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Discover Whiskey - Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Choosing A Fine Whisky! (A Connoisseur's Guide Series)

Author: Martin Keen

Discover Whiskey - Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Choosing A Fine Whisky! (A Connoisseur's Guide Series)

Book Series: A Connoisseur’s Guide Series

  1. Introduction

Whiskey is one of the most popular drinks in the world with connoisseurs collecting and enjoying this fine beverage. Originally produced in Scotland it is now made all over the world and in 2014 a panel of judges decided the best whiskey in the world came from Tasmania; a decision which rocked the whiskey world as Japan and Scotland have won every year since the inception of these awards.

Whiskies are typically distinguished by nationality and then broken down in to other sub-categories, which you will find out later in the book. There are a lot of different types of whiskey and there are significant differences between them and as you try the different whiskies you will learn what you do like and what you don’t like.

American whiskey tends to be sweeter than whiskies from other countries and include a variety of drinks including bourbon, rye and Tennessee whiskey. Scotch whisky also has a number of categories and has a more smoky and earthy flavor. Irish whiskey is lighter bodied and Canadian whiskey is fruiter than Irish.

There are many more types of whiskey and as you read this book you will learn to distinguish between them all and appreciate this fine drink.

Whiskey tends to be between 40% and 60% alcohol by volume, with most whiskies falling in to the lower end of the scale.

Choosing a whiskey is about trying lots of different whiskies and seeing what you like. Don’t rush the bottle, just take a few weeks to appreciate it and learn its flavor. Try some cheap whiskey, some more expensive whiskey and then a fine, expensive whiskey. Initially you may not be able to appreciate the subtle differences, but over time as you try the different whiskies you will learn how they differ and determine exactly what it is you like.

The more expensive whiskies tend to be smoother because they are aged longer and the wood takes the harsh edge off the whiskey. The alcohol level also impacts the taste and there is a noticeable different between a drink with 45% alcohol compared to one with 50% alcohol.

Over time you will start to distinguish the differences between the different whiskies and many people recommend starting out with either an Irish or Canadian whiskey as they are lighter or fruiter when drunk. Then move on to American whiskies which have more variety before trying Scottish whiskies, which are harsher but have the most distinct flavor.

Whiskey is a fine drink and whether you spell it whisky or whiskey you will find out everything you need to know about it in this book from buying it, the differences between the different types and how to really appreciate and savor your glass of whiskey.

  1. What Is Whiskey

Whiskey is actually a broad term that describes a number of distilled spirits just as the term beer describes a number of different drinks. Whiskey is numerous drinks, all of which will be described later, including Bourbon, Irish, Scotch and more.

Whiskey is a distilled spirit that comes from a fermented mash of grain which is aged in oak containers and then bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV alcohol.

Gin and vodka are also distilled from a grain mash but whiskey is different because it is matured in oak which gives it a unique flavor. The type of oak used and the length of time the whiskey is matured will influence the flavor.

Some types of whiskey have strict regulations on how they are produced. For example, a Bourbon has to be made following very precise rules otherwise it cannot be labelled as a Bourbon. Likewise a Scotch has to be made in certain ways too. The producers are very protective of their brands and they are legally protected and they are very well looked after.

With this basic understanding of what whiskey is, let’s clarify a bit more about the differences between some of the types.

  1. The Difference between Scotch, Bourbon and Whiskey

Now some people will think this is common knowledge but most people will probably not realize there is a difference between these three drinks, thinking they are the same thing but using different words to describe it.

Bourbon is an American drink and it has some very precise regulations associated with it. In order to be a Bourbon the mash needs to contain a minimum of 51% corn and be distilled at 160 proof or less then put in to the barrel at 125 proof or less with no additives. It needs to be distilled in a new charred oak barrel.

The difference between Scotch and whiskey is primarily geographic as Scotch is made in Scotland and whiskey is a generic term for this type of drink made anywhere in the world. Scotch is usually distilled from malted barley.

The difference between a Bourbon and a Tennessee Whiskey (Jack Daniel’s being one of the best known) is that the Tennessee Whiskey is filtered through some sugar maple charcoal in a process referred to as the Lincoln County Process. Bourbon, by the way, comes from Bourbon County in Kentucky.

There is another variety of whiskey in America called rye which is distilled from a mash of 51% rye.

Sounds confusing right? Well that is a basic explanation of the differences and as you go through this book you will understand more about these differences and be very clear on the differences between the different types of whiskey.

  1. A History of Whiskey

Whiskey or whisky, the spellings are interchangeable, comes from the Gaelic word “uisge beatha” which means water of like. The earliest record of whiskey production in Scotland dates back to 1494 in the tax records of the time where Friar John Cor made “8 bolls of malt” to make aqua vitae. This would have made around 1,500 bottles so it seems that by this time whiskey production was well established in Scotland.

Whiskey is made by distilling fermented grains and the first records of this process actually date back thousands of years before Christ to ancient Babylon and Mesopotamia. It was originally used for perfumes though the process spread rapidly and soon people found out how good it was to drink.

