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February 24, 2024

A beginners guide to whisky

Jade Crasto 
“Its origins lost in the mists of Ireland and Scotland, but both agree it evolved from Uisge Beatha which means water of life! They gave us Scotch ‘whisky’ and Irish ‘whiskey’, the additional ‘e’ creating a distinct identity and separated the two liquids”, says Shatbhi Basu, India’s first woman bartender.  
LuxeBook spoke to Shatbhi Basu, to truly understand the essence of the liquid’s charm and decode how anyone can enter its world. 
Shatbhi Basu
Shatbhi Basu
The world of whisk(e)y is said to be a very complex one. Whisky or Whiskey travelled across the Atlantic with dreamers who discovered the new world, settled there and rediscovered uisge beatha with grains from home and those from the new land. Thus, over time, were born corn, rye, bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys. And, of course, Canadian whisky. The Japanese too were inspired by Scotland but found a way to make their whisky distinctly their own, adding a touch of ‘Omotenashi’ – the art of going above and beyond expectations. 
Basu says, “Today heritage has given way to passion and young entrepreneurs from countries around the world as well as traditional distillers have taken a leap of faith. They are giving their everything to produce fine whisk(e)y and curate flavour profiles in ways that get more creative without taking away from authenticity”. 
There exist 12 different types of whiskies, each unique and distinct in its own way. Here’s a quick introduction to the different categories of whiskies that exists today. 
Photo Courtesy: Isidor Bobinec / Pexels
Single Malt: Is a pure malt (germinated and roasted barley) whisky from one single distillery that usually takes the name of the distillery or the place where the distillery stands in Scotland. The rest of the world uses their inspiration or a name that pops. The Glenlivet 12 Year Old is an example of a single malt. 
Single Grain: Is a whisky from grains that add others to the malt or barley originally used to blend whisky but now also bottled as they evolved in casks with a unique flavour profile over years. The Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey. This rose-gold whiskey was aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from California. Though it has a fruity scent, when consumed, it reads as little nutty and custard-y. 
Blended Scotch: A blend of single malts and single grains from around Scotland of selected ages in specific proportions for each brand. Your Johnnie Walker, Black & White and Ballantine’s are perfect examples of Blended Scotch.  
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Blended Malt: Monkey Shoulder, Famous Grouse are a blend of only select single malts to create special flavour profiles.  
Blended Grain: Is a newish category which has brought in some unexpected flavours with a blend of select grain whiskies. Grants in an example of a Blended Grain. 
Irish Whiskey: They make fabulous single malts, pure pot still whiskey (using malted and unmalted barley) and the most delicious blended whiskeys a beginner’s delight 
Rye Whiskey: Originally from America and Canada, we now have amazing Dutch rye too. A whiskey that uses at least 80% rye grain
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Bourbon: Originally from Kentucky, bourbon can be made anywhere in America from at least 51% corn but less than 80% with a mix of rye or wheat and malted barley 
Tennessee: Made from up to 80% corn, only in Tennessee using sour mash fermentation and maple charcoal filtration 
Canadian Whisky: Usually a blend of single distilled rye, wheat and malted barley, they now also make a lot of good rye whisky and some single malt 
Photo Courtesy: Pexels
Japanese Whisky: You can find extremely good single malts as well as blended whisky from Japan. The demand for these single malts is always higher than the supply making them fairly expensive. 
Indian Whisky: India is producing some fabulous single malts that have made a mark the world over as well as blended malt whisky. 
Fantastic Single Malts can even be found in Taiwan, England, Holland, America, and Australia. 
Now that we’ve talked about the different types of whiskies, here’s how to drink good whisky! “There’s a way to taste and no way to drink except your own way which makes you happy”, says Basu. 
She says that to understand a whisky’s aroma and flavour, we must drink it cool. Either keep the bottle cold or cool it with a small ice cube, allowing it to melt or add a tiny splash of very cold water. This changes the temperature of the whisky, stopping the alcohol vapours from floating and allowing you to discover the amazing flavours of the golden liquid. 
“A Scotsman once told me that when you pour good whisky on the rocks, you freeze every flavour it has and it will offer you only the joy that you find in its drinking.” 
“Each whisk(e)y’s unique flavour profile allows me to understand how best it will suit a cocktail, giving great flavour without losing itself completely. Light blends are good for delicate flavours while big, bold flavours like robust whisky to match”, adds Basu. 
Photo Courtesy: Foodie Factor / Pexels
“While sipping on whisk(e)y I tend pick food that will either complement or contrast the flavour of the liquid. My all-time favourite is mature or vintage cheddar with the occasional apple for contrast. Grilled sausage, cold meat and even the occasional not-too-spicy kabab. Nuts work well as does some dark chocolate. Whiskey cocktails are great with spicy food and can be a part of almost any meal if you can play with simple and fresh fruit flavours. Keep the deeper cocktails for desserts, cigars and cheese!” 
Recommends for Beginners  
Basu recommends to begin drinking whisk(e)y in long drinks – bourbon, light scotch and Irish blends with ginger ale, lemonade, orange juice, apple juice, cola if you just love it. Then slowly, every now and again, sip whisky with someone who knows them well and can help you relate to the flavours gently. Give it time. Taste and understand. You will suddenly find toffee and vanilla, orange marmalade and Christmas cake, cinnamon and biscuit! 
Now that you have an overview on what whisk(e)y is, embark on your journey to find out more about this fantastic spirit and how complex and wonderful it is. Always remember that there is no right or wrong way to enjoy it, as long as you enjoy it that’s all that matters. But don’t forget to explore and experiment with it by using different glasses, having it at different temperatures or even trying it with different cocktail recipes! 
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