Tart apples, creamy pumpkin, and succulent fig are just a few of the many mouthwatering flavors of fall. And experts say when it comes to beverages, whisky (or whiskey, depending on the country of origin) is the perfect drink to warm up at happy hour this fall.
“Whisky is often thought of as a great drink for fall and other colder months because it’s a distilled beverage and therefore higher in alcohol and more robust than wine or beer,” explains John Hansell, publisher and editor of WhiskyAdvocate. “Some whiskies, like those from Canada, are also light in style and great year-round, especially as an ingredient in cocktails.”
“Bourbon and rye, the indigenous whiskeys of the USA, lend themselves to so many of our fall and winter flavors,” he explains. “Fruits, such as pear, fig, and quince, and the spices we associate with baking and the holidays, such as cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, along with the confectionery barrel notes of vanilla, caramel, and butterscotch.”
Whether sipped neat, on the rocks, or mixed into a cocktail, there's no wrong way to savor this rich, golden “water of life.” And while it does contain a powerful alcoholic kick, which experts say can be 8-10 times stronger than beer, enjoying whisky like a pro is a lot easier than you think.
For starters, know how strong your drink will be.
“Have the bartender pour you two fingers of whisky in a Glencairn glass, snifter, or burgundy glass neat,” says Dewar’s Scotch expert and brand ambassador Gabe Cardarella. “Ask for distilled water, no ice, and a straw. Like a wine, swirl the liquid to notice the tears. If the tears, or legs, are thin and flow quickly, the whisky will be lighter in character and have a very delicate flavor. If the legs take longer and are thick, the whisky is probably older and will have a richer, more lingering character.”
To better understand the complexity of your drink, Cardarella advises to “nose” your whisky by slightly opening your mouth and gently breathing in its aromas. This will help you best explore the notes, or the different flavors, found in your glass.
“Be careful, though. You don’t want to open your mouth so wide and be the weirdo whisky nerd at the bar,” he warns.
Finally, have a slow sip to condition your palate, followed by a second to become better acquainted with it. Also, don’t forget the other beverage standing nearby.
“Water is whisky’s best friend,” he states. “Take your straw and place it about an inch in your glass of water, place your finger on top of the straw, and transfer the water to your whiskey. The dilution will bring down the alcohol content.”
Considering purchasing a bottle to cure the winter blues with a cozy get-together with friends? Lauren and Gabby Shayne, daughters of Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America President Alan Shayne, believe it’s crucial to invest in the best.
“Most whisky is aged in ex-Bourbon barrels and refill hogsheads,” they reveal. “Look for whisky that has been aged in designer casks, like Chardonnay barriques, Sauternes casks, port pipes, or rum casks. With 60% of the flavor coming from the cask, the quality of the wood improves the quality of the whisky.”
And if you really want more bang for your buck, consider purchasing a limited edition bottle for the holidays.
“Every year, many distilleries release a limited number of special releasing bottlings,” they add. “These offerings are incredibly rare and usually sell out shortly after their release. If a buyer can get their hands on a special release bottle, we highly recommend cherishing it for special occasions or holding onto the unopened bottle, as the value increases over time.”
Remember, whisky was made to be relished.
“What really matters most is that you enjoy your whisky,” says Hansell. “If you bought it, you are entitled to drink it however you like. And in whatever glass you like.”