The Right Way To Drink Whiskey

We like our celebrations here in Rhode Island and St. Patrick’s Day is no exception! This March 17th green beer will flow heavily across the state, but what if you’re interested in something besides the go-to green brew? Here's a helpful guide to not looking like a novice on St. Pat’s Day.

The “e”. First thing first, language is weird and there are a lot of different reasons for words changing throughout history. A lot of this has to do with geography. Generally what you need to know about that tricky “e” is that Irish and U.S. brands tend to keep it, while other countries (primarily Scotland) lose it. But the varieties of “whisk(e)y” go a lot deeper than that.

Single or blended? This is something you will hear a lot about, and depending on who you’re with, you might see a snubbing of the nose towards one or the other. Truth is it really boils down to personal preference. Most blended whiskies are very good and in my opinion it’s the best way to maintain consistency. If you like one blended whiskey, you’ll most likely enjoy another regardless of the brand, assuming the age is relative that is. I’ve paid $30 for a standard bottle of Tullamore Dew and paid almost $100 for a Chivas, both are blended whiskies, and I enjoyed both equally.

Scotch. My personal favorite is a single malt Laphroaig, smooth with a smokey taste that will make you think of every campfire you’ve ever been too. It’s a malt (or grain) whisky distilled in Scotland. The barley is dried using a fire fueled by local peat, which creates a large amount of smoke which transfers to the barley and then, to the scotch. The highland/lowland line roughly cuts diagonally through Scotland and the different areas will give you slightly different tastes.

Irish Whiskey. While I typically drink Tullamore Dew, mostly because I’ve been to Tullamore in Ireland, overall I’m more inclined to go with age or brand for whiskies. There is a real science to aging a whiskey or scotch, but for our purposes here, let me give you the quick breakdown. Both Scotch and Whisk(e)y are typically put into white oak barrels to age. The oak wood is charred, that’s where we start. While the alcohol is in contact with the wood, it pulls out color and taste. The more it commingles in-barrel, the more the taste evolves and grows in complexity. Also, the more it ages, the more expensive it becomes.

Rye. Full disclosure here, I don’t drink a lot of rye whiskey and when I do, it’s typically in some kind of prepared drink. An Old Fashion would be my favorite for this type, but there are a few mixed drinks which are greatly enhanced by choosing a rye whiskey. I’ve mentioned Whistle Pig before because I think it’s a nice rye and more local than a lot of the products out there.

Bourbon. The majority of mainstream bourbons you’ll find are from Kentucky, with corn being the majority ingredient. Beyond that, it’s a varying mixture of barley, rye, and wheat. Bourbon is slightly different from Tennessee Whiskey because it's filtered through charcoal before being put into the oak barrels. If this is your first outing into the whiskey world, I wouldn’t start with bourbon. It tends to have a kick, think about any wild west movie you’ve ever seen. Bourbon could be the poster child for wild west movies. It has a strong and unique taste that even some whiskey drinkers don’t particularly enjoy.

Personally I tend to drink my whiskey (or scotch) on the rocks, but there are so many ways to drink it. Some people enjoy scotch with a twist, meaning a small piece of a citrus peel has been cut off and curled into the drink. Most whiskey drinkers I know go neat (meaning nothing else in the glass) or on the rocks (a couple of cubes of ice), but interestingly enough, many professional tasters will add just a small amount of water to it. The idea behind this is that it opens up the whiskey for you to better experience the flavor.

Moral of the story? There is no “right” way to drink whiskey, it’s all about how you enjoy it. Part of the fun is trying the different variations and discovering what suits you.

Thanks for reading and as always, be safe out there while drinking!

+      Colin Carlton


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