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Scotch, an acquired taste?
January 23, 2009 12:40 PM   Subscribe

How did you acquire a taste for scotch?

For some reason I have become curious about scotch. I have no idea why. I think maybe a few threads here put the idea in my head. Or was it Ron Burgandy's genius? Or maybe I watched John J. McCoy drink scotch at the end of one too many Law & Orders. Beats me. I don't even know if I like scotch.

So for those of you who are scotch drinkers, did you just order a scotch one day and fall in love? Was it a taste you acquired over time? Did you purposely set out to acquire a taste for scotch? If so, how? Tell me your scotch stories.

I have already read several AskMeta threads with brand suggestions, so that isn't necessary unless it fits into the above, or you just feel really strong about a particular recommendation.
posted by Silvertree to Food & Drink (52 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
I drank a lot cheap, crappy scotch as fast as possible. It provided a quick drunk but tasted nasty as hell. Then recently I tried some top shelf scotch and you know what? I actually enjoyed the flavor! If you want to drink scotch I suggest a high quality bottle, a small amount, and repeated use.
posted by serazin at 12:44 PM on January 23, 2009


In hot water as a child. And little wedding toasts. I know, I know, wicked parents.
posted by holgate at 12:45 PM on January 23, 2009


Wait for a chilly, cold and rainy day. Then head to the nearest bar or pub or whatever with a decent whiskey selection and ask the barkeep for a single malt scotch, poured neat. It almost doesn't matter which one, on a crappy rainy day you will find it delicious. Then get a different one. Repeat as necessary. This is how I acquired a taste for it. If you don't live in a part of the country with any crappy rainy days, my advice is to move to one.

There's no reason to shell out the $45+ on a decent bottle just yet. Spend a similar amount tasting 5 or so different kinds. And if you're like me, there's no one brand that will make you happy. You'll find three of four that you like for different reasons.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 12:53 PM on January 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'd tried it a few times and didn't care for it. Then at a New Years party at a cabin at a snowy lake, a friend brought out a bottle of The Macallen that he'd got for some ridiculous price at a Montreal bodega because of mislabelling. He insisted we drink it all that night, and there were only a few of us, so he forced it on me. And I drank it, and started liking it more and more.

And now I have hundreds of dollars of whisky in my liquor cabinet.

So, the lesson is that it is an acquired taste. I definitely did not enjoy it at first, but then I started appreciating elements of it. Cheap whisky is not going work, get a decent bottle of single malt or one of the more expensive blends.

Also, if it is from Scotland is it "whisky", not "whiskey" as I see in your tags. ;-)
posted by Jupiter Jones at 12:55 PM on January 23, 2009


When I was about 20, I read a very nice introductory article on drinking single malt whisky. The articel stressed, that it would be good to drink the whisky at room temperature and with a splash of water, so that on one hand you could experience all the flavors and on the other hand the concentration wouldn't overwhelm you.

And I liked it.

(Before I tried chilled blended whisky, but it was terrible. )
posted by mmkhd at 12:56 PM on January 23, 2009


kuujjuarapik has a good point. There are things about certain whiskys that some people hate (like peatiness) that others don't have. I second his idea - go to a nice bar and sample a few nice single malts. The one that won me over just happened to be one that really agreed with me.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 12:58 PM on January 23, 2009


For me it was an imminant move from Australia to Scotland!

I was always fascinated with the lore associated with whisky making and aging and the art of drinking it. Any product that requires an investment of at least 7 years of time is amazing when you think about it. So when I moved over here I made an effort to learn more about it. I had always kinda liked the standard blended stuff (insofar as it was a relatively efficient way to get me happily horizontal), but with single malts available everywhere here, I decided to learn more about it.

I have to be in the mood to drink it - it has to be cold, and it has to be done in company (unless I have a cold..when it is great for clearing the nose and warming the belly).

If you don't like the taste - keep trying until you find one. Don't let the taste of a dram of Johnny Walker (yuck!) put you off.

FWIW: my favs are Laphroaig 10 y/o, Old Pulteney 12 y/o and Inverleven 14 y/o
posted by TheOtherGuy at 1:00 PM on January 23, 2009


I used to hate the stuff, no matter the brand, be it a blend or single malt, cheap or expensive. But I was into rum, working my way through the high-end selection at the local fancy liquor shop. One day, on a whim, I told the clerk which rum I liked best, and asked him to suggest a scotch. He picked one out that was a great parallel to something I already loved, and that did the trick. Now I enjoy just about every scotch I have, though I do, of course, have favorites.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:03 PM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


My dad taught me after I turned 21 by having me try a couple of different blends (Dewars and Chivas were what I trained up on) and then trying single malts (Glenfiddich was my first single malt).