The process was adapted and improved and eventually found a home in Christian monasteries in Europe where the process was preserved through the dark ages.

Distilling from grains became popular in Ireland and Scotland because of the lack of grapes to make wine. Beer and whiskey became more popular in Northern Europe because of this and the process was perfected in Scotland and they became the world leaders in producing high quality whiskey.

Whiskey grew in popularity and when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in England in 1541 the newly unemployed monks turned to whiskey production for an income.

At the start of the 18th century when England and Scotland became one monarchy a heavy tax was placed on whiskey. Quite naturally this produced a significant illegal trade in whiskey and secret distilleries appeared all over Scotland, usually working at night so the smoke from their fires was not visible (hence the nickname moonshine). Smuggling whiskey became a national past time and for 150 years the government officials battled daily with the smugglers.

This taxation caused a shortage of whiskey around the world and during the American Revolution whiskey was so valuable it was used as a currency! The American government made the same mistake as the British and introduced a heavy tax on whiskey and its ingredients. This was not received well and it prompted the Whiskey Rebellion from US farm workers.

It wasn’t until 1823 that the British government began legalizing whisky production which had a remarkable rejuvenation effect on the whiskey manufacturing business across both Scotland and Ireland, with new developments and advanced in whiskey production following.

In the later 1800’s two major events happened. Firstly blended whiskey was perfected by Scott Andrew Usher who also managed to market it across the world. Secondly wine production across the world was decimated by Phylloxera which meant people turned their attention to whiskey.

The prohibition period in the USA impacted the production of the American whiskies but there too smuggling and illegal production was rampant. This caused a huge problem with the entire alcohol industry as bars shut, people lost their jobs and the alcohol industry took decades for drinking levels to recover back to pre-prohibition levels.

Whiskey though continued to grow in popularity and now the Far Eastern markets such as China are big importers of whiskey. Whiskey provides a major boost not just to the Scottish economy, but to whiskey producing economies across the world. In the UK alone some 35,000 jobs are supported by the whiskey industry with over 96 million cases being exported each year, or around 40 bottles shipped abroad every second! It is estimated that around 20,000,000 casks of whiskey are maturing in Scottish distilleries!

Whiskey of all types are a very popular drink and has a strong following across the world. As you continue to read this book so you will learn everything you need to know to become a connoisseur and to really appreciate this historic drink.

  1. How Whiskey Is Made

Making whiskey is actually quite an easy process yet the resulting drink is complex and full of flavor. Whiskey is made from just three ingredients; a yeast, some type of grain and water. The process is simple enough that you can do it at home (though it isn’t legal to do so in most areas) or it can be mass produced in a distillery.

The exact method used to make whiskey will vary slightly between the distilleries with each one having its “secret” methods for producing their unique version of whiskey. However, they all follow the same basic process.

The grain used in whiskey is usually barley, corn, wheat or rye and this does have an impact on the flavor. The water plays little role in the flavor but most distilleries prefer spring water as it doesn’t have the chemicals in that water like the faucet has. There are lots of different types of yeast and the Scotch producers use a single strain whereas the Japanese use different strains as they belief it affects the final taste.

The first step in the process is to allow the grain to malt, which means sprout. This ensures the grain contains the maximum amount of starch which is turned in to sugar and then alcohol in the fermentation process.

The grain is then ground down into a flour in the mashing process to produce a flour like substance called grist. Hot water is then added to this and it is mixed up in a mash tun to create the wort.

The wort is then moved through pipes to a washback where the yeast is added and then the fermentation process takes place. Typically this will last two or three days and will result in the “wash” which is a strong tart beer also known as distiller’s beer.

The wash is then moved in to a pot or column still where the alcohol is separated out by boiling the wash. As alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, the vapors are separated and then condensed into liquid, usually twice. During the second distillation the alcohol is referred to as low wine. If the alcohol is distilled a third time then it is called a high wine.

The liquid is then moved in to a spirit safe. Here the undrinkable parts of the whiskey are removed as the liquid is divided up. The first part is called the foreshots and is kind of like nail polish remover. The middle cut is the drinkable portion, referred to as moonshine in the USA, and finally the third part is called the feints which contains more water and is a lower quality spirit. The feints and foreshots are not thrown away but instead poured back into a new wash and are distilled again.

The middle cut is then moved in to a holding tank where is becomes known as the “new make” which is then put in to a cask where it matures. During this time some of the alcohol will evaporate off which is called the “angel’s share”.

The whiskey in the barrel is referred to as a single malt whiskey and this is often then blended with other whiskeys once they are mature. The blender will use as many different barrels as they feel necessary to create the flavor and aroma they want. This is a skill that takes a long time to learn and the blender is responsible for creating the final product that you buy off the shelves.

The finished whiskey is then packaged into bottles ready for distribution and labelled. With many whiskeys they have a strength of between 53% and 65% ABV out of the cask and this is diluted down to the standard 40% ABV before bottling. If you see a bottle that is labelled “Cask Strength” then this is a special bottle indeed because it means it hasn’t been diluted.

