Okay, so it’s sad to admit this, but I am not much of a drinker these days. Sadder still, when you go to countries like Scotland and Ireland and whiskey is a national drink or a beer is, and you don’t really do either, you feel a bit out of place. In my youth I could drink some heavy drink, not to say that I didn’t suffer the next day, but I certainly could hold it better. Back in the day, though it was Vodka for me. I spent many nights in Irish and Scots pubs in San Francisco, but could never develop a taste for the amber liquids. I hope to change that as I have found that true whiskey is so not what it is in the states. It’s a rare thing that needs appreciation.
Having a taste for something like whiskey means growing up with it. In Ireland and the UK in general, alcoholic beverages take on a different aspect to how we view such things in the US. Well, granted we all look at it as a good time, and see what happened when we had Prohibition, we just wanted it more. So the attitude to take when you are in another country, is yes, try the wonderful varieties of whiskey, but think a bit before you do. In the US we have our versions of Scotch and various whiskeys with an American twist, but it’s nothing compared to true Irish or Scots whiskeys. Simply put, our soil is very different and we don’t have as much bog, we got swamp, and well if you got swap you got some bog, but not like in these countries. In the US, our alcohol content is not as high as other in other countries. In the US we still have our mentality of supersize me, when we pour a whiskey it’s maybe a half glass of liquid, but not made like it is in the UK or Ireland. It’s a bit watered down. We view it like we do in excess of soda pop or anything else we have in the states. We have a lot at once. It’s quantity, not quality.
Have that mentality in the Uk and Ireland and sticker shock will get you. Alcoholic drinks are heavily taxed in the UK, it’s what drives the price up. You will get a smaller portion very exactly measured out. And whiskey is traditionally a dram. It’s a wee amount. I have been told by whiskey enthusiasts that true, well done whiskey is best in small amounts and should be savored, rolled on tongue and many other tasting rituals that we do. If you are an American and ask for a half glass of Scotch at a pub, they will just look at you. Ask for a Whiskey and be prepared, there are so many varieties you have never encountered unless you belong to a whiskey club in the US.
Then we come to the fun part. Tourists have become big enthusiasts in tasting tours. We love them, even when we are not on tour at home. People go to beer tastings, Sake tastings, and of course whiskey. But it is oh so different in the UK and Ireland, and your sommelier will enlighten you so. Listen up. There are so many establishments wanting your business, banking on your tourism that they blast the pipes music out the doors and hope you’ll come tasting with them. So how do you tell the good with the bad? How do you figure out having a quality experience? If you are traveling with a group, decide what it is that you want from a tasting. Not everyone will like the whiskey, so go somewhere that also has a bit of wine or beer on tap just in case. But go with this in mind: You are going to have a verra small taste of the hundreds of distilleries in the country. It is a discovery of what you like and may prefer. Let your taste develop, don’t think of it as a brand like you do in the states. It’s a name, like a fine wine, only a great deal of time is spent on its creation, up to 30 years aging. So, don’t get too intimidated, talk to the sommelier. Admit you have only had American style and want the real thing. Yeah, in the US we get most of our alcohol courtesy of our immigrants heritage and much was changed in the process. So be prepared for a little going a long way.
And to truly make a appreciation, take a distillery tour. All major and many minor labels have a tour of their facilities. If you can squeeze one in your travels, you will greatly appreciate the art of drinking when you see what goes into it. And what the heck with peat? Peat is used in the kiln during the heating during the drying process for the malt. This gives it a smoky flavor. Yes, in the US most of us heat with wood, in the UK and Ireland sod burning still goes on.
How to not get overwhelmed by so many whiskey choices? Check out some articles on places to try whiskey in Scotland and Ireland, take your friends and just try a wee tasting. It may take a while but you will find a whiskey or two that you enjoy.
Oh, and if you are visiting friends in the UK or Ireland find out what their favorites are and get them on the plane or at airport, duty free. As I have said, it’s very expensive and host gifting is still very big in these cultures. If they can get a really nice bottle from you that will make them very happy.
Bring bottle of aspirin when you travel.
Don’t forget, in Ireland, there’s a whiskey museum. Now how good is that?