on the rocks, straight, with water or club soda, cola (popular in Spain), ginger ale (à la Française) or green tea (how they like it in China). There are also plenty of fine whisky cocktails, including the Blood and Sand, Bobby Burns and Rob Roy.

It’s a different story on those occasions when you want to properly “appreciate” or “taste” whisky. Sensory chemists commonly describe Scotch as “the most complex spirit on Earth.” In other words, it is worthy of attention and rewards consideration. To start off, leave your tumbler on the shelf. Buy a bulbous “nosing glass” or simply pour your whisky into a small wine glass, which will let you pick up all the rich aromas. (For tasting whisky your nose is actually far more important than the palate.) The spirit should be served cool but not chilled (around 60˚) and forget about adding ice—it reduces the flavor dramatically. But definitely add a splash of still water, since it opens up the whisky and it also makes the spirit much easier to taste. (Adding water isn’t a cop-out. This is standard practice for even master distillers.) Take a good slug, hold it in your mouth for a while and as you swallow evaluate its mouth-feel, the overall taste, the length of finish and the aftertaste.

Now having completed your appreciation, let pure enjoyment take over!

Charles MacLean, Master of the Quaich, is the author of ten books on Scotch, including the recently published Whiskypedia.

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  • TOM ENGLISH posted 4 years ago

    I appreciate what you said in that the best way to drink scotch is the way you most enjoy it. That is a statement as true as any I have ever heard, Secondly, I also agree with your recommendation on using a fluted glass in order to appreciate scotch's nose. However when it comes to water, I must part way with you. Let's say for the sake of argument, you are enjoying a glass of Grand MacNish which is 40% alcohol. What is the other 60% of the liquid in the glass??? Come on, you know the answer; it is water! And you know how the scots love their water sources when it comes to making whisky! Why they have even gone to wars to protect their source. True, not lately but in your heart you know I am right. Now if you must add water please know what you are adding and where it comes from. Just don't turn on a tap and add a few drops of something that is at best a rusted liquid to a drink that costs $70 a bottle. And don't solve that problem by adding something that comes from some secret spring somewhere and has been sitting in some plastic bottle heating and freezing for a year or two. Look for a water that comes from a quality dealer that comes in glass bottles. If you are going to spend some serious money for a bottle of scotch, at the very least, get some water worthy of the whisky.

  • anon posted 6 years ago

    It talks about the qualities of scotch but describes how to drink whiskey?

  • Blair posted 6 years ago

    I agree on the effects of tasting with a cold. Also, a lingering sinus infection can skew your sense of taste for quite a while. Wine tasting is even more subtle and worthless when sick.

  • maheshthata posted 6 years ago

    i am mahesh some people like scotch , some people drick bourbon . i like whiskey taster wahtever you choose, drink hardy hey you all be safe , reading all these great articles, your friend from tucson, arizona....

  • Mitch posted 6 years ago

    I'm partial to my Friday Crown & Coke. But I do have a whiskey taster (or "nosing glass" apparently) for the occasional tasting of a new spirit. I wholly agree that the nose is far more important. Don't believe it, try enjoying scotch with a cold. Trust me, it's impossible.

  • Joey posted 7 years ago

    I do love scotch on the rocks, but I gotta say putting single malt in a cocktail seems like such a waste. It's like making Mimosa's with Dom.

  • sam posted 8 years ago

    I drink both scotch and bourbon on a fairly regular basis.... I prefer both neat.

  • Terry B. posted 8 years ago

    Well,let me address that question,it's really simple you see.Some people like Scotch,and,some people drink Bourbon.That's about how simple I can make it!!!Whatever you choose,drink hardy.Hey,you all be safe,don't drink and drive.We want to see all of you back here,reading all these great articles,Your friend from Tucson,Arizona

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