The Beginner's Guide to Whisky
We get it. Whisky can be daunting.
There are so many 'rules', different brands and complicated jargon that it can be hard to know where to begin. At The Whisky Shop our mantra is 'unlocking the mystery of whisky' and we put it into practice every day. We help you tell whisky from whiskey, single malts from blends, Highlands from Lowlands, and much more.
But the most important thing is that you find something you like. And part of that is just knowing where to start. Read our quick guide for beginners and you'll be ordering like a pro in no time.
Whisky is often categorised by the place it was made. This is because different regions often produce different styles or flavour profiles of whisky.
Scotland has been making whisky for hundreds of years and the quality of the spirit produced there has led to the word 'Scotch' being more synonymous with whisky than with being Scottish.Explore
While still a relative newcomer to the field, Japan has been producing whisky of the highest quality for almost 100 years, in the process becoming a cult favourite region and attracting increasingly higher prices.Explore
This is where most get confused. Single malt, blend, blended malt, grain, bourbon, rye, single pot still, vatted malt, pure malt... the list is seemingly endless and utterly confounding.
All these styles of whisky are simply made up of different proportions of a specific type of grain.
Aside from these main styles of whisky, there are whiskies made from rye, wheat, and even quinoa!
There are a couple of outdated terms that still crop up every now and then, that you should look out for: 'vatted malt' and 'pure malt' simply mean blended malt, i.e. a blend of whisky from more than one distillery, produced from only malted barley; Canadian whisky is sometimes labelled 'rye whisky' even when produced from something else because historically the majority of Canadian whisky was produced from rye.
Whisky is such a diverse spirit, produced in the four corners of the globe, from many different grains, matured under numerous variable factors, all contributing to the eventual flavour, that it is practically impossible to say "I don't like whisky" – you just haven't yet found the whisky for you!
Whisky can be broadly categorised by four main flavour components.
Most whiskies fall somewhere in these four categories, often sharing attributes from more than one.
When it comes to single malt Scotch whisky, each of the traditional whisky regions of Scotland have their own typical flavour profiles (but there are always exceptions!).
Now you know all about whisky, what do you order at the bar?
Traditionally whisky has been served on its own ('neat') or with a drop of water, or with ice ('on the rocks'). However, as with any great spirit, whisky holds its own in some world-famous cocktails. Never let anyone use the words "can't" or "don't" when you reach for a mixer.
Single (25ml) or Double (50ml) measure of whisky
On the rocks
200ml Soda water
Lemon twist to garnish
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 bar spoon sugar syrup
Orange peel twist to garnish
35ml lemon juice
17.5ml sugar syrup
1 egg white
10ml sugar syrup
8 mint leaves
Mint sprig to garnish
A small measure of whisky. Not strictly defined but usually a single measure, double measure, or a ‘house-pour’.
See also hauf /hɑf/
Since every bottle of whisky takes years to create, whisky lovers have developed a unique appreciation for their favourite tipple. From rare old releases that have been maturing for decades to limited releases that explore a different side to a beloved distillery – there is a whisky out there with the potential to change your outlook on life.
Whether you're a novice or knowledgeable about our favourite tipple, we've created a whisky club to help you continue unlocking the mystery of whisky.
Join The W Club today to begin enjoying exclusive tasting events, access to members-only bottlings, offers in-store and online all month long, advanced access to The Whisky Shop events, Cask Committee opportunities (choose our next single cask!), a subscription to Whiskeria magazine, priority notice of rare and limited releases, special members-only competitions and more!