Beginner's Guide to Whisky: The 6 Best Bottles to Start With
Mizunara The Shop
Whisky, with its rich history, myriad of styles, and deep complexity, is a fascinating spirit that offers an infinite journey of taste and discovery. The vast variety and technical jargon can be quite overwhelming for beginners. This guide aims to introduce you to the world of whisky and demystify the complex language.
Before we delve into specific bottle recommendations, let's touch upon some common whisky terminologies that beginners might find challenging:
Malt Whisky: Made from 100% malted barley. If the whisky is made at one distillery, it's a Single Malt. If it is made from malted barley at different distilleries, it is called a Blended Malt.
Grain Whisky: A whisky made from grains other than barley, often corn, wheat, or rye. Like malt whisky, if it's made at one distillery, it's a Single Grain whisky. If it's from several distilleries, it's a Blended Grain whisky.
Blended Whisky: A mix of different types of whisky (malt, grain) from multiple distilleries.
Cask Strength (or Barrel Proof): This refers to whisky that is bottled directly from the cask, without diluting the liquid. The alcohol content, therefore, tends to be higher than the usual 40-43% ABV found in most commercial whiskies.
Non-Chill Filtered: Chill-filtration is a process used to remove certain fatty acids and proteins that can make the whisky appear hazy when cold or diluted. Non-chill filtered whiskies skip this process, preserving the original flavor compounds from the cask.
Color Added: Sometimes, caramel color is added to whisky to standardize its appearance. However, some whisky enthusiasts prefer natural color whiskies, as they believe added color might interfere with the purity of the flavor.
Mash Bill: This refers to the mix of grains used in the production of whisky. It typically includes a combination of barley, corn, rye, and wheat.
Peat: Decayed plant material that has been compressed over thousands of years. It is used in the malting process to dry barley, imparting a distinctive smoky flavor to whisky, especially Scotch.
Age Statement: The number on a bottle of whisky showing the age of the youngest whisky used in the blend or batch. Aging can significantly influence the flavor and color of the whisky.
Finish: This describes the flavors that linger after swallowing the whisky. Some whiskies have a long finish that can last several minutes, while others are shorter.
Angel's Share: The amount of whisky that evaporates from the cask during aging. In warmer climates, the rate of evaporation can be quite high, which influences the final volume and concentration of flavors.
Now, let's dive into our curated selection of whiskies for beginners, covering a range of different styles:
1. Japanese Blended Whisky
Japanese whiskies are renowned for their meticulous craftsmanship and balance of flavors. This makes Japanese whiskies an excellent whisky for beginners. The Hibiki Japanese Harmony is a remarkable blend offering a symphony of flavors and aromas. The flavor profile consists of a subtle sweetness, a gentle smoky note, and a long, spiced finish. This provides a holistic and inviting introduction to whisky. If you wish to explore further, consider the Yamazakura Cherry-Ex Fine Blended Whisky, a smooth blend with a simple sweetness finish or Mars Maltage Cosmo Blended Malt Whisky, a cosmopolitan blend that interlaces fruitiness, complexity, and a creamy palate.
Bourbons are cherished for their bold, sweet, and full-bodied flavor profile. This inherent sweetness, derived from the corn-dominated mash bill and new charred oak barrel aging, provides an approachable introduction to whisky. One such welcoming bourbon is the Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey, which is known for its rich, full-bodied character with notes of dried fruit, vanilla, and toasted oak. For a different twist on the bourbon style, consider trying the Michter's US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which adds a layer of complexity with a toasted barrel finish, and Larceny Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, celebrated for its smooth, rounded taste profile.
3. Scotch Single Malt
The world of Scotch whisky is incredibly diverse, but the single malts are particularly rewarding with their expressive character and complexity. The Springbank 10 Year Old Scotch Single Malt Whisky is a prime example of a well-balanced liquor, combining fruity, malty, and subtle peaty notes. This serves as a perfect introduction to the multifaceted nature of Scotch whisky. For other whisky for beginners, try the Talisker 10 Year Old Scotch Single Malt Whisky, known for its sea-salty nose, peppery kick, and robust character, and Balvenie 12 Years Old Single Barrel Single Malt Scotch Whisky, a single barrel expression showcasing the impact of individual cask on the whisky's flavor.
4. Japanese Single Malt
If you're looking to explore the realm of single malts outside Scotland, Japanese single malts offer a harmony of delicacy, complexity, and refinement. A shining example is the Yamazaki Japanese Single Malt Whisky. Known as the pioneering Japanese malt whisky, it exudes luscious fruit and Japanese oak aromas. This experience is both distinctive and beginner-friendly. Other promising starters are the Yoichi Single Malt Whisky, offering bold and robust flavors, and Mars Komagatake 2022 Edition Japanese Single Malt Whisky, boasting a gentle, fruity profile.
5. Islay Whisky
Islay whiskies hail from a small island off the west coast of Scotland. It is famed for their distinctive smoky and maritime character. This might seem like a challenging whisky for beginners, but the Kilchoman Machir Bay Islay offers a friendly introduction to the Islay style, marrying peat smoke with ripe fruit notes in a balanced manner. For a deeper dive, Bowmore 15 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky offers a beautiful blend of peat smoke and sherry cask influences, while Laphroaig 10 Years 43% Single Malt is renowned for its intense smoky character interlaced with a surprising sweetness.
6. World Whisky
The world of whisky extends beyond traditional whisky-producing countries. The Milk & Honey Single Cask Hong Kong Exclusive Israel Single Malt Whisky offers a glimpse into the emerging whisky scene in Israel. It's an intriguing whisky with a rich, fruity profile and a hint of spice. To experience more world whiskies, try the Amrut Indian Single Malt Whisky from India, known for its unique tropical fruit character, or the Kavalan Solist Oloroso Sherry Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky from Taiwan, which showcases the impact of climate on maturation with its intense, fast-maturing profile.
This selection is a great way to start your journey with whisky giving you a broad spectrum of flavors and styles. The world of whisky is a captivating one, offering unique experiences with every sip. Prefer to have a bespoke whisky experience? Send us a Whatsapp (+852 3705 9770) or walk in for a complimentary sample tasting of whiskies selected especially for you at our Wong Chuk Hang office. Enjoy sipping whisky in the company of other enthusiasts? Mizunara also operates The Library, an award winning Whisky & Cocktail bar. Embrace the adventure and cheers to your exploration!