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How to Learn to Love Whiskey


Not every drinker is born a whiskey lover. If you didn’t emerge from the womb a whiskey enthusiast—but have a desire to dabble in the dark, oak-aged arts—don’t attempt to jump straight from a Vodka-Soda into a pool of funky, smoky Islay scotch. Get some whiskey training wheels to help you make the transition.  

To guide you on your journey, we enlisted the help of Marcel Simoneau, one of the owners of Noorman’s Kil whiskey bar in Brooklyn. There, Simoneau keeps the bar stocked with more than 400 whiskies and hosts tastings to educate would-be whiskey fans on the spirit’s heritage and how it’s made. If you want to love whiskey but are having trouble getting started, follow his advice and you’ll go from novice to expert in no time.

Start Sweet

From spicy rye to smoky Scotch, each category of whiskey has a distinct flavor profile. Simoneau suggests starting with the easiest of the lot—bourbon. “Most people begin with bourbon as it is a little more accessible to them because of the sweetness and price range,” he says.

We suggest trying a solid bourbon that costs less than 30 bucks. That way, you won’t feel like you’re forking over a ton of money for a bottle that may take you awhile to drink.

Try It in a Cocktail

“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” We know Mary Poppins wasn’t talking about a stiff drink when she sang that famous line, but her advice helps us make a point all the same. If you’re getting to know a spirit for the first time, tasting it in a cocktail before sipping it on the rocks will soften its bite. “If you’re trying to get into bourbon, a well-made Old Fashioned is a great place to start,” Simoneau says. “The sugar adds sweetness, but you can actually taste the whiskey too. The other ingredients enhance the spirit’s flavor rather than mask it.”

If you’ve already mastered bourbon and are ready to take on another type of whiskey, there are plenty of rye, scotch and Irish whiskey cocktails to try.

Courtesy of Noorman's Kil

Learn How to Properly Taste It

Simoneau says there’s no right or wrong way to drink whiskey, and we agree. But learning how to properly taste it will make your first few sips that much more enjoyable and rewarding.

“When tasting a spirit, we typically like to start neat and then add water slowly to see the differences,” he says. “Some people like ice, others don’t, and that’s okay. But one of the most important elements of tasting whiskey is the aroma. Nosing it is crucial to get a full, round taste. You can also sip and chew on it a bit before swallowing so the flavors hit all corners of your tastebuds.”

Any old rocks glass will work fine to taste whiskey. But if you want something with a bolder design—or simply feel like rewarding yourself for trying something new—snag yourself a set of bona fide whiskey glasses.

Drink Your Way Around the World

So, you’ve mastered bourbon and are ready to move on to another whiskey type. Simoneau recommends sticking to the American stuff before traveling overseas. “Try rye and wheated bourbons first, then move on to Irish or Japanese whiskies, which tend to be a little more accessible,“ he says. “Once you get a taste for these, then you can graduate to scotch.”

Once you’re prepared to try scotch, try first dipping your toe into some of the milder regions before jumping into the smoky nectar of the islands. “Start with the Highland and Speyside regions and then work your way down to Islay for the peatier, smokier stuff,” Simoneau says.

Pair Whiskey with Food

Sometimes, after trying new flavors and spirits, all you need to soothe your overworked palate is a little food. At Noorman’s Kil, they pair whiskey with grilled cheese because all that gooey, delicious fat highlights whiskey’s varying sweet, smoky and spicy notes. “Cheese pairs particularly well with scotch, but we always recommend nuts like almonds and different types of chocolate depending on the spirit,” Simoneau says.

We believe in the great power of a drinking snack, so we recommend whipping up a batch of something crispy or salty to cleanse your palate during your next tasting.

There you have it. Follow these steps, and you’ll be on your way to loving whiskey in no time.

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