How to Drink Scotch Whisky
Like the world's Scotch whisky fans actually need telling...
IS THERE a right way to drink whisky? asks Rupert Patrick, CEO and co-founder of WhiskyInvestDirect.
The first time I considered this question seriously was twenty years ago, when I was hosting the spirits buyer for a major French supermarket group for a two-day visit to Scotland. I'd arranged for him to visit two distilleries. On the first evening, at a bar in Inverness, he asked for a Laphroaig and coke. He knew a bit about Scotch and pronounced the brand perfectly. But the barman refused to serve him his chosen drink.
Instead he gave him a lecture on how you do – and how you do not – drink Scotch whisky.
Since then, my whisky career has taken me to over forty different countries, emerging and emerged, and I've seen almost that many ways of drinking Scotch. Perhaps the one that surprised me most, both from how unusual I found it and how much I liked it, was in Brazil, where Scotch is frequently drunk with coconut water. At that time for me it was Teacher's, a robust and high malt content blend, but it works with almost any good Scotch.
Scotch and coconut water would not have been my request at the Dowan's Hotel in Speyside where I was staying during a week's training at Glenfarclas distillery in 1991. I met the distillery manager in the bar on the first evening and was told in no uncertain terms that I'd be having a 'half and a half' like everyone else – a dram and a half pint of beer as a chaser. That was me told.
But the key to drinking Scotch, like wearing a kilt, is not to take it all too seriously. While I firmly believe that the master blenders can teach us the best way to nose and sample a whisky, when it comes to drinking for pleasure you should follow your instincts. Scotch and coke is a popular night club drink in many southern European countries, and it's normally a J&B or Ballantine's and coke, not just any old Scotch. Brand loyalty is strong whether Scotch is mixed or served straight.
And where would American whiskey be, Jack or Jim, without coke?
But there is one key factor which divides whisky drinkers – the strength at which we can best enjoy it. There are many bottlings of single malts at cask strength, varying anywhere from 45 to 60% alcohol by volume (abv), but the majority of Scotch is bottled at 40 or 43% abv on the basis that this is as high a strength as most drinkers would want. Even then, only a small percentage of drinkers wouldn't add a splash or two of water, a few lumps of ice, or both.
I'm often asked how whisky experts drink their Scotch. There's no simple answer to that. And I learnt from one of the trade's most respected stalwarts, chairman of independent distillers Macleods Peter Russell, that it's perfectly okay to drink gin on a night out instead! But I can say that whenever I've seen master blenders and distillery managers doing their nosing, sampling and quality testing, it's almost always done with room temperature water added to bring the whisky to approximately 20% abv.
Try it – you might just find it becomes your preferred way of drinking blend or malt.
My French guest, by the way, listened to his Inverness lecture, graciously thanked the barman for his advice, and asked him again for a Laphroaig and coke.