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How to Drink Scotch (the Right Way)

How to Drink Scotch (the Right Way)

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Chances are you’ve been to a bar at least once in your life. And chances are that at that bar, you’ve witnessed someone sloshing their drink around in their mouth as if it was whiskey-flavored mouthwash. On quick glance, you might jump to the conclusion that this person either a) does in fact believe their drink is mouthwash, or b) is having an internal battle as to whether or not they want to swallow what they’ve just taken a sip of. But on closer observation, you’ll notice this person is just tasting what they are drinking, especially if what they’re drinking is single malt Scotch.

Single malt Scotch is a beautiful thing. It rare in the world of whiskies, and when you do come across a good one, it can be a life-altering experience. The liquid is carefully crafted, and while most of the time you will end up paying a pretty penny for that fine libation, the juice always ends up being worth the squeeze. A spirit like this deserves a lot of attention and dedication; it’s certainly not something that should be just be poured into a shot glass and quickly downed. Believe it or not, there’s a method to enjoying a quality single malt Scotch.

Recently, I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with David McNicoll, brand ambassador for Morrison-Bowmore Distillery. He graciously took me through the step-by-step process to really get the best experience out of your single malt. From glassware to how you can pair it with food, important decisions go into having a successful Scotch experience. Is this the be-all and end-all way to do things? Of course not. In fact, McNicoll made it clear that each step is fairly subjective; everyone enjoys drinking in their own way, and these rules are by no means set in stone. However, this serves as a perfectly good guidebook to start with, which gives us enough of a jumping off point to see what works best. Gather up your pens and notepads — it’s time for an education!

Step 1: Choose Your Glass

While this may seem a bit simple, it’s a very important step in tasting your single malt. The biggest no-no? Using a brandy snifter. The beauty of the snifter is that it is perfect for just that: brandy. As you hold it the proper way, you warm the brandy with your hand, enhancing the experience. Great for brandy, not for Scotch. Instead, you should be looking for a glass that has a large bowl-like opening at the top. This ensures the aromas reach your nose from the surface of the Scotch, and don’t get trapped in the glass. A tulip shape, or if you really want to be authentic, get your hands on a Glencairn glass. This Scottish company makes glasses for the sole purpose of drinking Scotch, so you know you’re getting a good product. Order them here (link).

Step 2: Sight

At this point, you’ve poured some single malt into your preferred glassware. Give yourself a pat on the back for getting your hands on such a nice bottle of Scotch, you classy devil. Now, pick up that glass. Swirl it around gently. Observe the liquid in this chalice of yours. What are you looking for in this process? Legs! Just like drinking wine, the legs of a Scotch tell you a lot about what you are about to drink. They indicate the viscosity, or weightiness, of your Scotch, which will tell you if this spirit is going to be on the lighter or heavier side. In most cases, your single malt will be fairly viscous, however if you were doing this test with a blended Scotch, the legs would be much runnier.

Step 3: Sniff

Now that you’ve determined the weight of your single malt, it’s time to take a whiff. You’ll be doing a series of sniffs, so listen close. Your first sniff will be a quick one. This is an introduction not only to the single malt, but the alcohol as a whole. You are preparing your olfactory sense to intake a different aroma, and giving it some prep time will make it all the more enjoyable. After this, you’ll take your second sniff. This sniff is slightly longer, in order to take in more of the aromas in the Scotch. Don’t linger too long on this one, or you’ll overpower your olfactory system and have to start all over again. Your third and final sniff is more of a personal covenant; you’ll smell more of the Scotch in this one, and start to appreciate what you’re about to drink. If your nose needs a break in between sniffs, it can be helpful to take both a sip and a sniff of still water. This gives your olfactory sense a clean slate, allowing you to go back to square one.

Step 4: Taste

Finally! It’s time to take a nice big swig of that Scotch that we’ve been staring at and sniffing on, right? Not exactly. Like the sniffing, you’ll want to break this down into a few steps first before you go into straight sipping and enjoying. Your first sip is going to be similar to your first sniff. It’s a quick sip, straight down the middle of your tongue. This is to prepare your body, again, for the alcohol that you’re about to intake. You’ll feel a nice warmth in your chest after about five seconds or so, and after that settles, you’re ready to really jump in. Your next sip is less a sip, and more a sizeable gulp. With this gulp you’ll want to swirl the liquid around in your mouth; let it roll on the tongue and underneath it. After you’ve done that for several seconds, you’ll want to swallow very slowly. During this second sip, you’re really taking in all the flavors and feelings of your single malt. Is it smoky? Are there notes of honey, lemon, or caramel? Only your palate will know for sure, so try and focus your senses during this time. Your third sip and every sip hereafter are for pure enjoyment. Sip and relax friends, it’s Scotch time.

