If you’re just getting into whiskey, or even if you’ve been within the community for a while, bars can be intimidating. A wide variety of whiskeys cover the shelves, all from dozens of countries and from hundreds of brands. It can be difficult to fathom that each one is unique in its own ways, each with its own tastes, flavours, and fan base. Today we’re working as your ‘spirit guide’ to help you through this rough task of ordering whiskey at a bar.
What to expect and what you can do to enter the whiskey world and have a fantastic experience.
Never be afraid to ask for a menu/what’s available/flights. Talk to the bartenders.
Quiet bars are better for getting to know the bartenders and get them to know you.
But, first things first, we just want you to take a seat. Your watering hole may work on table service or via ordering at the bar, but, for the best experience, sitting at the bar gets you to the front of the action.
Now you’re there, introduce yourself and let the bartender know that you are after a whiskey. Menus will tell you most things at a glance: the style of whiskey, country of origin, tasting notes, and pricing. And make sure you talk to the bartender, the quieter the bar is, the easier your experience will be as you will have more time for getting to know them. The bartender is your most valuable friend, the best kind of drinking advisor who will be able to tell you their favourite whiskeys and make recommendations based on your likes and dislikes.
When it comes to flavours, think about what you enjoy. It may sound simple but don’t order something smoky/spicy/sweet if you don’t like those flavours.
Choose what you enjoy….
It sounds difficult if this is the first time, or even your tenth time ordering whiskey at a bar, though it’s easier than you think. If you enjoy smoky flavours, then peated whiskeys are a good way to go, the likes of Lagavulin and Ardbeg are brilliant. Like some spice? Ask for something spicy, a sherry cask matured or a rye whiskey can go along way. Something light and floral, Lambay Small Batch Blend is your friend. Make sure you let the bartender know what you like and dislike, what food and drink you normally enjoy and they can narrow it down from there.
Don’t make assumptions…
Of course, your eyes may be drawn to the flashy whiskeys and their regal bottles. An older whiskey is not automatically better, nor something that’s more expensive. The liquid inside should be judged by its own merits. And don’t be pressured. You will always be told by others that ‘you must try this whiskey’ or ‘you have to taste this new release.’ Though their thoughts can be valuable, it’s your own palate and opinion that matter. Go with what feels right instead of blindly ordering what others are drinking.
How to order your drop…
I want: whiskey neat, whiskey on the rocks (with ice) whiskey with water, whiskey paired with a beer, each decision will change the flavours of the whiskey and your experience.
You have made your decision. Something on the list has piqued your interest and you know what you’re ordering. But now you are stuck on how to order it. If you’re unsure, ask your new bartender’s best friend. They can suggest how they best like it, but a good rule of thumb is to remember that, while you can add water and ice to a whiskey, you cannot take it away.
If you can get the whiskey spread across two glasses, have one neat, and halfway through adding a few drops of water. In the other glass, have it with ice. Don’t be afraid to keep a small journal of your whiskeys. You don’t need to deep dive and write a full review for each whiskey you try, but writing down something as simple as the name, if you liked and how you liked it can save you time (and guide you in the future.
Boilermakers are simple and easy. It’s a beer (either a pint or a half-pint depending on where you are) paired with a whiskey, and you generally want complimentary flavours. A light lager or pilsner, crisp and fruity works with a whiskey of the same caliber, and a smoky stout can be paired brilliantly with a peated dram. While they can be brilliant pairings, if you’re not a beer drinker, perhaps this isn’t for you.
Finally, depending on the bar, they may or may not serve whiskey cocktails. Presented in various styles, they can be simple cocktails with one or two ingredients, sophisticated beverages with a few ingredients but taking time and knowledge to craft, or they could be a concoction of multiple ingredients and flavours. Ordering any whiskey and asking for it in a cocktail can be a difficult subject as you want complimentary flavours in your drink, something incredibly smoky may not work in a sweet based cocktail. The bartender is your friend here again and will help guide you through the choices towards a tasty, well made and balanced cocktail.
Finally, it is time to enjoy your whiskey.
Sit back and relax. This isn’t a competition to see who can drink the fastest, rather an experience for yourself. Take your time and gradually work through the whiskey, discovering all the flavours and experiences that the whiskey has on offer. If you like it, order something similar for your next drink. Should you not enjoy it, move on to something else. Each time you order a whiskey, you grow your knowledge and palate a little more and the best way to do this is to order something different.