  1. Single Malt vs Blended

This is another great debate amongst connoisseurs and many people think that a single malt isn’t a blend. In fact it is a blend but a very specific blend. The confusion arises from the use of the words blend and single, which mask quite a complex process.

A blend can be taken to mean a mixture of two or more whiskies but a blended whiskey is, formally, a product containing a mix of barrel aged grain and malt whiskies.

Just because a whiskey is labelled single malt doesn’t mean it hasn’t been blended or is the product of a single barrel or batch of whiskey. Most single malts are in fact a mixture of whiskies.

Single malt in a whiskey doesn’t mean it is the product of a single barrel or batch but that it is the product of a single distillery. It is down to the interpretation of the word single. A single malt Lagavulin, for example, may well contain whiskies from a number of different barrels, but all the barrels will be produced at the Lagavulin distillery, i.e. it only contains whiskies that distillery makes.

A single grain Scotch whiskey will contain barley and another cereal grain, usually wheat or corn but here the word single does not apply to the grain but to the distillery, i.e. it was made at a single distillery.

When the whiskey is aged in an oak barrel there are a lot of variables that influence the final taste including the climate, the type of oak, how charred the oak is and more. Because of the sheer volume of variables it is very difficult to get a consistent whiskey without blending. The master blender tastes the barrels that are ready and then mixes them together to create a product that is consistent with the brand.

So every barrel that Glenmorangie produces will not exactly fit their style which consumers are expecting. To achieve the desired taste the whiskies from different barrels are blended together.

A single barrel Scotch comes from a single barrel and is not mixed with any other whiskies. Because of the variation in qualities between barrels each barrel release is a limited run and a unique product. Single barrel releases are inconsistent between years and there aren’t a lot of them found in Scotland. They are more commonly found in America.

As well as single malts there are other types of blend as well. A blended malt Scotch whisky is a blend of single malts from two or more distilleries. Some companies buy whiskies from different distilleries and then mix them together to make a new product.

A blended grain Scotch whisky is a blend of single grains from two or more distilleries. A single grain is usually very light and mild so this does make for an enjoyable whiskey.

A blended Scotch accounts for the majority of sales of Scotch and is a blend of both grain and malt whiskies which come from different distilleries.

Now you have an understanding of these different terms you can look at the label of a bottle of whiskey and have a better idea what it means.

  1. The Different Types of Whiskey

The world of whiskey is very complex and it is produced all over the world. Although it is produced globally, there are four very distinct whiskies made in Canada, America, Scotland and Ireland. With such a variety of flavors the connoisseur can find plenty that they will enjoy. In this section we will discuss some of the different types of whiskey to help you distinguish between all the bottles that are on the shelf in the stores.

Irish whiskey

Irish whiskey is considered to be the oldest of the whiskies, though don’t tell the Scots that! It is typically a blend of pot stilled malted and un-malted whiskies together with column stilled corn based whiskey. In some cases even a triple distilled malted barley is used. Irish whiskey is dried in a closed kiln, well away from fire and smoke which distinguishes it from Scotch. During distillation great care is taken to make sure the temperature doesn’t go too high which will damage the sweet, toasty honey flavor of this whiskey. Typically it is aged either in used bourbon or wine barrels for a minimum of three years. With a sweeter and complex flavor, Irish whiskey is definitely one to appreciate, having less of an edge to it than Scotch.

Scottish Whisky or Scotch

Traditionally the ‘e’ is removed from the spelling of whisky here and Scotch has a very distinct smoky flavor due to the malt drying process. Part of this is done over a peat fire and the smoke comes in to contact with the malt and each region produces whisky with different and very distinct flavors. Scotch is either blended or single malt and will typically have an age on the label which is the age of the youngest whiskey in the blend.

Single Malt Scotch whisky

Single malt comes from a single distillery, not a single barrel and there are over 100 different distilleries in Scotland producing single malt whiskies, each with a very distinct flavor and characteristics. The malted barley is double distilled in pot stills which creates a 140 proof spirit which is then aged in oak casks for at least three years. Single malt Scotch whiskies tend to have a lot more flavor than a blended Scotch.

Blended Scotch whisky

The majority of Scotch is blended and the harsher side of a single malt is reduced with the blending process. Each Scotch house has its own secret blend recipes which are closely guarded. In a blend you can find as many as 20 to 25 whiskies with as many as half of these being single malts. The higher end blends will contain more single malts which give them a deeper flavor.

Bourbon Whiskey

This gets its name from Bourbon County in Kentucky, USA, where bourbon isn’t actually made any more. Bourbon can be distilled in any of the fifty US states but the mash must be at least 51% corn and the rest being made up of grain whiskies. It is distilled at 80% alcohol (160 proof) or less and then aged for at least two years, usually four or more, in new, charred oak barrels. The only additive allowed is water which reduces the bottling proof. No blending is allowed.

