It came as quite a shock to me to realise that I actually like drinking on my own. One of the best evenings I’ve had in a while was spent with a couple of glasses of Octomore and a mix of Daft Punk and Gym Class Heroes. But there’s definitely something about a whisky shared that can’t be beat.
I love to have a dram with friends that wouldn’t otherwise drink a lot of whisky. There’s a tendency for people to start their journey by drinking bottom-shelf blends that aren’t really meant for drinking neat, or single malts that are aiming for drinkability rather than memorability. So I like to try to find something that creates an impression that is both lasting and pleasant. And while I know they may not entirely share my passion, I feel like I’ve feigned enough interest in philosophy and Linux over the years that they owe me one.
But how do you find a whisky that you know will go down well, even if most of the people drinking it aren’t really into whisky? Fear not, for I have been experimenting on my friends over the course of a succession of poker nights and other meet-ups, and I can now publish my (extremely rigorous) results:
Glendronach 12yo: A heavily sherried Highland, rich and creamy. This one went down well with everyone, lots of compliments, and the bottle didn’t last the night. Which was great for me, because I’m used to a few drams by now, and thus crushed the poker night.
Verdict: Very more-ish, one that everyone can get into and stay into.
Cragganmore 12yo: Soft and sweet, with a bit of smoke. A complex but light Speyside. Enjoyed by all, but not loved – more of a pleasant backdrop to the evening than the focus of it.
Verdict: No-one’s going to complain, but they’re probably not going to ask you to bring another next time either.
Hedonism Blended Grain Whisky: Vanilla-ey, biscuity, maybe a bit of banana? Not the most popular at first – a lot of comments about the unusual flavour – but grew on people, and everyone came back for more.
Verdict: A great session whisky – doesn’t leap out at you, but there are a lot of great flavours lingering beneath the surface to keep everyone interested.
Lagavulin 16yo: Big smokey beast, but with a rich, oily underbelly. Islay’s most iconic whisky (cue the complaints). One that everyone found interesting, but largely in an academic sense. One of my protégés compared it to Lapsang Souchong tea – I have never been more proud.
Verdict: Contrary to popular belief, it’s perfectly possible for a beginner to enjoy a peated whisky. It takes a little longer to get to the point where you can make a session out of it though.
Knob Creek Rye: Quite gentle for a rye, with a slightly artificial strawberries-and-cream fruitiness and soft spice. The 50% ABV was a bit strong for most of my friends, which is a shame, because I’d have loved to know how the unusual texture of a rye whiskey went down.
Verdict: Stick to a lower alcohol level – this one takes a bit of getting used to.
Nothing particularly ground-breaking there – it turns out that whisky novices, just like whisky pros, like a dram with plenty of flavour, but well rounded. You don’t have to steer clear of the peat, but probably something raw like Laphroaig or Smokehead is risky. I tend to forget that alcohol content can be a problem – of the 4 whiskies I’ve been cycling through recently, 3 are over 50% ABV, and 2 are over 60%. But the most important thing is to pick a whisky you like, and spread the love!