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It can be hard to find the right whisky (and that’s a good thing)
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It can be hard to find the right whisky (and that’s a good thing)

For the whisky newbie, that liquor store cabinet can seem intimidating. But it’s really a blessing, because everyone has a whisky out there for them. Here’s a guide on how to find the perfect glass – just in time for World Whisky Day too.

The Grain

Let’s start at the broadest level and then narrow it down until you zero-in on your new favourite. Most fans of whisky have a grain they are particularly fond of. And once you get a taste for one you’ll suddenly find yourself in a new world of exploration and discovery.

There are four basic grains that go into whisky: barley, corn, rye and wheat. Sometimes they’re blended together, but most whiskies have a stand-out grain that shines through the strongest. They also all have distinctive flavours.

Rye whiskies are pretty common in Canada and North America. Their flavour sits on your tongue and give the drink a spicier quality. It’s perfect for cocktails, but deliciously complex when consumed neat.

Corn, on the other hand, is packed with sugar, which is perfect for the distillation process. The sugars give the whisky a sweeter quality that can be great for pairing with delicious sour or savoury foods.

Malted barley is what makes scotch scotch. It gives it sweet, oaky notes that define some of the world’s most respected whiskies. The perfect drink to sip once you start to develop a palate.

One of the rarer finds is whisky made of wheat. Unsurprisingly, these whiskies are breadier, with some honey elements; almost like lager.

With this knowledge, you’ll be able to figure out which grain you’re most likely to enjoy.

The Colour

This might seem simplistic, but a great indicator of the whisky you might like best is to figure out what colour whisky appeals to you most. But be careful going down this route, because colour isn’t necessarily an indicator of strength or richness; more about the aromas and full-bodied-ness.

Whiskies get their colour from the type of barrel it comes from. Light oak barrels result in lighter oak spirits and charred barrels push out a distinctive smokiness, also making the whisky darker.

In general, the longer a whisky sits in a barrel, the more flavour (and colour) is imparted. So, if you’re someone who likes their whiskies extra smoky, your best bet is to start with something dark and barrel-aged. For a floral option, try something younger.

The Brand

So, you’ve figured out what grain you like. You’ve started to get an eye for the colour. Suddenly that whisky cabinet isn’t so daunting. It’s time for you to choose a favourite brand. Here’s the secret: there is no secret.

The best way to decide on a favourite is to try as many as possible. Start with something popular and accessible and work your way through to some of the high-end special occasion whiskies.

For example, if you like rye and you think the woody floralness of a lighter sprit appeals to you, start with Johnnie Walker Red Rye or Jim Beam Rye Whiskey. Once you’re confident that this type of spirit is for you, go for a Bulleit Rye Whisky or a J.P. Wiser’s Lot 40 Copper Pot Rye Whisky. You’ll experience a huge range, even within this small subset of whiskies and develop a palate for ryes, just through trying a couple.

On the other hand, if malted barley and darker, smokier flavours are more your speed – start off with a Loch Lomond Single Malt. If you acquire a taste, go on a bit of a journey from Talisker Skye Scotch Whiskey to the incredibly luxurious Bladnoch 15 YO or The Balvenie 17 YO. At the end of this journey, you’ll have the confidence to go out and try new brands, knowing for sure that you’ll enjoy them.

Overall, the lesson to be learned here is don’t be intimidated by that looming liquor cabinet. You need to be an expert to get involved in World Whisky Day festivities. A bit of top line knowledge, a few educated guesses and some deep and exciting exploration of your tastes, and you’ll eventually land on a whisky you love. That’s pretty special.