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February 22, 2024

A detailed beginner’s guide to whisky

Ruhi Gilder 
For all the novices who want to start drinking the grand old alcohol, who want to know the difference between a dram and an expression or a single malt and a scotch, this read is for you. Armed with a list of questions and loads of confusion, I turn to experts Vinayak Singh and Swati Sharma, co-founders of The Dram Club (a whisky appreciation and education platform), for answers.  
What are the main types of whisky? 
Today whisky is being made almost all over the world, newer countries and regions keep emerging on the global whisky landscape. However, there are five traditional whisky production powerhouses – Scotland, Ireland, USA, Japan & Canada. Scotch whisky, whiskies from Scotland are the most sought-after, and as of 2018, more Scotch whisky was sold worldwide than American, Irish and Canadian origin whiskies combined. 
Also, Scotch has the most stringent and well stated regulations according to which there are five styles of Scotch whiskies: 
– Single Malt Scotch Whisky 
– Single Grain Scotch Whisky 
– Blended Scotch Whisky 
– Blended Malt Scotch Whisky 
– Blended Grain Scotch Whisky 
What is the ideal type of whisky for beginners to start with? Why?  
There are no ideal whiskies to start with. However, from our personal experiences and of our members, we would suggest people start with lighter whiskies with lower ABV, about 40-43 per cent. For example, Glenlivet 15, Glenfiddich 18, Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or, Johnnie Walker Green Label. We wouldn’t advise someone to start their whisky journey with a cask strength whisky or heavily peated ones.  
Is there any specific way you should drink single malt?  
Well, there is no specific way to drink whisky, you should have it the way you enjoy most. However, to appreciate a whisky start neat and then experiment by gradually adding drops of water to see how the whisky evolves / changes with each drop of water. 
Does an older whisky mean it’s better? 
No, there are a lot of younger whiskies that are fabulous. There’s way more than the age mentioned on the bottle that affects the flavours of the whisky. Distillation process and the quality of cask used for maturation matters a lot. We had once tried a 3-year-old Scotch that was just outstanding.  
What should beginners be looking for on a whisky label? 
– Age statement, (if there is any) there are whiskies that come without any age statement and are called NAS- Non-Age Statement.  
– Strength – alcohol percentage measured by ABV (alcohol by volume) 
– Region / Country  
– Type of whisky – Single Malt, Blended Scotch  
– Bottle Size 
– Type of cask it has been matured in 
– Year of bottling 
– Whether it is chill filtered or non-chill filtered. The former is a process of removing chemical compounds like fatty acids that can cluster and thicken together at low temperatures, creating a cloudiness or haze in the whisky. While some view it as purely a process that adds to cosmetics of the whisky, it’s a contentious subject in the whisky industry. 
What are the most common ways to consume whisky?  
Popular ways are straight, with ice, water, or soda. 
Are cocktails a good way to start enjoying the taste of whisky?  
Highball style cocktails are a good way to enjoy whiskies without diluting or changing the flavours too much. A simple highball is just whisky, lots of ice, soda/carbonated water and a kick of citrus, lime, or grapefruit. It is a refreshing and easy-to-make drink. 
Photo Courtesy: Pixabay
Show off your whisky knowledge with common terms about the spirit that you must know.  
Whisky Dictionary: 
Dram: This term originates from Scotland, where it’s used to refer to a single serving of whisky. In the US, it means the liquid capacity equal to ¹/₈ fluid ounce.  
Expression: This signifies the difference in the original combination of ingredients or variables for a particular whisky. A whisky can be tweaked in parameters such as age, cooperage, elements, and given a different name.  
Cooperage: The art of ageing whiskies in barrels. A whisky’s taste comes from its cooperage, varying levels of oxidisation and extraction. For example, American bourbons, whiskeys, and ryes use new barrels, while all malt whisky uses second-hand barrels. 
ScotchScotch is essentially whisky made in Scotland, mostly from malted barley.  
Single Malt: This signifies a spirit that has a single place of origin and is the product of one distillery.  
BourbonBourbon is a type of whisky that is made in USA, generally Kentucky. It must be made with at least 51% corn, in new charred oak barrels.  
PeatPeat is an organic fuel that is commonly found in bogs across Scotland. Originally, peat was introduced to whisky by Scots who used it to heat the pot stills. Now, the level of smokiness of a whisky is determined by the amount of time the barley grain is exposed to peat smoke during drying. 
WhiskyWhisky amateurs and long-time fans are all aware of this common spelling conundrum. ‘Whisky’ is typically the spelling used in Scotland, Canada, Japan, and other whisky-producing nations.  
Whiskey: This spelling with an added ‘e’, is commonly found in America and Ireland.
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Ruhi Gilder

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