7 things you need to know if you’re new to whisky

13th Jun 19 | Lifestyle

Whisky sales are booming and it’s not just Scotch. Here’s how to nose out a single malt, blend and a bourbon, says Sam Wylie-Harris.

Glass of whisky with ice on old wooden barrel

Chances are, if you’re a cocktail hound, you’ve been sniffing out the best Old Fashioned (the number one selling cocktail in the world) for some time.

Old Fashioned classic cocktail (iStock/PA)
Anyone for an Old Fashioned? (iStock/PA)

But what if you’re new to the world of whisky? Then let your odyssey begin here, because sales are soaring and the market will be worth more than £2.4 billion by 2022 – according to spirits specialists Edringon-Beam Suntory UK.

“Our forecast is that Scotch single malt and American whiskies will drive future growth, continuing to attract new consumers to the whisky category, while successfully appealing to existing customers with new expressions,” says Mark Riley, MD, Edrington-Beam Suntory UK.

Feel a thirst coming on? Here’s how to get a foot on the whisky trail and appreciate one of the world’s most popular drinks…

How many types of whisky are there?

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Quite a few, but to keep it simple: Single malt, a blend, pure pot still whiskey (Irish), bourbon and rye.

What sets them apart?

It all depends on the recipe, how it’s distilled and period of maturation. The main whisky grains are barley, corn, wheat and rye. American whiskey is usually aged in new oak, while Scotch and Irish whiskies in aged barrels.

Single malt is on the up, how does it differ from a blend?

A single malt (barley or other grain) is a malt whisky made at one distillery. A blended malt is a mix of single malt whiskies from more than one distillery.

And what’s the difference between bourbon and rye?

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The quintessential American whiskey bourbon must contain at least 51% corn, while rye must have at least 51% rye and both have to be matured for at least two years.

Need to know: Scotch whisky must be matured for a minimum of three years.

What’s the best way to appreciate this liquid gold?

Experts suggest a tulip shaped glass or copita, so you can swirl the whisky to release the aromas, and as the nectar rises, the rim narrows to enhance the nose. To fully appreciate a whisky, only a splash of water should be added to open up the complex flavours and aromatics.

But if you want to break with tradition, try an old fashioned or rocks glass and prep a whisky cocktail – the Manhattan is also trending.

Where do most whiskies come from?

The main producers are Scotland (the world’s largest), Ireland, USA, Japan and Canada.

What’s their general style?

Speyside has the largest concentration of Scottish distilleries and are prized for their round, soft, fruity flavours. Think Macallan, Glenfiddich and Glenlivet.

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Elsewhere, the Isle of Islay to the west is known for its rich, peaty, smoky style, such as Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Caol Ila. It’s like Marmite, you either love it or you don’t.

Again, Irish whiskey is soft and fruity. American tends to be sweeter, Canadian lighter. Japanese (Suntory and Nikka) is generally high-end and tastes soft and pure.

Cheers, slàinte or kanpai!

© Press Association 2019

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