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What do you suggest for someone trying to get into whiskey?

I have always loathed the stuff. I mean, put 1/4 oz. into a cocktail and I will find it - and hate it. I've tried Scotch, Irish whiskey, bourbon, rye, Tennesee whiskey. I don't like Cognac or brandy either. However, working in the spirit/wine world, I am very often criticized for not being able to "appreciate the complexities" of a good whiskey. Always been a wine, gin, and amaro type of person. I appreciate the freshness/crispness of gin and the medicinal qualities of amaro. I do not appreciate the intense smokiness/tobacco/leather/etc. that I get from whiskey.

Is there a particular style or brand that is ideal to ease a person into whiskey? People always suggest that I try bourbon first, because no one can not like bourbon. Most bartenders tell me to try Scotch because it's more focused and easy on the palate than other things. There is just too much information out there and I don't have the patience to figure this out.

I'd love some suggestions - or ideas - or anything.

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  1. I would think good Irish whiskey should be the easiest "eas-ing" into whiskey. Irish whiskey is distilled three times which makes it a bit lighter and I find that newbies find the flavor more approachable than, say, Laphroaig (a smokey Islay Scotch Whiskey), although you never know. Irish whiskies are lighter bodied and tend to have more honey/citrus flavors.

    That said, I would try Redbreast which is a higher-end, pot-still Irish whiskey. If you can't find that, you could try Bushmills Black label. It should be available at any bar with a decent whiskey selection. On the lower end, I've always found powers solid and certainly a notch above Jameson/Bushmills (White).

    The world of Scotch Whiskey is huge (flavor-wise), and I suppose an easy drinking Speyside like Balvenie 12 or even a blend like Dewars is what the bartenders you've talked to are thinking, but I can understand even those being overwhelming. A blended scotch like Dewars over ice can be an easy way to get into whiskey as well. Many many people begin drinking blended whiskey over ice before eventually moving to no-ice and/or single malts.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Klunco

      I would totally agree with the Irish idea. Bushmills was my gateway into whiskey and tho it is not the most complex, it is easy on the palate. Balvanie makes some great non smokey Scotch for those of us not into drinking peat or campfire.

      1. re: budnball

        I'll be more specific. Balvenie makes a 14 year aged in Rum casks. This is a very easy drinking Scotch.

        Black Bush is a whiskey that drinks like a dry sherry, although my husband unhelpfully says "Black Bush tastes like Black Bush."

        1. re: Indy 67

          Does your husband smirk when he says that? ;)

    2. My first response to the headline was "a lock on the liquor cabinet" but then I realized that's not what you're asking. If you're a gin and Amaro person you might not like the sweetness of whiskey - I'd go with rye or scotch over bourbon or Irish if that's the case. If you're looking Scotch, look for highland over island - less intense smokiness. I like the Dalmore or Glenmorangie.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Savour

        Nice response Savour!
        I was always a "white" liquor guy. Gin and Vodka, until I had a Wild Turkey 101 Rye with a single cube.
        Suddenly a light bulb went on.
        The smooth complexity and spiciness with a real discernible midpalate and a true finish... I never knew such exquisite flavors existed in a liquor.
        I now can now even appreciate your more "acerbic" single malts but really prefer Rye or good Bourbon.

      2. Out of curiosity, what whiskey cocktails have you tried that you find distasteful?

        1. I am tempted to suggest you don't go with a straight whiskey, scotch, bourbon, etc.

          You may want to ease into this by looking at something like Irish Mist which is an Irish Whiskey base blended with heather, honey and other spirits. Or maybe Grand Marnier which has a cognac base with orange essence and sugar. Drambuie is a malt whiskey base. So you might want to start off with one or some of these.

          If you can develop a taste for those and then move up to something like Bushmills.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Scott M

            I did get into scotch in college by drinking Rusty nails (Scotch and Drambuie).

            1. re: Scott M

              Drambuie is what got me interested in Scotch in the first place.

            2. Balvenie is a very smooth scotch whisky for beginners. Also, as an inexpensive (but very nice) option, there's a brand called Jon, Mark and Robbo's that makes three scotch whiskies called "the spicy one," "the peaty one," and "the smooth sweeter one." I would recommend the smooth one to start with.

              1. I'm not sure you can train yourself to like whiskey if you have always loathed the stuff, but here are some suggestions.

                Based on what you like and your descriptions of why you like them, I would suggest rye whiskey, which has some of the same botanical notes in gin; sometimes I even pick up a juniper note. Try Bulleit Rye or Rittenhouse to get those flavors at a good price.

                Woodford Reserve is a particularly medicinal bourbon that you might like as well given your love of amaro.

                1. I would think an Old Fashioned cocktail could be one point of entry, maybe with a wheated bourbon like Old Weller Antique or Makers Mark. The sugar and ice dilution help tame the spirit a bit, without masking the inherent whiskey character of the drink.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tomjb27

                    I think this is a great idea. The Old Fashioned was my intro to whiskey and has been both a great teacher and go-to.