Insider Tip: Whether you choose to support it or not, a few drops of water can be incredibly beneficial to your single malt drinking. Don’t water it down heavily; just a teaspoon and a quick swirl in the glass, and you are sure to get an entirely different and very pleasant drinking experience.

Step 5: Pairing

Like this entire process, pairing a single malt with food is entirely based on what you taste in your Scotch, and what you think those flavors will pair best with. During my tasting session with McNicoll, we posted up at an oyster bar and enjoyed our Scotch with some briny slurpers, which were a perfect pairing. However, this isn’t the only food group that works well with a sweet and smoky single malt. Cheese and chocolate are great choices, as are cold cuts, smoked salmon, and nuts. Alternately, if you would rather pair with something that isn’t food, a smooth and luxurious cigar is a perfect choice.

One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to enjoying your single malt, so let these steps be your guide and your Scotch enjoyment will be one for the books. Cheers, and as the Scottish say, Slainte mhath!

— Sara Kay, The

How to Drink Scotch Whisky

This article was co-authored by Tom Blake. Tom Blake manages the bartending blog, He has been a bartender since 2012 and has written a book named The Bartender's Field Manual.

There are 22 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, several readers have written to tell us that this article was helpful to them, earning it our reader-approved status.

This article has been viewed 450,483 times.

Scotch whisky inspires a near cult-like devotion in some drinking circles. Known for its pungent aroma and long, lingering finish, it's mostly designed to sip, not shoot. While all whisky (or "whiskey") can be enjoyed responsibly by anyone with an interest in spirits, Scotch whisky is best enjoyed with a little splash of water and a gathering of friends. If you've poured yourself a wee dram and wish to savor its silky texture in a whole new light, read on.

Table of Contents

  • What is Scotch
  • How do you Drink Scotch Whiskey: Recipes with Ingredients
    • 1. Sour Scotch Mixed-Fruit Standard Cocktail
    • 2. Winter Morning Hot Hard Drink with Single Malt Scotch
    • 3. Chilled After Dinner Long Drink Using Scotch Whiskey
    • 4. 2-Ingredient ‘Moscow Mule’ Shooter Drinks with Scotch
    • 5. Ladies’ Holiday Christmas Cocktail with Scotch Whiskey
    • 6. All-Alcoholic Manly Short Shooter
    • 7. Scotch-based Easy Tangy Tiki Drink
    • 8. Refreshing Scotch and Soda Drink for Summer
    • 9. Popular Scotch Mist Drink Cocktail Recipe
    • 10. Simple 2-minute Scotch Martini Drink

    Table Of Content

    An Insider's Guide to Scotch, Glenlivet Edition

    I'm ankle-deep in good, cold, highland water when it occurs to me that if Scotch whisky were to take human form &mdash to rise up and solidify into a two-armed, two-legged, living creature &mdash it would probably resemble the man striding dry-footed through the heather and gorse ahead of me.

    That man is Alan Winchester. He has never lived outside Scotland's remote Speyside region, and doesn't care to. He wears a kilt with disarming nonchalance. Winchester speaks in a thick highland brogue that's mostly intelligible to a New Yorker, unless of course one of you happens to be drunk. He has hiked every major peak in Scotland, a fact of which I'm keenly aware as we jauntily tackle a minor local summit in an early May hail shower. Winchester's glinting, ice-blue eyes always seem to know something you don't, and on the subject of whisky, that is practically always true: He's a 34-year veteran of the Speyside whisky industry, and as The Glenlivet's Master Distiller, currently defines and controls the taste of the second-best-selling single-malt Scotch on earth.

    I recently spent a few days nosing around the home of Glenlivet with Winchester, observing his distillation process, learning about the intricacies of barrel cooperage, traipsing across the windswept hillsides, siphoning 30-year-old liquid from casks to taste &mdash you know, that sort of thing. During that time, Winchester tossed off a near-constant stream of Scotch wisdom. Herein, some of the most surprising and edifying lessons I gleaned from the Master.

