What is more sophisticated than a glass of whiskey and a cigar on a cold winter’s night? Or more relaxing than a whisky on the rocks as you watch the ocean waves crash on the beach?

“Whisky” is the Old Irish word for “water of life.” I think they hit the nail on the head with that description, don’t you think?

Our Mission at Whisky Watch

To make the delights of whisky accessible to everyone, regardless of price range, taste, or experience.

Our Purpose

Our goal is to unveil the secrets of whisky and dispel the myth that it’s a drink for only a select few. No matter where you are or what beverage you prefer, you can enjoy the delights of some of the finest alcohol in the world. You just have to know where to look.

Our Values

Accessibility:

Whisky is a drink that people either love or think they hate. Whether you love it or are just misinformed, it’s a confusing and dense beverage to understand. We want to make finding and enjoying new bottles as easy as possible. No matter your budget, palate, or history it’s all within reach!

Discovery:

We want to take you on a journey with us. Learn and discover new whiskies, new facts, new recipes just as our contributors are doing every day! You can never know too much about the “water of life.”

Passion:

Everyone who writes for us fell in love with whisky. We want to share our passion with you in each and every article you read.

Authenticity:

Our team is dedicated to creating honest reviews and assessments of every bottle they try. You want to know what we really think of Jack Daniels? We’ll tell you.

What Makes Whisky Watch Stand Out?

We know there are so many whisky sites out there on the internet. That can make finding answers to your whisky questions particularly difficult. Whisky Watch is tailored specifically towards its audience…you!

You are inundated with sites that are either too vague or too specific. You’re bogged down by extraneous details you never wanted (C’mon, I just want to know what to get for the family Christmas party!).

Or you’re scrolling through sites with truncated bullet points that don’t actually answer your questions. (Can I substitute bourbon for rye?)

But here at Whisky Watch we cater to everyone. Our articles provide an in-depth look at any topic you want, but we also simplify our key points so you don’t have to read a novel every time you want a bottle to pair with your steak.

Not Just Reviews

Here at Whisky Watch we aren’t just reviewing assorted bottles you’ve never heard of and giving you opinions you’ll forget about as soon as you get to the store.

Of course, we have reviews. Our contributors will share personal stories and taste-testings about every bottle they try.

But we’ll also share

  • Tidbits on history
  • Details on whisky-making
  • Excellent food pairing suggestions
  • Bottle comparisons
  • Cocktail recipes
  • Price suggestions
  • Even holiday gift ideas

The little details that make understanding whisky and enjoying your new favorite glass that much more immersive!

We’re Also Learning with You

Our contributors love their whisky, we can’t deny that.

But we chose our team very carefully. These are people who never stop learning about whisky. They don’t know every bottle, every technique, every tip.

But they are on a mission to learn as much as possible. And they’ll be sharing their own journeys with you.

Each article you read will be expertly researched and as our contributors try a new bottle for the first time, so will you! You’ll be gaining their experiences to help you in your search.

Some Tips on Finding the Whisky That’s Right for You

I’ve adopted a phrase “my new favorite.”

When I was just starting to get into whisky I thought Balvenie and Lagavulin where all I’d ever want.

A few years later someone gave me a Talisker 10 year and that became my “new favorite whisky ever.”

A few weeks ago, we re-tried an old bottle of Nikka and decided that was our “new favorite.”

Every few months I buy I new bottle and swear up and down that it’s “my new favorite!”

We all go through phases. We all have changing palates, changing moods. Even tastes that change with the seasons!

A whisky that is right for you one year may not be as exciting the next.

Flavor Profile

Whisky is about as broad a term as it gets. Under that umbrella you have everything from sweet and fruity to smoky and earthy to spicy and strong. Unfortunately, there is no clear indicator on most bottles. But the region it comes from will give you a clue about what how it probably tastes! Know your palate and you’ll be able to direct your sights.

Grain Content and Styles

Different grains make for different flavors. Corn (in Bourbons or Canadian Whiskey) usually makes for a sweeter drink. Rye is stronger and spicier. Barley tends to be earthier but can really morph depending on the techniques used.

Aging Casks

Like grain, aging casks can have a huge effect on flavor. Sherry casks will add a sweeter hint. Rum casks tend to add a thicker, spicier, molasses flavor. Charred oak casks add smoke and caramel.