Not all single malts will taste good. Some are better on the rocks, some are better straight. Don't heed the snobs; drink what you like and how you like.

The only thing I recommend is buddying up with someone who is already a scotch drinker as an intro and then trying some on your own.

I'll 2nd the Macallan recommendation.....especially the 12 YO Macallan.
posted by PsuDab93 at 1:08 PM on January 23, 2009


Don't go in with a mindset of "boy, I should like scotch"

Drink it. If you like it, buy it. If not, get off it. Maybe in the future, your palate will change. Maybe it wont.

Nothing is worse than pretentious scotch/wine drinkers who feel obliged to like it due to its social status. Don't be that guy.
posted by stratastar at 1:09 PM on January 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Do you drink other whiskeys now? What did it for me was starting with other whiskeys, then working my way up to scotch. If you are at the point where you truly enjoy bourbons and Irish whiskeys, you're ready for scotch. It's really a matter of finding the brand that appeals most to you. If you have access to a liquor store that sells mini-bottles, that's a great way to introduce yourself to various labels without dropping $50+ a bottle. You may even find that scotch just isn't your drink. No shame in that.
posted by ashabanapal at 1:11 PM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


It was the only drink I "knew" of growing up... what my mom always ordered when she did order something "J&B on the rocks."

So, eventually, that's what I ordered, too. I didn't like the first sip. Put it down. Then found after a few moments that I rather wanted another sip! I've since tried, and enjoyed, higher priced scotch, but I still enjoy the J&B.

So, no, it wasn't an "acquired" taste in my case, really. Genetic? I don't know.

In contrast, thought, to what ashabanapal says, I liked scotch (almost) right away. It took me a while to like bourbon. And I'd agree with others to try more than just one kind before deciding you don't like it. Then, if it turns out you really don't, that's ok, too.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 1:20 PM on January 23, 2009


I started drinking all types of whiskeys on the rocks with a bit of water, then i went to just on the rocks, then just liquor. It was a progression.
I started drinking blended whiskey (Dewar's) then tried a few single-malts with just a couple ice cubes. I did find the taste to be really grassy with some brands, but nothing really stood out at me.
I prefer bourbon for day to day sipping, its sweeter and overall smoother, not to mention cheaper than decent scotch. If you get a not-often-advertised brand, you can get a good deal. I have some Elijah Craig right now that is better than Makers Mark and a bit cheaper.
posted by ijoyner at 1:21 PM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I like a touch of water in almost all of my single-malts. Don't feel limited though; if you're into the idea of sipping a particular liquor straight, consider high-quality rums, bourbons, ryes, and tequilas too.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:21 PM on January 23, 2009


Seriously, go to a decent, relatively quiet bar that has a nice scotch selection. Make friends with the bartender. Ask him for recommendations, talk about the flavors you like. In a couple visits you should be able to taste at least a dozen different scotches and get good feel for the variety that exists. This is pretty much how I unintentionally learned to appreciate scotch.
posted by gnutron at 1:23 PM on January 23, 2009


If you are not at all familiar with whisk(e)y in general, why dont you start with a decent, relatively inexpensive Irish whiskey like Jamesons/Tullamore Dew etc. just to see of you can get into the feel of a non-sweet, aromatic whiskey (unlike American bourbon, for example). I'm all for diving right into real single malt scotches but that can start to be a pretty expensive habit. Single malts have the complexity of fine wine and you should approach from that standpoint.

For my tastes though, I dearly love me some Lagavulin 16 yr, Oban, and Springbank (the 24 yr old if you can find it, and afford it - the last time I priced it, it was $400 a bottle). The only blended scotches that I've found palatable are the Johnny Walker Blue and Green Labels. Also a bit pricey but oooh man, that's some fine drinkin' right there.
posted by elendil71 at 1:23 PM on January 23, 2009


I toured a few distilleries in Ireland. The Jameson tour let me try 3 Irish Whiskeys, 2 Scotches and Jack Daniels. I don't remember how much the tour cost but I was basically hooked from there.

My SO's dad is a Scotch drinker and he can afford to drink better stuff than I can so I have had occasion to try several good single malts courtesy of him.

