How to Appreciate Whisky



  • whiskyDid you ever look back on those glory days in the frat house and wonder if there might be a little more to whisky than pounding shots of Jack Daniel’s? The fact is, serious whisky drinkers are some of the most discriminating appreciators in the world of liquor. After you’ve learned how to spot a quality whisky—and how to properly taste said whisky—you’ll be well on your way to becoming as fastidious (or as snooty) as you’d like. This page will explain just how to become a whisky connoisseur.

Whisky Terms and Types

Before we dive into whisky appreciation, it’s necessary to bone up on a few terms that will be thrown at you as you explore the wonderful world of whisky.

Whisky Glossary

  1. Malt vs. Blend: A malt is a whisky created solely from malted barley as opposed to a blended or mixed whisky which includes other grains (like corn or wheat).
  2. Single: If something is called a “single malt” or “single blend,” it means the whisky has come from a single distillery.
  3. Sour/Sweet Mash: The mixture of grain and water that enters the fermentation process when making whisky. Sour mash contains an amount of previously fermented mash, while sweet mash is 100% fresh.
  4. Wort: Similar to mash, wort refers to the mixture used for fermentation when it contains only malted barley and no other grains.
  5. Congeners: Refers to impurities in whisky that occur during the fermentation process that affect the flavour.
  6. Whiskey vs. Whisky: The latter spelling is used when it comes from Scotland or Canada. Irish and American versions are spelled with the “e.”

Whisky Types

  • Distilleries all over the world make whisky. The main differences between any whisky variation include how long it has been aged and how many times it has been distilled. The best way to figure out which type you prefer is by trying several of them! Here are a few of the most common and popular types.
  1. Scotch Whisky
    • whisky 2Often just called “scotch” in America.
    • Examples: Dewar’s, Cutty Sark, J&B
  2. Irish Whiskey
    • Often similar to scotch in flavour, but distilled three times instead of two
    • Examples: Jameson, Bushmills
  3. American Whiskey:
    • Variations include Bourbon, Rye, Corn, and Tennessee.
    • Examples: Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey
  4. Other common whisky types include Canadian (such as Crown Royal) and Japanese.

Some Whisky Background

  • One of the best ways to appreciate something is to familiarize yourself with where it comes from.

A Brief Whisky History

  • Although the oldest known written records of whisky date back to the 15th century, it is generally believed that it had already been around for hundreds of years. Whisky first popped up in Ireland and Scotland, where it was referred to as the “water of life.” Most likely the result of travelling monks bringing the secrets of distillation from the Middle East, whisky was originally used for medicinal purposes. Over the course of many centuries, the process was refined into the drink we know and love today, one of the most popular spirits in the world.

How Whisky is Made

  1. First, malted barley and/or other grain is combined with warm water to create either a wort (for a malt) or a whisky 3mash (for a blend).
    • The water is often considered the most important ingredient of whisky, as it needs to be pure and clean to create the highest quality product.
  2. Yeast is added to begin the process of fermentation.
    • During this time, the yeast converts sugar in the wort or mash into alcohol.
  3. The next step is distillation, which involves heating the product to boiling temperature and allowing the vapours to condense back into liquid.
    • This filters out most of the water (since alcohol boils at a lower temperature) and therefore increases the alcohol content of the whisky.
  4. Finally, the whisky is aged in wooden barrels for anywhere from about 3 to 15 years.
    • The longer the whisky stays in the barrel, the more flavour it picks up from the wood. This is why older whiskies often have a much more pronounced wood taste.
    • The age of a whisky is determined by the time between distillation and bottling, as it does not mature in the bottle.

Drinking Whisky

  • You can drink whisky in a variety of ways. Some like to take shots, some like to mix it with Coke or ginger ale, and others like it on the rocks. But for the true aficionado, the only way to really appreciate whisky is to drink it straight. Here is how to maximize your experience.
  1. Pour the whisky in a tumbler, wine, or sherry glass.
    • You’re not going to be taking shots, so you’ll want a wide
      glass you can sip from.
    • If the glass curves in at the top, it will help trap in some of the drink’s aromas.
  2. Pour about an ounce and a half.
    • You can drink as much or as little as you want, but this is a good amount to start with.
  3. Tilt the glass and watch the whisky run down the side.
    • You can also try swirling the glass.
    • Note the thickness of the drink. A thicker whisky has a different texture and is higher in alcohol content.
  4. Hold it up to the light.
    • Look for any inconsistencies, or particles floating in the whisky. These are signs of lower quality.
  5. Just add water.
    • Adding clean water to a whisky can unlock all of its potential flavours and aromas.whisky 4
    • It is essential to use clean bottled spring water, as the chlorine in tap water will flavour the drink.
    • Add anywhere from a splash of water up to an equal amount of water and whisky.
  6. Take a good whiff.
    • Put your nose as close to the whisky as you can, but try not to get so close that the aroma burns your nose.
    • Take a few good, deep breaths and inhale the aromas (breathe out through your mouth and not back into the glass). This is called “nosing.”
    • Take a note of every type of aroma you can identify.
  7. Take a sip.
    • Let it cascade down your tongue.
    • Swish it around a bit so it touches every bit of your mouth and you can pick out all of the flavours it has to offer.
    • Let it warm up a bit in your mouth.
  8. Swallow.
    • Feel the warmth of this liquid joy as it goes down your throat.
    • Repeat the process again until your glass is empty.


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