Some people don’t understand how others can like whiskey and others don’t understand how some people can even have this question. Either way I thought it would be a good idea to record once and for all the 6 reasons why I and other sensible people like whiskey.
1. It’s Delicious – Meaning Lots of Great Flavors
People like whiskey because it’s delicious.
Now I know some people think that’s totally absurd because to them whiskey tastes absolutely awful but that’s usually because they haven’t reduced the impact of the alcohol, they’re drinking a whiskey that has flavor(s) they really don’t like, or they’re not taking the time to smell and taste the whiskey.
(You can find more information about why people think whiskey tastes bad and what to do about it, in a detailed article I wrote about it here.)
Some common (and obviously delicious) flavors found in whiskey are:
- Crème Brulé
- Roast meat
To name a … lot. But far from all.
The flavors can be present in different ways:
- A full-bodied whiskey has several if not dozens of dominant flavors
- A light-bodied whiskey has only one or two dominant flavors
- The flavors of bold whiskeys are rich and intense
- The flavors of delicate or light whiskeys are mild
Different types of whiskeys are known for having specific flavor profiles and characteristics, which when you know what they are can make it much easier to find a whiskey you like.
|Common Flavor Characteristics|
|Scotch from Lowlands||Light bodied, delicate, soft, smooth, very little peat. They’re malty and citrusy with flavors of grass, honeysuckle, cream, ginger, toffee, toast and cinnamon|
|Scotch from Highlands||There are full bodied and spicy whiskies, lighter and fruity whiskies and those that are full bodied, peaty with a salty tang from the sea|
|Scotch from Speyside||Both light and bold whiskies that are sweet, fruity and spicy with hints of apple, nutmeg, vanilla and smoke|
|Scotch from Campbeltown||Fruity, peaty, sweet and smoky. There will be notes of sea salt and a briny taste along with vanilla and toffee flavors|
|Scotch from Islay||Peaty, smoky, earthy and oily with a hint of salty sea air, brine and seaweed|
|Irish Whiskey||Light, fruity with a grassy freshness and flavors including malt, vanilla, cream, oranges, lime, mandarin, marmalade, and wood|
|Bourbon||Very sweet and smooth with vanilla, caramel, honey, and oak|
|Tennessee Whiskey||Same as bourbon but somewhat smoky and sooty|
|American Rye Whiskey||Less sweet and less body than bourbon, but spicier, grainier and drier|
|Canadian Whisky||Smoother and lighter than American whiskeys but full of flavor. If made with rye it will be spicy|
2. It Can Make You Feel Good and Enhance Your Mood
People like whiskey because it makes them feel good. Apart from lots of flavors, whiskey also has a high level of alcohol (anywhere from 40%ABV to 68%ABV) so a moderate amount can help you relax, calm any nerves and lower stress.
It could even give you the confidence to finally ask the girl you’ve been wanting to get to know for the last six months, out. Although if she says yes, the good feeling may not be just from the whiskey.
If you’re drinking whiskey slowly, over a period of time, so as to detect and savor all the aromas and flavors, the effects of the alcohol will be much less than if you have a couple of shots in quick succession. But you will feel warm and fuzzy inside – or maybe that’s just me.
Sometimes whiskey can enhance your mood.
For example, drinking richer and more powerful whiskeys with notes of dried wood, cinnamon and almonds during cold winter nights can make you feel warmer and cozier, whereas drinking lighter, more gentle whiskeys with notes of pear, vanilla and nutmeg on a warm summer day will enhance an already light and relaxed mood.
3. It’s a Complex and Challenging Drink
People like whiskey because it’s a complex and challenging drink. This doesn’t mean it’s difficult to drink, it means that unlike other drinks that may also taste great but whose flavor is more simplistic and easier to detect, whiskey is a multi-layered drink that needs to be properly explored if you want to discover all its (delicious) aromas and flavors.
This is why when people drink shots or have a quick sip from a glass of whiskey, they find it doesn’t taste of anything. At least anything pleasant. A whiskey’s aromas and flavors are not readily present as they are in simpler drinks.
To find the aromas and flavors you need to:
- Use a proper whiskey glass. This lets air get to the whiskey causing some of the alcohol to evaporate and allows the whiskey aromas to concentrate at the rim.
- Add water. Diluting whiskey also reduces the impact of the alcohol making it easier to smell and taste the whiskey and it opens up the whiskey’s flavors.
- Nose your whiskey. Flavor is smell as well as taste, so to find all the flavors you need to find all the aromas.
- Chew your drink. This means holding it in your mouth and swirling it around so you can detect the flavors.
And it doesn’t stop there. It’s not just a matter of do all these things and you’ll be able to detect all the aromas and flavors of a whiskey, it’s a matter of do all these things and all these aromas and flavors emerge for you to detect, but do any of them in a slightly different way or change other aspects of the environment or situation, and the aromas and flavors will emerge in ways that could be subtly different or turn the whiskey into an entirely new drink.
Things that can change the flavors include:
- The glass you use. A tumbler does something different to the whiskey than a nosing glass.
- Whether you add water and how much water you added. Each drop can change the taste of the whiskey.
