Beginner's Guide To Buying Whiskey

Beginner's Guide To Buying Whiskey

Read the six tips before buying the bottle

Sapna SarfareUpdated: Saturday, January 27, 2024, 08:20 PM IST
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Pics: Freepik

When George Bernard Shaw says, ‘Whiskey is liquid sunshine,’ whiskey lovers will nod in agreement. One glass is enough to keep you in a good mood, whether Irish, Malted, Bourbon, Scotch, Single Malt, Blended, Japanese, Tennessee, or Rye.

However, not everyone is an authority on whiskey. All of us have to start somewhere. A little advice would go a long way to sipping on a proper glass of the liquid sunshine. Follow the advice and be prepared to be a whiskey expert.

Why to pick

While what to drink is a personal choice, one must understand one’s taste or palette before buying good whiskey. Varchasvi Shankar, the founder of Varchas Whiskey, mentions, “Each has a distinct flavour and character. It is because of the use of different types of raw ingredients and maturation process. For example, Bourbon uses corn, rye and barley or wheat as their ingredients. The ratios of the ingredients change the flavour and body of the whiskey. Bourbon’s need to be made from at least 51% corn and rest can vary and be aged in new American Oak barrels for a minimum of two years in the USA. Bourbons tend to be on the sweet side while the smokey flavour is from the charring of the barrels. The terrain or geographical location where these whiskeys are made also play a role in their maturation and finish.”

The result of anything you pick up is to feel happy. The same goes for drinking whiskey. Sommelier Nikhil Agarwal, CEO – All Things Nice, mentions, “A good whiskey’s primary objective is to give you the drinker — pleasure. So, if you are spending money ensure that the whiskey is to your taste and preferred style. For example, if you only drink peaty whiskies, one that is not may not impress.”

Tips to for your tipple

Percentage of alcohol strength: “If the whiskey is 40-50% alcohol by volume (ABV), it means there was water added before the whiskey was bottled. There are also cask-strength whiskeys available, which means no water has been added,” explains Manish Mohnani, Country Head for Consilium Black Whisky in India.

Pricing: Nikhil feels more expensive is not always better. Whatever the budget, do your research. Also, the older the whiskey, the pricier it is.

Read the label: Another point is the age statement that defines the price of the whiskey’s . “It also depends on whether the whiskey is blended or a single malt. A single malt typically means the whiskey has been bottled at the single distillery where it was made. A pure malt has up to four malts blended from different distilleries. The whiskey’s character and taste tend to be specific to those distilleries. A blended whiskey will keep a prominent profile of a particular malt while also having other aroma and taste profiles,” states Varchasvi.

Age factor: Since each person will have her/his own palette, all whiskeys will not give the same experience. Varchasvi says, “You shouldn’t blindly purchase a whiskey bottle because it has a bigger age. It does not guarantee the whiskey will give you the best experience.”

Talking further, Mohnani mentions, “The age of the whiskey determines the flavour and its value. The younger / newer ones have a more vibrant and lighter notes and colour, while older ones are usually smoother, darker, notes and colour.”

Experiment with labels: The trial period is always best to know what you want. Varchasvi says the same for whiskey. “To settle on a whiskey which best compliments your palette is by trying different types of whiskey through several brands.”

Read reliable reviews: “Gain insights into a whiskey’s overall quality and flavour profile by checking reviews from trustworthy sources or fellow enthusiasts,” suggests Mohnani.

What it says

When someone picks that bottle or a glass of whiskey, it subtly denotes plenty about the person. Nikhil calls it a great beverage, if not the perfect one. It is especially true about whiskies made with care. “People who tend to purchase fine whiskies tend to be well-travelled with fine palates and more exposed.”

“In general, a whiskey drinker would be looked at as a confident, mature person and projects an image of authority,” reveals Varchasvi. “Sometimes the type the person drinks also talks about the habits of the person. A person who likes a well balanced whiskey would be calm and composed. A person who loves a fruity / sweet flavour would be young at heart and very social.” According to Mohnani, whiskey stands for a taste of quality and a temperament to taste the finer details of a well-crafted spirit.

Why whiskey doesn’t freeze

According to Tushar Bhandari, Whole Time Director, AABL, reveals whiskey’s unique composition and high alcohol content helps it stay away from freezing. “The alcohol acts as a solvent agent and prevents water molecules from forming ice crystals at the standard freezing temperature.”

When exposed to cold temperatures, whiskey’s reaction leads to a chain of extraordinary actions. “There is an alteration in the viscosity of the beverage, making the whiskey thicker and syrupier in liquidation. From a scientific standpoint, this change is attributed to a decrease in molecular motion due to the temperature drop. From the flavour point of view, cold temperatures can temporarily reduce the flavour making it challenging for the taste buds to differentiate between various flavours. Thus, many whiskey enthusiasts prefer drinking whiskey at room temperature with a slight touch of ice,” he adds.

Bhandari mentions that extremely cold temperatures make whiskey’s texture form a cloud-like structure called ‘Chill Haze’. “However, this phenomenon doesn’t affect the taste or quality of the whiskey.”

He concludes, “Changes in viscosity, taste perception, and appearance occur when exposed to cold temperatures; however, these changes tend to be solely transitory and have no effect on the spirit’s characteristics.”

With these details guiding, being a whiskey lover is now within the reach of even greenhorns.

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