How do you drink yours?

McTear’s whisky specialist Graeme Maxwell looks at the intricacies of drinking Scotch whisky, and asks, how do you drink yours?

The basics of drinking whisky are pretty simple, smell, sip, swirl, and swallow. But what is the best way to appreciate your whisky? This is a topic which has caused many heated discussions at whisky drinking holes all around the world.

The first thing that needs to be looked at is apparatus.

For some, the Glencairn glass is the only way to go, with its tulip shape concentrating the aromas at the head of the glass, helping get an appreciation of the more delicate notes which are sometimes lost in wide-brimmed glasses. There are also crystal Glencairn’s and long stemmed, tulip shaped glassware variations which have much the same effect. For me it has to be a traditional Glencairn glass, this is part due to the fact I am prone to breaking glasses, cups and all manner of fragile drinking vessels.

The professional blender’s whisky glass, with its onion shape and very narrow opening, are excellent for those who prefer to sit for hours nosing their whisky, drinking at a very slow pace, enjoying every single last drop of the golden liquid.

Then there is the traditional whisky tumbler. This is a glass style that has been going out of fashion for scotch drinkers. The spirit is wide open to the elements, with much of the aromas being lost to the surroundings, bearing in mind that smelling the whisky is as, if not more important than drinking it. These can be good for if you wish to add something to the whisky, and can be seen containing an ‘Old Fashioned’ more and more as whisky cocktails become increasingly popular.

But should you add anything? For me the answer is sometimes.

For single malts I would only add water, but only for whiskies which I felt needed brought down a peg or two. Trying to drink a peaty Ardbeg Uigeadail at 54.2%, or a heavily sherried Aberlour A’Bunadh at 60%, can be a bit too overpowering and needs a couple of drops of water to make it a little more palatable. Whereas a delicate AnCnoc 12 years old at 40% is fine just the way it is.

Ice can have constricting properties, where it cools the whisky, and dulls the flavour, but I have been known to have an American whisky with a cube to mellow the incredibly sweet nature of the Americans spirit.

To buy an expensive bottle of whisky and add a sweet or fizzy mixer completely masks the flavour of the handcrafted spirit that has taken decades to produce, so my thoughts are if you are going to mix, use cheaper more mass produced whiskies.

The key thing to remember is that all of the above is my feelings and preferences. Everyone has their own ways of enjoying this wonderful spirit, so if you drink it differently, it doesn’t mean either of us are wrong. 

McTear’s sells more whisky than any other traditional auction house in the dedicated whisky auctions that take place monthly, run concurrently live online on a platform that attracts six million visitors annually from over 120 countries worldwide.


Written by Graeme Maxwell

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