Tennessee Whiskey

This is very similar to Bourbon and the mash needs to be between 51% and 79% corn. The biggest difference is that Tennessee whiskey is drip filtered through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal, which can take up to two weeks to finish! This is known as the Lincoln County Process and after this is completed the whiskey is aged in a charred barrel for a minimum of two years. The charcoal taste is noticeable and one of the most famous Tennessee whiskies is Jack Daniels.

Rye Whiskey

This is similar to Bourbon though spicier with a slightly bitter flavor, which comes from the rye. US law states that this needs to be made with at least 51% rye. The rye whiskey industry was decimated in the prohibition and is now comparably rare, though is becoming more popular mainly for its use in classic cocktails which are gaining in popularity.

American Blended Whiskey

This is another blend of different whiskies to make a single drink and will contain at least 20% straight whiskey and the best brands can have up to 75 different straight whiskies in it! Each blended whiskey has very unique characteristics and are typically light bodied, well balanced and rich.

Canadian Whiskey

This is popular in cocktails because it is versatile, mixable and light bodied. It is typically made from corn or wheat though it can be supplemented with barley, rye or barley malt. It is aged for a minimum of three years though usually it is aged for between four and six years. Virtually all Canadian whiskies are blends.

  1. Scottish Whiskey Regions

Now you have learnt about some of the different whiskies around the world it is time to return to the home of whisky so you gain an appreciation of the different whiskies produced here. Scotland is split into six whisky producing regions, each with their own unique style:

  1. Campbeltown – a small region on a peninsula to the west where there are only a couple of distilleries left.

  2. Highlands – the largest geographic area with a wide diversity of whiskies.

  3. Islands – these are very bleak places but they produce fine, unique whiskies.

  4. Islay – famed for its smoky whisky.

  5. Lowlands – one a major producer in the south there are only a few distillers left.

  6. Speyside – the most densely populated whisky producing region in the world.

Now we’ll talk a little more about each of these regions and introduce you to some of the distilleries in each area. This can help you identify whiskies in the store and help you collect whisky too. Distilleries come and go all the time so some of these may well close down and new ones open.


Found on a peninsula on the western Highland coast it once had as many as 15 different distilleries but because of its remoteness and difficulties in transportation the industry fell on hard times. There are only a few distilleries left now, all using malt dried over a peat fire which gives it a light, smoky flavor. These whiskies are good if you want a smoky whisky that isn’t overpowering.

Glengyle is a new distillery that closed in 1925 and re-opened in 2004. Glen Scotia is one of the smallest and least known distilleries in Scotland. Springbank is famous for being the oldest continuous family owned distillery.


This is the largest whisky producing region and has some of the remotest distilleries in Scotland. Because it is such a big area there is a significant variation in flavors of the whisky though generally they are sweeter, richer and fuller bodied than other Scotch whiskies? Those distilleries on the coast also have a slightly salty part to their whiskies as the casks breathe in the sea air as the whisky matures.

There are plenty of distilleries in the Highlands region including:


There are a number of distilleries on the Scottish islands which produce unique whisky with a distinct style due to their locations. Typically Arran and Scapa produce lighter whisky whilst Tobermory and Jura produce richer and sweeter whiskies. Those from Highland Park and Talisker are full bodied with a hint of smokiness.


Pronounced “eye-la” it is home to smoky whiskies and six of the eight distilleries here produce what connoisseurs consider to be the best smoky whiskies in the world. This island is home to some famous distilleries include Laphroaig.

Whisky production is booming on the island to meet demand, even for the non-smoky whisky and it is a major industry on the island. Many connoisseurs appreciate the whiskies from this island because they have a complex flavor and are full bodied though for someone new to whisky they could be a little “full on”.

The Lowlands

This used to be a major whisky producing area but during the 1980s and 1990s it fell on hard times and now there are around three distilleries operating in this area. The style of whisky in this area is typically light, fruity and fresh, being very easy to drink. Whiskies from the lowlands are a good starting place for someone who hasn’t drunk whisky before.


This area has the largest concentration of distilleries in Scotland, with over 30 running in a relatively small area around Dufftown and Elgin. The climate is ideal for maturing whisky, the water is great and it is close to a very fertile barley growing area.

Some of the most famous whiskies in the world such as Glenfiddich are produced here, but there are also plenty of undiscovered gems. Most of the whiskies here are light, slightly sweet with a definite malty flavor. They are generally popular because they are not too light like the Lowland whiskies or too rich like the Highland whiskies. These are just some of the distilleries located in this area.

  1. Whiskey From Around the World

Now you have learned about whiskey from Scotland it is time to find out about other whiskies produces across the globe. Apart from Ireland, the USA, Scotland and Japan there are over twenty countries that are distilling single malt whiskies. Europe is a big producer of whisky because it is near to Scotland with many producers being small and making other spirits such as vodka, brandy and more. Most of the whiskies are produced for the local market but they are increasingly reaching out to a global market. There are also a number of other distilleries that produce whisky just occasionally and this can be very collectable.


