Scotch 101

Learning the craft of drinking Scotch from a local expert.

Is there anything manlier than Scotch? The aroma, the color, the taste all culminate to form one of the most storied and revered spirits in the world. Scotch used to have a stuffy, haughty connotation, but this whisky is making a comeback throughout the South as the perfect drink for the new breed of Southern gentlemen. Local Scotch expert, Mike Owens, gives us a quick course on choosing and drinking the right Scotch for your palette. 

Drinking Scotch:

First rule first: absolutely no ice. End of story. No. Ice. I mean it. Scotch is best appreciated at room temperature. To chill the malt is to stifle the delicate and complex flavors the wood and aging imparts on the spirit. 

Consider the glass. All the movies show Scotch in a highball. While there’s nothing wrong with that, the best glass to enjoy Scotch and its aroma is a glencairn glass, it’s a tulip shaped glass that’s perfect for enjoying a dram. A snifter is also a great glass for Scotch. Even a champagne flute will do in a pinch and is actually a more desirable glass than a highball. 

An important note about adding water: not all Scotch needs or should have a few drops of water added before tasting. The fact is: adding a few drops of water to your dram can reduce the “burn” coming from the alcohol in Scotch that can anesthetize your palate. 

I always add a few drops to any “cask strength” Scotch by necessity as these malts have a higher alcohol content by volume. I usually add a few drops to Speyside and Islay Scotches to bring out more flavor and aroma. Water can improve your enjoyment by bringing out more subtle flavors and aromas by “calming” the alcohol in the spirit. How much water? Usually 2-3 drops of purified water from an eye dropper. Novice drinkers may use a bit more water in the beginning and will often reduce the amount of water added as their palate improves. 

Smell or “nose” the Scotch. If it burns your nose, the glass is too close. You’ll have to find the right distance from the glass to your nose based on your own preferences and the character of the Scotch. Take a moment to enjoy the complexity of the spirit before you taste.

After nosing the Scotch for as long as you like, it’s time to take a small sip (think no larger than ¾ to 1 teaspoon). Let the Scotch coat your mouth and tongue. No swishing, ever. Swallow slowly and appreciate the “afterglow” of the malt. Single malt is not intended to be drunk like other spirits; it should be sipped an enjoyed the whole way through the dram. Fine single malt should be an experience to the last drop. 


To see a few of Mike's favorite Scotches and to learn how to choose a bottle of Scotch, subscribe now or pick up the October/November issue of South Magazine.