    1. The experts drink whisky with water. You can toss out any notion that real men drink Scotch room-temperature and neat, or that a splash of water will somehow mar a single malt's perfection. Water actually opens up the flavors of Scotch, which is why professionals like Winchester add in a few drops before tasting.

    2. "Blend" doesn't mean "bad." The flavor of a good blend is just as carefully calibrated as that of a single malt, and some of Speyside's best stock is held back from being bottled as single malts in order to play its part in blends. At the cult-favorite Longmorn distillery, for example, most of the finished spirit goes toward blends, despite a strong demand for the distillery's single malt.

    3. Scotch gets weaker as it ages. Alcohol evaporates faster than water in the mild Scottish climate, meaning Scotch doesn't get stronger as it ages it mellows.

    4. Shake your bottle: The bubbles show its alcohol content. The larger the head of bubbles that forms and lingers on the surface of the liquid, the more potent the whisky.

    5. Scottish folk wisdom has it that younger whiskies give you less of a hangover. Back in the 19th century, distillery employees were given a couple shots per day of so-called "new make," the clear spirit that comes straight out of the stills, as a perk of the job. New make was supposedly the tipple of choice because it would render employees less dazed the next morning than older, barrel-aged whisky, owing to its greater purity.

    6. Scotch gets its flavor not just from the barley and barrels, but also from the stills. The precise shape of the copper apparatus used in distillation is specific to each distillery, and actually alters the taste of the whisky on a molecular level. This is due to the physics of how molecules travel through the still, colliding which each other and the copper surfaces at different rates and angles, and forming distinct flavor compounds in the process.

    7. If you like single malt, try single cask. The latest in high-end Scotch connoisseurship is single-cask editions. Single malts have the distinction of comprising whisky from just one distillery, but they can represent a blend of many different ages and batches. With single-cask Scotches, each limited-edition collection comes from just one container, which allows real devotees of a given distillery to taste a much wider variety of its expressions.

    How to Drink Cognac

    This article was co-authored by Tom Blake. Tom Blake manages the bartending blog, He has been a bartender since 2012 and has written a book named The Bartender's Field Manual.

    There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

    wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 23 testimonials and 96% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

    This article has been viewed 605,280 times.

    Cognac, made in the Charente region of France, is a luxurious grape-based liquor that is enjoyed all around the world for its rich, spiced flavor. Nicer cognacs are usually enjoyed without mixers or ice. First, pour a small amount into a glass. Next, examine the color and aroma. Sip the cognac slowly to savor the flavors. Young, lower-quality cognacs can be enjoyed in mixed drinks. Popular choices include citrusy Sidecars, sweet French Connections, and herbal Stingers. Finally, pair cognac and cognac-based drinks with rich foods, decadent cheese plates, and cigars.

    How to drink Scotch like a Scotsman

    There's an easygoing air around Struan Grant Ralph as he walks towards you on a particularly sunny afternoon in Mumbai. Ralph is the Global Brand Ambassador of Glenfiddich, and in many ways represents the new face of single malt - one that isn't just restricted to serious men in suits and invites experimentation. Which is convenient because Ralph is here to launch Glenfiddich's new Experimental Series. The new malt is finished in IPA (India Pale Ale) craft beer casks created by Glenfiddich's Malt Master Brian Kinsman, along with a local Speyside craft brewer. When GQ caught up with Ralph, we asked him everything you (and every other gentleman who loves his single malt) might have wanted to know. Here's what he had to say.

    How does the IPA cask affect flavour?

    We've experimented with both wine casks and beer casks. But this is the first time we're doing something like this with an IPA cask. The resulting liquid has nice levity, is fresh and, to me, is an early evening kind of dram. We tried a lot of different scenarios, in terms of the liquid profile, but this is the one that stuck!

    Millennials are perhaps the largest generation in India. How do you plan to reach out to them?

    My understanding is that millennials have a real passion for whisky. Wherever I go - whether in India or elsewhere - they want to educate themselves they want to hear the stories and be more aware of the provenance of what they're drinking. And when millennials interact with brands, they do it in a far more engaged manner than perhaps the generations of before.

    So, as brands, we have a lot more responsibility to communicate our principles to them. It's this communication that's a large part of my job - sharing the stories, breaking down the process, eliminating misconceptions and just ensuring that they feel like whisky is an accessible thing for them.

    How different is the whisky production in a family-run business? Do you have more scope to experiment and innovate?

