Whiskey Newbie? 5 Tips For Drinking Whiskey & Actually Liking It!

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When I was 19 and super impressed with myself for drinking “fancy” beer (it was Peroni for crying out loud) (I’m cringing) my friend’s grandmother — an impossibly chic, coiffed Mad Men-type woman — once told me that “A lady always drinks whiskey, because she can only drink one.” It’s pretty true: you’re far more likely to down three vodka sodas versus three whiskey neats. But whiskey always seemed like some club I wasn’t cool enough to be a part of, full of learned, stuffy people who were into other exclusionary things like modern art or classic cars. There are a whole vocabulary and rituals I had no idea about, hence the Peronis. For years, I didn’t know the difference between a good whiskey and an embarrassingly bad one, ditto with how to drink it. Rocks? Straight up? Mixed with off-brand Diet Coke, as was my inclination? And what on earth is even the difference between scotch and bourbon?

So, determined to be a ~lady~ my friend’s grandmother could be proud of I sat down with two whiskey experts: Rob Samuels, grandson of the Maker’s Mark whisky founder Bill Samuels and the company’s current COO, and Rael Petit, bartender at ultra-trendy NYC hotspot, The Water Tower bar inside The Williamsburg Hotel. Both gents had some easy tips on how to de-mystify their favorite spirit.

1. Learn The Basics And Explore
“Scotches are made in Scotland,” explained Rael. “For a whiskey to be named a bourbon it needs to be produced In the US, be made from 51% corn at a minimum, aged in new, charred-oak barrels and be a minimum of 80 proof at bottling.” Which one is better? That’s up to you! Get out and try them. “Maker’s Mark is bourbon straight whisky, but there is a whisky for every palate ranging from light and floral to rich and smoky,” says Rob. “When you educate yourself about what makes each one special and understand the nuances of each, chances are you’ll find one that’s right for you.”

2. Nose It To Know It

Have you ever watched a wine connoisseur taste a nice red? It’s the stuff of nightmares. The swirling. The looking. The tilting. The SWISHING. Mercifully, tasting whiskey isn’t quite as complicated. “When tasting a whiskey for the first time, fill your glass about a quarter of the way and smell it, or ‘nose it,’ before you sip,” details Rob. “Put your nose over the edge of the glass and part your lips so you can take in the aroma of the spirit without breathing in only the alcohol.

3. Chews Your Own Adventure

“Take a slow slip and let it roll over your palate — we call that ‘chewing’ your whiskey,” adds Rob. “It helps release more flavor. For example, Maker’s Mark was created to be a forward palate bourbon that finished on the front of the tongue and out of the bitter zone in the back.”

4. Mix It Up… Kinda
The classic question: ice or no ice? Rael votes for keeping it cold, saying that ice “opens up the aroma and helps dilute the flavor.” And if you have to mix it, Rael says to ditch the Diet Coke and opt for a whiskey cocktail: “A Gold Rush for citrusy drink, Penicillin for a smoky drink, an Old Fashioned for a drink that stays true to its original form.”

5. Don’t Break The Bank
Just like anything else, a big price tag doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll enjoy it more. But as most of us have learned the hard way, bottom-of-the-barrel booze goes down bad… and feels even worse coming back up. You can find about 10 decent whiskeys under $25, like Old Overholt or Evan Williams, both $16.99. Or, go a bit bigger with Redemption Rye ($32) Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon ($30) or treat yo’ self with Glenfiddich single malt ($69.99). Then there’s Rael’s pick, Westward Whiskey ($85.99) from Portland, OR.

Are you a whiskey girl? Or do people who drink bourbon and scotch just look like they’re trying too hard to be cool?

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