Distilling whisky commercially in Europe is a relatively new industry with a few notable exceptions like the DYC distillery in Spain. Many of these face a lot of hurdles before anyone even tastes the whiskey due to the high equipment costs, raw material costs and that whisky needs a minimum of three years to mature. For many this creates a severe cash flow problem so they are innovative in their approach to generating cash and produce other spirits as well.

These are some of the best known and most interesting of the European distilleries though there are many more which haven’t been included in this list.

Irish whiskey

The Irish are thought to have invented whiskey and took the idea to Scotland, though you would never mention that to a Scotsman. There is evidence of this, though the true origins are still unclear. Ireland is the fourth largest producer of whiskey in the world and whilst there used to be distilleries literally on every street corner there are just three left now. These produce a number of different whiskies, many of which are produced under old distillery names and still use traditional recipes, many of which came from the now closed distilleries.

Bushmills in Ireland has the honor of being the oldest officially licensed premises in the world with its license granted by King James I in 1608. Distillation of spirits illegally predates this by hundreds of years and by the middle of the 18th century there was over 1000 distilleries in Ireland, most of which were illegal.

The government took action, shutting down illegal stills and raising taxes. By 1820 only 20 legal distilleries were in operation though around 180 illegal ones were still operating. Many of the owners of those illegal distilleries that were closed down left Ireland for America where they founded the American whiskey industry. As larger and richer companies took over the smaller distilleries started to close, though the industry continued to boom due to demand from the British market where it was the bestselling spirit. With the expansion of the British Empire, so the popularity of Irish whisky expanded and distilleries started to struggle to meet the high demand.

Unfortunately for the Irish, the American market discovered Scottish whiskey and suddenly sales of Irish whiskey started to drop. Again, unfortunately for the Irish, prohibition was introduced just as their sales were starting to increase again. This was the nail in the coffin of Irish whiskey production and the Scottish were busy innovating manufacturing processes and created a continuous distillation process which created a huge whiskey stockpile.

When prohibition ended the Scottish flooded the American market with their whiskey and the Irish producers were unable to compete. Virtually all the distilleries closed and by the 1960s there were just six distilleries left and the export market was virtually non-existent.

In 1996, three of the distilleries joined together in an attempt to revive the whiskey business and became Midleton, a brand new distillery in the south.

They started distilling whiskey but also producing gin and vodka to help with cash flow. It wasn’t long before only Bushmills and Midleton were left and in 1989 John Teeling opened the Cooley distillery to bring back lost whiskies.

Since then Irish whiskey has enjoyed a rebirth and is now producing some exceptional whiskies that are highly sought after by the collector and connoisseur.


The Japanese are the third largest producer of whiskey in the world, producing blends and single malt whiskies for the local market. After winning a major award for its whiskey in 2001, Japanese whiskey drew the attention of the world market and connoisseurs started buying bottles. In 2008 the Yoichi 20 year old won the Best Single Malt award in the World Whisky Awards and the Hibiki 30 year old won the in the Best Blended Whisky category. This quite naturally shocked the whiskey world and connoisseurs were clamoring to get their hands on Japanese whiskies.

Whiskey making in Japan is relatively new, being only about 90 years old. The first single malt distillery was opened in 1923 at Yamazaki. The founder of the distillery sent his best student to Scotland for three years to learn everything he could about whiskey. When Masataka Taketsuru returned from his mission he put his knowledge into practice and he formed the second whiskey distillery in Japan at Yoichi in the 1930s.

In the 1970s and 1980s the whisky industry boomed as Japan enjoyed the wealth from the electronics industry and new distilleries were built. Even some sake distilleries were converted to produce whiskey just to meet demand.

However, by the end of the 1980s the whiskey industry fell in to decline and distilleries started to close as the Japanese government increased alcohol taxes and cheap imports started to swamp the market. The end result was Japanese whiskey was more expensive than imports and the market for locally produced whiskey collapsed.

Today and especially since they won their awards, the export market is the strongest market as taxes are still high and cheap imports continue to dominate locally. One in every twenty bottles of whiskey sold across the world is Japanese. This has helped to support the eight distilleries in Japan including Chichibu which opened in 2008.

Most of the Japanese distilleries follow traditional Scottish whisky making practices though there is some variation in the distilling and maturing whiskey. The whiskey is typically distilled twice using pot stills and the malted barley they use is imported from Scotland and some from Australia. Some of this is peated and it is aged in sherry casks from Spain and American oak and Bourbon casks are imported from both Scotland and America. Some of the whiskey is matured in mizunara which is a Japanese oak and it gives the spirit a very different characteristic.

Because the climate in Japan is very different to Scotland; it’s hot in the summer and very cold in winter, the whiskey matures much faster than it does in Scotland. Due to this rapid maturation the taste of Japanese whiskey is more influenced by the wood.