    William Grant & Sons invests heavily back into its own business, which is what creates the possibility of making very bold, drastic innovation changes. Also, for us as ambassadors, who are out there sharing our whisky, there's something really pleasing about the fact that we have the support of the biggest distilling family in Scotland. Every single member of the family has to work in every part of the distillation process, to be able to sit on the family board. That makes a huge difference.

    So much has been said about age. How much does age contribute to flavour? Is the hype around age justified?

    In my opinion it's not an absolute. You can guarantee that a 12 Year Old whisky, for example, would always be the same quality across the world. But age reduces the ability of distillers to experiment with casks.

    The Glenfiddich Experimental Series is a marriage of casks of a huge age range, so it doesn't carry an age date. Whiskies such as these are called Non-Age Statements or NAS whiskies, because rules in Scotland stipulate that if you use casks of different ages, the whisky would have to display the age of the youngest cask. And as distillers are becoming more open to experimentation, age is becoming less important. Done well, I think non-age whiskies are great.

    Where do you stand on cocktails?

    I'm not suggesting that you take your favourite 21 Year Old single malt and start making cocktails with it because there's a lot of effort that has gone into making it taste the way it tastes. But there are whiskies in a price range and of an age that you can still have fun with. And even with single malts there are a lot of classic cocktail recipes. If you're going to make cocktails with good whisky, make sure everything you put in that drink is of good quality. That's the best way to make your whisky approachable for people.

    What's your take on single malts and whiskeys from countries like Australia, Japan and India?

    There's never been a better time to be a whisky drinker than 2018 not only are there new distilleries opening, classic ones like Glenfiddich are constantly experimenting. New markets are making some great whiskies and single malts. I'm a huge fan of Indian brands like Amrut and Paul John. The more variation you see, the more guarantee of the future success of the industry.

    Is there a correct way to drink a single malt?

    By the bottle [laughs]. But on a serious note, if you're going to have some food on the side, make sure it isn't very spicy or flavourful. Also avoid anything that's fatty and rich - think chocolate, cheeses etc.

    If it's a very hot day, by all means, drink it on the rocks, and if you're using mineral water ensure it isn't high on mineral content.

    Invest in good glassware because it's actually nice to sit with your favourite glass.

    Finally, take your time, because whisky takes a long time to make. So don't rush it. And surround yourself with good company.

    How to Make a Scotch and Soda

    There's a right way to do this, and there's a lazy way. Eyeballing doesn't count.

    The proper way to drink Scotch is with a splash of water to awaken the whisky's flavor and smooth the bite of the alcohol. Or so they say in Scotland. But not all of us have the constitution for that. Thank god, then, that the highball is making a comeback. What, exactly, sets it apart from a plain old whisky soda? Good scotch, good soda, and attention to bubbles.

    As Masahiro Urushido, head bartender at Katana Kitten, a Japanese-American bar in New York, told us last year, mixing a highball cocktail like a scotch and soda requires care. He makes them by filling a tall, narrow-mouthed glass with ice, adding the whisky, then holding the glass at an angle and slowly pouring in the soda. He doesn't stir. He does garnish with a lemon twist. And he makes sure to chill his whisky, his soda, and his highball glass in the freezer before using them.

    Pick the scotch of your choosing&mdashto each their own with something as varying as scotch flavors&mdashand grab some little bottles of quality club soda, as those have the best fizz. Don't get lazy with the glassware: That special highball glass goes a long way to preserving bubbles. Then, enjoy your simple, refined scotch and soda.


    There’s no right or wrong way to drink whisky. As long as you enjoy it, that’s all that matters.

    However, there are some techniques that can heighten the experience of drinking whisky, making it even more pleasurable.

    Try different glasses and different temperatures. Add a little water, or a mixer. Try a cocktail. But remember, only you know the serve that’s right for you.

    Consider these few things before getting to the whisky itself.

    A good, solid tumbler (a short glass with a heavy bottom) if you’re drinking your whisky neat, or with a little water or ice. For ‘long’ whisky drinks, use a ‘highball’ – a tall, slim, straight-sided glass.

    Take a moment to inhale the aroma

    A huge part of the flavor of food and drink comes from the way it smells – and whisky is no exception. Enjoying the aroma of whisky can be hugely rewarding.

    Savor the flavor by allowing the whisky to roll over your tongue, before letting it slip smoothly down.

