By Richard Thomas
Not long ago I saw a meme of a hipsterish-looking fellow drinking out of a snifter, and the caption read “I drink Scotch because it makes me look mysterious and unavailable.” Humor aside, Scotch has a rarefied reputation, one that carries even to its cheaper, mass market blends to a limited extent. Because of that, getting into drinking Scotch can be a little intimidating, perhaps more than a little if one crosses paths with one of the vocal minority of Scotch snobs.
Yet drinking is about pleasure and fun, so Scotch Whisky should never be intimidating, and that is something Ewan Gunn and Mitch Bechard understand. Gunn is the Global Scotch Whisky Master for Diageo and Bechard a Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador based in the U.S. Collectively, we have some advice for anyone just a little bit unsure of themselves on the do’s and do not’s of imbibing Scotch.
Rule #1: There Are No Rules
“Do not listen to any other ‘rules’ or ‘instructions’ on how to enjoy your Scotch Whisky,” says Gunn. “As far back as we can trace Scotch Whisky has always been enjoyed in a variety of ways: neat, with ice, with mixers and in cocktails. This is as true now as it was back in the day.”
In my role as a whisk(e)y journalist, I share Gunn’s attitude. I treat a lot of what I do here on The Whiskey Reviewer and elsewhere as informed advice on what to do and what to buy, nothing more. If someone out there wants to drink a pour from a $10,000 bottle of overrated, but still neigh-unattainable single malt from a dirty Styrofoam cup, my eyebrows might go into my hairline, but what that guy does with his whisky and his eccentricities is his business, and his alone.
In fact, most genuine experts concur with this point, including Bechard. “Drink it however you want to, you bought it so do not let anyone tell you any different. However, if I saw someone adding Mountain Dew to our Glenfiddich 50 Year Old I may have to have a word!”
Rule#2: Try Blends
Single malts are the heart and soul of Scotch whisky and deserve appreciation. There are over 100 active whisky distilleries in Scotland today, most of them make malt whisky, and almost all of those have single malt expressions available. Sometimes that is under their own banner and sometimes through an independent bottler, but they are out there. That is a lot of depth and complexity to get out there and experience.
If single malts are the heart of Scotch Whisky, blends are the foundations. Of all the Scotch sold, roughly 9/10s of it is Blended Scotch, a mix of malt and grain whisky. Blended malts (also sometimes known as vatted malts) are blends without the grain whisky. If the individual profiles of each distillery make the single malt picture a complex one, think about what applying the blenders art to combining them does. Ruling out blends is the same thing as ignoring an ocean of fine whisky.
Rule #3: Be Social
Sometimes you just want to enjoy your whisky at home and by yourself, but by and large drinking should be a social activity. Whisky is for sharing, especially nice, easy drinking whisky, so be sure to share it every once in a while. Have your friends over and drain half of that go-to bottle on the shelf, arrange informal tastings, and bring a bottle of something special to a dinner party or holiday engagement. Use that $5,000 bottle you have tucked in the back to impress a date. The possibilities are endless.
Another thing to do is get involved in whisky activities. Attend festivals, seminars and join clubs. It’s never a bad thing to know more people who share your interests.
Rule #4: Don’t Be A Snob
While you are being social, don’t be a show-off about how you know so much about Scotch. “There is nothing worse than turning people off by spouting about fermentation times and outputs of the distillery mixed with tasting notes that sound like you have swallowed a dictionary,” says Bechard. Remember that even snobs don’t really like other snobs, and eventually fall out with them.
Scotch is sometimes treated as an elitist drink, but it’s not and it’s origins are very humble indeed. “It was created by farmers in Scotland and even though it can command a high price there are also Scotch Whiskies that are very accessible.”
Rule #5: Drink Responsibly
Gunn encourages this point in particular, as do I. Know your local legal blood alcohol limits for your own sake and know your own limits for the sake of everyone else. If you cannot pace yourself and stay within those limits, please get a ride home with a friend or hire a taxi. That bottle of Oban 14 is certainly nice, but not nice enough to risk arrest, a serious accident or a vehicular fatality.