Our experts have spent years sharing their love of single cask, single malt whisky from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society with people who have never tried a dram before. Here, they share their advice about how to help a non-whisky drinker attain enlightenment in the way of the single cask.
John McCheyne, SMWS ambassador, UK
“I find the best approach is to ask a newcomer to nose the whisky blind and focus entirely on the flavour – most people will be pleasantly taken aback. Sometimes, a simple sniff of a single cask whisky – maybe something with a whiff of dark chocolate in a summer meadow, or a stormy harbour on an island – can be enough to get the olfactory glands going and cause a reaction of surprise or even astonishment.
But the first sip has to be measured and chewed in the mouth. Then add a little water to deal with the fear of that cask strength whisky in the glass.”
Euan Campbell, SMWS spirits manager
“Finding out what other drinks people enjoy is always a good place to start. By selecting an active first-fill barrel for a bourbon drinker, you are already in familiar territory for the new Scotch drinker. Perhaps a heavily sherried whisky might go down well with a spiced rum drinker, with its flavours of fruitcake, cinnamon and cloves. Once you notice the similarities between matured spirits it becomes easier to try new things and discover whole categories of previously uncharted enjoyment.
Another good entry point for people who haven’t given whisky a chance is to do a tasting along with some food. Chocolate matches very well with all styles of whisky, and can help to accentuate the commonly found fruit and vanilla flavours in the drams. It can also make the texture a little more manageable for those who are not used to drinking high strength drinks. The Society has hosted successful tastings, pairing chocolate and even ice cream with selected drams. The Dining Room at 28 Queen Street also offers a Tasting Menu with matched whiskies, giving diners the chance to explore the flavours in our whisky alongside some of the finest ingredients.”
Hans Offringa, SMWS ambassador, The Netherlands
“If someone isn’t used to drinking cask strength whisky, I recommend that they take a sip of water first, then the whisky – to the point that they appreciate the taste but are not offended by the bite of the high alcohol percentage and avoid the burn of the alcohol in their mouth. It’s like diluting the water with whisky, instead of the other way around.”
Matt Bailey, SMWS ambassador, Australia
“Going from non-whisky drinker to an SMWS single cask convert is best done like this, in my opinion: pour them three glasses of Society whisky: one grain, one sherry-casked and one ex-bourbon. Don’t get too wrapped up in the differences yet, just focus on flavour and what they like.
Start with the grain cask. Add three to four teaspoons of water and wait a moment for its inner-sweetness to blossom. Then ask them to have a nose and a small lip-coating taste. Talk about the unique white-sugar-like sweetness a great grain often exhibits, still focusing on the flavour, not the details.
Do the same for the ex-bourbon cask, but if possible try using a slightly spirit-heavy dram, for example from our Deep Rich & Dried Fruits flavour profile. Then again with the sherry-casked whisky. Don’t talk about the cask types yet, don’t talk about distilleries, and don’t worry about small details – work out which dram sits best for them, which flavour profiles they most like from those, and go from there.
As for peated whisky? I don’t think it’s ever “too early” in anyone’s whisky journey to enjoy a peated profile, so I’d recommend a selection from the Society’s Lightly Peated, Peated and even Heavily Peated flavour profiles. As my fellow SMWS ambassador John McCheyne says: “Don’t graduate to single cask, start there.””
Looking for more tips about how to approach single cask whisky? Check out our SMWS ambassador Alan Wood with his take on successfully introducing a newcomer…