Techniques

Peated or non-peated (smoke). Chill filtration or no chill filtration (clarity). It’s easy to get caught up in all of the minor details of a particular bottle. But remember that whiskies from one region generally all have similar profiles. The added techniques are just a cherry on top for those who want to hunt for subtle differences.

Location

Just like wine, different locations create different flavors. Islay creates the classic peated Scotch. A non-peated single malt will likely come from Speyside. Irish and Canadian whiskies are deliciously smooth. American bourbon will be sweeter than an American rye. And Japanese whisky is so varied you bound to find something in your palate and price range.

Alcohol

Alcohol content can vary among whiskies. However, if you’re trying to avoid a strong alcoholic flavor, stick with Scotch or Bourbon as the subtle flavors and sweetness will mask those heavy notes.

If You’re New to Whisky

I envy you. You’re about to start on the most decadent journey of your life.

You’re going to get to experience the rich spice of a Japanese whisky, the campfire vibes of an Islay, the kick of an American Rye, the smooth sip of a bourbon, the sweet notes of a Speyside…all for the first time.

I’m sure you’re wondering where to start.

1. Know thyself

The best person to judge what kind of whisky you like is you.

Your local liquor store owner can give you suggestions, but you know exactly what you like.

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t want to start with a Rye if you know you hate strong liquors. But don’t feel like you have to start on the sweeter end either!

2. Know your palate

There are a few categories that will encompass almost any whisky you find.

Sweet

Most Bourbons and some Tennessee and even Canadian whiskies are noted for sweet flavors. If the base grain is corn, it’s likely to be sweeter.

  • A safe place to start: A Bourbon like Four Roses or Wild Turkey

Spicy

Full of notes of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. These usually come from sherried casks.

  • A safe place to start: Yamazaki 12 Year, Teeling Single Malt, Macallan most years

Fruity

Dried orchard fruits or even fresh apples and pears are the key notes in these whiskies!

  • A safe place to start: A light Speyside like Glennfiddich, A Japanese Whisky like Nikka

Earthy

A Scotch! They are full of earth, wood, leather, even notes of fire and grass. Combine all of that with some fruit and spice…absolutely divine.

  • A safe place to start: Glenlivet or Macallen

Smooth

Both Irish and Canadian whiskies are known for being particularly smooth, easy to drink, and perfect for sipping.

Strong Spice with a Kick

Most Rye’s are considered strong and very spicy. I have them separated from “spice” since you shouldn’t go in expecting nutmeg or vanilla. This is a strong grainy flavor.

  • A safe place to start: Rittenhouse Rye

Smoky

Smoke flavor can be polarizing. But it’s something everyone needs to try at least once in their life!

You’ll really only get smoke in a peated-Scotch, usually from Islay. These are whiskies that have been dried over a fire made from peat, blocks of soft earth and plant matter. It adds a lovely campfire-aroma to whisky.

But there are a few Bourbons or other whiskies aged in charred barrels that have just the faintest hint of smoke.

There are a few versions to try (according to Whisky Advocate)

Medicinal

Maritime flavors like salt and seaweed

  • A safe place to start: Laphroaig 10 Year

Spicy

Pepper, Dried Apples/Pears, Cinnamon

  • A safe place to start: Talisker 10 Year

Aromatic

Sweeter notes like honey or toffee and notes of fruit

  • A safe place to start: Highland Park 10 Year

Me? I’m a spice-girl. (No puns intended.) I love rich, fall flavors like nutmeg, cinnamon, and drying orchard fruits.

My boyfriend really prefers the medicinal flavors. (I guess there is no accounting for taste?)

But you don’t have to stick to just one.

I’ve been known to enjoy a sweet, fruity Speyside on occasion. It all depends on my mood. And whether or not it’s bathing suit weather!

3. Be willing to experiment

Once you find your favorite palate, test around and see if you can find what distilleries or flavor profiles you are most drawn to.

I can guarantee you’ll find at least one “go-to” whisky you can always ask for at a bar.

But after that, shop around!

Try something you normally would never imagine liking. After all, there’s really only one way to know for your that you don’t like something.

And who knows, you may discover that you’re secretly a lover or all things Rye. Or maybe Bourbon is more your style.

You’ll never know if you don’t branch out!

Common FAQs

Where should I start if I know nothing about whisky?

Good question! My best advice is to taste-test. Go to a bar and order a glass of something in a flavor profile that interests you. If you like it, congratulations!

If you don’t like it, try a different glass or different flavor profile until you settle on something that makes your taste buds sing!

