The Captain’s guide to drinking whisky and whiskey. A beginners guide.

I don’t get out much, I’m a family man now and that old chestnut “socialising with friends” has now become either lunch with friends and our children in tow or the odd night out which results in a two day hangover, something I’ve recently suffered.

I also firmly believe that whisky is for sharing, by the way I’ll referring to both whisky and whiskey in this article and I’ll be just saying whisky, please don’t email telling me I’ve forgotten to add an E, I have not and I am not listening. So yeah, sharing, so how can I share when I never have anyone round to have a few drams with?

The answer is simple, whenever anyone I know tells me they like whisky I offer them a wee sample of my own private stock which is pretty decent and offers a good range of the whiskies both Scotland and America has to offer and two things often come up in conversation;

1. “I would love to get into whisky”

2. I like whisky but I add ice”

The second of those is always said with a wince, like I’m going to throw lightening bolts at them or forever banish them from drinking whisky ever again.

Well I’m here to tell you that I will not do that, I don’t personally take ice in my whisky but if you want too then fine, if you want to add loads of water that’s fine too or cola or Irn Bru, I don’t care, go for it, but perhaps have a look further down to see how you can get the best from your whisky.

Okay? Good.

1. Ice.

Ice is very popular with whisky drinkers as it chills both the whisky and the tongue and takes away some of the bite that you might associate with whisky but I’d like to make a suggestion.

If you are going to add ice might I suggest an Ice Ball? Popular with bourbon drinkers the ice ball is a large hard junk of ice which doesn’t melt nearly as quickly as a regular cube or two of ice would meaning that the whisky stays truer to its true self as the spirit won’t become flooded with water as the ice melts, you’ll still get some dilution, only slower. There is the suggestion that a large piece of ice which is sitting out of the liquid chills the environment rather than the liquid which also means your tongue and lips will chill too meaning you’ll lose a lot of the flavour so bare that in mind. And never use crushed ice, keep that for cocktails.

One thing I will say about ice is that if you’re adding ice to whisky you will lose some of the subtle and complex flavours that can occur, that just seems a waste a me so perhaps you could try to keep the ice in the freezer and try your whisky without ice, you might find something you never realised you had.

2. Water.

I tend to add water to my whisky, I tend to pour a little dram out then try neat then add a drop of water and by a drop I mean a drop from a straw or a teaspoon, I’ll sniff, sip and perhaps I’ll stick or perhaps I’ll twist and add a little more water and repeat until I’ve done two things. The first is I’ll have found the place I prefer the whisky and secondly I’ll play about with water until I feel I’ve got the most from the whisky, I always try and get as many smells and flavours as I can, all part of the learning process and something worth doing whether you are beginner or if you’re a little more experienced.

3. Fizzy drinks.

If you want to drink whisky with cola or Ginger Ale or whatever then cool but for fucks sake why are you spending more than twenty quid on a bottle? I mean really.

Okay so there’s your “mixers” now a wee bit about glassware, if you’re just drinking whisky to enjoy with friends or relax or get hefty pished then a nice crystal tumbler is where it’s at, if however you do want to get the most from your dram then try a sherry glass or a Glencairn, they are designed for the purpose of nosing and tasting whisky, trust me, it’s worth it. Give the whisky a wee gentle swirl and get the nose in the glass, have a sniff, get to know the whisky, take your time, oh aye.

I want people to enjoy whisky and I want to end the fear many people have and I’ll admit whisky can be intimidating, wander into any proper whisky bar and you can be overwhelmed with the choice and range on offer and it doesn’t help if there’s some whisky bore telling you have drink it straight or whatever, it’s bollocks, do you want you want.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the reputation of whisky suffers because many people think of it as the preserve of the golf club or snooty private members clubs, old duffers in their tweeds which is why rum, gin and Tequila are becoming ever more popular, they don’t exclude anyone and I am doing my own tiny part in making whisky the same.

Go on, don’t be shy, have a dram.

The Captain.


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