• SumoMe

How to Drink Whiskey

GroomsdayThis is a guest post by Jonathan Gouveia, the founder of Groomsday, a retailer of groomsmen gifts. He also regularly writes articles focused around weddings from a guy’s perspective.

Maturity is all about change–about exploring new things and making adjustments. If you’re still dressing the same way you did when you were in school – there’s a problem. If you’re still afraid to try Thai food at the age of thirty–there’s a problem. And if you’re still drinking the same lite beers or fruity cocktails as you were all those years ago–there’s a problem.

There’s no law that states you have to drink whiskey, of course–personal tastes always rule. But if you’re still drinking lite beer–which was once called small beer and is, indeed, small in every way (flavor, satisfaction, manliness)–or mixing every cocktail in the world (most modern cocktails were invented during prohibition to mask the awful taste of bootleg liquor) then you’re still a boy. It might be time to admit you just don’t like booze, and there’s no shame in that. Mixing good liquor with awful things: now there’s something wrong with that.

Come sit at the adult’s table, and order yourself a whiskey.

Whiskey 101

First of all, before we proceed any further, let us state unequivocally that just as there’s no shame in not liking alcohol, there’s no right way to drink whiskey, or right whiskey to drink. There’s not even a right way to spell whiskey–use whisky is you want, or just call it “brown” like you’re a pensioned NYPD detective in a divey old man bar. So while we may offer some gentle guidance here, we must stress that there is no Whiskey Purity Test out there. Drink it like you want to– unless that involves pouring half a can of cola into it, or some other atrocity, in which case you are dead to us and should delete this bookmark from your computer, then burn the computer.

First of all, figure out what kind of whiskey you like. There are more kinds than you might think, although all whiskey is distilled from grain. The best way to figure out what kind of whiskey you like is to drink an enormous amount of whiskey. Drink recklessly, expensively, cheaply, and with vigor. Ask bartenders to pour you their favorites, keep an eye out for whiskies mentioned in literature and on TV shows. Ask your Uncles what they drink. Try it all. Try Scotch, blended and single malt. Try Bourbons and Ryes and Corn Whiskies, Wheat Whiskies and White Whiskies (no, wait – forget we said that – never try a White Whiskey). Keep a running tally of the ones you like, and before you know it you’ll have a firm answer when someone asks you what your poison is.

Next, figure out how you take your whiskey. Your three main choices, if you wish to enjoy an adult beverage in an adult manner, are: neat, on the rocks, and with water. There’s no right way or wrong way, although there are all sorts of ridiculous rules invented by the desperate in order to look smart: that ice should only be used with cheap whiskey, that water dilutes what you paid for, that water must always be used–screw it. Experiment. As a general guide, though: Water is used to “open up” a whiskey, and generally works best with whiskeys north of 90 proof (45% alcohol). Whiskeys with a high alcohol content can burn a bit and have a very, very strong flavor, and a splash of water mellows them out.

On the other hand, ice cools whiskey down and can do the opposite – tightening it up. Then the ice melts, and it mellows. Play around with ice and water and neat and come to your own conclusions. You’re a big boy now, aren’t you? If someone tells you you’re doing your whiskey wrong, pop them on the nose.

Finally: Forget about years. When a whiskey is given a year designation, like “50 Year Old” it refers to the time it’s spent aging in a barrel. Aging in the barrel is what transforms whiskey from the nasty, horrible stuff known as White Whiskey into the lovely stuff we sing songs about. The longer it sits in the barrel, the more complex it becomes, so in general the older the whiskey, the more interesting it might be. It also has a tendency to be more expensive, but this is more due to the cost of storing it for, say, twenty-five years before you can sell it than anything else. In other words, don’t get hung up on years. Bourbon and Rye usually don’t have a year designation although they’re aged too–and whiskies can age too long and get “woody.” So forget the year and just find a whiskey you enjoy drinking, at a price you can afford.

Whiskey in the Wild

Here’s the thing about whiskey: you really ought to be specific. On TV shows you can order “Scotch” and the bartender just nods. In the dirty real world, ordering generically will get you some breathtakingly shitty whiskey, or a look of utter confusion from the bartender. If you order a cocktail you usually get bottom-shelf liquor unless you’re so confused as to specify top-shelf stuff to be liberally mixed with flavorings and sadness, and you can always order a generic glass of wine. For beer and Whiskey, though, you’re better off knowing what you want.

The problem, of course, is that you don’t always know what they have. When you walk into a bar you can scan the tap for the beers they have on draft, but picking out all those bottles can be tricky. So it’s best to have a couple of fallback positions. Don’t be the guy who makes a face and sulks the rest of the night just because they don’t have a bottle of Black Maple Hill Bourbon behind the bar. Some men do in fact mate for life with a particular brand of whiskey, but they usually do so in the same bar every evening for forty years, where they eventually die and it’s several hours before anyone notices. Get out there and experience new things, and if your preferred whiskey isn’t available, just order something with an interesting name. This is the United States of America, not Somalia. You’re not going to be served paint thinner and spend the rest of your days blind and begging on the street.

What you’ll notice is that you’ll get some questions. Drinking whiskey without diluting it with all manner of terrible things seems like a superpower to some people. They will constantly ask you what you’re drinking, and then ask you complex, chemistry-class level questions about it. Enjoying whiskey doesn’t require that you comprehend the science behind it (much in the same way you don’t need to understand how your television works) so we’d suggest deflecting these questions with something like the classic whiskey and water trick. You can even make some money when you do it! As a matter of fact, we suggest using a variety of bar tricks for every single awkward moment you encounter when out carousing–and keep some magician’s flash paper in your pockets too, just in case.

What advice do you have about how to drink whiskey for the guy who is considering the switch over? Leave your pointers in the comments.