Each of the Japanese distilleries produce a wide range of different styles and flavors of whiskey which is achieved by using different shaped stills, different yeasts, different mixes of barley and grains and through experimenting with cask maturation.

Unlike Scottish distilleries, Japanese whiskey companies do not share their whiskey between each other so Japanese blends will typically contain whiskey from a single distillery and sometimes contain whiskey from two distilleries.

Other Countries

There are whiskey distilleries all over the world and more are being opened every year. These new distilleries are combining tradition with innovation to produce interesting whiskies. These are some of the other global distilleries:

  1. Appreciating and Drinking a Whiskey

You know a lot about whiskey now from the various types of whiskey to the distilleries where it is produced. This will have given you a good idea of what is on the shelves and what to buy. You will understand the different bottles, labels and the difference between a malt and a blend which will help you choose something you like. In this section you will learn how to really appreciate the whiskey that you are drink.

Firstly you need to find the right glass. Whilst you can drink it out of pretty much anything, the true connoisseur will insist on the right type of glass. Serve whiskey in glass because other materials can taint the flavor. There are specific whiskey glasses out there which are worth buying and you can find some special edition whiskies that are sold in presentation sets with drinking glasses. These are often worth collecting because then you have special whiskey glasses to enjoy a “wee dram” in.

Specialty whiskey glasses are tulip shaped so that they concentrate the flavors and aroma of the whiskey so you can really enjoy it. These do make a difference and as a connoisseur you really need to be able to appreciate and savor your whiskey.

Some connoisseurs though will drink their whiskey out of a tin cup which was how it used to be drunk, particularly by miners because glass was too fragile and would break. Tin was much cheaper and durable and it can influence the taste slightly, but some traditionalists appreciate drinking their whiskey from these cups.

On The Rocks or Neat

This is one of the biggest debates about whiskey and it is down to personal preference. It is up to you as to how you drink it, though the first time you drink any whiskey you should always drink it neat so that you can really appreciate the flavor and aroma without it being diluted.

If you are using ice then do not use lots of smaller ice cubes but instead use one large cube so that it doesn’t dilute the whiskey and change the flavor. Some people will dilute their whiskey with water, which again is a personal preference.

The ice or water lowers the ABV of the whiskey. A 1½oz teaspoon of water will dilute a 40% whiskey down to 30%. For higher proof whiskies some connoisseurs will add a splash of water to dilute the whiskey which softens the punch from the alcohol, allowing the flavor of the whiskey to really come through.

This can be a good way to really appreciate the taste of the whiskey without being hit by the alcohol. To try this, just add a dash of water, not much at all and then see how it tastes, adding slightly more if required. Of course, add too much water and then you will have to add more whisky!

A lot of experts will say you should never drink whiskey on the rocks, though for many people it is their favorite way of drinking it. Unless you have a smooth, very good quality whiskey you will need something to take the edge off.

When whiskey is cold it does numb the flavor and as you drink more whiskey you will learn exactly how you like it. It is worth experimenting with ice, without ice; with water, without water and determining exactly how it adjusts the flavor and which is best for you.

The argument of adding ice or water rages amongst whiskey connoisseurs and there is no right or wrong answer, it is a purely personal preference.

If you do add ice though it is better to use larger cubes rather than smaller ones. As they have a smaller surface area they melt slower which means your whiskey is chilled but not watered down. You can buy whiskey stones though they don’t chill the whiskey as well as ice does, but you may well enjoy them.

Nosing the Spirit

Now you should actually have some whiskey in a glass, with or without water or ice and it is time to start learning more about appreciating not just the flavor but the aroma too. Tasting whiskey is very different to tasting wine; with a wine you smell it, let it settle and then swill it around your mouth.

Before you drink the whiskey you want your nose to have time to enjoy the smell and let your mouth know what to expect. Flavor is actually a combination of taste and smell and with the complex flavors found in whiskies the smell is very important.

Therefore before you sip the whiskey you need to get your nose into the glass and take a big sniff! Your nose is going to educate your palette and help you really understand the whiskey.

The first sniff of the whiskey is going to be mainly alcohol which will help to clear your nostrils! The second and third sniffs will give you a true idea of the whiskey and its flavors.

Once you have enjoyed the aroma then it is time to take a sip and see what you think of the whiskey. Take a small sip of it and roll it around your mouth, which ensures you can truly appreciate the entire flavor. Rather than just swallowing it straight away, take a few moments to pick out the flavors; this will become easier with practice which could be a good excuse to sample lots of whiskies!

Whiskey is aged in wooden barrels so there is almost always a hint of caramel, vanilla or toffee from the wood. Spend a good half an hour to an hour enjoying and savoring the whiskey and you will start to be able to pick out the various flavors.

Whiskey Cocktails

For the connoisseur these are as close to heresy as you can get and whiskey fanatics will froth at the mouth at the suggestion of polluting their precious whiskey with other substances. However, whiskey cocktails are becoming very trendy and it is introducing a whole new generation to this fine drink. At the end of the day, sales of whiskey for cocktails help to keep the whiskey distilleries open and producing this drink we love.

