You may have noticed the weather. It’s cold. Real cold. Oh sure, you could zip your puffy coat up to your ears, or you could let Lucas Hess, manager of El Moro Spirits & Tavern, teach you how to put a fire in your belly.
With so many choices, it’s altogether too easy for a whiskey virgin to quickly become totally overwhelmed. Where should the first-timer begin?
Well, everyone has to decide what sort of whiskey they like first, and the only way you do that is by trying them and beginning to give your palate a memory. I usually recommend bourbon to start with. Then, maybe make your way to an Irish whiskey, and then to Scotch.
What makes bourbon bourbon and Scotch Scotch, etc.?
Bourbon has rigorous production standards and has to follow a certain process to be called bourbon. Besides being made in America, one of the defining characteristics is that bourbon is aged in new American oak barrels. Once a barrel has been used, it can’t be reused for bourbon again. Irish whiskey has a bit more leeway in production and can be made in sherry or wine barrels, but it’s made 100 percent in Ireland. Scotch, similarly, is made 100 percent in Scotland. Its taste differs depending upon where in the country it was made and distilled.
A few adjectives to describe each type’s taste. Go.
Scotch is described as peet-like and smoky, powerful. Bourbon has hints of leather, vanilla and molasses. Irish is smooth, mellow and well-rounded.
And so I say to the bartender, “Barkeep! Whiskey!”, or what?
There are a few ways to enjoy whiskey. You can order it neat, which is just whiskey in a glass to sip. Or, have it on the rocks, which is whiskey poured over small cubes of ice. Here at El Moro, you can also order whiskey on the rock, which is whiskey poured over a single large cube of ice.
What’s the difference?
Whiskey neat gives you the whiskey’s full flavor profile. On the rocks chills the spirit and also dilutes it a bit, which makes it a bit easier to drink. On the rock chills the spirit, but doesn’t dilute it quite as quickly, so you still get the flavor. From here, you can start to figure out what you like. If the taste of Scotch has too much stank when you’re having it neat, try it on the rocks to dilute it. If you want, say, a bourbon neat, but chilled, go with a rock. And, if none of those work, you might try it in a cocktail like an Old Fashioned, where we mix the spirit with sugar, bitters and a bit of water to give the whiskey more balance.
Say you’re drinking with your buddies, but you’re on a budget. Which whiskey do you choose to share?
Well, to begin with, I prefer bourbon. I like the profile and I like it neat. I would recommend Old Forster or Four Roses (yellow label). Either of those have great flavor and are particularly good in a hip flask.
And if you were going to treat yourself with a whiskey – a really special occasion or something?
Pappy Van Winkle has cultivated this outrageous fanatical following for good reason. They’re part of a family of brands that includes Buffalo Trace and WL Weller, and they’re spoken of with a sort of mysterious reverence. It’s made in limited quantities and nearly impossible to find, but man, if you can find it and you can afford it, you ought to treat yourself to a glass.
What’s a whiskey that everyone ought to try at least once?
Boy, I feel like I should choose something odd, but the WL Weller that’s been aged for 12 years would be as good as anything out there.
— Cyle Talley
Cyle Talley got to sample Scotch, Irish whiskey and bourbon during this interview (he preferred the Irish, thank you) and was pretty pleased about it. You can read his short stories on cyletalley.com or on Instagram, @borderlineobscene.