I found a good bar in Boston with an impressive selection of Scotch. I indulge myself in a good single malt every once in a while. Remember the name of the ones you like and the ones you don't. Then when you go to a bar like that (or even a high end bottle shop) you can repeat your list and the bartender or shopkeeper can Venn diagram your likes and dislikes and you can begin to acquire a vocabulary to describe your newly acquired tastes.
posted by KevCed at 1:25 PM on January 23, 2009


It seems to be an acquired taste; I didn't get into scotch until I was almost thirty, and then it was because one of my worthless drunken friends somehow landed a gig as a bartender and started giving us shots of Glenlivet (then the only single malt generally available in the US) at well prices. (He was fired the next day.) From Glenlivet I went on to discover Macallan and my beloved Islays (Lagavulin, Ardbeg, etc.). If you don't have a friend who can give you samples to see what you like, try different kinds at a bar. Warning: if you get hooked, it's an expensive habit.
posted by languagehat at 1:33 PM on January 23, 2009


Have you a taste for other kinds of whiskies? If not yet, I was introduced to whiskey by more experienced friends who would bring good Irish whiskey to share (including stuff they had to go to Ireland to get) and when another friend started bringing in quality bottles of Scotch I hadn't the slightest difficulty.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:39 PM on January 23, 2009


I acquired the taste from man I dated briefly who insisted on narrating the sensory experience I should expect while drinking the Scotch. "Taste the cherry wood undertones. Feel the finish. yada. yada." It worked, though. I love it now thanks to that experience and subsequently doing what gnutron said.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 1:51 PM on January 23, 2009


You may also want to try the only worthwhile blended scotch drink - the Old Fashioned. It'll mellow the scotchiness enough for you to begin appreciating what is so yum yum yummy about scotch. And it's not a froofy drink. And Don Draper drinks it, so there's that.

From there you can start taking scotch with water or on ice.

I actually acquired my taste for scotch when I filled a flask with during a wedding where I was a groomsman. Scotch is good out of a flask.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:52 PM on January 23, 2009


I spent a semester (around 4 1/2 months) in Scotland, with the first six weeks in the Highlands. Everyone who I had a drink with (pretty much everyone I met) told me I had to try this one or that one as it was "a true whisky--Scotland's finest". I finally discovered that on a damp, chilly day wandering around on a hike, a dram of single malt was like heaven.

Liked it ever since.
posted by karmaville at 1:53 PM on January 23, 2009


I went hiking in the Western Isles. It was life-changing - Jura turned me on to Geoscience. Islay turned me on to scotch. I am richer for the study of both. I remember crawling into a bar in Port Ellen after a day of slogging through the peatbogs and being handed a measure of Laphraoig, it was love at first bite.

I think it's not so much the taste as the 'life' of it that I enjoy - it's a lot of sensation. I like the complexity, and the romance of it.

I prefer peaty stuff but I didn't really start appreciating the specific nature of whisky until I'd tasted some very different malts, but that can get expensive. I now live near here and they're great for miniatures and impromptu tastings - my palate has been stretched a bit. I also really like learning about distillation processes. I think that extended my appreciation a lot.

Languagehat makes a good point about it being an acquired taste. I hated whisky (and most spirits) when I was younger. Maybe some tastebuds needed to die off before I got past the Arrrgghh! Fire in Mouth! reaction.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:35 PM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Stage 1: Drink a bunch of Jim Beam the first time you get drunk, round about the end of high school. Ideally, this should be done at your friend Westphal's house. At the end of the evening, vomit more than any human being should be able to. The next morning, apologize for what you did to his kitchen floor.

Stage 2: Don't touch any kind of whiskey for years. Try a sip now and again, and immediately feel your gag reflex kick in. Define your drinking habits as, "Well, I guess I just can't drink whiskey, then."

Stage 3: Start dating a girl who, like you, has Scottish ancestry. Decide, one year, to celebrate Burns Night together -- a holiday that traditionally involves copious amounts of scotch -- but assume that you probably won't be drinking any. When her father hears that you're going to be celebrating the holiday, and generously buys you two a bottle of Cragganmore, silently freak out because you can't possibly turn down such a nice offer but you also won't be physically able to choke it down.

Stage 4: On Burns Night, drink the Cragganmore, in small sips, for politeness's sake. Realize that it really doesn't taste half-bad. Drink a little more. Now a little more. Realize that there are flavors in there that you're never tasted in any other food or drink. Stop before you're going to vomit. There you go. You're overcoming your Pavlovian distaste for whiskey. Not bad.

Stage 5: A week or so later, realize that you'd like to try those flavors again. Think, "It was like... wood? And like, caramel? And... hold on, I gotta figure out what the hell else was going on." Have some more Cragganmore. Sip. Savor. Think. Over the course of the next month or so, finish the bottle. Realize, as the bottle slowly empties, that you are now, apparently, the kind of person who likes whisky just fine. Huh.

