Whisky 101

Get schooled on the manliest of spirits. by SAM DEHORITY

Beyond the fact that whisky is golden brown, how much do you actually know about this spirit? Can you tell the difference between Scotch Whisky and the American stuff? Or between bourbon and rye? What about a neat pour — what exactly does that mean?

You’ve probably picked up bits of whisky knowledge from bars, but it’s time to set the record straight. To find the purest knowledge, you need to connect with the best teacher. There’s no-one better than Johnnie Walker Master Blender, Jim Beveridge. We picked his brain about one of the manliest spirits you can stock in your liquor cabinet.

Most guys are familiar with either bourbon or rye. What’s the difference?

Jim Beveridge: To me, the big difference will be in the kind of wood in which the whisky is matured, because bourbon whiskey has to be matured in American oak casks. Bourbon whiskey will have lots of woody flavours. Rye whiskey tends to be lighter, doesn’t necessarily need to be matured in new casks and has less woodiness. When you get into Scotch Whisky, the flavours tend to be quite pronounced. There’s less flavour coming from the wood compared with bourbon, for example.

Tell us more about the differences between American whiskey and Scotch Whisky?

JB: Essentially the flavour is coming from the cask. With bourbon, for example, the first impression would be some fruity-type notes, which have come from the whiskey being matured. Then there’s this very distinctive sweet woodiness.

If you were then to do the same test with Scotch Whisky, well, it would depend on the whisky. Let’s say it was a Johnnie Walker blend, then you would not only have some sweet woody notes, you would also get layers of different kinds of fruit. If it’s Johnnie Walker whisky there’s also a very subtle smokiness.

Editor’s note: To determine a whisky’s flavours, drop a bit into your palms and rub them together until the liquid evaporates. The scents left behind will tell you what’s in it.

Johnnie Walker offers blended Scotch Whisky. What does that mean?

JB: Johnnie Walker Black Label, for example, is a blend of whiskies from between 35 and 40 different distilleries. You can see how that alone says it’s a blend of a lot of different flavours. Ryes tend to be one-dimensional. It’s a nice dimension, but not a lot of flavour diversity.

How would you suggest guys drink whisky?

JB: The flavours are best revealed when there’s water present. You can add water to your whisky, or you can add ice and let it melt. If you drink it neat, having water on the side and on your palate will also help release the flavours as you sip.

What is a neat pour?

JB: Straight from the bottle and into the glass.

MF: How can you tell the good from the great stuff?

JB: At the end of the day, you will have to taste it in order to form your own opinion, but if you’re starting at the very beginning, it’s all about having confidence in the people who make the whisky. For example, Johnnie Walker is a whisky business that’s almost 200 years old, and it has a huge heritage of understanding how to produce great whisky. All of that rationale is kind of built into the bottle before you even  open it.


Johnnie Walker Black Label


You don’t have to be a regular whisky drinker to know Johnnie Walker Black Label is the benchmark for all deluxe blends. Created from the four corners of Scotland using whiskies aged for a minimum of 12 years, it has an unmistakably smooth, deep and complex character. Perfect for entertaining or a late nightcap. danmurphys.com.au


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