Learning how to drink Scotch (or Brandy)

I fell in love with the romantic notion of drinking Scotch long before I fell in love with drinking it.  I struggled through many glasses hoping that I would eventually “gain a taste for it.”  I was frustrated that I didn’t like it more and continued to push through.

My mentor (who helped me learn how to teach people, how to speak and also gave advice on other worldly things) taught me that just because I knew how to drink did not know I knew how to drink Scotch or Brandy.  Imagine that you have never eaten a scotch bonnet pepper, wasabi or a very spicy horseradish.  If you did not know their reputation for being hot would the knowledge of chewing and swallowing be enough experience to guide you safely through the consumption of these things?

Learning how to drink Scotch (or Brandy)

Many people who are new to these bevvies will fire some in a glass and drink it like they are drinking a rum and coke – a big swig that fills the mouth before firing it down the hatch.  Imagine if you tried the same with hot sauce!

I learned an expression this week called “a spiders ass.”  It’s a little crude, but effective.  It describes the amount of scotch you want to enter your mouth when consuming Scotch.  Note that I did not say “sip” – a sip is too large a quantity.  I was shown that I should take such a small amount that I should never have to swallow and just enough that would mix with my saliva and still allow me to speak (imagine doing that with a mouth full of rum and coke!)

Small tastings are still intense – a small bit of hot sauce is still hot after all.  The smaller tastes will actually allow you to taste the contents of your glass in more detail.  Slow and steady wins the race!

A small glass of scotch can take hours to go through.  It’s a process where I slowly marinate my mouth and develop the flavor layer by layer.  It is not entirely uncommon to drink several beer at the same time as I slowly work my way through a glass.  For absolute decadence, I will pour 3-4 very tiny glasses of different Scotches and do a tasting.  I will rarely drink more than an ounce of the finer Scotches in an evening.

In the UK a glass of Scotch is 7/8 of an ounce (compared to North America where 1.25 to 1.5 ounces are common) – the smaller size makes a lot of sense when consuming it in this matter.

Adding ice is generally regarded as disrespect to the glass as it will dilute the taste as  you savor it.  Some argue that it should be neat, others think that a small amount of water is required to open the tastes (more on why in the future).  When I do add water, I do so by putting a single finger under running water and then letting a few drops fall into my glass.

Do some people drink Scotch or Brandy by the bottle and a mouthful at a time?  Of course they do – just as I pile wasabi on my sushi.  But I love the heat of wasabi and am willing to sacrifice the flavor of sushi for it’s heat.  If you haven’t tried these drinks in this manner (remember, you have to be able to talk after inserting the liquid in your mouth), try it and let me know how it goes!

We have reviewed 2 bottles of Scotch at well preserved – both are at the extreme end of flavor (though very different from each other):

Laphroig Quarter Cask (which is very peaty/ earthy and includes free swampland in Scotland) – here.
1991 Lagavulin Distillers Edition (we delved into how to drink Scotch there as well) – verk smoky


  1. Nicely put Joel … too many times have I offered a scotch to someone (my personal favourite is Talisker) and watched in horror as they tried to swig the whole glass … suffice to say I merely smiled then as they suffered the consequences … but then mourned the loss of a good scotch gone too soon … :D

  2. The Glencairn Glass is likely to be the most useful glass for tasting whisky. It provides an ever better nosing experience than does a simple wine glass or goblet because the curvature of the glass flutes inward starting from the base to the top enabling more of the aroma being directed towards the whisky tasters nose. It’s also more comfortable to hold while having a decent weighting at the base. The Glencairne glass is also the right size for holding a proper measure of whisky. Remeber, its about quality, not quantity. By the way, we thought you’d be interested to know that the Glencairn Glass is the first style of glass to be endorsed by the whisky industry and members of the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) and used by every whisky company in Scotland.


    A lesson on Whisky Glasses

  3. Thanks for the post, I’m off to get a cheaper whisky (Johnny Walker perhaps) as my training wheels

    • Let us know how it goes – if it`s not too late buy small and you can try more! I started with Johnnie Walker and still like it though I find the smell very strong – almost enough to bring a tear to the eye.

      It`s kind of like riding a bike – takes a while to feel comfortable but after a while it`s a lot of fun…laugh…

      Thanks for checking us out!

  4. I appreciate you taking the time to write about your experience I found it very helpful!

  5. I love the Riedel Scotch glasses, the have the purfect shape for enjoying the perfect scotch.

  6. Jennifer England says:

    Funny, I always felt like such a wimp for drinking my scotch this way. It’s the only way I like it, but I thought I was a light weight. Also, Slow and Steady Wins the Race was my dear mother’s motto. She was a turtle but she was a brilliant one who almost always won the race. :)

  7. Frank Petersen says:

    I just started my Scotch experience, The Glenvlivet neat, followed by Glenmorangie on the rocks.

    I was a bit over whelmed by the brash alcohol smell and taste. I’m sampling the various regions and then will work on getting more accustomed to the experience.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Frank,

      That’s awesome – and thank you for letting me know. It’s quite motivating. :)

      You’ll find a lot of the regions are VERY different from each other – some smell way more of booze than others. I’m no pro but I’m still willing to learn. :)

  8. Any Scotch site is a good site! I like the way you have people taking their time tasting a dram of Scotch, well done. I will offer another alternative to starting people out on their Scotch journey. Instead of offering them 2 bang in your face bottles of scotch like Laphroig and Lagavulin from Islay known for the strongest whisky, perhaps a nice single malt like the 12 year old version of Glenlivet or Glenfiddich, both smooth and easy to drink neat.

    • Bill,

      I’m catching up on comments after vacation, sorry for the delay. You raise a great point! Lagavulin is a tough start! :) It’s funny – I started with whisky’s like Johnnie Walker and moved to some of the Glens and now found them almost more difficult than the Islay’s… I wonder what the perfect entry Scotch is? :)


  1. [...] intrigued as to how in the world someone could enjoy the taste, you may be interested in learning the basics of learning how to drink either.  As you`ll learn in that link, I learned from my mentor many years [...]

  2. [...] #11 Learning How to Drink Scotch (or Brandy) From 2009, I am touched that this is so popular as it is largely a tribute to my late mentor who taught me many things – including how to drink brandy and scotch.  He had dropped out of grade 9 three times before eventually graduating with a PhD in education.  I like to think that he’s still teaching people with this post.  He’d like that too. [...]

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