Mixology 101

Whiskey Manners

Order without embarrassment

By John Chandler January 15, 2010

I’m currently slaving away on a feature for the magazine about Oregon-made whiskeys, so a large part of my work day of late has been taken up with research. High-level analysis of aroma, taste, finish, and secondary characteristics cannot be rushed, my friends. So it is with a single-minded zeal found only in the most devoted of lunatics that I sit here sipping whiskey from morn till quitting time. And then I spin around in my chair really fast to heighten the experience. Hey, you have your research methods, and I have mine.

During a much-needed break, one of my coworkers posed the following question: "I’d like to try more whiskeys, but I really don’t know where to start. How do you order it without sounding like a sap? And what’s a good brand to ask for that doesn’t cost a zillion dollars?"

Fair enough.

Since there are all kinds of whiskeys, each with its own nifty flavor profile, it will take some experimenting to find your comfort zone. And while it’s true that a good single malt scotch like Talisker or Balvenie is best savored neat, a couple ice cubes is always a good idea with Irish whiskeys such as Bushmills or Jamesons. Don’t let anyone tell you that a few chunks of ice is going to "dilute" the whiskey. I’ve found that light ice is a time-release flavor enhancer. The first few sips will basically reveal the true essence of the spirit, and the gradual melting slowly adds a little more water to the mix, which brings out different aromas and flavors. You really can’t go wrong ordering whiskey on the rocks or with just a splash of water. I usually request the brand with light rocks, as in, "Bushmills. Light rocks." Try it! Remember, whiskey is meant for slow sipping; each nuance of flavor is an uncharted island that demands exploration.

For bourbon, which is primarily a corn base with vanilla grace notes, I like Eagle Rare, Woodford’s Reserve (pricey!), Booker’s, or Blanton’s. None of these (other than Woodford’s) should unduly stress out your wallet. And of course, there’s the Portlander’s default drink, Maker’s and soda.

And thanks to a timely tip from my brother Dave, I am also enjoying George Dickel 12, a really tasty—and modestly priced—Tennessee whiskey that manages a delicate balance of smoke and sweet.

OK drinking buddies, the subject is whiskey. What are your favorites, and how do you take it?

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