At the end of the day it is up to you whether you want to dabble with whiskey cocktails or if you just want to enjoy it neat. If you want to appreciate the whiskey for what it is then you should avoid the cocktail. There are plenty of whiskey cocktail recipes around and it can be a nice to sometimes enjoy it mixed with other flavors.

The Manhattan is one of the most popular cocktails and it is very easy for you to make. You will need the following ingredients:

• 2oz whiskey – either rye or Bourbon

• 1oz sweet vermouth

• 3 or 4 dashes of bitters

• Maraschino cherries

It is made like this:

  1. Fill a large glass with ice cubes

  2. Put the bitters, whiskey and vermouth in to the glass and stir for around half a minute.

  3. In a smaller, whiskey tumbler place one of the cherries together with a small amount of juice from the jar of cherries.

  4. Strain the alcoholic liquid from the larger glass in to the smaller glass and drink!

This cocktail works very well with flavored whiskies such as peach or apple and will be very enjoyable.

So now you not only know all about the different types of whiskey and what makes a good whiskey, but now you know how to drink it properly so you can appreciate the complexity of its flavors and the effort that goes in to making it.

Grab yourself a glass, pour yourself a whiskey (with or without ice and water) and sit yourself down, relax and get taste testing!

  1. Five Whiskies to Get You Started

With the wide range of whiskies that are out there it can be a bit confusing trying to find a whiskey to start with. Scotch whiskies tend to have more of a kick than a Canadian or American whiskies but they are the ones that connoisseurs strive for and really appreciate the most.

These whiskies are five easy to find and delicious whiskies that are well worth a try then you are first starting drinking whiskey.

Black Bottle Blend

One of the myths of whiskey is that blends are not as good as malts. The advantage of a blend is that there is very consistent taste year after year so you know exactly what you are getting. With a malt there can be a little bit more variation. Black Bottle is a blend of a number of different whiskies. When tasting this, look out for a mildly smoky and slightly spicy flavor with a hint of salt. It is a very smooth and just slightly sweet whiskey.

Glendronach – 12 year old

This is a very reasonably priced single malt that has a deep red color which comes from the red oak sherry barrels it is aged in. It is a great whiskey for beginners and is very smooth in your mouth. Watch out for gentle notes of winter spices and Christmas cake!

Dalmore – 18 year old

A single malt whiskey with a definite sherry influence that has delightful flavors of vanilla pods, treacle and some gentle spices. It is an oily whiskey as it is distilled in a short still, which encourages the oil to build up. When you drink an oily whiskey the taste lingers for some time on your palate.

Auchentoshan – Three Wood

This whiskey is triple distilled in Glasgow and is a very, very smooth single malt. It has quite a lot of different flavors as it is aged in three types of barrels; Bourbon, Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso. The Bourbon barrels give it a hint of vanilla whilst the Pedor Ximenez (PX) gives it a sherry flavor and it gets a Christmas cake flavor from the Oloroso barrel. The nose of this wine contains hints of nutmeg, vanilla and even toffee apples and it has a definite nutty taste to it.

Ardbeg Uigeadail

This is one for connoisseurs who enjoy the strong, smoked peat flavor of a whiskey. Named after Lock Ardbeg, which the distillery draws its water from, it has a kick, being high in alcohol. It is another oily whiskey, so expect the flavor to linger but look for a nose of salt, ash, leather, smoke and tobacco! It does sound like a peculiar combination, but it works really well and is definitely worth a try if you want a stronger whiskey.

12. A Connoisseurs Guide to Collecting Whiskey

Whilst you can enjoy drinking whiskey there are connoisseurs who not only enjoy it, but collect it too. Some people will collect whiskey for the beauty of the bottles, others for what is inside so they can drink it when the mood calls for it, and some collect it so it can accrue in value and be worth something one day.

It depends on your personal preferences as to what your reason is for collecting, though many people will actually combine all three of these reasons, collecting valuable whiskey as well as whiskey they like to drink.

People love to collect and whiskey is one of those things that fans of the drink will collect. It may be that you are particularly fond of a distillery or a particular variety so you collect that. It may be you collect limited runs or rare whiskies from closed or little known distilleries. Most people will collect whiskey from their favorite distillery and mostly for drinking!

Collections of whiskey are as wide and varied as the collectors themselves and with any luck the whiskey you collect will actually be worth some good money in the future. You need to understand that the value of whiskey is down to market demands. When something is perceived as rare and good then it will become collectable. You can tailor your collection so that you maximize its future value, though there are no guarantees. You may be sitting on the last three bottles of a rare whiskey only for someone to find a vault full of the stuff that was forgotten and suddenly the value plummets.

Whiskey collecting for financial gain is a long term investment and realistically you are looking at holding on to the bottles for ten years or more before you realize the value of the bottles. You do need to make sure the bottles are safely stored in that time, that the whiskey doesn’t deteriorate and that you don’t accidentally drink it.

