“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”
Mark Twain penned this quote that whiskey devotees worldwide live by, but upon it, an essential question arises: how to tell good whiskey from the bad?
In this beginner guide, you'll learn about the different types of whiskey distilled around the world, how to correctly drink whiskey in a whiskey glass, and our choices for the best whiskey brands.
Whisky or Whiskey?
It's as simple as this: 'Whisky' refers to Scottish, Canadian, or Japanese distillates, while 'Whiskey' is the term for spirits made in Ireland and the United States.
How to drink whiskey
Quality whiskey should always be drunk neat, admitting nothing else but a large ice rock. While this might be true, at Barvivo we do love ourselves a good whiskey sour, too. However, if you're a beginner in the art of tasting whiskey, follow these steps to enjoy a good glass of this beloved spirit the right way:
- Get yourself a good set of premium whiskey glasses, an essential to let the spirit aerate and to be able to correctly nose the whiskey.
- Pour two fingers of whiskey over the glass (previously adding a large rock of ice if desired).
- Gently inhale the aroma of the whiskey. Pros do an "in-and-out" movement in which they put their nose close to the glass, give it a smell, and withdraw. This step greatly enhances the tasting experience, since a huge part of the whiskey taste is in its scent.
- Take a sip and roll the whiskey over your tongue, savoring the unique flavors you'll recognize. This is key to learning how to tell one type of whiskey from another.
Bourbon is all flavor, sweetness, and a smooth mouthfeel. It's the ideal choice to begin drinking whiskey, as you can recognize all sorts of notes, from vanilla, to caramel, to toasted oak.
- Wild Turkey 101: It's a great beginner's choice to drink it on its own or use it in mixology. Try to savor the vanilla, sweet toffee, and tobacco notes in this.
- Four Roses: This is an unpretentious, budget brand that you'll find in bars all around the world. Getting acquainted with its taste can give you a go-to option to ask your bartender.
Irish whiskey is one you're sure to have tried before. Think of the iconic, green-hued Jameson bottle, present in any pub worth its salt. This kind of whiskey, no matter the brand, is triple-distilled and aged for three years, which makes it a more mature and developed drink when compared to the younger Bourbon.
- Jameson: While the original Jameson Irish Whiskey is a fine enough choice, we recommend trying Jameson Caskmates or Stout Edition. It's the original whiskey but aged in barrels previously used for stout. This adds a fruity aftertaste to the spirit that perfectly rounds out the drink's drier notes.
- Bushmills: Bushmills 21 Year Single Malt Irish Whiskey is a high-end whiskey with a 21-year distillation process that is made for special occasions. The 10-year bottle is a budget option you can also try.
Scotch is divided into five categories, from which all you have to know is that there are single malt, single grain, blended malt, and blended grain. Blended Scotch is the most popular (think Johnnie Walker and Ballantine's), which blends whiskeys from different distilleries allowing for consistency across bottlings.
- Chivas: Chivas Regal 12 is the classic option for blended Scotch. Its notes of orchard fruits, honey, and cranberry can be found in a sip of Chivas 12. An ideal option for cocktails.
- Glenfiddich: This is a single malt Scotch whiskey that's worth trying. Glenfiddich 12 tastes of vanilla flan, oak, and fruits, with a smooth texture.
Whether Tennessee whiskey qualifies as bourbon or not, a debate that has been running for long, the truth is that this is indeed a kind of whiskey of its own. Its main characteristic is that is distilled following the Lincoln County process, in which the whiskey is strained through a charcoal filter which is supposed to make its true flavors come out.
- George Dickell: The Barrel Select bottle is full of vanilla and spice notes, leaning on the sweeter side of whiskeys.
- Jack Daniel's: Not trying to surprise anyone here, but in all honesty it's a budget, unpretentious option that has the plus side of being available anywhere you go. If you want to spice things up, try Jack's Rye Whiskey.
Japanese whisky started as a Scotch imitation, now it has a soul of its own and an immaculate reputation worldwide. These bottles are on the pricier side, but they're an integral part of the journey for anyone who seeks to become a whisky sommelier (or impersonate Bill Murray's character in 'Lost in Translation').
- Suntory: This brand started everything; all Japanese whisky brands came after it. Hibiki 12 is the bottle of choice, with a great balance of flavors and a creamy texture.