Stage 6: Buy a bottle to replace the Cragganmore. Clynelish? Sure, why not, it's got a little cat or wolf or some such on the bottle, let's give it a whirl. Try it. As you sip it, think about how it was different from the previous bottle. Leave a bit of Clynelish in the bottle before you buy the next variety you try, so that you can compare the two side-by-side. Repeat this process over the course of months. When your roommate asks, "Why do you keep buying new bottles of scotch when you have some left in the old ones?", tell him, "For Science!"

Stage 7: You've been drinking scotch whisky for years, now. Christmas Eve this year involved you and your dad having a wee tasting of all the varieties in his liquor cabinet, so that your sister-in-law can get a sense of all the different flavors -- she's just starting to develop a taste for scotch, and is happy to sample what's out there. Delight in sitting with your family around a kitchen table late at night while the cold wind blows outside, sharing stories about the fantastic scotches you've had and the others you'd like to try.
You're now getting ready for Burns Night this Sunday, and making sure that your guests will be able to try a variety of different scotches. You have a bottle of Dalwhinnie for a nice floral one, a bottle of Laphroaig for the basic peaty experience, a bottle of Clynelish (still, years later, one of your favorites) for a well-balanced middle ground, and hell, it's a special occasion, why not break out the Port Charlotte PC5. Give 'em something ephemeral, something they're not likely to have anywhere else. See your friends gathered around you, and feel your heart overflow with love. They're not huge scotch drinkers, but that's okay, because they're there with you anyway, sharing all these wonderful flavors from the home of your forebears. Tears welling, realize, maybe a trifle maudlinly, that this is what the real flavor of scotch whisky is: It's not peat; It's not oak; It's not caramel or vanilla or smoke or fruit. It's love and it's craftsmanship, handed down over the centuries, outlasting the political upheavals that drove your family to another land, outlasting each generation of short-lived humans, crossing the ocean, shared with friends and family. It's sacred, it's kindness, it's an old tradition renewed, it's a reminder of the joy that is living and loving, it's communion.

Stage 8: Berate Irish whiskies whenever you're feeling rambunctious.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:45 PM on January 23, 2009 [17 favorites]


I yearned to try single-malt scotch after reading Dick Francis's Proof as a teen. (The plot involves fake Laphroaig and tracking down the source of it.) I took a trip to Scotland years later, where friends gave me samples of single malts. I didn't love the flavour instantly, but it was interesting, tasting the distinctiveness of each. I found a great little store where the staff person loaded me up with as many little sample bottles as my budget would permit and, crucially, he wrote down for me the order in which they should be tasted (starting with mild, ending with smoky). Fun, fun, fun. So, a deliberately acquired taste, for me.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:47 PM on January 23, 2009


I want to add that if you don't like whisk(e)y at all (bourbon, Irish, scotch, whatev's) you may not like scotch for a while.

Personal anecdote: I wanted to learn to drink scotch and bourbon so I started with Bourbon and ginger ale, which I eventually found sweet. Then I started drinking Manhattan's (Bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters) and eventually I like whiskey straight, no rocks.

My taste in scotch changes with the seasons and the weather. I definitely like sweeter, more citrusy stuff when it's warmer and peety smoky stuff in the winter. Also, there are other delicious scotch cocktails (I would advise a blended like Famous Grouse in a cocktail, no need to waste the really good stuff). Blood & Sand, Rob Roy, and The Bobby Burns are all quite nice, but depending on where you are it may be tough to find a bartender who can make them. Check cocktaildb.com for recipes if you like.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 2:50 PM on January 23, 2009


Started with scotch (from the well) and soda as my go to drink at the local bar at 22 or 23 (lighter than beer, stronger faster buzz, same price).

Moved on to scotch and water and then to scotch and water, "English" (no ice).

Somewhere about age 30 left blended scotch behind and now usually go for Glenlivet or Macallan neat or with a bit of water. Sometimes Balvenie. Laphroaig when I want it real peaty. Glenmorganie when I want to remember a certain young lady.
posted by notyou at 2:53 PM on January 23, 2009


Just out of high school, I once got the better part of a bottle of Teachers inside me during a fierce discussion with friends, and I had a few rocky hours after that (and a dentist's appointment on the next day - poor man). I stayed away from the stuff for a decade or so.

Then one day I got a call, and half an hour later I got hauled off in a huge van to play Vivaldi's For Seasons as a member of a background orchestra that filmed a Teacher's commercial in the little concert hall of Amsterdam's Concertgebouw. Since we were only play-backing to an existing recording, the whole day was a nightmare. The orchestra sounded like one would imagine Saruon's herd of wild chickens to sound, and the actor who was playing the conductor conducted like he was waving-in an airplane during a hailstorm. They tell me the orchestra shots never made it into the final commercial (we had several breaks though, and Charles Dutoit was rehearsing with the CGOrchestra in the large all, so I got something good out of that day besides a bunch of guilders).

