A Beginners Guide to Whisky

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A Beginners Guide to Whisky

A smooth, sophisticated drink. One you enjoy immensely. But perhaps you don’t quite know all the facts yet? Norman Goodfellows have put together a quick guide to help you choose your perfect whisky.

With so many different brands, varieties, terms, ways to drink and strong opinions in the mix any beginner whisky drinker might be feeling a bit daunted…

Here you’ll find everything you need to know to fool even the most devout whisky enthusiast.

Let’s start with the Types you can get:

Whisky, Bourbon, Rye and Scotch

Whisky is the generic term given to distilled spirits made from grain mash. Bourbon, Rye and Scotch are a type of whisky and they are all similar in taste and appearance. The difference between the types of whisky depend on the types of grain used, the location in which it was distilled, the length of ageing and the type of casks used in the process.

Each type of whisky has its own rules and regulations governing the type: for example you cannot make scotch outside of Scotland.

If you’re a beginner Whisky drinker, we suggest you start with something light and easy on the palate such as Bains, Jameson, Glenfiddich 12 year old or Glen Grant Major’s Reserve.

Now, within each type (Whisky, Bourbon, Rye and Scotch) there are three sub-types:

Single Malt, Single Cask or Blended

Single Malt

Single malt whisky is made from mixing whisky all distilled at the same distillery, the age being the age of the youngest whisky added. This is the most common type of whisky you will encounter.

Single Cask

Single cask whisky is bottled entirely from a single cask. This whisky is typically only found from smaller distilleries or as novelty/high-end lines from some of the major ones.

Blended Whisky

Blended whisky is made by blending together whisky of the same main type (it’s exceptionally rare for people to mix types, such as scotch with bourbon).

Of course, you’re going to encounter whisky snobs who think blended whisky is a joke, but this isn’t true at all. Some companies, such as Johnnie Walker who are premium, only make blended whisky. They don’t distill any of their own spirits, instead choosing whisky from other distilleries with specific traits to mix and blend into a new drink.

Some blended whisky can be very good, but as a beginner it’s best to stick to single malts. This way you can work out what you do and don’t like in a whisky.

How to drink whisky

Drink it straight or neat

Pour 2 fingers of whisky into a ‘’tumbler’’ glass. If you really want to get fancy, then use a ‘’rocks’’ glass, but really, any short tumbler will do. A more experienced whisky drink will most probably favour this method of drinking. This is because by drinking whisky neat, you can taste the whisky in its true, natural form with all the original distillery characteristics and flavours from the cask in which it’s been maturing.

Drink it ‘’on the rocks’’

To help lessen the punch, simply add a few blocks of ice. Rather than enhancing flavours, the ice inhibits them as it brings down the temperature of the whisky quite rapidly. It is the same as when you drink a good white wine that has been chilled down too much. It will be a more refreshing drink and calm the burn of alcohol, but can make the whisky taste dull and flat. The aromas and taste will only start to open up and reveal their full characteristics once the whisky starts to warm up to room temperature. This is a preferred option if you want to tone down the taste of alcohol or are still acquiring the taste of whisky.

Drink it with water

By adding a few drops of water to a whisky, you can open up different, new and subtle flavours. This is especially true when drinking cask strength whiskies that have higher alcohol levels (these can be up to and over 60% ABV in some cases). With cask strength whisky the alcohol and resulting burning in your mouth can overpower even the most prominent flavours. By adding some water, this dilutes the alcohol and reduces its effect, giving both the prominent and more subtle flavours a chance to shine. Imagine drinking a fruit cordial or concentrate without any water and then with water – it is essentially the same idea. How much water you then add is entirely dependent on your taste.

Whisky Tasting Events

Another great way to taste different types of Whisky and find one you really love is to go to a few ‘’Whisky Tasting’’ events. There are many of these around Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town. Here, you’ll get the chance to taste a huge variety, learn about the different types and brands, and make an educated choice. A good one is Whisky Live” – happening in all major cities.

Now that you understand the fundamentals and are ready to choose a new whisky for yourself, Norman Goodfellows has a huge selection and we often have great specials. Be sure to keep an eye on our website.


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