Whisky 101: How to Drink Whisky Like a Pro

Aashna Ahuja, NDTV  |  Updated: July 14, 2017 10:16 IST

Whisky 101: How to Drink Whisky Like a Pro
Whisky is liquid sunshine. It’s the most versatile drink ever invented. And the patiala peg at Punjabi weddings is proof of India’s never ending love affair with whisky. It’s no longer a drink only for the refined older gentlemen like the Sean Connery’s of the world. Whether you’re having a good day or life has got you down, a glass of whisky is always good company. Just like Mark Twain rightly put it, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whisky is barely enough.” Well, every whisky aficionado would agree.

With a nice warming glass of whisky... Or shall I say whiskey? Now that it’s been brought to light, let’s discuss the difference between whisky and whiskey. It’s simple. Whisky usually refers to Scotch whisky, whereas whiskey indicates the Irish and American liquors. We admit - whisky is not, and has never been, just a simple drink. With Bourbon and Scotch, Irish and rye (oh my!) and their many styles and classifications, you first need to ace the basics to fully enjoy this 250 calorie drink. And that’s where we come in. So, whether you’re already a fan of whisky and want to educate your discerning palate or think that it tastes like fire in a glass, there’s tons to know and a lot to love about whisky.

The Difference Between Bourbon, Scotch, Irish and Rye
So, what is whisky? It’s basically a liquor which is distilled from fermented grain mash and aged in oak barrels. Traditionally, whisky is made from barley, corn and rye but you can actually make it from just about any grain, including quinoa, buckwheat and oats. And did you know: Whisky is a clear liquor before it’s barreled? The dark colour in fact, only comes from the white oak in which it is aged along with 60% of the flavour.

Now, what is Bourbon? Sweeter than other whiskeys, bourbon is made from a grain mixture which is at least 51% corn and matured in oak casks in the United States. And rye whiskey, which tends to be lighter in colour, is distilled from at least 51% rye. No surprise there. Now let’s talk Irish. Irish whiskey is a light-bodied whiskey made from yeast-fermented grain mash and aged in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland.

To qualify as a Scotch, Scotch whisky must be made from malted barley, aged for no less than three years, and of course, made 100% in Scotland. Scotch whisky tends to have smoky and earthy flavours. Wondering how to tell the difference between a blend and a single malt? It’s easy. A blended Scotch is literally a mix of both malt whisky and grain whisky, sourced from different distilleries. And single-malt scotch is basically the product of a single distillery. Contrary to popular belief, it's a myth that blends aren't as good as malts (despite what the snobs say). While blended Scotch whisky possesses more of a lingering finish, single malts possess a fruity softness with more of a dry finish.

How to Drink Whisky

This isn’t a spirit you guzzle for the fun of it like you did tequila on spring break. Whisky demands appreciation. You gaze first, take a sniff, then it’s time to drink. And the first time you drink any whisky, it should be tasted neat. But if you wish to take the edge off and make it smoother, you can have it on the rocks or dilute it with a little water. Before sipping, take a hearty whiff. It will be pungently alcoholic but sniff a second and third time to get the true whisky aromatics. Then take a sip, hold it in your mouth for a couple of seconds and roll the liquid over your tongue, you can even chew on it. You’ll get classic flavours of vanilla, toffee or caramel since whisky is always aged in wooden barrels.

Fun with Whisky

If drinking hard liquor straight up is not your thing, then there are plenty of other ways to still enjoy whisky and make it fun - introducing whiskey-based cocktails. The trick to making delicious cocktails is to first understand what flavours team best with the base liquor, in this case whisky. Once you get that right, there's no end to the number of drinks you can shake up. Some of the all-time favourite whisky-based cocktails include Whiskey Sour, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Julep, and The Irish Royale, to name a few. Many bars also use whisky to shake up some innovative cocktails such as Monkey Bar’s Copper Monkey, brimming with flavours of passionfruit, and Amreli’s Mint Julep with ginger ale.

So how about having some fun with whisky? Here are some cocktail recipes to get you started -

Old Fashioned at PCO, New Delhi
By virtue of having the best mixologists in the city, PCO's Head Bartender Vikram Pal offers the most clever cocktails in town ranging from a mean 19th to a classic Old Fashioned. He remarks, “We like to keep it classic. And nothing beats Bourbon, especially when it comes to an Old Fashioned.”

60 ml Bourbon Whiskey
1 Sugar Cube
3 drops of Angostura Bitters
4-5 cubes of ice
3 Orange Peels

Muddle the orange peels, sugar and Angostura bitters together. Then add 3-4 cubes of ice, Bourbon whiskey and drink up. 

Copper Monkey at Monkey Bar, New Delhi

60 ml Whisky
60 ml Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
10 ml Passion Fruit Juice
10 ml Passion Fruit Extract
10 ml Lime Juice
Handful of Fresh Mint Leaves
1/2 Orange Slice, to garnish
4 Drops of Angostura bitters
1 cup cubed ice

1. Add the whisky, orange juice, passion fruit extract, lime juice, fresh mint leaves and ice into a cocktail shaker.
2. Shake well and pour into a copper tumbler or glass of your choice.
3. Garnish with half a slice of orange and 4 drops of bitters. 


30 ml Irish Single-Malt Whisky
15 ml Almond Liqueur
30 ml Coffee Liqueur
2-3 drops of Mint Liqueur
30 ml Milk
Splash of Sugar Syrup
Few Ice Cubes
Cherry, to garnish

1. Chill the glass and rim it with some sugar and mint liqueur. 
2. Put some ice in a shaker and pour in all the ingredients (except the whiskey).
3. Shake it well. Fill the glass with ice cubes and pour the whiskey along with the other ingredients. Garnish and serve.

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Pure Sin

Crushed Ice
45 ml Irish Whisky
15 ml Irish Creme Liqueur
1 tbsp Cream
1 scoop Vanilla Ice Cream
1 tbsp frozen Raspberries
2 tbsp frozen Strawberries
Chocolate stick, and a sprig of mint to garnish

1.Put 1 scoop of crushed ice in a blender.
2. Add all the ingredients and blend till smooth.
3. Pour it into a large margarita glass, garnish and serve.

James Joyce got it just right when he remarked, “The light music of whiskey falling into a glass makes an agreeable interlude.” So now that you’re an aficionado, go on. All you need to do is pour! 

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