    A good whisky will present a whole range of flavors and scents – many of which you may find familiar. The flavors experienced are unique to each person, with certain elements being stronger to some than others. Discussing the flavors you discover with friends is one of the many joys of drinking whisky .


    Both have their benefits! The simplest way to enjoy your whisky is neat, cleansing your palate with cool water between sips. Many people also add a few drops of water to their whisky, which can open up the flavors as the liquids combine. Experimentation is key, but remember the old adage: “you can add, but you can't take away”.


    Adding ice to Scotch instantly makes for a more refreshing experience, but it can also significantly change the flavor profile as it dilutes the whisky. Chilling whisky has the effect of muting some flavors, and enhancing others.

    To find a balance that works for you, consider the amount, shape and size of the ice, as well as the measure of whisky. The more ice in the glass, the slower it will melt – and the impact will, of course, be greater on a single measure than a double.

    Some people prefer to use a single, larger ice cube or even an ice ball to really slow the rate at which it melts. Another option is to invest in some whisky stones – made of metal or soapstone – to use as a replacement to ice. So if you like your whisky cold, but don’t want the effects of dilution – whisky stones may well be the right choice for you.

    However you chill your Scotch, the act of taking small sips and savoring each one will rapidly bring the temperature back up. As the whisky warms, the taste will evolve – allowing you to experience a broad spectrum of flavor.


    The mark of a truly great whisky, is its versatility. Combining Scotch with a mixer makes for a longer, more accessible drink – a fantastic way to ease yourself into the world of whisky, without compromising on flavor.

    One of the simplest ways to enjoy whisky, is as a Highball . Fill a tall glass with lots of ice, a measure of your favorite Scotch, at least two parts to one in favor of your mixer of choice, plus a complementary garnish.

    There are no rules on what you can or cannot use as a mixer – from the universally beloved combination of whisky and soda, to the sophisticated pairing of whisky and tea (popular in Asia), to the tropical mix of whisky and coconut water (favored in the Caribbean) – nothing’s off the table. And there are no rules that mandate expensive whiskies should only be served straight up, either.

    All kinds of wonderful cocktails can be made with Scotch. The only thing that matters is your enjoyment.

    How to Drink Scotch Better

    For a long time, the biggest names in Scotch game were the Glens&mdashGlenlivet and Glenfiddich. But during the last decade, The Macallan has finessed its way into the conversation, and by some estimates is now the second ranked single-malt Scotch in terms of sales volume (behind only Glenlivet).

    Nick Savage was appointed master distiller at The Macallan just last year. He&rsquos now responsible for ensuring one of the titans of Scotch whisky both maintains its rep and continues to grow.

    Not bad for a guy from Sheffield, England with a master&rsquos in mechanical engineering. While that may seem like an odd degree for a Scotch distiller, Savage used his mechanical engineering expertise early in his career to design a more structurally sound whisky cask.

    Here&rsquos how he recommends getting the most enjoyment from single-malt Scotch.

    Traditional Scottish ales are served somewhere around 55 degrees&mdashmuch warmer than Americans tend to drink beer. Similarly, Scotch whisky is best enjoyed at room temp, Savage says.

    This &ldquoallows for optimal taste,&rdquo he says. Chilling your Scotch causes the flavors to tighten up and &ldquocontract,&rdquo he explains.

    But by drinking your Scotch un-chilled&mdashor even wrapping your hands around the glass to warm it up a bit&mdashthe whisky&rsquos aromas and flavors will &ldquovolatilize&rdquo so you can better appreciate them, he says.

    After you&rsquove had a sip or two.

    &ldquoAlways try it neat first, then add water a little at a time,&rdquo Savage says. &ldquoWhen you add water, you lower the alcohol&rsquos strength, which in turn expands the characters in the glass and changes your experience.&rdquo

    Fruit and flower notes in particular seem to pop up when you add a little H2O&mdashemphasis on little. To make sure you&rsquore not overwatering your Scotch, grab a straw and add just a few drops in between sips.

    In a perfect world, you&rsquore drinking your Scotch from a tulip-shaped whisky nosing glass, Savage says.

    The glass&rsquos shape and size aren&rsquot an accident. The wide bowl allows air to reach your Scotch and draw out its aroma, while the narrower opening concentrates those scents while still allowing room for your nose.

