6 Whiskey Tasting Tips Every Girl Should Know

Europe, Food & Wine, Parties, Festivals & Events, Scotland — By on May 10, 2010 at 10:00 am

When Lost Girl Emily Luger went whiskey tasting in Scotland, she put her college partying years to the test. Traditionally a tough-guy drink, whiskey isn’t always a favorite for cocktail lovers. But in Scotland, Emily learned whiskey can be pretty enjoyable, so for you brave bar goers, check out her tasting tips and put them to the test!

By Emily Luger

I’m gonna to go ahead and make a pretty brash generalization when I say this, but it has been my observation that North Carolinians (Southerners in general, really) drink more whiskey than the average American. It’s not uncommon to hear “Maker’s – neat” as the order of choice at bars across the state, and I surprise my New York friends often when I (a girl!) order whiskey at bars in the city. I’m not going to lie: It gives me a sense of pride when my female friends order standard vodka/soda/cranberry drinks and I can order something with a bit more oomph (Makers and water, please!).

Thus, when I heard we were going to do a whiskey tasting on one of our nights in Scotland, I just assumed I’d be able to hang. After all, I spent four formative University years developing my whiskey drinking ability (sometimes, unfortunately, in lieu of the development of some academic ability).

Enter Gordon Ross, whiskey master. Gordon came to our table with a spread of bottles and arranged them in beautiful formation. When he got our attention, he welcomed us (in Gaelic) and he began his lesson.

Things I learned (and was able to record before the drinks…made it difficult to write legibly):

1. How to order it: Whiskey, as it turns out, comes in several different forms. In the US, we drink whiskey made with maize (yay corn), and we call it Bourbon. Makers Mark, Jack Daniels etc. are American whiskeys. Johnny Walker, Glenlivet, etc. are Scottish whiskeys, and they’re made with barley. Scots call them whiskey but order by the specific brand name, as in “I’ll have a Glenlivet.” Americans call them Scotch.

2. How to DIY: Though Gordon claims otherwise, making whiskey is a many-step, complex process that involves a kiln, soaking barley, yeast and, in some cases, smoking. Gordon went into more detail, but I only got the basics (it was hard to decipher that accent and write at the same time!). Check out wikipedia for more info, but remember: selling moonshine is illegal, so proceed with caution! (When I was in high school, there was a guy called “Wild Bill.” Wild Bill lived on the 18th hole of the Hope Valley Country Club golf course. He used to bring us moonshine to test. I now have more respect for Wild Bill’s whiskey-making skills. It’s complicated!)

3. How to drink it: Whiskey should be drunk on ice or with nothing. If one needs a mixer, water works to release some of the natural flavors. Gordon also let us try drambuie in the whiskey, which helped to cut the bite a bit. Note: Don’t order whiskey with soda. I mean you can, but you’ll get way more brownie points from the bartender if you don’t. Besides, the point is to drink it slowly and enjoy the flavor. (You know the drill: If you want something quick and dirty, order a Jaeger bomb.)

4. How to identify it: There are four regions in Scotland where whiskey is made: Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside and Islay, and the whiskeys from these regions vary in intensity from light to heavy (respectively). We tasted Auchentoshen (Lowlands), Glenmorangie (Highlands), Macallan (Speyside) and Laphroaig (Islay).

5. How to pick it: Auchentoshen is what they call a “lady’s drink” or a “breakfast drink.” Gordon suggested it on breakfast porridge (Did I mention I love the Scots?). Auchentoshen and Glenmorangie were delicious (pronounced GlenMORANGie), but I had a little more trouble with the last two. Macallan is a good, strong drink (Glenlivet is also from Speyside), but Laphroaig is literally fire water. Reminded me of a dressed-up version of Wild Bill’s moonshine. Heat. Running. Down. Esophagus. Mouth. On. Fire.

6. How to multi-task: It’s hard to write and drink. Just ask Hemingway.

Despite the fact that Scotland gave me a hearty dose of humble pie in terms of my whiskey knowledge, I still love the stuff – even more than I did before (didn’t think that was possible, did you?).

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  • Myra says:

    Not all whiskey is bourbon…Bourbon is actually only made in Kentucky. While there are sour mash whiskeys that taste like bourbon (ex, Jack Daniels, which is made in Tennessee), bourbon can only be called bourbon if it is made in Kentucky. Bourbon gets its name from “Bourbon County”. It’s kind of confusing, but it’s the same as sparkling wine and Champagne; being that Champagne can only be called Champagne if it is from the Champagne region of France.

    Sorry–I am from Kentucky and we are proud of our bourbon and our horses. If you ever find yourself in the area in the fall, you should visit the bourbon trail. You can visit the distilleries and dip your own bottle of Maker’s. 🙂

  • Emily says:

    Thank you for the info, Myra! Sorry about that!

  • Nathaniel says:

    Em, there’s no houses off of the 18th hole. I went looking and was disappointed with no discovery of wild bill!

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  • Melissa says:

    Also – there’s no “e” in Scottish “whisky”! (I hate when people correct type-os but that one seems culturally significant.)

  • Enrico Caruso says:

    NEVER order single malt on ice.

    NEVER mix it with more than a few drops of water, although the normal 40-44% doesn’t really need it. If you are drinking the cask strength, then a few drops of water will do nicely. The water brings out he subtlety, it is not there to dilute it!!

    Glenfarclas “105” (this is the cask – hard to get in the US – absolutely worth every dime)
    MacAllen cask (fantastic value)
    Glenfarclas 12
    Balvanie Doublewood (great for beginners and everyone’s favorite)
    Oban (expensive and complex)
    Aberlour a’bunadh (regular award winner)

    These are all Speysides, except the Oban. (I’m not much into peat, so Laphroiag isn’t my thing….if you want a “light peat,” try Highland Park from the Orkneys. A little light on body for my taste, but not quite the medicinal quality of an Ardbeg.)

    And don’t bother with anything over about 20 years (except to impress people)….you really aren’t going to notice much difference as most of the aging is done by then and the cost increase is exponential.

  • Ben says:

    Actually, bourbon is not restricted to Bourbon County, KY or even Kentucky for that matter. The short answer is that Bourbon must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, made within the continental United States, and aged in new, charred-oak barrels. Aside from a few other hair-splitting rules that’s about it.