Tips to help open up our world

Our Society experts have some advice of their own to help you convert a newcomer to the delights of single cask appreciation

John McCheyne, SMWS master brand ambassador:

I find the best approach is to ask a newcomer to nose the whisky blind and focus entirely on the flavour – most people will be pleasantly taken aback.

Sometimes, a simple sniff of a single cask whisky – maybe something with a whiff of dark chocolate in a summer meadow, or a stormy harbour on an island – can be enough to get the olfactory glands going and cause surprise or astonishment. But the first sip has to be measured and chewed in the mouth. Then add a little water to deal with the fear of that cask strength whisky in the glass.

Euan Campbell, SMWS spirits manager:

Finding out what other drinks people enjoy is always a good place to start.

By selecting an active first fill barrel for a bourbon drinker, you are already in familiar territory for the new Scotch drinker. Perhaps a heavily sherried whisky might go down well with a spiced rum drinker, with its flavours of fruitcake, cinnamon and cloves. Once you notice the similarities between matured spirits it becomes easier to try new things and discover whole categories of previously uncharted enjoyment.

Another good entry point for people who haven’t given whisky a chance is a tasting with some food. Chocolate matches very well with all styles of whisky, and can help to accentuate the fruit and vanilla flavours in the drams. It can also make the texture a little more manageable for those who are not used to high strength drinks.

Hans Offringa, SMWS honorary ambassador, The Netherlands:

If someone isn’t used to drinking cask strength whisky, I recommend that they take a sip of water first, then the whisky – to the point that they appreciate the taste but are not offended by the bite of the high alcohol percentage and avoid the burn of the alcohol in their mouth. It’s like diluting the water with whisky, instead of the other way around.

Olaf Meier, SMWS ambassador, Scotland / Germany:

Choose a selection of whiskies that are very different – the Society’s 12 flavour profiles are a great help but you can also choose by different maturations from different kinds of casks. That also gives you different colours, and there’s nothing nicer for a feast of the eyes than a range of colours. You could go for old whiskies versus young, smoky versus non-smoky. The choice is endless, but go for one theme – don’t overdo it the first time.

Matt Bailey, SMWS ambassador, Australia:

Going from non-whisky drinker to an SMWS single cask convert is best done by pouring them three glasses of Society whisky: one grain, one sherry-casked and one ex-bourbon..

Start with the grain cask. Add three to four teaspoons of water and wait a moment for its inner-sweetness to blossom. Then ask them to have a nose and a small lip-coating taste. Talk about the unique white-sugar-like sweetness a great grain often exhibits.

Do the same for the ex-bourbon cask, but if possible try using a slightly spirit-heavy dram, for example from our Juicy, Oak & Vanilla flavour profile. Then again with the sherry-casked whisky. Don’t worry about small details – work out which dram sits best for them, which flavour profiles they most like from those, and go from there.

As for peated whisky? I’d recommend a selection from the Society’s Lightly Peated, Peated and even Heavily Peated profiles. As my fellow SMWS ambassador John McCheyne says: “Don’t graduate to single cask, start there.”