“How to choose the right dram for your tastes”
If you’re new to the whisky game then choosing the right dram to suit your own personal preference can be a daunting task, so we thought we’d help.
Before we start, remember: others will be quick to tell you what to think – and preach their opinion as fact – but just trust your senses. Taste is subjective. It’s in the eye of the beholder.
Now, there are a few different ways to do this, but we reckon the best approach is to figure out what you DON’T like and take it from there. Process of elimination.
“I don’t like peat.”
That partially-decayed organic matter known as ‘peat’ can be fairly divisive in whisky. It’s introduced to the kiln during malting to impart a smoky flavour to the grain. Those compounds, called phenols, subsequently pass through the still during distillation and end up in the cask and eventually the bottle.
If you don’t like smoke, you should probably avoid heavily-peated whiskies like Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Kilchoman and the other Islay distilleries. On the flip side, if you’re a bit of a masochist, like us, then they’re the ones to shoot for.
You could always dip your toe at the lower end of the peated spectrum by choosing whiskies with a lower ‘phenols parts per million’. This number, quoted as ‘ppm’, indicates how much peat has been added during kilning and therefore gives us an idea for how smoky the dram might be. Generally, the lower the ppm, the less smoke, so the Bunnahabhain 12 (3ppm) might be a decent place to start.
Although it’s unusual, higher ppm whiskies (30+ ppm) can occasionally be bright and balanced depending on various process factors, like fermentation time, cut points, still shape and reflux, cask type and, ultimately, age. For example, the smoke in our LEDAIG 16 (pronounced ‘lay-chig’ by the way) seems to work in synergy with the other more delicate notes despite the malt being peated to 39 ppm.
“I’m not a fan of vanilla or caramel.”
A significant portion of flavour comes from the wood during maturation. There are two main species of oak used: American (Quercus alba) and European (Quercus robur). If you’re not keen on vanilla or caramel, go for something aged in European oak or, as a minimum, exclusively aged in ex-sherry, like the Glengoyne 21.
If you’re a relative newcomer, start light with either the GlenDronach 12 or the Dalmore 15, and build from there – or if you’re looking for something with gusto, try anything heavily-sherried from Arran, including their 18 and our ARRAN 8 single cask.
Another trick is to look for a ‘refill’ ex-bourbon cask. ‘Refill’ means the cask has been used for Scotch whisky before, so the wood isn’t quite as active.
“I hate sherry.”
Sherried whiskies don’t taste like sherry, but they are full of sweet, nutty, dried fruit notes. Same logic applies: if that doesn’t float your boat then stick to whiskies aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks or labelled ‘American oak’, like the Balvenie 12 Single Barrel or BenRiach 20 (if you’re feeling spendy).
And if you’re still not sure, you can always split the difference and go for an expression that combines both types of casks, like the Edradour 10, Highland Park 12 and Springbank 10.
“I want a fuller whisky.”
As a whisky gets reduced with water down to typical bottling strength (<46% ABV), longer chain compounds, such as oils and fatty acid esters, come out of solution and cause it to cloud. Haze isn’t a good look for the shop shelf, so the bigger guys tend to ‘chill filter’. This is done by first cooling the bulk whisky to freezing then pumping it through a filter, which clarifies it but also strips flavour and mouthfeel.
In general, if you prefer a chewier, fuller whisky then you should go for a single cask release from an independent bottler. These tend to be ‘cask strength’, which means there’s no need to chill filter before bottling.
If you decide to go the single cask route, we recommend gradually adding a little water, bit by bit, to let it soften and open up. How much water you add is entirely up to you – just take it slowly and be careful not to overdilute your dram.
To give you, the drinker, the fullest possible experience, we choose NOT to chill filter any of our whiskies, including our blends.
“I don’t like blends.”
You mean, you don’t like certain blends.
If you completely dismiss blends outright, instead of judging each whisky on merit, you’re instantly missing out on 90% of all Scotch whiskies. Sure, some commercial blends are pretty rough around the edges – but it takes an incredible amount of skill and expertise to create a whole that’s bigger than the sum of its parts. In Japan, blending is even considered an artform.
With BLEND #1, we set out to create an assured, balanced, affordable dram that can easily be shared with friends – a nice, clean, easy drinker that should appeal to everyone around the table, whether you’re a novice, a die-hard Jamo fan or a casual whisky snob.
Blends are also ideal for Scotch-based cocktails, like the Penicillin and Rob Rob, or riffing on American whiskey classics, like the Old Fashioned, Boulevardier and Sazerac. We’ve even created a few recipes to get you started.
If you’ve already tried BLEND #1, look at the Chivas Regal Mizunara, Wemyss Velvet Fig, Compass Box Great King Street (Artist’s Blend) or anything by Woven.
- Tags: whisky blog