After Teachers thus had lost its charm for me both taste-wise and musically, I went up the scale and that's where I stayed. It is good to have a few contrasting bottles of single malts at home to match various moods.

(I'm still trying to get hold of that commercial. The conductor drank the whisky after his successful concert...couldn't find it on youtube).
posted by Namlit at 2:54 PM on January 23, 2009


Funny, I *hated* scotch until about 2 months ago. I tried out a rye sour at a really chi chi frou frou bar and thought it was delicious (to my surprise). From then on I started ordering cocktails based on rye, bourbon, scotch, whiskey, etc., whenever I could. Eventually I started liking scotch just on its own. I'm still new to it and am in no way a connoisseur, but I definitely went from being disgusted by to really digging it. Not much of a story there, I guess. It just kind of happened. And, I'm almost 30.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 3:06 PM on January 23, 2009


I went to a scotch tasting - this particular one was a Macallan sponsored event that I found out about through my university's alumni group. I think learning about the history of scotch, it's ingredients, and how it's made really added to my enjoyment of the drinks. I found out about a Johnnie Walker tasting through a friend a few months later and really enjoyed that one, too, and most recently was at another Macallan tasting. All were in really inviting atmospheres that discouraged all the stuffy snobby things you generally think about scotch and talked about mixing and different ways of drinking and allowed me to taste a wide of variety of scotches in a variety of ways. If you can find one of these events near you, I highly recommend it!
posted by echo0720 at 3:24 PM on January 23, 2009


I think learning about the history of scotch, it's ingredients, and how it's made really added to my enjoyment of the drinks.

Likewise.

For online resources, check out The Scotch Doc, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, The Malt Project and The Scotch Whisky Association.
posted by ericb at 3:51 PM on January 23, 2009


Laphraoig? Laphroaig, dammit!

Vowels and whisky never mix that well...
posted by freya_lamb at 3:52 PM on January 23, 2009


Step 1: Find a lovely girl who will rip out your heart and stomp on it.
Step 2: Let nature take its course.
Step 3: Get yourself a bottle of scotch.

Repeat 1-3 as needed.
posted by mullingitover at 4:06 PM on January 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


My wife and I went to see her choirmaster for some choir business. He asked me what I would like to drink and said, "A Scotch?" ,and apologized for only having single malt! I said, "Sure" (not knowing what I was getting into) which really freaked out my wife because I was a lifelong teetotaler. He poured me about three fingers of Glenfiddich. I had a second one later. During the next ten years I have graduated to a preference for single malts (I like Glenlivet because I cannot really afford the super good ones), but Johnny Walker Red is my Scotch du jour.
posted by Drasher at 4:22 PM on January 23, 2009


A good friend of mine introduced me to Scotch and I am forever grateful. Like wine, there is a pretty wide variety in how different scotches taste. I prefer the lighter, more honey-flavored varieties like Balvenie or Dalwhinnie, whereas my friend prefers the peaty, smoky ones that taste like, as he says, "drinking from an ashtray." (Thankfully, he keeps a bottle of Balvenie around just for me!)

I also learned that, like wine, scotch needs to "open" to reach is optimal flavor. However where wine needs oxygen to open (hence decanting or letting it "breathe"), scotch requires just a few drops of water, mineral water if possible. The difference that three drops of water (less is fine, but no more, and definitely not ice) can make to the aroma and taste of good scotch is amazing.

Here is a nice overview of the art of drinking whisky for more info. Drink well!
posted by platinum at 4:31 PM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't remember when I realized that a dram of Laphroaig, neat, surpassed all other drinks and warmed the cockles of my heart (technical term) better than any other drink, but it does. Sip it slowly and let the fumes coalesce in a Celtic miasma in your head. And there's little temptation to overdo, although I do fondly remember one night when I split a bottle of Glenmorangie three ways and didn't even wake up with a hangover.

Required reading: Raw Spirit by Iain Banks.
posted by zadcat at 4:46 PM on January 23, 2009


Like others here, it was a taste acquired over years, starting with decent(ish) blends. Now the cabinet's full of single malts (and a bottle of Tullamore Dew).

Be careful what you wish for!
posted by rtha at 4:47 PM on January 23, 2009


You've certainly got some good advice ahead of mine.

All I really have to add to it is: I started drinking scotch because I'd never really acquired taste for other things. Many alcoholic drinks tasted like fruit. I like fruit... when it's actual fresh fruit. Other drinks tasted like damn kool-aid. I never liked kool-aid and I certainly didn't want my drinks to taste like it. It was years before I found a good beer... most American beer outside of finding a well run microbrewery is absolute piss. Literally. You'd get more nutrients and enjoyment out of a cup of your own hot piss than a can of Busch.

