Why is Scotch whisky so intimidating? There's something about this spirit — which is really nothing more than malt or grain-based whisky made in Scotland — that's got an intimidating rep.
Well, once you know how to drink Scotch — and learn that it's not so scary after all — you'll be that cool, breezy bar-goer sipping Scotch like it's no biggie.
First, the basics: all Scotch whisky has to meet certain legal standards to be granted it's name. Chiefly, it must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years.
Scotch comes in two forms, single malts (all 100-percent malt whiskys are produced within one distillery) and blends (different single malts are blended together, often with added grain whisky). Naturally, within these two categories, there are a million potential distinctions — they vary in their peaty-ness (smokiness), brininess, and heaviness. But before you start arguing about the merits of one blend over another, you've got to know how to drink Scotch the right way. Here's how it's done.
1. Pour it
When it comes to boozing, glassware is especially important when it comes to taste. Most Scotch nerds will agree that tulip-shaped glasses, also known as "whiskey snifters," are ideal, especially when sipping whiskey neat. In theory, this glass shape "traps the whisky aromas in the glass and concentrates them all in one place." Of course, if you go to a bar, they'll likely serve you Scotch in a rocks glass. That's fine, too.
2. Dilute it
Experts recommend adding a few drops of water to a particularly special Scotch — the water helps bring out flavors that might otherwise be overshadowed by the flavors and aromas of pure alcohol. If you're cracking open a super-old, expensive bottle that's been sitting on a shelf forever, you may want to add even more water — a teaspoon or two — to open up the flavors.
3. Ice it
Professionals may think it's gauche, but Scotch over ice isn't an unusual preference for whiskey drinkers. Some people appreciate a colder Scotch-drinking experience, and ice essentially does the same job as adding water — a little diluting, a little opening up of flavor. If you're going to use ice, though, opt for one of those big cubes — it'll melt slower, keeping your drink from getting so watered down that you can't appreciate it's nuances.
4. Or put it in a cocktail
Scotch and soda? Classic. Ditto for the Rob Roy and the Rusty Nail. But Scotch also plays well with grapefruit and honey-ginger syrup, as well as with sweet vermouth and orange, and even pear nectar and ginger ale. Just because your grandpa only drank Scotch neat doesn't mean you have to. After all, you're an expert now — you can drink it any damn way you like.