Speaking with Chris Walster, our in-house whisky expert, he discusses how whisky can be for all, making it the perfect surprise gift this Mother’s Day.

I can remember my great-grandma having a “port and lemon”, my grandma would celebrate with a sherry, usually Harvey’s Bristol Cream or with a “Snowball” an Advocaat and lemonade (Advocaat is great on vanilla ice-cream), my mother drank “Babycham” and my wife drinks a “G&T”, whilst my daughters seem to prefer a prosecco, or on a rare occasion a Southern Comfort and lemonade. A quick straw poll in the office seems to confirm that ladies seem to prefer sweeter drinks or do not have much interest in alcoholic drinks except perhaps a cocktail or glass of wine. Most of these drinks are either sweet and/or lowish in alcohol. Something on the whole whisky is not. Or is it?

Go to a whisky club or festival and the fairer sex is notable for its absence. But those who are there seem to enjoy themselves as much as any other attendee, but it would seem clear that whisky is not a favoured drink for women (compared to the number of men at these events). Perhaps this is cultural, and they simply have never tried whisky?

If your mother is already a fan of whisky, then buying a favourite bottle is simply a matter of contacting your usual retailer and purchasing one. But what if she is not a fan or never tried whisky before? You could be miserable and buy her a bottle she’s unlikely to enjoy, but you will, safe in the knowledge that at least there will be a decent whisky to drink when you visit. Whilst cynical, it might encourage you to visit more often, something she is likely to appreciate. 

But how might you approach buying a whisky she would enjoy and introducing her to the wonderful world of whisky? It might lead to there being a selection of good whiskies when you visit. A win-win for all. Let’s see if there is an approach which would increase your chance of buying a bottle that would be appreciated. 

There are three basic ideas that might help and combining the three may provide the best chance of success.

Reducing the alcohol content (ABV)

The simplest thing to do is add water to dilute the ABV. When I first came across cask strength whiskies, I recall being advised to dilute to 35% ABV. Recently I read an article which stated that Master Blenders never taste whisky above 40% ABV and some will only drink it at 20% ABV, they’ll dilute the whisky with water. As someone who prefers to drink their cask strength whisky either neat or with a few drops of water this got me thinking. 

I’m not a great fan of adding water into my whisky glass because there is a good chance I’ll either increase the spiciness or the woody flavours. Neither of which I like particularly and can overwhelm the other flavours. Master Blenders adding water seems rather counterintuitive, how do they know they’ve the perfect “formula” if the whisky is “tainted”? But, certainly in my youth, most if not all bars in Scotland would provide jugs of water or taps for customers to add to their whisky “to taste”. What’s going on?

I suspect the issue is where I live in England. The water coming out of the tap is chemically different (in simplest terms think of soft and hard water) to that used by the distillery and interacts with the flavours in a different way to that intended by the distillery. The solution is to find a bottled water with a composition as close to the distillery’s source as possible. When I have done this, it certainly makes a big difference. 

Buy a bottle of whisky and a bottle of suitable still water.

You could add a mixer such as lemonade and, on the whole, I tend to use a blended whisky if I want a long drink. Alternatively, you could make a whisky cocktail. I do like cocktails, and they do potentially address the two issues of a lower ABV and also sweetness. I rarely drink them in my own home as I cannot be bothered with the faff, but I’m very happy if someone else makes me one. 

Show her your care by mixing a whisky cocktail. 

A trawl of the internet will provide a plethora of recipes but two simple ones I like are:

The Lindisfarne Dark Mead produces a drink reminiscent of a Pimms although perhaps more herbal. You could try adding honey dissolved in warm water, which aids mixing, to increase the sweetness. This is a drink we tried for the first time in 2022 up in Northumberland and were surprised by how much we liked it, so it’s definitely one to try. 

Sweet Whiskies.

American whiskies tend to be quite sweet and one I’d recommend is Uncle Nearest 1884 Tennessee Whiskey. You really can taste the honey sweetness and if anything I personally find it too sweet although not unpleasantly so.  

For other whiskies I’d look out for ones either finished in a fortified wine barrel (e.g. Pedro Ximenez a type of sweet sherry, Madeira a fortified wine from the island of Madeira) or a cognac finish which seems to produce a very luscious whisky that can be very mellow. 

Finally an obvious whiskey choice would be to go Irish. These whiskies are smoother than scotch and taste slightly sweeter because of it. My favourite at present, although definitely on the expensive side is Bushmills 1991 Madeira Cask Finish, The Causeway Collection which has peach flavours. You should be able to find it on whisky auction sites at substantially below the retail price.

At the end of the day though, if your mother likes whisky straight up, mixed or a little sweeter, the point is to enjoy this drink. Whisky preferences all comes down to personal taste, but it certainly can be one for all, you just need to find the right approach to enjoying this drink.

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