One day I found myself at a bar with a friendly bar tender and when he asked me what I wanted... I sighed and said "Hell if I know. All I want is a stiff drink that tastes like pipe smoke and burning and everything some fruit cocktail soaked in vodka isn't." He poured me some top shelf scotch and a revelation was at hand ;-)
posted by JFitzpatrick at 5:08 PM on January 23, 2009


I used to hate any brown liquor. Couldn't drink it. Then one day in college I got a craving out of the blue for Jim Beam. Bought a bottle and drank straight Beam on ice that night and loved it. I don't know what happened. From then on I usually drank it mixed with something but the like was solidified. So if you try scotch and don't like it, maybe just lay off and see if it ever comes back a-knocking.

Otherwise, the answer is just try different kinds periodically and see if it catches. For me it took living in Scotland for a year. It's just always there, so it seeped into me. A knowledgeable bartender at a good bar can help you (so you don't have to buy lots of expensive bottles you might not wind up liking). Ask friends for recommendations too. Ask them why they like their recommendation so you can build up some context.

As for how to start, I agree with someone above who said see if you like bourbon first. It's a different drink, but pretty accessible. Jack Daniels is on the sweeter side. Jim Beam somewhat less so. Maker's Mark is upscale from there. And the premium bourbon world has blown up in the last decade. There are loads fancypants kinds like Knob Creek and finer and finer. It's easy to ease into bourbon by drinking it mixed with something like Coke or ginger ale (e.g., "Jack n' Ginger"). You get the flavor in friendly, nonthreatening territory and can get used to it that way to acquire a taste over time and can then start backing off the Coke/whatever. But once you get above the Daniels/Beam level, don't mix it with stuff like Coke. Maybe soda or water or in nicer cocktails. Try it straight and see what you think.

If you like those, I'd recommend moving to a blended Irish whiskey. Though there are single malt Irish whiskeys, most are blends. Irish whiskey is triple distilled (as opposed to double distilled Scotch), which apparently makes it smoother. So in that respect it may be a more accessible stepping stone. While it's all down to preference, I never liked the Jameson, but I love Bushmill's. Apparently Bushmill's is Protestant and Jameson is Catholic, so maybe it was the whiff of Presbyterian in me, but it's like night and day. Even better than Bushmill's is their premium version - Black Bush. Absolutely delicious. Don't mix these with anything but soda or water in my opinion.

If you like those, pop over the North Channel to Scotland and get started. You might try a blend first. The default brand everywhere I went in Scotland was Famous Grouse. If you asked for a whisky at a bar but didn't specify what kind, that's what you got. You can get that here easily. It's not bad at all and is good as a workaday scotch. Other recognizable names in the blend world are Cutty Sark, Chivas Regal, Ballantine's, Dewar's, etc. All easy to get.

If you've been enjoying yourself, now get ready for the fun part. Learn about the primary regional styles of scotch. They are Highland, Lowland, Speyside... and then I've seen the western areas divided up differently, sometimes just "Island," sometimes Island, Islay, and Campbeltown, and sometimes Islay and Campbeltown, but with Island (the northwest islands) just lumped in with Highland. Each of these regions produces different styles more or less, though styles can really vary within a region. People have mentioned peaty malts like Laphraoig, for example. I can't stand those, but lots of people love them. Those are mostly from Islay. They taste like smoke and swamp and medicine to me, but in full disclosure, I wouldn't say my palate is very advanced. Other regional styles aren't as obviously characteristic as the peaty Islays. Read more about regions here.

I think the best way to learn about the styles is at a whisky tasting. Let somebody guide you through the different styles and dissect the component flavors with you like wine critics do. This can sometimes be tough because a tasting might be put on by a given distillery from a given area, and so not cover other styles. But maybe you can find a more general Intro to Scotch tasting.

One thing they'll tell you at any tasting is that you need a bit of water in the scotch. They'll first have you taste it straight. Then they'll tell you to put a drop of water in and taste again and notice the new flavor notes that have been released. Then they'll have you put a bit more in and do it again. I don't think three drops is the max like somebody upthread said, but you can get to a point of diminishing returns. But really, add as much as you like to get it to a point where you can enjoy the flavor and not cringe at the fumes or get overwhelmed. Eventually you'll cut down and find the sweet spot for you. And if you like it with no water, that's what you like. Ice is very much frowned upon because it dulls the taste buds, but again, it's whatever you like. I like my workaday blends over ice.

