I travel the world educating drinkers about Scotch for a living. Most recently, I was in Taiwan for the annual Whisky Live show in Taipei. Over the course of two days, I conducted 10 masterclasses, during which a number of misconceptions surfaced. I thought I would debunk them in print, since plenty of you no doubt have similar questions.
PALE WHISKIES ARE NOT AS GOOD AS DARK WHISKIES.
This is a common mistake, especially in Asia, but color is an unreliable indicator of quality. In fact, many brands use flavorless spirit caramel to darken their products and maintain color consistency from batch to batch. But a pale spirit can be robust — like Cutty Sark, which was created specifically for the United States during Prohibition by London wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd.
WHISKY SHOULD BE DRUNK STRAIGHT.
No, whisky should be enjoyed just as you like it: straight, on the rocks, with soda (currently very popular in Japan), green tea (the Chinese love this), or coconut water (the craze in Brazil). But for full "appreciation," particularly of single malt, skip the ice and try a little water, which opens up the aroma and makes it easier to evaluate the taste.
HIGH-STRENGTH WHISKIES AREN’T WORTH IT.
Over the last few years, most distillers have introduced potent cask-strength bottlings. But these whiskies are not just gimmicks. Usually, the higher the proof of the alcohol, the more congeners it retains, which means bigger flavor. If you add a dash of water to a dram, these elements become volatile, enhancing the aroma.
PRICE = QUALITY.
Not necessarily. Quality is a matter of personal taste and is influenced by who you’re drinking with and where. But there is no guarantee you’ll like an expensive whisky more than you will an inexpensive one. The price reflects rarity, how long the distillery has had to hold on to the whisky and the cost of the packaging.
AGE = QUALITY.
This is perhaps the most debated topic. Older whiskies are usually, but not always, better. And there is a limit to how long a spirit can age. Too long and the original spirit character is dominated by flavors coming from the wood. But for many consumers, the age is really a justification for the price they paid.
Charles MacLean, Master of the Quaich and James Beard Award winner, is the author of 10 books on Scotch, including the Whiskypedia.