Here's how to drink whisky if you're new to the spirit

Nov 13 2019, 2:28 pm

This article was written for Daily Hive by Lynn Coulthard. Coulthard is Director of Brand Management and Education at JAK’S Beer Wine & Spirits, a Certified WSET Educator for Wine and Spirits, a Certified Spirit Specialist, Hopscotch Presenter, and the Westcoast Tutor for the Whisky Ambassador program.

I’ll never forget my first seminar as a whisky educator at Vancouver’s Hopscotch Festival.

A man in his early thirties strolled over to ask if I was getting everything set up for the key presenter. He was clearly shocked when I told him that I was the presenter and admitted that he’d never met a woman whisky educator before.

This was a few years back and thankfully times are starting to change. Key female figures in spirits are taking up space in a traditionally male-dominated industry, and they’re thriving — from Rachel Barrie, Master Blender of BenRiach and GlenDronach to Pam Heilmann, Master Distiller of Michter’s Bourbon, and Stephanie Macleod, Master Blender of Dewar’s.

These powerhouses are joined by top Canadian Brand Ambassadors such as Jamie Johnson from Balvenie, Beth Haver from Glenfiddich, and Tish Harcus with Canadian Club. They all show an impressive level of representation which encourages women to walk into a whisky seminar, take a seat, and have that dram.

Whisky op-ed

Whisky/Shutterstock

Demystifying spirits is my passion, a calling that I believe can mostly be attributed to my Celtic background. After years of wanderlust, my love for whisky took me back to my Scottish roots for a hike along the Speyside Whisky Trail (which I highly recommend), and ultimately, to study at the Springbank Whisky School.

My drive to learn about whisky was always greater than my nervousness about being the only woman in the room. I got my start in spirits by simply showing up again and again.

I continue to be fascinated by the myriad of complex flavours found in a whisky. Every amber bottle contains so much history and craftsmanship that goes into each drop to create all those delicious nuances.

It’s November and whisky season is upon us. Maybe (until now) you’ve assumed that hard spirits weren’t for you. Perhaps you find it intimidating because you don’t know much about it. Or you’ve bought into the old stereotype of cigars in front of a fireplace, dram in hand and men’s clubs.

I’m here to say whisky is a drink to be enjoyed by all. Here are some suggestions for how to understand and enjoy whisky with hopes that you can start to appreciate it as much as I do.

Gentle nosing

No vigorous swirling is needed here. Approach your whisky with a little more caution than you would a wine. It helps to open your mouth in a slight smile when nosing to take in all the aromas. I always smile when I smell a whisky, it is after all my happy place!

Sip and savour 

Let it sit on your tongue to mix with your saliva as you move it through your mouth. The warmth from your mouth allows the flavours to open up. This also climatizes your palate to any spicy heat you may be experiencing from the alcohol.

When in doubt, add water

Whisky can pack a punch. Especially when you head into some of the cask strength bottlings. Add a dash of water, this can help soften some of the alcohol burn and lift the aromas. Don’t worry about adding too much water, as you can always add more whisky!

Consider a ‘gentler’ dram to start

If you are just getting into whisky, the unpeated styles are a nice introduction. Irish whiskies can be gentle and slightly sweet as well as some of the Speyside whiskies from Scotland. Let’s not forget some of our fantastic Canadian whiskies too…we’re known for our smooth easy drinking styles.

Grow your knowledge

If you want to grow your knowledge and in turn, your confidence, I recommend learning about the various whisky regions and different tasting profiles. Dave Broom’s book The World Atlas of Whisky is an enjoyable read and Fred Minnick’s book Whiskey Women highlights the trailblazers who helped shape the industry. For your viewing pleasure, check out Visit Scotland’s great short clip: How Scotch Whisky is Made:From Grain to Glass.

Join the club

Whisky isn’t meant to be gender-specific, but the perception is still alive and well in some circles. Ignore any old school mentalities and sign up for some local whisky clubs. Simply show up and enjoy a dram on your own terms!

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