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A Quick Whisky Primer for St. Patrick’s Day

March 15, 2019

By Dick Snyder | Journalist and Co-founder of Drink Toronto

As St. Paddy’s Day approaches, it’s imperative that you drink as much whisky as possible. Or whiskey — with an “e” — if you prefer. Or beer. Or whatever’s handy. Really, it’s just imperative that you drink something with heft, and you do it with fortitude and concentration. Because you’re not a savage, are you?

To help you on your quest for a good drink of whisk(e)y, here’s a primer… Yes, St. Paddy’s Day is an Irish holiday, and most folks equate “true” whisky with the Scots. But we at Drink Toronto are equal opportunity imbibers. We love all whiskies. And on that note, it’s important to know that the Americans and the Irish like to spell whiskey with an “e.” The rest of the world — yay, Canada! — is into efficiency. We spell it whisky. Because: why waste an “e”?

So for the purposes of St. Paddy’s Day — and the betterment of whisk(e)y drinking of all varieties — we’re providing a short list of our favourite whiskies. They may not be the best whiskies in the world — we leave that to the critics and award-bestowers — but these are our picks of the top whiskies that we are drinking right now

St. Patrick's Day - Whisky

First a few tips and interesting bits of information, ripped off quite liberally from whisky expert Dave Broom’s important book “Whisky: The Manual,” along with a few other whisky books and assorted drunken knobs I’ve met at various bars around the world.

  1. Add water to your whisky. Just do it. A teaspoon (5 mL) or so will do, added to a 1.5 ounce pour. It takes the edge off — there are chemical reasons for this that we won’t go into — and makes it more appealing. It just does. Anyone who argues with you and tells you it’s not appropriate is a boor. Walk away. You do not need their permission.
  2. Try a blend. Blended whisky is the original whisky. Single malts or single grain whiskies are a modern invention. And you’ll pay a premium to enjoy them. Blended whiskies are often more palatable, more pleasant, less expensive and less fussy. They are softer and more approachable. (See note about boor above.)
  3. Try a single malt or single grain whisky. Decide for yourself. Consider these the Ferraris of whiskey — high octane, and not for everyone. And you shouldn’t want one just to show off.
  4. Be honest with yourself  on whether or not peated whiskies — we’re talking Scottish and some Irish here — make you happy. Peat lends a smokey, charred note that can be overwhelming. Or it can be amazing. Irish whiskies are generally not peated, but there are exceptions. Similarly, there are Scottish whiskies that are not peated.
  5. Mix your whisky with soda, ginger ale, cola, ginger beer… experiment and OWN it! (Dave Broom even likes coconut water or green tea in some of his whiskies.)
  6. Just take the opportunity to try a new whisky. Expand your horizons. Be free.
  7. Please don’t put anything green into your whiskey. You’re grown up enough to understand why. (Except green tea, as noted above.)
Bearface Whisky - Whisky

Bearface Triple Oak Canadian Whisky

$39.95 LCBO: 573402

A brand new whisky to hit the market this year, and already it has already been declared “best new whisky” at the Canadian Whiskey Awards, where it also received a Gold Medal for Excellence. It’s made with 100% corn and aged for 7 years in a combination of French, Hungarian and French oak.

Mix it: Ginger ale or cola. Brilliant in an Old Fashioned.

Writers Tears - Whisky

Writers’ Tears Copper Pot Irish Whiskey

$46.95 LCBO: 271106

(Reg. $49.95. Save $3 until March 31.)

An unpeated Irish whiskey and absolutely easy drinking and fruity. Really, it’s joy in a glass. Don’t think too hard about it, just dive in. It’s a combination of single malt whiskies aged in bourbon casks, with traits of vanilla, ginger and apple.

Mix it: Soda for sure! Ginger ale is nice.

Makers Mark - Whisky

Maker’s Mark Kentucky Bourbon

$40.25  LCBO: 103747

(Reg. $45.25. Save $5 until March 31.)

A classic bourbon with serious personality, derived from its use of wheat as the grain of choice. Perfumed and floral on the nose, with lots of heft and oak on the palate. Plus, it’s got a cool wax seal!

Mix it: Cola is king, but ginger ale is nice too. Dave Broom also recommends green tea or coconut water — how’s that for exotic?!

balvenie

The Balvenie 12 Year Old Doublewood Scotch Whisky

$94.95 LCBO: 387316

A single malt Scotch of the highest order, almost too easy to fall in love with its honey and toasty vanilla notes. Don’t let the “doublewood” scare you, this whisky achieves perfect harmony. It’s not woody, but rather mature, with notes of dried fruit and nuts.

Mix it: Killer with soda at a 1:1 ratio. Cola good too. But do try it with just a little water, too.

Famous Grouse - whisky

The Famous Grouse Scotch Whisky

$30.45 LCBO: 52050

Cheap and cheerful and entirely respectable, this Scotch blend is a favourite of critics and hoi polloi alike. There are some tropical notes here, like orange and banana, and an even toffee note that’s the central attraction.

Mix it: Ginger ale is lovely. Coconut water is Broom’s idea.

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