                  2. I'd suggest a sweet Scotch. Remember, not all Scotch is smoky. A lot of it is very light and quite sweet. Glenmorangie and the basic Balvenie are nice light single malt scotches which are widely available. That said, if you hate cognac, then maybe those won't exactly win you over.

                    For bourbons, I'm tempted to suggest Dickel 12, which is a sweeter Tennessee Whiskey that is devoid of anything resembling leather, tobacco, and smoke. I drink it neat, but you may want to experiment with adding water to tamp down some of the burn, as well as simply trying to develop a taste for bourbon over ice.

                    Finally, as SKU said, maybe a grassy rye would be good. I'd suggest Jefffersons.

                    All that being said, maybe you just don't like whiskey.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: The Big Crunch

                      i'm not sure sweet is the way to go. the OP likes things "fresh...crisp...medicinal."

                      1. re: The Big Crunch

                        The Dalwhinnie 15-year single-malt drinks about as smoothly as any malt whisky I have ever tasted.

                      2. >>> I'd love some suggestions - or ideas - or anything. <<<

                        First of all, I'd ask, "Why bother?" If you don't like it, you don't like it. Period. Think of the the money you'll save by keeping that door "closed," so to speak . . . .

                        Secondly, if you *are* determined to go forward, then -- yes -- I believe Irish is the place to start.

                        >>> People always suggest that I try bourbon first, because no one can not like bourbon. <<<

                        Really? I hated Bourbon until I got into my 50s.

                        >>> Most bartenders tell me to try Scotch because it's more focused and easy on the palate than other things. <<<

                        Really? Used to really enjoy Scotch in my 30s. Now I drink it rarely.

                        >>> Always been a wine, gin, and amaro type of person. I appreciate the freshness/crispness of gin and the medicinal qualities of amaro. I do not appreciate the intense smokiness/tobacco/leather/etc. that I get from whiskey. <<<

                        Really? What about the tobacco/leather/etc. qualities one gets from a well aged bottle of truly fine Bordeaux.

                        1. I like good examples of all whiskies...

                          In general it's up to your palate what, if anything, you'll ultimately like. But in general I think American whisky is the most interesting place to start... more versatile, you can work it into more cocktails IMO than other types.... or water it to your palate... shoot me, but I started out with bourbon and coke and still love it.... Something about American whisky I find just has more interesting flavor nuances...

                          The key is serving the whisky straight OR blended to your palate preferences...

                          In Americans I give everyone the same suggestion... try Eagle Rare or Buffalo Trace straight and in a variety of mixes. If you don't like those you probably won't like anything, and that's okay too.

                          Scotch is more of an acquired taste, IMO, I like it with a splash of water... best to go to a well-stocked bar and try a few brands to see what you like and how you like it mixed.

                          Happy tasting and please report back...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: TombstoneShadow

                            "Something about American whisky I find just has more interesting flavor nuances.

                            I'd have to disagree. I love bourbon, and have drank a LOT of the stuff, but in terms of diversity of flavors, Scotch is another world entirely. The variety of flavors and established distilleries in the world of Scotch dwarfs bourbon. True, their are a ton of micro-distilleries on the scene in the US selling not only bourbon, but non-bourbon American whiskeys, but at this point the prices are high and in general, the quality is usually not there. Furthermore, since so many "micro-distilleries" are currently just hocking NDP juice, either as their sole product or to make money while their eventual product ages, the result is a lot of bourbon from the same places (Heaven Hill, MGP) under different names.

                            Don't get me wrong - bourbon and rye are far more versatile in cocktails, at least in terms of the classics. Furthermore, I also agree that Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace are perfectly god bourbons to try in order to see if you really like bourbon. However, in terms of flavors, only rum offers a more diverse world.

                          2. Irish coffee! It was my "gateway whiskey" drink

                            Jameson was what I had in Ireland, but I've done Bushmills and 2 Gingers at home with good results. The flavors are there, but they are muted by the other "stuff" happening.

                            Or just accept you don't like it. I don't like beer. And that's that on the subject. If people try to tell me it's an acquired taste, I say that's fine, I just don't want to spend the calories to acquire the taste

                            1. I'd go with a lowland Scotch. They're lighter and sweeter and more of a summertime spirit. I recently had Auchentoshan Classic. It's inexpensive and uncomplicated. I'd say it's the Pinot Grigio of the single malt world. A bit maligned because of its simplicity, but it does have a place. I would call it a "Scotch for people who don't like Scotch". Give it a try, in any case the financial commitment is low.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: aaronhirsch

                                I am going to second this. I recently had a glass of the Auchentoshan (thank god you spelled it for me) and it was light and sightly sweet. It isn't for me because of that, but I can imagine if I were a new drinker it would be a good gateway scotch.