Golden sips: How to drink whisky

Updated on February 3 2015

As much as we love it, drinking whisky can get a bit confusing. All this talk of single malts, peated malts, blended whisky and bourbon (just to name a few), is enough to get anyone’s head spinning.

That being said, we can’t deny that these fiery concoctions pack a mean punch. A perfect explosion of sweet, bitter, sour and even salty notes, it’s no surprise that whisky is one of the most popular spirits of choice in Hong Kong. The only hard part is finding the right one for you — something you can only attempt once you’ve mastered how to drink whisky properly.

“The common misconception is that the older the whisky is, the better it is,” says Joanna Kent, manager at Liquor and Liqueur. “This isn’t necessarily true, it’s very specific according to the individual tastes and preferences of each person.”

Looking to strengthen our special affinity with whisky, we visited Liquor and Liqueur, one of Hong Kong’s go-to spots for premium spirits, to gather some tips and tasting notes on how to best drink it.

1. Drink out of a tulip-style whisky glass

Nowadays when you order whisky at the bar, it’s usually served up in a standard Old Fashioned whisky tumbler. While it might be easier (and definitely more stylish) to grab, it actually hinders the drinking experience.

The Glencarin whisky glass
The Glencarin whisky glass helps to capture the intense aroma of the spirit.

Kent recommends using the Glencarin whisky glass (HK$150 available at Liquor and Liqueur) — the only whisky glass that was specifically designed for drinking whisky, with a particular focus on nosing and sipping.

“The aroma is an important part to the experience of drinking whisky,” explains Kent. “The tulip-like style is designed so that the glass curves inwards towards the top. The aroma of the whisky is held and released slowly, giving it more time to oxidise.”

2. Don’t be fooled by the colour

The first thing you notice about any whisky is the colour. Typically you’d expect that the older the whisky, the darker the colour — apparently not.

Essentialy all you can deduce from the colour is what barrel it’s been aged in. A lighter colour would indicate oak or bourbon and darker colours would point towards Oloroso sherry or port casks.

3. Nose and sip

Golden sips: How to drink whisky
A quality whisky will deliver in flavour (and more) with what you’ve already discovered after nosing.

When it comes to appreciating whisky, you need to experience the nose and then the palate. Kent suggests that you start by “swirling the whisky round in the glass to let it get some oxygen, before taking a big whiff — as you’ll often find that the aromas you get from the nose will be different from what you might get on the palate.”

Note: If it’s a particularly strong spirit, don’t get your nose right up in the glass — it’ll feel like you’ve just inhaled a shot of pure alcohol.

4. Hold it in your mouth for the amount of seconds according to the age of the whisky

After you take a generous sip, roll the whisky around in your mouth and hold it there for at least ten seconds. If you see yourself as a true connoisseur, try holding the whisky for the amount of seconds according to how old the whisky is — an old Irish tradition.

This is to ensure that the whisky coats all your tastebuds so that you not only get a feel for the texture of the whisky (i.e. smooth, dry or slightly vaporous), but also the full flavour experience.

5. Add water to draw out more flavours

“People have the misconception that by adding water you’re just watering down the spirit,” explains Kent. “While many people might enjoy their whisky on the rocks, if you add ice it tends to bruise or close up the spirit.”

Golden sips: How to drink whisky
Peaty and high-spirited whiskies in particular will taste more aromatic when diluted.

If you find that your palate has been obliterated by the alcohol in the whisky, the trick is to experiment by adding a few droplets of water. “You get a bit more flavour by adding water,” says Kent. “You focus less on the strength of the alcohol and more on the actual taste of the whisky”

NEXT: Follow onto page two for our favourite picks from Liquor and Liqueur’s recommendation of premium whiskies.

Situated above hard-to-find speakeasy 001, Liquor & Liqueur offers a wide range of fine spirits — the most impressive of which is their collection of exclusive single malt Scotch whiskies. Here are three of our sip-worthy favourites:

Scotch whisky from Speyside: Aberlour 16 Year Old

Aberlour 16 Year Old (with Box) $1,050

Why: Its soft heather honey character and smooth caramel palate is distinctive of the Speyside region of Scotland, where nearly half of Scotland’s 100 distilleries are located.

Price: HK$1,050

Japanese whisky: Hibiki 21 Year Old

Hibiki 21 Year Old (with Box) $3,580

Why: One of our personal favourites, the Hibiki 21 Year old offers up sweet notes of plum, cherry and dark toffee. It’s smooth texture makes it perfect for a post-dinner tipple.

Price: HK$3,580

Rare whisky: Macallan 20 Year old by Old Malt Cask

Macallan 20 Year Old by Old Malt Cask $2,080

Why: Single Cask whiskies are some of the rarest and most exclusive, as each bottle is produced from an individual barrel. The Macallan 20 Year Old was bottled by Douglas Laing and features strong robust flavours with an intense finish.

Price: HK$2,080

Liquor and Liqueur, G/F, 97 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2810 0026, http://www.liquorandliqueur.com

Yi Li is your typical half-Brit half-Chinese hybrid with a serious case of wanderlust. When not writing, she's either on the hunt for the best new cocktails, on a hike or enjoying a sinful bowl of truffle fries (and working them off at XYZ). Follow her @yilidawson on Instagram or Twitter.