The Good Life

Whisky class

It’s not the whisky you drink as much as how you drink it that counts

What better way could there have been to bid 2012 goodbye than to toast it with India’s favourite sundowner — a glass of scotch or malt — drowned not in soda but served to open up the whisky? At some point in our history, scotch-and-soda became de rigueur in a false nod to sophistication. While we snigger at the way the Chinese, the Koreans and the Taiwanese “kill” their whisky with anything from Sprite to fruit juice, have we considered what the Europeans think of our peculiar habit of similarly drowning out the taste of a good whisky in not just soda but too much soda?

The recent years have seen us sip, gargle and swallow our wines, there have been appreciation sessions on food pairings, on vodka tastings — hell, we’ve even done water tastings. But whisky? To be fair, we’ve gone through our samples of everything from Jura to Balvenie to even Johnnie W, but with the recent trend that we’re free to enjoy our whisky, vodka or cognac any which way we prefer it — and convention be dammed — no one bothers any more to advise on how whisky is best savoured.

Look around you and chances are you’ll find everyone opting for a tall glass for whisky. To begin with a whisky tumbler should be short and heavy. The heaviness or thickness of the glass is useful for maintaining temperature, but experts recommend clear glass over cut-crystal for you to enjoy your whisky better. The short tumbler comes in three variants — straight, narrow at the rim, or wide at the rim. The first is simply boring; my own preference is for the latter two and not just because they have more personality — drinking whisky is, after all, a macho thing, even for women who enjoy their single malts. 

So, how do the glasses work? If the tumbler narrows at the top, it helps to trap the fumes, which is great for when it’s cold, such as now. In the summers, when ice with your whisky is an imperative, the glass with the wider mouth is preferable. My rule of thumb: use the tumbler that narrows at the mouth if you like your whisky with a wee dram of water; the wider mouth is better if you’re inclined to use ice. Soda? Philistines shouldn’t be reading this — really. 

There’s no better way to drink your whisky but neat. But that view is contestable by most aficionados, most of them master blenders in the breweries of Scotland. Their suggested — though they won’t say it out loud — way of having whisky is either with literally a thimbleful of water or with one cube of ice. The dribble of water in either choice quite literally opens up the whisky, so that all its flavours come tantalisingly alive to explode in the mouth. Given India’s mostly warm weather, ice might be a better choice to water, but hey, develop your own taste-buds, especially since a whisky is best quaffed, not sipped (hah! all you namby-pamby sodawallahs). 

The only time it’s okay to adulterate a whisky (bourbon, actually) is when it’s a JD (Jack Daniels), which truly is best had with Coke, partly because it’s convention, partly because a bourbon is horrible with soda, though I’ve personally never minded it with just ice — lots of ice, actually, which is how I prefer most whiskies (the one-cube rule doesn’t work for me).

Plus, most of us — at parties, in any case — wind up having our drinks standing up, when knocking back a couple of unadulterated whiskies can knock you off your feet. Instead, ask the bartender for a whisky on the rocks and while you may get industrial strength ice in your glass, the bartender will also be more than generous with his measure — meaning you get more whisky for the asking. And as the ice melts and slowly teases the whisky, you’ll end up enjoying the flavours far more, far longer.

The author is a Delhi-based Writer and curator