My second encounter made the first one look good.
I’ve been meaning to write a post like this for a while, but this one goes out especially to my friend Kate in CT (who has her own fantastic blog, even if it doesn’t involve Scotch…yet). Kate wants to love Scotch – don’t we all? – but wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. It’s a fair question, since none of us is born loving the stuff. It can be a little intimidating when you’re trying to select one. It has a high alcohol content, a strong smell, it’s expensive at bars and the cheap stuff tastes like liquid fire. Not the greatest pick up line, in other words. To make matters worse, there is a wide variety of tastes in Scotch. What tastes divine to me might be revolting to you. Let’s hope not, however.
This quick and dirty introduction to whisky is going to be tackled in two parts, based on where you opt to plunge in.
@ the Bar
This approach will require a bit of research. Find a bar or restaurant that has a wide selection of Scotch. The really good ones will have books for you to leaf through at your leisure, with brief tasting notes for each drink. If it’s an even better place, you’ll be able to order it by the dram (roughly half a shot). The next part is important: go with friends. If you drink with three friends, and you each order three drinks and share, then you can taste a dozen different whiskeys for the price of three. Tasting many in so short a time allows you to more easily compare and contrast them. It might take a couple tasting sessions like this to find one that tickles your fancy, and I’d advise you to keep notes while tasting else you’ll be lost in the swirl. You’re not there to get drunk, remember, but to find a Scotch you like. Another good note for this kind of expedition: padding and hydration. If you’re at a bar, even in the later evenings, you should be able to order a few sides while you’re drinking, even if it’s french fries or bread. Your drinking will go much better if you have something to help absorb the whisky. Likewise, having a water glass handy will keep you hydrated and help blunt any unpleasant after effects. Hopefully, after a time or two of this, you’ll have a short list of drinks you wouldn’t mind owning. Then, all you need to do is go to your local liquor store. Or, if you don’t want to spend the money on a bottle of your own, at least you’ll know what to order the next time you feel like a Scotch. Oh, one final note: bring me along. Okay, I get it, it might be hard logistically depending on where you live. But really, it can help a great deal if one of the friends who you take exploring with you has at least some familiarity with Scotch, so you can have a guide right there to help you look for what to taste, to offer some suggestions for friendly entry points (the subject of a future post), and generally convince you you’re not in fact pouring fire down your throat.
Bars can be expensive, a reason I prefer not to go out to drink normally. The first Scotches I bought were before I really knew what I liked, and I bought them because they were the cheapest single malts I could find. So whether you’ve tried the above method or not, pick up a bottle of something you don’t mind spending the money on. Now pour yourselves a few ounces. I won’t judge you if you’re using a wine glass for this, I promise. Now smell. Stings, doesn’t it? Try it a few more times, and you should be able to start catching more. Now take a sip. Don’t swallow it right away, let it play over your tongue. Make a chewing motion, even, to make sure it washes over your palate. If it’s a decent enough Scotch, you should be able to make out a series of flavors (more on tasting can be found here). That wasn’t so bad, was it? Don’t be afraid to experiment. Adding a few drops of water can often take the edge off. So too can cooling it a bit (I recommend a glass in the freezer or whisky stones rather than ice). When trying different drinks, be sure to wash the glass out so you don’t have residue. So too with your mouth; have some water handy to cleanse the palate if you’re between drinks or have food. Use the same important points from above to help, including the taking of notes so you don’t forget. Invite some friends over, have dinner and chat. Part of the enjoyment is the experience apart from the actual drinking. Share what each of you are tasting, smelling or experiencing. Who knows, you might just accidentally start your own Scotch club. That being said, a good whisky can also be just the thing to keep you company on a quiet evening. The important thing is to not be afraid to explore, to give your taste the time it needs to grow used to Scotch. Once you find one you really enjoy, you’ve taken the first step into a larger, tastier world, and the fun can truly begin.
Musings are going to be a new thing here at Scotchology. Sometimes, we’ll have thoughts and experiences we’ll want to share that can’t easily be encapsulated into a whisky review. Such posts will give us space to explore in greater depth, even if they appear only a few times a year. The website will still focus primarily on our alcohol assessments, but we’ll also share some morsels like this where we step back and look at the forest for a moment instead of the trees. Enjoy!