    &ldquoIf you don&rsquot have a nosing glass, select one with a large bowl-like opening&mdashsuch as a rocks glass&mdashto ensure the aromas reach your nose,&rdquo Savage says.

    Bourbon is big right now in the U.S. Even when it wasn&rsquot, a lot of American men tended to drink barrels of bourbon before making their way into the higher prices and complex characteristics of Scotch.

    How does single-malt Scotch compare to American bourbon?

    &ldquoBourbon whiskies provide a sweeter American Oak style, including major characters of vanilla and citrus fruits,&rdquo Savage says.

    &ldquoCereal and malt notes&rdquo are the big differentiators when comparing Scotch to bourbon, he says.

    It&rsquos tough to explain what these grains taste like in the glass. (Learning to truly appreciate Scotch is the work of a lifetime.) But the hallmark flavors may best be described as smoky, woody, earthy, and leathery.

    Savage, like most distillers, is quick to say you should drink his stuff however you like it. But he adds that Scotch &ldquoshines as a standalone spirit.&rdquo

    If you&rsquore looking to add anything to your glass apart from water, he suggests lemon, sherry, or bitters. The appropriate mixer depends on the Scotch in your glass. But these can complement a whisky without covering it up, he says.

    Asked for a specific example, he says, &ldquoThe Macallan Double Cask works well with fino sherry, as it&rsquos bone dry and very lean but brings a brightness and slight acidity that accentuates the brighter sweet fruit notes of The Macallan.&rdquo

    There are six distinct whisky-producing regions in Scotland, each known for certain flavor profiles. They are: Highlands, Speyside, Lowlands, Islands, Islay, and Campbeltown.

    Savage says every individual distillery within those regions produces its own distinct Scotch. But speaking broadly, an Islay whisky like Lagavulin may be more &ldquosmoky and peaty,&rdquo while a Highlands such as Aberfeldy tends to be lighter and fruitier.

    Again, figuring out which region you enjoy most is going to require a lot of time and tasting&mdashnot to mention money. But that&rsquos part of the fun.

    Good single-malt Scotch takes a decade (or much longer) to mature, and is a carefully calibrated symphony of aromas and flavors. Unless you&rsquore sharing a bottle with half a dozen friends, you&rsquoll probably only be drinking it a glass or two at a time before shelving it and pulling out the cheaper stuff.

    So how should you store it to maintain its quality? &ldquoKeep it out of direct sunlight in a cool dry area,&rdquo Savage says. Also, be sure its cap is tightly closed in order to maintain its integrity.

    &ldquoIt doesn&rsquot continue to age once it&rsquos been bottled,&rdquo he adds. (Unlike wine, it&rsquos not going to change or evolve in its glass container.) But if you store your Scotch properly, you can keep enjoying it for a year or longer without much drop-off in flavor or intensity.

    How to Get the Most Out of Peated Scotch, From Cocktails to Cooking

    For aspiring home bartenders, coaxing value out of a fledgling liquor collection means finding bottles that offer versatility. A few “all-rounders” — spirits that work well in a range of cocktails but can also be sipped neat — go a long way.

    When considering aged spirits that meet these criteria, peated Scotch is not an obvious option. The complex, smoky notes that typify the category are polarizing on their own, and can easily overpower other spirits and modifiers when mixed in cocktails.

    But with a delicate touch and careful consideration of the whisky in hand, this powerful style of Scotch can be tamed to add smoky swagger to any home bartender’s cocktail repertoire. Better yet, when matched with the right foods, peated whiskies offer some of the most wonderful food pairings imaginable and can even be incorporated into dishes themselves.

    Where Peated Scotch Gets Its Flavor

    Peated Scotch whiskies gain their intense earthy, smoky profile during the drying of malted barley, which occurs prior to distillation. Certain distilleries, most notably on the isle of Islay, burn decomposed organic matter (peat) to dry out the grain so that it can be fermented and distilled. When it burns, peat emits an odorous smoke that soaks into the malted barley and carries through to the distilled spirit.

    Harvested peat that will be used as the fuel to dry out malted barley.

    Islay distilleries such as Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Laphroaig, and Lagavulin provide some of the most well-known examples of peated Scotch. Though rarer, similarly smoky styles can also be found in other regions of Scotland, and from a handful of whiskey-producing nations around the world, including Japan, Ireland, India, America, and even Sweden, the original is a good place to start your exploration.

