When it comes to whisky there is a wide range of types, flavours, strengths and designs out there. To someone new to whisky it can be a bit overwhelming and very difficult to know what’s good and what’s not.
Is a single malt better then a blend? Is an older malt better than a younger malt or an NAS? Is whisky better than whiskey? Is Japanese whisky now better than Scottish whisky? Does the ABV affect the quality of a whisky? Is a darker whisky better than a lighter one?…. I could go on and on with a whole host of questions I’ve heard people ask, none of which can really tell you whether to buy a whisky or not.
Ultimately when it comes to what’s good and whats not in the world of whisky there is no straightforward answer. It all comes down to personal taste and what may taste amazing to one person may taste awful to the next. So how the hell does someone new to whisky know where to start?
This is where style can be a big influence. I know that a flashy bottle does not a good whisky make, but that doesn’t stop me from buying a whisky because I like the look of the bottle without having any idea what the whisky inside will taste like. Is this a bad thing? In my opinion, no it’s not. Without trying a whisky you have no way to know whether you’ll truly like it or not, so what choice do you have but to pick a whisky based on its appearance?
That said I would never recommend avoiding a whisky based on the appearance of the bottle (something I have been guilty of in the past) for the same reasons. Until you try a whisky you have no idea what it will taste like. A stylish bottle can draw you in and will look great on your shelf, which is great if you want a whisky for display, but if you want a whisky to drink don’t let style be the only thing you think about.
So how do you know whether a whisky is all style and no substance for visa versa? Obviously tasting notes are good starting point. If you have an idea of the sort of whisky you like it will give you an indication as to whether it’s right for you or not. However once again personal taste is everything and what one person gets may not be the same as what the next person will get when tasting. The only true way to know if you will like a whisky or not is to try it!
If it’s only a £25 bottle it’s not the end of the world if you don’t like it but if you’re looking at spending £50+ you may not want to fork out without knowing what you’re getting. Luckily for us there are a range of services these days offering samples, so you can try before you buy as it were. I’d highly recommend Drinks by the Dram via Masters of Malt as a good starting point – try before you buy and don’t let style override substance when it comes to buying whisky!