Dark, smoky, and found in every major city in the world, whisky’s distinct name, colour, and taste has become an omnipresent piece of our society.
It’s there at major business functions, it’s there at dinners you need to impress someone at, and it was more than present during those young, free, and fresh-faced days when we were still figuring our ways around the adult world and their drinks.
But for all its presence, most of us are still not all that familiar with whisky. In fact, apart from the professionals and serious whisky aficionados, how much of this household liquor do we know?
How big of a deal are the years on the label? How should whisky really be drunk? Is “single malt” always better?
This month, we speak to Edwin and Edwiana, founders of Ethed Collective – purveyors of the finest whisky tasting sets – and avid whisky lovers, to finally set some of those laymen questions and misconceptions to rest.
No, they’re not siblings.
How would you describe whisky and what it embodies to the laymen?
If I were to offer a super simplistic description, which definitely does not do whisky enough justice, I’d say that whisky tastes malty, smooth, with a hint of smoke and a deep complexity. It embodies the science and art of craftsmanship, from harvesting the basic malt to ageing it into a fine golden liquid.
Conventionally, it would be drunk from a tasting glass which opens up the spirit’s aroma and taste.
So what’s the best way to drink whisky?
Wah, that’s a very loaded question. Everybody has different preferences, but for us, we’d start off drinking a particular whisky neat first. Try to taste and experience it in its entirety. After that, it’s really up to the individual.
There is no real right or wrong way to taste or drink whisky. Ultimately, as long as you love it, whichever way you drink it is the right way for you.
Edwiana quips that she “likes the cold” touch, so she adds ice to her whisky after the initial round. “It changes the way it tastes.” She adds that “if you’re up for more fun,” you can throw in any mix of your own preferences as well. Believe it or not, one of her personal favourites is mixing ginger ale with her whisky.
Some people even do whisky with durian, they told us.
What about Whisky vs. Cognac?
Cognac is made from grapes, whisky is made from grains. So that grape flavour does separate them. Cognac tends to have hints of raisins, grapes, grape peels, and so on. But in terms of general flavour profile, they may come quite close. So people who love cognac, usually also do find whisky bearable, and vice versa.
How are they different from other spirits then?
Unlike other spirits like rum or tequila that use molasses or agave, whisky is made from grains like barley, corn, or rye. What we feel sets whisky apart from the rest is the way it is matured. Whisky is aged in barrels for years and that imparts a truly distinct flavour to the liquid. It takes on a spirit or personality that we feel isn’t as present in most other spirits.
Enlighten us about the differences between types of whiskies
There are so many different types out there. As a rule of thumb, “whiskey” with an “e” is usually indicative of Irish or American whiskeys, while “whisky” (without the “e”) is indicative of those from Scotland or have Scottish influences like Canadian or Japanese whiskies.
Other than geographical differences, there are multiple regions within countries like Scotland that specialise in different whiskies. For example, Islay whiskies tend to use peat during their drying process and they tend to take on a more pungent taste and smell. Whiskies from the highlands, lowlands, and surrounding islands all have their own distinct tastes.
When it comes to taste profiles, it’s really quite hard to pinpoint specific rules to go by. Even within the same region, whiskies may have distinct differences from distillery to distillery.
What about single vs. blended malts – are single malts really better?
With regard to taste, that’s not entirely true. Especially with the older and bigger distilleries, blended malts are put together by their master blenders and are often really delicious whiskies.
Single malts are given much more attention simply because they represent a single pedigree. They give connoisseurs a chance to identify and experience the entire taste, texture, and unique personality of that individual whisky.
What do you recommend for beginners or laymen looking to explore the world of whisky?
It’s hard to say. Because everyone’s palate is so different, we believe it’s actually more of a trial and error process to discover what you really like or dislike.
This is also where Ethed Collective sets come into play. Instead of having to choose and commit to an entire bottle, you can try all the different whiskies in our editions and from there, really find one that you like.
Does the number of years really matter that much?
So the first two Ethed Collective sets were themed around 18 year whiskies. 18 years is generally deemed as the “pinnacle” of most major distilleries around the world. They’re not too atas, like those above 20, 30 years that cost thousands of dollars, yet they’re refined and exquisite in their quality. So it really is the perfect starting point – both for whisky drinkers and for us as a company.
What sets Ethed Collective’s tasting sets apart from others in the market?
Instead of just selling whisky, we are selling an experience. Our editions are curated around themes like 18 years (their age), sweeter notes or spicier flavours (their taste). Our smaller edition focuses on whiskies with floral notes, and our latest GlenAllachie edition is curated to help people taste the variety they can get within a single distillery.
On top of that, we provide tasting notes that serve as a guide to what smells and tastes you can expect when drinking the various whiskies. We’ve also included suggestions on a couple of ways to work through each set to have the best experience.
And finally, our boxes are specially designed to keep the tubes safe in an elegant and aesthetic case, which are really great as gifts, especially when combined with our new in-house customisation service to tailor each set to your special recipient.
To find out more about Ethed Collective’s exquisite whisky tasting sets, visit their site here.