Monday, January 13, 2014

Three Things You Don't Need and One Thing You Do Need to Enjoy Whiskey

It's easy to lose sight of what really makes a great whiskey tasting experience.  When I talk to novices, I try to emphasize keeping it simple, but sometimes it's worth reminding even us old hands.  Here are three things you don't need, and one you do, to really enjoy your whiskey.

Three Things You Don't Need to Enjoy Whiskey

1. Expensive Glassware.  Sure, most whiskey geeks use Glencairn glasses, most industry people use copita glasses and lots of people will happily sell you really expensive glasses they claim were developed just for whiskey.  But you know what? A standard wine glass works as well as anything, and though the geeks might gasp, you can drink whiskey out of a tumbler just fine (people have actually been doing it for years).

2.  Tasting Charts.  Do you really need a chart to show you what flavors you're tasting?  I always laugh at the ridiculously complicated flavor wheels and graphs that are supposed to help novices with their complicated coordinates and weird categorizations of totally subjective flavors.  Just drink and taste.  It's a beverage, not a scientific experiment.

 3.  Paper and a Pencil (or a laptop or ipad, etc.).  You don't need to take notes!  Really.  Think of the other really, really fun activities you engage in.  How many of them benefit from taking notes?   None.

One Thing You Do Need to Enjoy Whiskey

1.  Whiskey!

Now, none of this means you can't enjoy fancy glasses or taking notes, but it's worth keeping in mind that all of that is really secondary. Drinking whiskey is really much less complicated than it sometimes appears.



Anonymous said...


Well said! Sure, you can cozy up to an expensive whiskey glass, tasting wheel in hand. And you can write up fancy notes, just like the guys in the magazines. You can even make up a number just like Jim Murray, say, 92.5. But it's a real shame not to focus on the sheer enjoyment of drinking whiskey just the way you like it at a particular moment. The last time I saw Elmer T. Lee was at a Buffalo Trace event. He was drinking bourbon and Sprite out of a plastic cup. At that moment, at least, that was just the way he liked it.

Tom Troland

tanstaafl2 said...

Aren't fancy expensive glasses what Christmas is all about??? Or did I miss something?

On a serious note those are all good points. My feeble efforts to take notes tend to dissolve as the evening progresses anyway!

And while I rarely buy them for myself I do rather enjoy having nice glassware. People are always asking for ideas for Christmas and birthdays and I do so hate to disappoint them by not giving them something to get me...

sku said...

There is absolutely nothing wrong with fancy glassware, especially as gifts. I have tons of different glasses. There's nothing wrong with notes either. I just like to remind myself that those things may be fun to some, but aren't necessary for the experience.

Anonymous said...

Agreed - the $40-$50 glassware is unnecessary. I do find the glencairn glasses, which I got for $6 apiece on Amazon, are nice to have though, but a wine glass will certainly do the trick.

Willett will give you one if you're willing to pay $3 extra for their distillery tour too, which was probably my favorite way to obtain one :)

sam k said...

Great take, Sku! Another thing you don't need: that high horse that seems to accompany so many who write about whiskey. Leave it somewhere else!

Steffen said...

I use Glencairns as they don't break when my drunk friends dump them on the ground

Anonymous said...

You also do not need a camera to take pictures of your bottles to post online.

sku said...

Very true Anon, you can always use water colors or pastels.

TylerP said...

Sku- There is a part of me that agrees. But the organization part of me does not. While you don't NEED to take notes to enjoy a Whiskey- it can help you remember, especially if you are doing a tasting (or writing a blog ;) )

I think we all know what we like- but notes can always help keep track of everything you have tried. For those of us who hope to drink thousands.... why not?