Scotch has made a major comeback recently, gaining traction with a new, younger set of drinkers and bartenders. The bar is one of the best places to learn more about Scotch, and the bartender is often more than willing to help you navigate the seas of choice. Knowing how to order a Scotch, figuring out what you like and don’t like will, make it infinitely easier to narrow down your options. You’ll be ordering like Don Draper in no time — looking like him is another story.
Drink It Your Way
There will always be snobs and purists who will tell you there is a correct way to drink your Scotch. These are often the same folks who say it’s a sin to put Scotch in a cocktail. Let them snicker in their solitude, while you order your Scotch however you damn well please. Here are the different methods of imbibing.
Neat: No rocks, no water, just Scotch in a glass. It’s a good idea to try any Scotch neat at least once. The burn that often accompanies a sip of Scotch neat — craved by some and shunned by others — shows you what the distiller was aiming for in the purest expression of their whisky.
Splash of Water: This is very popular in Scotland and beyond. The water tones down the heat and reveals the more delicate flavors. Order your whisky neat with a glass of water on the side so you can add the perfect amount of water to suit your liking.
Rocks: Add a cube or two to your glass to cool off the Scotch and make it more drinkable. The first couple sips will be more intense, but the whisky will mellow over time as the ice melts.
Splash of Soda: Soda can really start to change things up in the flavor department. Generally, single malt Scotch is not mixed with soda, though blended Scotch and soda is quite a popular drink.
Scotch Cocktails: You’ll find a number of bars doing Scotch cocktails, both modern and classic. Here are a few classics to ask for if you don’t see them on the menu: Blood & Sand, Modernista, Presbyterian, Rob Roy.
Ask Your Bartender
When you’re just getting started, pick a few simple flavor descriptors to help your bartender find the best Scotch for you.
Peaty: It’s up to you how peaty you want to go, but knowing whether you like the smoky, medicinal, and vegetal flavor of peat can help you narrow your choices.
Smoky: Some Scotch drinkers find that they like the flavor of peat, but are turned off by whiskies that taste like a campfire. There’s a whole spectrum of smokiness to explore, and your bartender can help you find your place.
Light or Rich: Do you want an easy-drinking, nuanced, crisp Scotch or a bold, complex, layered whisky?
Seaweed and Iodine: These love-it or hate-it flavors are generally found in the heavily peated Islay whiskies. Funky and briny, it’s definitely worth trying a whisky with these characteristics at least once.
Other Flavors: Here are some helpful descriptors to help you further hone in on the whiskey you want: Floral, herbal, fresh grass vs. nuts, bread, grain, fresh citrus fruit vs. dried stone fruit.
Say it Like a Scotsman
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when ordering a Scotch is actually saying the name of the Scotch. Most brand names are rooted in Scottish Gaelic, Old Gaelic, and Anglicized Scottish Gaelic, and therefore not so easy for us colonials to pronounce. Here’s how to pronounce some of the more unusual names.
Aberlour: a-ber-LOUW-er (Like loud, not lure)
Balvenie: the bal-VEY-nee (don’t forget the “the”)
Caol Ila: cull-LEE-lah
Glen Gaioch: glen-GEAR-ee
Knockando: knock-and-do (order this for the fun of saying it out loud!)