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Bartender Banter: A guide to enjoying whisky

What it is, how to drink it, how to mix it, how to like it

The first time I tried to like whisky, I was 13. I had just finished watching the Godfather. I wanted more than anything to be as badass as those mobsters, a cigar in one hand and a glass of scotch in the other. Needless to say, it didn’t work out as well as I thought it would. I took a swig of Canadian Club, and thought I had burned my tongue and throat to the point of never tasting again.

I gave up on the dream, but tried again when I was 16, this time with some bourbon over a single ice cube.  Since then, it’s been nothin’ but love for whisky.

Here is my guide to enjoying whisky.

So what is whisky?

Whisky is a distilled alcohol made from fermented grain mash. Sounds tasty right? Different varieties of whisky depend on the grain used and whether or not the grain is malted.

What are the different kinds of whisky?

There are many kinds of whisky, and different variations within each kind. You can get malt whisky, grain whisky, blended whisky, single pot still whisky, bourbon whisky, rye whisky and corn whisky.

Tell me about scotch

Scottish whiskies, also known as scotch, are made from grain or malt. If you want to explore scotch but are just starting out, I recommend trying a good glass of Macallan Amber or Gold. The Gold is a little lighter and fruitier than the Amber, but both are good and good-quality options for starting out. That being said, I prefer smokier, heavier options like a Lagavulin 16 Years or a Laphroaig.

Experts believe in drinking scotch ‘neat’, which means sipping it straight, without ice or water.  Some use a few drops of water to “open up the flavour.” Personally, I drink my scotch with whisky stones—stone cubes that keep the drink cold without diluting it.

Tell me about bourbon

Bourbon is an American whisky. While scotch is made mostly from malted barley, bourbon is made from corn. In my opinion, bourbon is a good starting point for whisky beginners. Steer clear of Knob Creek in the beginning, it’s intense. I recommend going straight for a bottle or glass of Woodford Reserve. It’s smooth but still has that woody taste I love. Bulleit Bourbon is versatile, and has a bit of a spicier taste. Bourbon is lovely straight or over ice.

What cocktails can I make with whisky?

If you’re less into the sweet stuff, a classic whisky cocktail is an Old Fashioned.

  •         1 ½ ounces of your favourite whisky
  •         One sugar cube
  •         A few dashes of Angostura bitters
  •         A few drops of water

Shake the mix dry and pour it over ice, an orange slice and a maraschino cherry in a rock glass.

If that sounds a little too rough for your taste buds, a whisky sour is another great option.

  •         1 ½ ounces of your favourite whisky
  •         ½ lemon, squeezed
  •         Sugar or simple syrup to taste
  •         One egg white

Shake the ingredients vigorously in a shaker with ice. Rim a rock glass. Pour over ice and a slice of lemon.

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