    (Most of the aforementioned regions outside Scotland don’t have the correct environmental conditions to produce peat, so distilleries have to either import peat or peated malted barley to produce the smoky style. Nevertheless, their whiskeys share similar flavor and aroma profiles to peated Scotch, and can substitute for all the Scotch suggestions listed below.)

    How to Use Peated Scotch in Cocktails

    At San Francisco’s Elixir, a cocktail bar with a mightily impressive whisky list and a history that stretches back over 150 years, Dan Burns crafts peated cocktails to satisfy all smoke tolerances.

    If you enjoy an intense, peated dram, he’ll serve you a classic whiskey-based cocktail made using an Islay whisky. “Obviously you’re going to get a lot more of the peat than the other ingredients,” he says, “but something like an Old Fashioned — that’s a cocktail that’s supposed to celebrate the principal spirit anyway.”

    For those who prefer peat to play a supporting role, Burns incorporates much smaller amounts into his cocktails, using it as a seasoning rather than the base for the drink.

    Elixir’s Wild Pony cocktail, for example, blends (unpeated) Toki Japanese Whisky with Cardamaro, a wine-based aperitif, and pear brandy. A “mist” of Laphroaig sprayed from an atomizer adds the finishing touch, much like the peated single-malt float served over a Penicillin. “It gives this beautiful bouquet on the nose, but without the overly heavy peat flavor,” Burns says.

    Simon Brooking, a Scotch whisky ambassador for Beam Suntory (Laphroaig’s parent company), recommends a similar approach. “I would suggest swirling a few drops of Laphroaig in your glass as a rinse,” he tells VinePair. “It can be the perfect smoky addition to your vodka or gin Martini.”

    To match the powerful profile of peat, Ewan Gunn, Diageo’s global master of whisky, turns to the sweet notes of cola. Its vanilla sweetness counters the whisky’s smoky intensity, and the combination comes with the added bonus of “gleefully outraging some die-hard (and often closed-minded) whisky snobs,” he says.

    Islay whisky distillery Laphroaig is one of the largest producers of peated Scotch.

    How to Pair Peated Scotch With Food

    For food pairings, Gunn chooses game meats like venison, grouse, and pheasant, whose intense flavors match those of peated Scotch. As an alternative, he says the sharpness of blue cheese cuts through the “smoky earthiness” of whiskies such as Lagavulin.

    Burns and Brooking highlight seafood as a worthy partner to help bring out the mineral, saline notes of the whisky. Best of all, they say, is peated whisky and oysters.

    Known by many in the whisky business as an “oyster luge,” there are a few different schools of thought on how to properly execute the pairing. Some choose simply to follow the oyster with a shot of the whisky, while others add a dram of peated Scotch into the oyster shell along with the brine and mollusk, and consume all three together.

    Others go even further and follow a careful ritual that involves first sipping the oyster brine from the shell, washing it down with a splash of Scotch, eating the juicy oyster, and finally refilling the shell with one final generous dram.

    For an island whisky made by the sea, there’s simply no better send-off.

    (As a former chef and current drinks writer, I’m wary of placing too much importance on food and drinks pairings they should be viewed as suggestions and not rules. But then there are combinations so singularly exquisite, I believe everyone should try them at least once in their life: Peated whisky and oysters is one such pairing.)

    How to Cook with Peated Scotch

    Another delicious interaction between seafood and peated Scotch sees it used as a seasoning when curing salmon. Riffing on Scandinavian gravlax, in his book “Hacking Whiskey,” VinePair contributor Aaron Goldfarb suggests using an Islay Scotch to create “Single-Malt Lox.”

    “I’ve always liked lox on my bagels,” he writes, “but, hmmm, they’re never quite Scotchy enough now, are they?” VinePair’s very own recipe for gravlax can be adapted as such, simply by swapping out the aquavit for peated Scotch, and omitting the caraway seeds, juniper berries, and dill.

    Home cooks can also utilize the smoky notes of peated whisky as a substitute for a smoker when preparing and cooking meats. “Laphroaig 10 Year Old is a great addition to a basting sauce for your brisket,” Brooking says, while Burns recommends whipping up a glaze by reducing an Islay whisky with honey and lemon.

    In the end, it’s all about personal — and admittedly, expensive — experimentation. Whether you’re mixing a peated Scotch cocktail, searching for the ideal food pairing, or experimenting in the kitchen, a little splash of peat goes a long way.

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