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A mature drink: a beginners guide to whisky
I consider drinking whisky as a hobby; I'm a full-on whisky geek, writes Mike Pyle.
Many people will say that sitting around boozing is not a legitimate hobby but I beg to differ. There is a whole world of whisky out there and learning how to appreciate the finer points of the world's favourite spirit can be a lifelong pursuit.
Sadly, all too many people think whisky comes in squared off bottles and should be served with Coca-Cola or that it is something only old men drink. Happily, neither is the case but it is about time more people embraced good scotch.
The best place to start is by establishing exactly what whisky is - which can be a difficult thing so I decided to ask an expert.
Clapham based whisky blogger Sean Sunderland said: "It's essentially fermented grain, or malt - which doesn't really sound that nice I suppose.
"The flavour comes from all sorts of things - the grain, whether the grain has been dried over peat, the water, the barrel or barrels it has been matured in. That's why no two whiskies are the same and, in fact, two whiskies can quite often taste like totally different things."
That's the science part. In practice what this means is that some whiskies taste smoky because the grains have taken on the flavour of the peat they have been cooked over while others can take on the flavours of barrels they're matured in, which can from the particular wood they're made from or can be from other spirits that have previously been stored in the barrels like sherry or port.
When from Scotland it is called Whisky, and from Ireland or the US whiskey - although there are exceptions to the rule, notably the excellent whisky coming out of Japan.
The end result is that there is an absolute shedload of different ones out there. So where do you start? Sunderland says: "Most people start on terrible, terrible ones like Jack Daniels or Bell's and go away thinking they don't like whisky. So the most important thing is to start with something that's actually decent.
"That doesn't mean you need to go spending a tonne of money. You can get a good single-malt for £30-£40. That might sound like a lot of money but this isn't something you're going to swill down in a night.
"I'd go for something quite straightforward like Glenmorangie or Auchentoshan. Peaty, smoky whiskies are a bit of an acquired taste so I'd save them for further down the line."
The last thing you'll need to know is where to find these whiskies - and fortunately that's not hard as most good pubs will have a selection of whiskies and a barman who knows what he's on about.
So, what are you waiting for - pop down to your local and change your life!
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