Drinking whisky is a lot like having sex. The more you do it, the better you get at it, because, well, practice makes perfect. And if you never become perfect, you can at least take comfort in the fact that the practice will never stop being fun. With this in mind, you would think that people will be drinking whisky all the time, right? And that drinking whisky all the time will, by the obscure logic I started this article with, lead to having sex all the time, right? Considering we’ve already covered how drinking whisky makes you a better lover, this should be a bloody win-win, right?
See, the shocking truth is a lot of people have told me that they – brace yourselves – don’t like whisky! Gasp! Their excuse? It’s too strong, too manly (which we’ve also already covered), or, as one of my friend’s put it, it “taste like Band-Aids”. Yet, these same people often tell me they want to like whisky. Being the understanding person I am, my response is typically always the same: drink more.
Suffice to say, it’s been brought to my attention that “drink more” doesn’t really do those people any good. So, I decided to write this handy little guide to becoming a bonafide whisky drinker. Now, you’ll find many a site giving you many a list on how to drink whisky. They’ll give you a history on the spirit, where it’s from, how it’s made. They’ll tell you what kind of glassware to choose, how to properly smell it, blah, blah, blah. This is not that list.
Follow these steps and I guarantee* you that you’ll be sipping whisky with the best of them.
Step 1. Drink whisky.
The first step is the obvious one: if you want to be a whisky drinker, you need to start drinking whisky. I suggest you find a bar with a respectable whisky collection. Go to that bar when it’s NOT crowded, actually sit at the bar, and order a drink. It can be Bourbon, Scotch, Japanese, Irish, whatever. Just order some whisky. Before I continue, let me clarify that you should be focusing on the “whisky” part of that statement. That means you should order your whisky neat. No cocktails, no soda, no ice, none of that. Just you, your glass, and your whisky. This will allow you to fully experience the purity of the liquid. Sure, it may suck in the beginning. I don’t expect someone who is a long time vodka + cranberry drinker to be able to open a bottle of Talisker Storm and enjoy it neat the very first time. But as I said before, like sex, practice is the only way to really get good at this. Only way to develop this is to drink as much whisky as you possibly can without ending up in the hospital and/or jail (again, much like sex). So drink, noting which drams you really like, which you’re indifferent about and which you’ll never, ever, order again (I’m looking at you Woodford Reserve Classic Malt).
Step 2. Drink more whisky.
Ok, so you tried whisky neat and though a few times you felt like stabbing yourself in the liver, you’ve grown to tolerate the taste. Now you gotta drink more. This time however, you’re coming armed with the knowledge of drams you like. With this ammunition in your back pocket, when you go back to the bar (again, when it’s NOT crowded), have a conversation with your bartender. Tell him or her what you liked last time and you’re open to recommendations based on that drink. I shit you not, bartenders love helping patrons expand their palates and discover new drinks, provided of course, that you don’t come off as obnoxious, but rather genuinely interested in learning. Be conscious of your palate, which is to say, try to pick up on different flavours, which can be as simple as “sweet”, “smoky”, or “fruity.” The more you drink, the more you’ll train your taste buds to hone in on these flavours.
Right! So now that you’ve gotten a grasp on what profile you like, time for the next step!
Step 3. Drink even more whisky.
You’re beginning to see a pattern? At this point you should be taking your whisky drinking pretty seriously. When you’re out and about, you’re ordering your whisky with confidence and calling names that garner respect from the bartender. The ‘practice’ comparison between drinking and sex is paying off. And your friends are probably noticing. This is a good thing, because you’re about to invite those same friends to join you. To drink. Not have sex. Unless of course you’re into that, then by all means, do you boo boo.
You see, though you’ve been dabbling in this fine spirit at your local bar, drinking is about sharing the experience. That’s what’s really gonna push you to the next level. Go out, buy a bottle of a whisky you’ve enjoyed at the bar, invite some friends over and partake in the golden elixir. Share with each other what you’re tasting. The most fascinating part about tasting whisky that I’ve discovered is that, while almost everyone tastes something different, a lot of times you can’t quite put a finger on what you’re tasting until someone else vocalizes it. You may be scratching your head until your best friend says that the whisky reminds him or her of burnt leather, and then a light bulb goes off in your head and you’re like “that’s exactly it!” That’s the fun part of drinking whisky. It’s a social affair.
Step 4. Go to events. To drink a whole lot more whisky.
That whole social affair thing I just mentioned? Well it doesn’t stop with just your circle of friends. There’s a whole community of communities of whisky drinkers out there, and it’s time for you to join in. Yes, “community of communities.” That’s how many people are invested in this beautiful spirit. With events like Whiskey Jewbilee, The Whisky Wisemen’s 3rd Thursday, Whisky Library DC’s educational events and yes, even our very own Whisky + Architecture networking gatherings, there are a multitude of ways to get involved in your community. And I only mentioned ones I’m personally endorsing. There are still the massive festivals like Whisky Live and Whisky Fest that occur all over the United States, as well as all the other international events I haven’t had the pleasure of attending yet. These events expose you to all the other whisky fanatics and give you direct access to whisky you otherwise may not have been able to sample. We here at W+A have had the pleasure of interacting with some of the most knowledgeable people in the whisky community. From the guys at Axis of Whisky to the gents behind Scotch Trooper, Single Malt Daily, Whisky With a View and the afore mentioned Scotch N Sniff. Who knows, you may stumble upon a new favourite whisky at one of these events with the added bonus of meeting other awesome people who are more than willing to share their knowledge and maybe even part of their collection.
Step 5. Never stop drinking whisky.
You’ve been putting in the hours at tasting events, doing your homework on the blogs, reading the reviews for new releases, and you’ve become the go-to person in your group when someone has a question about whisky. You’re a goddamn whisky drinker… dammit! However, to get to the upper echelon of whisky drinkers, you gotta not only have the liver to sustain all that alcohol you’ve been consuming, but the drive (and finances) to continue to develop this new passion of yours. Maybe your next venture is to start collecting rare bottles, like our good friend Stefano Pileggi. Or maybe you too want to create your own whisky club like we did here at Whisky + Architecture. Either way, I strongly encourage you to never stop drinking the water of life.
I suppose, in the end, I didn’t stray too far from my initial reaction to people who want to like whisky. But it’s hard to argue with the fact that the only way to like it, is to drink it. Sometimes nurture trumps nature, and though whisky is arguably an acquired taste, I proclaim it’s definitely worth it. I mean hey, if you follow these steps and become a whisky drinker maybe one day, years from now, you’ll be thanking whisky for your old age. And isn’t that all we can really hope for?
Cheers – Peat