- Whether you let the whiskey sit for a few minutes before drinking it.
- The environment you’re in. If it’s hot, cold, humid, dry or even raining outside, all that can affect the taste of your whiskey.
- The time of day. You and your palate are more or less alert at different times of the day.
- The whiskey you had before this one.
- The whiskey you had before the one before this one.
- How long it’s been since the bottle was first opened. Once opened oxygen gets to the whiskey which changes its taste.
There’s a lot to explore in whiskey which is why it’s so interesting and challenging. And who doesn’t like something like that.
4. It’s a Journey of Discovering What You Like
Sorry for being corny and cliché but this time it’s true. People like whiskey because it takes them on a journey of discovery where they find the aromas and flavors that they like.
You see, as mentioned, whiskeys need to be explored and as you become more skilled at detecting aromas and flavors, and as you try more and more whiskeys, you’ll find more and more aromas, flavors, and whiskeys that you like.
You’ll also find more and more aromas, flavors, and whiskeys that you don’t like but that’s also good as you can narrow your flavor preferences down.
As you continue trying different whiskeys, you’ll find flavor combinations that you like and those you don’t. You’ll also learn whether you like lots of flavors balanced well together or just a few, and which flavors that applies to. You’ll discover when you prefer bolder, richer and more intense flavors and when you prefer mild and light flavors.
You’ll find your favorite flavor profiles and those you’ll want to avoid.
Your palate may change in the process, and when you return to whiskeys you tried when you didn’t know much about drinking whiskey, you could find they smell and taste completely different.
You’ll also discover which of the myriad of things that can change the flavor of a whiskey you like and which you don’t. Maybe you like to let your whiskey sit out and maybe you don’t. Maybe you prefer to add ice to dilute the alcohol and not water. Maybe you fall in love with heavily peated whiskies and maybe you decide that flavor coming from partially decayed organic matter is not for you.
And it doesn’t have to be as simple as these flavors I like and these flavors I don’t, these whiskies I like and these whiskies I don’t. It can be far more complicated than that: these flavors I like at this time and these flavors I like at that time, this whiskey I drink with a few drops of water and this whiskey I don’t dare add anything.
And at the end of the journey, not only is whiskey complex, but you are too.
5. You Connect to Something Greater than Yourself
Sorry again for being corny and cliché (I’m not usually like this) but it’s also true this time. People like whiskey because when you take into account how it’s made, it connects you to something greater than yourself.
This hits me every time I drink a whiskey that’s 12 years old or over, because to me it’s mind-blowing to think that I’m about to drink something that’s taken over a decade to produce. It’s even more amazing when you’re drinking a whiskey that’s almost the age you are, although this happens less and less as you get older.
And that’s not all. Many distilleries are hundreds of years old. Some use kilns (used to dry malted barley) and stills (used to distill alcohol) that are almost as old. And they make whiskey using the unique techniques and methods they have been improving upon and perfecting over the centuries the distillery has been operating.
That’s a lot of people, going to a lot of effort, over a long period of time, to make the most delicious and flavorful whiskey they can. And I’m connected to all of that through 2 fl oz of whiskey in my glass. That is absolutely incredible.
It almost a shame to drink it.
6. It’s a Classy and Sophisticated Drink
People like whiskey because it’s a classy and sophisticated drink.
Now some may argue that this is only our cultural perception. After all, in the movies all the important people drink whiskey: powerful politicians, successful lawyers, wealthy businessmen closing multi-million-dollar deals, action heroes preparing to save the world, evil villains trying to stop them and people who want to look like they have class and sophistication.
However, there’s more to it than that.
As mentioned, whiskey is not a simple drink. It’s a complex, multi-layered, intricate and interesting drink that takes time to explore. It takes years or even decades to make, using a process refined over centuries and makes us discover what we like.
That’s why whiskey is a classy and sophisticated drink.
And if you think this class and sophistication thing is a lot of nonsense let me inform / remind you of the following:
- Special glasses are made to drink whiskey.
- Special pipettes are made for adding drops of water to whiskey. Okay, that’s just good marketing.
- Whiskey has such good marketing that special, yet completely unnecessary pipettes are made for adding drops of water to it.
- Drinkers make notes of the aromas and flavors they detect so they can compare them with those of other people and other whiskeys.
- There are courses for learning how to smell and taste whiskey.
- Whiskey tasting events are common (and I don’t just mean when my friends come round and suddenly, we’re drinking my whiskey. I mean more formal-ish affairs).
- People like to age or blend their own whiskey.
- There are heated debates over important whiskey issues such as whether adding water to whiskey makes you a philistine or whether single malts are better than blends. There’s even a debate as to how to spell whiskey / whisky in the first place – can anything show the class and sophistication of whiskey more than that.
- When people go to parties, they bring beer. When you’re celebrating a major achievement or giving someone a retirement present it’s an expensive bottle of whiskey.
- People collect old and rare bottles of whiskey. Some do this to make a lot of money when the bottle goes up in value, but that also shows how classy and sophisticated whiskey is.
That’s six reasons why sensible people like whiskey.