We know you love wine, but how about whiskey?
Spirits sommelier Heather Greene’s new book, Whisk(e)y Distilled, is a great primer for anyone looking to learn more about the world’s favorite brown spirit. There are chapters on deciphering tricky labels, what flavors to look out for and how to order with confidence.
But it’s great for wine lovers in particular, because Greene also knows how to speak wine. With the help of Master Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier of New York’s Rouge Tomate, Greene created a chart that matches up different types of wine for different whiskies. For example, do you like wines with lots of spice? Greene recommends trying out Rye, which is a peppery American-style whiskey made from rye grain.
We asked Greene for some basic pointers directed at wine lovers. Read the full interview below.
The Daily Sip: What are some quick and easy tips for wine lovers getting into whiskey?
Heather Greene: My first tip would be to identify the drinking occasion--the season, the accompanying dish, and time of day, for example. Most wine drinkers do this already.
For example, when it’s a warm, early summer evening, I’ll reach for a lighter-bodied, fruity, floral and quick-finishing whiskey: Irish whiskey, some non-peated single malt Scotches, and a few Japanese styles. I’ll put them on ice to condense the flavor a bit, mellowing the alcohol reception on my tongue. That helps reveal some of the prettier aromatics of the whiskey.
Winter calls for more robust, spicy, rich nutty whiskies – the Balvenie Portwood 21 comes to mind.
Next, identify the sorts of flavors you like in wine. Let’s say you love a wine that delivers aromatics like tobacco, orange rind, pepper, and cloves, something akin to young northern Rhone wines or white Bordeaux, as Pascaline writes in the chart. I plot those same aromatics and relate them to whiskies: High rye bourbons, and bourbons will deliver those same aromatics.
TDS: If you have a flight of say, three types of whiskey, how do you go about tasting them? Try a sip of each? Finish each one?
HG: Never finish each one, I say. Nose all of them, make your first judgment, and then taste them all, interchanging your glasses. This is the best way to compare. In my book, I guide readers through that process. That said, I am an advocate of changing tasting order as much as possible. You can literally neutralize or change the flavors of a particular whiskey (or wine) depending on what came before it. This has to do with human adaptability in nosing and tasting, also something I cover at length.
TDS: Is there an entry level whiskey that you recommend for people just getting into it?
HG: I believe that a good whiskey is one that will appeal to the novice and the connoisseur both. The problem with calling something a “novice whiskey” is that it implies that at some point the drinker will “graduate” up to something else. It also implies that we all have the same palate. I’ve seen new students fall crazy in love with big, smoky, peaty, briny Islay single malts from Scotland.
Smell and taste is just so subjective – we come to the table with our unique biology and culture, all of which influences are choices and preferences. My goal is to enrich students understanding of their own palate and build their confidence; to tap into their memories triggered, or give them the boost they need to say whatever they want about a whiskey, like “this tastes like caramel apples.”
That’s all good with me. As long as they are enjoying the sensuality of it all, I’m happy.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
Buy Greene’s book here: Whiskey Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life
Which types of whiskey do you enjoy sipping? Let us know below.
Photo Credit: Heather Greene