Ever feel like you’re close to finding the whisky of your dreams, but time and circumstances get in the way? Well, today’s your day, because Ryan Engen, Wine & Beyond’s Director of Spirits, is going to help you find your whisky match, once and for all!
Ryan believes there’s a whisky for everyone. With the vast amount of flavours you can get from whisky, there’s bound to be something that pleases your palate. Whisky’s range from light and fruity, honeyed and nutty, to robust and smoky. There’s seemingly an infinite amount of flavour combinations that come from the grains, the wood, and the oxygen as it ages. Ryan encourages novice whisky drinkers to try as many varieties as possible, because he says it’s the only way to learn about your preferences. He suggests attending whisky tasting events because they offer great discussion and a way to discover your unique whisky style.
HOW TO PREPARE YOUR TASTE BUDS
“Try to keep out any strong external fragrances, such as perfume, that can conflict with the whisky’s delicate flavour notes,” explains Ryan. He stresses that spicy foods and smoking affect the taste of whisky. He recommends adding water to your drink because the water opens up the oils in the whisky, allowing more aromas to become present. He is adamant about drinking plenty of water in between sips of whisky, and having bread or crackers to cleanse the palate.
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF A WHISKY TOUR
“Generally I find that a person can only handle 6 or 7 whisky samples during a tasting before the palate needs a rest,” says Ryan. He explains that tours are great because your palate gets a chance to rest while walking around the distillery and learning about how whisky is being made.
HOW TO BECOME A WHISKY CONNOISSEUR
Ryan continues to develop his knowledge on a daily basis. Lately, he’s been diving even deeper into the chemistry behind whisky’s unique flavours. He won’t stop until he knows what factors give the spirit a green apple note, for example. He’s obsessed with barrel char levels, and how they affect the whisky as it ages.
WHISKY LINGO 101
Lately, Ryan’s been saying ‘cask strength’ a lot. That’s because whisky drinkers are moving into higher proof alcohol and enjoying whiskies with enhanced complexity. The win-win for these whiskies is that they are giving seasoned whisky drinkers new tasting avenues, and these higher alcohol whiskies create unique and flavour-rich cocktails.
Ryan Engen, Director of Spirits Recommends…
Currently Ryan’s go-to whiskies are: Redbreast Lustau Irish Whiskey, Glen Moray 15 Year-Old Single Malt, and Lot 40 Cask Strength. “All of these whiskies have so much complexity. I can sit with them for an hour and there’s so much to learn in how the liquid develops in the glass,” notes Ryan.
So, there you have it. Don’t just sip and move on. Sip, wait, and study.