Collectible or Drinkable?

This is your decision and many connoisseurs will only collect the whiskey they like to drink. They find a particular year or brand they like, and buy plenty of it so they have a good supply for years to come. However, if you are looking at the investment potential then you need to know what to look for.

Typically collectible and valuable whiskies are either closed distilleries, older superseded presentations or limited special editions. But what are these and where do you find them?

Limited Special Editions

A lot of distilleries both in Scotland and elsewhere in the world will occasionally release limited editions which could be commemorative bottling for a special occasion, an annual bottling or even an anniversary bottling. These are limited in the production run and so are highly collectible.

In order for them to really have value then you are looking for bottles that are individually numbered, ideally with a run of less than 2000 so there are not too many on the market. Single cask bottling that are individually numbered with their cask number are also sought after and valued.

Some examples of these include:

There are many more than these, but these are just some examples.

Be aware that sometimes distilleries become fashionable and so they instantly become collectible. The downside of this is that in the future the bottles may not be as valuable if the distillery falls out of vogue. The upside is that if you have old bottles of whiskey from a distillery that comes back in to fashion their price can suddenly jump upwards, so pick your times to buy and sell very carefully!

This will have given you some idea of what to look for in collectible whiskies and which ones are generally sought after.

Closed Distilleries

Many distilleries have closed down due to financial problems or lack of demand for the whiskey. Sometimes the sites are demolished and redeveloped but often there is still whiskey maturing in oak casks, a process which takes years. It could be that whilst their whiskey is on the shelf at the moment they are not going to be produced in the future and are therefore potentially collectible and could well be worth good money in the future. These often are promising investments for the future.

If you look around at the distilleries then you will be able to determine which ones are closing down and those with a long history are going to be more collectible than the newer ones.

Superseded Presentations

Distilleries will re-label and re-brand their products from time to time. Whilst they would not have been collectible on their initial release they become more collectible when they are discontinued or replaced by a new bottle or label. Even misprints on labels will become very collectible.

Ardbeg 10 year old (Black Label) is a good example of one of these as is Dufftown Glenlivet which was last produced in the 1980’s. There are many other distilleries which have changed their bottles or modernized which could well become collectible in the future and are worth looking in to. These include Macallan, Balblair, Auchentoshan, Bowmore, Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. With these types of whiskies they are a speculative investment and are generally available now at a reasonable price and will go up as the availability decreases.

You do have to look at what is in fashion and what is not at these points. Ardbeg, for example, is currently a very popular distillery though it may not last. This means that their whiskey is worth more yet Rosebank is consistently tipped to be a top distillery but never seems to quite get there. However, other bottles such as Glenlivet from Dufftown are fantastic whiskies and quite rare but the demand just isn’t there to make it valuable.

At the end of the day you need to use your judgment as to when to sell a whiskey. If it isn’t valuable today there is nothing to stop you keeping it and maybe in a few years it will increase in value when the distillery is re-discovered by other collectors.

Any investment, including whiskey is a gamble and at the end of the day if the whiskey doesn’t increase in value you can always just drink it yourself!

13. Conclusion

Whiskey is a drink that has a long tradition and is enjoyed across the world. When people think of whiskey they think of Scotland not realizing that it is an umbrella term that describes many other drinks including Bourbon, Jack Daniels and other drinks too. What people think of when they think of whiskey is actually Scotch, which is whisky produced in Scotland.

The drink itself is one with huge variations in nose and flavor and is produced all over the world. There are very distinctive differences between countries and even between distilleries and it can take a while for you to find a whiskey that is right for you. Most people start off with American, Canadian or even Irish whiskey which doesn’t have the kick that Scotch does.

You will have learnt all about whiskey in this book from how it is made to where it is produced to some of the many distilleries across the world that produces it. You now know many of the terms used in whiskey production and drinking and have a good understanding of what makes a good whiskey.

This means you can safely head to the liquor store, look at the shelf and will be able to determine what the different whiskies are and which you may enjoy. It may be worth buying the smaller size bottles initially whilst you taste them and get to know the different whiskies. It will take some time for your nose and palette to really appreciate the complexity of the flavors in a glass of whiskey, but when you do you will soon start to work out exactly what you like.

As you get used to whiskey so you can look at trying Scotch, which is the pinnacle of whiskey evolution as far as many connoisseurs are concerned. A good bottle of Scotch is truly to be treasured and whether you drink it on the rocks, with a splash of water or as God intended, you will surely enjoy it.

Rather than trying lots of different whiskies all at once, pick one based on your knowledge and drink it over a period of several weeks so you can really get to grips with the subtle flavors and understand the drink. Once you are more aware of that whiskey then buy a different variety and sample that in the same way too. This way you can really understand and enjoy the whiskey without your palette getting confused by too many flavors.

Enjoy trying and drinking whiskey, remember it is a drink to be savored and not rushed and it won’t be long before you are finding the whiskies you love and are the expert in your circle of friends.