My very favorite single malt is Glenmorangie Port Wood Finish. This is a 12 year old scotch that spends its last couple of years in port wine casks. The result is somewhat sweet, rich and delicious. It's very accessible to the beginner. They apparently discontinued it in late 2007 so it is probably getting rarer on shelves these days. It has been replaced with another Glenmorangie port wood finish called Quinta Rubin. Let's hope it's as good. I'll now be very stingy with my last bottle that I just opened the other day. Crap!

Another very accessible scotch for the beginner is the Macallan that everyone has mentioned. I believe it too spends time in sherry casks and is just an all around winner. Can't go wrong there with their basic line, and they offer higher shelf stuff too.

From there it's time to branch out into the less accessible stuff. Try the peaty ones for a real challenge. And then just try anything that sounds interesting or is recommended. Try to taste some from all of the regions to help find what you like. Scotch is almost as fun to boast and argue about as barbecue ("I'm sure your favorite place is fine, but MY place makes the best barbecue in the country, hands down. You don't know what you're talking about."). It's more fun if your favorite scotch is obscure, extra points if it's really challenging. Well, in the boasting world anyway. I'm just fine with my friendly and accessible Glenmorangie.

SlĂ inte! I hope you enjoy it.
posted by Askr at 6:44 PM on January 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


I think a prerequisite for liking scotch, is to like the taste of a strong drink. I came to scotch through bourbon. After starting with beer & cider I decided I liked mixed drinks better. Jim Beam & Coke became my drink and after a while I ended up moving on to drinking Jim Beam straight.

One day a local liquor store was having a tasting and I ended up trying a handful of other whiskies/whiskys - rye, Irish & Scotch. The scotches were my favorites of the bunch and I started trying as many as I could.

Not that I'd recommend Laphroaig as your first scotch, but this is the best scotch review of all time.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 6:44 PM on January 23, 2009


I was introduced to Laphroaig and Lagavulin and found that, unlike any other whisky, Islay whiskies appeal to me. I still feel that way.

Sometimes it's just a matter of finding the whisky you like.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:46 PM on January 23, 2009


One more thing on the water. In just about every pub you go into in Scotland, there will be a ceramic jug sitting on the bar like these. It's got water in it for the whisky sippers to pour into their whisky at their preferred level. That's just another supporting clue in regard to whether or not to add water. The professional tasters all do it. Some people say use up to 1/5 water by volume. For me it's just a little splash. But again, just find your own sweet spot.

They say be wary of tap water since it can have a chlorinated taste that can interfere. Mineral water is the way to go, they say. But it might take you a while to get to that level of discrimination.
posted by Askr at 7:03 PM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I tried a number of blends--J&B, Cutty Sark, Dewar's, Chivas--and didn't like any of them. (I still don't--blended Scotch is no good except for mixing, and then it should be Dimple.) Then I had some single malts--I believe I started with Isle of Jura, which is a good start, flavorful but not overwhelming--and discovered the wonderful character whisky could have--a little like finally having some real tea after growing up on Lipton.

The most important thing is finding a really good bartender with a good selection (these often go together) who's not too busy, who you can tell your taste preferences to and ask for recommendations. Some feedback from you and after a couple rounds a really good bartender will set you up with a malt you'll like. Don't worry if you try something you've heard everyone say is the greatest and don't like it (I personally think Glenlivet is the Budweiser of single-malts, but others love it). There's a really wide variety of flavors, and while some will never be to your taste, it's fairly likely at least one will be.
posted by fidelity at 7:18 PM on January 23, 2009


Oh no. Once you've mastered scotch, you'll be experimenting with cigars, and it can get expensive.
I enjoy a pull off of a good cigar, exhaling over good scotch on lots of rocks, watching the smoke float on the ice, and then drinking.
Also, fuck ice, single malts are teh bOMGs.
posted by hypersloth at 8:41 PM on January 23, 2009


I'm no fan of Glenlivet either, though it's maybe the most popular brand, and particularly not of Glenfiddich, another of the most popular. Both are Speyside. The former just has no discernible character to me - kind of boring and lifeless compared to many others. And the latter is the worst I've ever had. Could it have been a bad batch? Laphraoig makes me want to scrape my tongue thoroughly, but at least it is complex and bold. Glenfiddich just tasted like tired cardboard. My English friend said it was pumped out en masse for Japanese and American tourists. Who knows if that's just hyperbole but I thought it was crap. With so much good stuff to try, I say steer clear of that one (at least their baseline model - haven't tried their higher shelf stuff).

Don't let those two Glens spoil Speyside for you though - it's a dense region. Balvenie, Cragganmore, and Dalwhinnie are pretty nice and accessible, for example, and there are of course the aforementioned Macallan and Glenmorangie.

