How to drink whisky

This Berlin proverb has been around for almost two centuries and means as much as “every small animal has its own pleasures”. Particularly pertinent when it comes to a certain topic, on which many people have an opinion. In truth, yours is the only one that’s correct. 

Each to their own, or as they say it in Germany: Jedem Tierchen sein Pläsierchen

We’d be pretty silly to give away all our hard-won knowledge at the beginning of this piece, so let’s elaborate a bit. As some of you might be aware, we love to drink in the sauna, where every sip of whisky just goes down that much smoother. Although it’s warm in there. Very warm. Hotter even than the various offices of executive marketing managers, where many a tv show is set that would have you believe sipping whisky at room temperature overlooking your NY-based media empire is the only way to go. Or that a wood-paneled gentlemen’s parlour, dappled with leather armchairs, cigar smoke, and the soothing sound of freshly cut ice clinking in crystal tumblers is the ideal environment for a sip of rye.

There’s obviously science behind how whisky is made, how it tastes, and how it’s spelled. But there’s also a different type of science behind how to drink it. Taste might just be a matter of well, taste, there’s little subjectivity behind the production process. Those are mainly just facts. When considering how to drink whisky though, we’re dealing with a solid mixture of both. 

Of Tasting and Saving

Let's begin with the glass. If the film and TV industry thinks the tumbler is the appropriate whisky vessel, let them have it. After all, even the emoji world believes that the amber liquid belongs in a tumbler. Let us be the first to acknowledge that we did not discover that whisky poured into a Glencairn glass will smell considerably stronger, that was the Scots - who are said to have an above-average degree of thriftiness. All the more practical, then, that a last sip always remains in the Glencairn glass even if it falls over. Tried, tested, and found to be true. That's why, because we like to smell things and because we think whisky is at least as complex as wine, we think it also deserves its own glass shape.

However, the temperature question remains. Unfortunately we’ve discovered that you can't sit in the sauna all day drinking whisky, so we might require a solution for other occasions. If you ask the managing director of our neighbors over on Sophienstrasse at Whisky & Passion, Eugen Kasparek, he would always advise room temperature. According to him, this allows the greatest possible aromatics to develop in the mouth and our taste receptors function best at this temperature. "Ice has an anesthetic effect," he explains. Something you probably already knew, seeing as ice is often used to numb pain. So for everyday work at the desk, room temperature is a very practical thing. However, if you like to sip your whisky, especially bourbon or a Canadian or Irish - in short, the more mellow version - "on the rocks" from the tumbler, we won't tell on you. 

The Rule of Rest

So far we’ve got: a tulip-shaped glass and liquid at room temperature. Now, how to get the whisky from the glass into the mouth, the best part of drinking whisky. Let’s not go overboard with the swirl,  but a little movement does the whisky a world of good. Not only does this unlock its aromatics to the nose, it also reveals something about its texture. If the whisky runs slowly, thickly and oily along the glass, it tends to be opulent, maybe it’s spent a lot of time in the barrel or it’s been aged in a sherry cask. If it contracts to a narrow, finely jagged line, the consistency of the whisky is likely to be thinner, often this happens with cask strengths or young whiskies, which tend to be lighter in color.

Now, however, there is no need to swirl a hurricane vortex into your glass -- as with wine, whisky can breathe for a bit and then likes to be left alone for a moment . Understandable, we’re the same.  

First, the glass goes to the nose, but beware: as is the case with hands and feet, eyes and ears, the same applies to nostrils - both function differently.

Sweet, Salt, and Sauna

Because we smell different things with each nostril, it is advisable to pass the glass from one to the other until each aromatic substance reaches the receptors and those have had the chance to process the information. If you have ever tried to hold your nose while eating, you will realize how important it is for tasting. When doing so, it is best to open the mouth a little, as the supply of fresh air makes it easier to smell behind the prevailing alcohol. You have to get used to this, but we’ll happily announce: it can be practiced. You just gotta get used to looking silly for a bit. 

And this is really the most beautiful part: after an extensive first conclusion, which covers the entire surface of the tongue, mucous membranes, and palate, you can sort every different aroma. Sweetness, salt, or smoke? What type of sweetness exactly? Is it reminiscent of seawater, and does the smoke taste more phenolic or like a campfire?

Of course, there are those who advocate that only true tasting notes count. But if you’ve ever spent a long evening with wine, music, or a bottle of whisky you know that whisky can taste like the last time you enjoyed a sauna with friends, like freshly baked pancakes with maple syrup or like a sunrise run through a rye field. And that is the truest of all truths.