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Whisky for beginners: an introduction

So, you want to step into the world of whisky? We get that it can be a daunting task knowing which whisky to plump for when you’re faced with rows upon rows of bottles. However, embarking on a whisky tasting journey can be an exciting, enriching and educational experience.

There is a huge range of whiskies to choose from, offering up diverse flavours due to geographical distinctions, carefully chosen ingredients and time-honoured distillation techniques.

In this guide, we aim to demystify the whisky realm by outlining a selection of the best whiskies for beginners. Whether you’re a novice eager to delve into the depths of flavour, a curious soul seeking an introductory dram or exploring the world of whisky cocktails, we’re confident that by the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll know which whiskies you want to start with.

Taste around the world

Whisky is produced across the globe but certain countries are revered for the quality of the whisky that they produce. As a beginner, sampling whisky types from around the world can help you get to grips with the dominant characteristics that you like the most.

Scotch whisky

Scotch whisky is produced across the different whisky regions of Scotland. As such, scotches produced in the Highlands, Lowlands, Islay, Speyside and Campbeltown all have distinct regional styles. Scotch whiskies often exhibit complex flavours ranging from fruity and floral to smoky and peaty. For beginners, Speyside whiskies, such as The Glenlivet are a good starting point due to their approachability, offering flavours of honey, fruits, and gentle spices.

Japanese whisky

Japanese whisky is known for its smoothness, balance, and subtle flavours. It’s often compared to scotch whisky in terms of its quality and craftsmanship. Japanese whiskies typically have a lighter and milder taste profile, making them accessible for beginners who may prefer a more easygoing flavour.

American whisky

American whisky encompasses a range of styles, including bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and rye whisky. Bourbon, with its sweet and rich flavours, is a popular choice for beginners. It is often characterised by a smooth and slightly smoky profile. Rye whisky has a spicier taste, which can be appealing to those who enjoy something a bit bolder.

Irish whisky

Like with scotch, Irish whisky can only be called so if it is produced in Ireland. Irish whisky is typically triple distilled, resulting in a smooth and light character. Irish whisky often includes notes of vanilla, honey, citrus and cereal grain. It’s a good option for beginners as it is known to be quite mellow, especially when compared to other whisky varieties.

Experiment with blends

There’s no denying that whisky is a complex spirit, especially when you consider all the classifications and distinctions. However, another way that you can assess different whiskies is by how they are blended as distilleries often combine varieties to create truly wonderful expressions.

Single malt scotch

Single malt scotch whisky is made from malted barley and produced at a single distillery. It offers a pure expression of the distillery’s character and often showcases a wide range of flavours, from delicate and floral to rich and full-bodied. Single malts, such as our Founder’s Reserve smooth scotch whisky, can be a good introduction to the world of whisky due to their balanced and approachable profiles.

Single grain scotch

Single grain scotch whisky is made from grains other than barley, such as wheat or corn, and is distilled at a single distillery. It tends to be lighter and smoother compared to single malt scotch. Single grain whiskies can offer a gentle and mellow flavour profile, making them suitable for beginners looking for a more subtle whisky experience.

Blended scotch

Blended scotch whisky is a combination of both single malt and single grain whiskies. The blending process aims to create a well-balanced and consistent flavour profile. Blended whiskies are also often approachable and versatile, making them a good choice for beginners.

Give different grains a go

The grain used to create a whisky can also have a significant impact on its taste. When it comes to how our scotch is made, we use barley but other grains are a common ingredient in many whisky varieties.

Rye whisky

Rye whisky has already had a mention as it is a popular choice in the States. It is made primarily from rye grain and is characterised by spicy and robust flavours such as black pepper and clove. It does have some similarities to bourbon but is usually less sweet. It’s a good whisky choice for beginners who are seeking a distinct kick to their dram.

Corn whisky

Corn whisky is made primarily from corn and has a sweeter and lighter taste. It’s often associated with American whisky styles, such as bourbon and Tennessee whisky. Like other whiskies, there is a vast flavour range between brands though, with some bolstered by dark fruit flavours while others let floral notes shine through.

Wheat whisky

Wheat whisky is primarily made from wheat and offers a softer and lighter taste compared to other whiskies. It often exhibits notes of sweetness, including vanilla and caramel. The smoothness of wheat whisky makes it a good option for beginners who prefer a gentle and easy-drinking whisky.

Craft a cocktail

Of course, there’s no rule book that says that the best whisky for beginners must be drunk neat. In fact, if you’re new to whisky, using it in a cocktail is a great way to acclimatise to its flavour. You could stick to a classic recipe such as a whisky sour or an old fashioned, or grab a cocktail shaker and give one of our signature serves a go.

Mango Tea Whisky Smash

If you like fruity flavours, then a mango smash might be right up your street. It combines our Caribbean Reserve with mango black tea for a truly refreshing summer cocktail.

The Glenlivet Royale

This whisky champagne cocktail is simple yet sophisticated and feels rather special due to the addition of the bubbles. Our 12-year single malt delivers the smooth and balanced flavours of pineapple and vanilla which are perfectly complemented by sparkling French wine.

Scotch Whisky Mule

For whisky drinks with more of a kick, combining ginger beer and whisky works well. This cocktail is our twist on an Irish mule and is made with just four ingredients: whisky, lime juice, sugar syrup and ginger beer. Serve over lashings of ice and garnish with a sprig of mint.

If you want to explore more of the best whisky drinks for beginners, check out our whisky cocktail recipes including honey whisky drinks and hot toddy variations.