Another old favorite of mine comes from there, too - Loch Dhu. This one is unique because it's a black whisky. It is(was) matured in charred oak barrels, so it turns almost black. It's dense and rich and lovely. I can only drink it in small portions because it's so heady. I should be speaking in the past tense because it's been a long time. I now read that they stopped making it. You can still find bottles around but the price has gone well up. I read that there's another black whisky now called Cu Dhub if you're interested.
posted by Askr at 8:50 PM on January 23, 2009


For me, I first tried drinking Scotch in Scotland. The helpful bartender at this run down pub made several suggestions at a smaller portions and I tried various kinds of 18 year single malts. I am not a heavy drinker, or a regular drinker, and had started drinking just a year or two before. Unfortunately I don't remember the names, sorry. But I found them to be 'interesting' in a good way. Plus it was cold outside, and it warmed me up. Drinking scotch was an acquired taste for me in that I liked it and appreciated it more each time. I'd look into different kinds of single malts and blended and comments and order a glass when I go out. This way, I know which ones I like before I spend crap load of money on the ones I end up not liking (although I haven't found many that I don't like).
posted by icollectpurses at 9:02 PM on January 23, 2009


Sip some, swallow, breathe in through your nose and then out, subtly, through your mouth, and that is all you need.

(though a good friend, colder climes, etc. as noted certainly might help)
posted by asuprenant at 11:06 PM on January 23, 2009


It smells like my grandmother, so that may have helped.

Do you like grains and bran and oatmeal and barley all those flavors? I'm not a peat gall so for me the best Irish or Scotch whiskey tastes like a hot bran mash (for a horse) smells.

A lot of people go from sweet to the good stuff with wines and whiskeys - you might try that route.

American whiskey is pretty sweet. A lot of it is made from corn, I think.

If you ever see a man in plaid pants on an airplane, talk to him. He may be a distillery rep wearing the tartan and carry samples. He will be your friend. Get his card and sign up for invites for all the events in your hometown.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:34 AM on January 25, 2009


I had the same question about whiskey about 2 or 3 years ago, and in that time I've gone through several different types. A few points:

1) As has been pointed out several times, try different brands and different ages. Avoid whiskeys with "blended" on the label--this means it's cheap but of lesser quality (generally speaking). You probably want to find a better quality single malt. The older the better; I think the lowest possible is 3 years, then 8, 18, 30 and 60 are common ages, though I could be wrong about those. As for price, "you get what you pay for" definitely applies to whiskey.

2) Personally, I find Scotch and (American) Boubon to have a somewhat offputting flavor (in a way that I can't put into words), and I discovered I really like Irish whiskey instead. Irish whiskey isn't as common, but Bushmill's and Jameson's are two popular brands--I like 'em both. Until you find a brand/kind you like, don't buy the same brand twice. I still buy Scotch and Bourbon occasionally hoping to find a brand that works for me, but haven't really so far.

3) If you're used to drinking beer and wine, sipping straight whiskey can be really overpowering. Add in an equal amount of water or soda. And if you do this in Scotland, I think the penalty is death by hanging, but try it on the rocks. I like it cold.

Just keep experimenting.
posted by zardoz at 9:40 PM on January 25, 2009


I think someone thought my answer was a smartass comment and deleted it, but it was completely serious as written.

Start with the Highlands and work your way towards the islands as you aquire the taste for seaweed.

I've found that the Highlands were easier to "get" at first and the seaweed taste of the islands was a bit overpowering. As I acquired a taste for the Higlands I was more and more able to get into the islands.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:53 AM on January 26, 2009


When karaoke-ing in Japan we'd sneak in convenience store flasks of Suntory whisky (so cheap) and then add it to bottles of Coke so they couldn't tell we were bringing in outside liquor. Drink the coke, top it back up with whisky, feel the tastebuds go dull... after a few months of that, we'd skip the little mickeys of whisky and just fill coke bottles ahead of time, with a little coke for color.

Yep, once we were able to drink that straight up, it was quite pleasant to try other kinds and appreciate the nicer flavors of proper scotches, ryes and bourbons.

A nice blended drink is half scotch whiskey, half amaretto, on the rocks. Though you'd better use a cheaper brand like ballantine's, no one in their right mind blends a nice scotch ;)
posted by lizbunny at 12:30 PM on January 27, 2009


My first single-malt was Talisker. I had a sore throat and had just used chloraseptic that day. After a minute or two I was able to pick up on the phenol. I was not put off by this, and kind of enjoyed the way it tickled my nasal passages all night due to my heavy nosing of the dram. I bought a bottle the next day.
posted by aydeejones at 2:50 PM on May 18, 2009


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