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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