Tips on where to start:

My final tip, maybe don’t start with a scotch. Work up to it. But if you hate every whisky you’ve ever tried…do try a scotch before you give up forever.

(Also, feel free to ask the bartender to help you out. They love to share their knowledge and help you find something you’ll like. Just, maybe don’t do it on a busy night!)

What if I find most whiskeys too strong for my taste?

I can completely sympathize. I find some whiskeys below certain price points too harsh to really enjoy.

On a budget, the way to reduce strength is to add ice. The water will dilute your whisky and make it easier to drink. It also brings out flavors you might otherwise miss.

Another option, if you have the budget, is to purchase a higher-end whisky within your flavor profile. Some higher-end whiskeys are so full of other flavors you hardly notice you’re drinking alcohol at all! (Just be sure to taste the whisky at a bar before you go purchasing a whole bottle!)

Why is whisky sometimes spelled “whiskey”?

The real difference in the spelling comes from location. Scotland, the makers of most of the single malt scotch in the world, spell it with no “e.” Japanese whiskey also leaves out the “e” since much of their techniques were brought over from Scotland.

But Ireland and the U.S. will often add the “e.”

There is no real difference in composition or taste that determines “e” or no “e,” other than the obvious differences according to the region!

What’s the difference between Whisky, Bourbon, Scotch, and Rye?

You’ve probably heard the phrase “all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon.” Well, there’s a reason.

In short, they are all whiskeys.

All it takes to be considered whiskey is a distilled beverage made from fermented grain. (I know, I know, that doesn’t sound great, but bear with me.)

To get the specific designations, each region has its own requirements.

This is best condensed in a short list:

  • Bourbon – made in the USA from corn
  • Scotch – made in Scotland from barley
  • Rye – made in the USA from rye

Tennessee Rye, Kentucky Bourbon, Single Malt Scotch, Irish Whiskey are all iterations of these basic principles. They get their special names from location, obviously. But also, the slight differences in grains used, techniques applied, and even the casks they age in.

The specifications above are definitely simplified for clarity. Look for a more detailed analysis on our site!

What does “neat” mean?

A whisky served “neat” means the whisky is poured alone into the glass. No ice. No water. Just pure gorgeous liquor.

In some cases, you can say “straight” or “straight-up” instead of “neat,” but those terms have other meanings as well. (For example, a martini straight up is a chilled martini.) It’s generally best to use “neat” and avoid confusion.

What does “on the rocks” mean?

A whisky served “on the rocks” just means it’s poured over ice. This is an excellent serving method if you want to take the edge of your whisky and making it smooth to sip.

It’s also a great way to bring out some of the subtler flavors hiding in the background.

You can vary the amount of ice from “heavy on the rocks” to “just one rock.”

And some bars will serve your whisky over a giant rock, which is slower to melt and doesn’t dilute your whisky as quickly.

Can you serve whisky with food?

Absolutely. As with wine, whisky pairs well with food, but you need to match up certain flavor profiles. Lighter, fruitier whiskeys pair better with fish or chicken or even pork. Heaver, richer whiskeys pair well with steaks or sausages.

Should you serve whisky chilled?

Generally, no. Don’t chill whole bottles of whisky.

The subtle flavor profiles in whisky require it to be stored at room temperature.

However, you can serve it over ice! Cooling the whisky in your glass is one way to reduce the strength of the alcohol. Water also brings out and highlights certain flavors that you can miss when you drink it neat!

Our Contributors

Our team combines knowledge and experience with passion and excitement. Each and every writer here loves whisky and they love sharing their whisky stories with you.

Thea Engst

Thea Engst brings a unique viewpoint to Whiskey Watch. With her eleven years in the hospitality industry, she learned a lot and is passing that information on in a helpful and easy-to-understand way.

She is the author of two books. Her newest book is called Nectar of the Gods and her first book Drink Like a Bartender was rated as one of the Best Booze Books of 2017 by Forbes Magazine.

Thea is a creative writer, cocktail developer, and social media guru. As a beverage consultant and recipe developer, she’s had her hand in some pretty cool things. For instance, she is a ghost recipe developer for the unofficial Disney cookbook and the upcoming Epcot edition. She’s created themed recipes for Disney Park menus and enjoys creating well-balanced, well-conceived, and delicious cocktails.

Kathryn Loveless

Kathryn Loveless is a freelance writer for hire who delights in all things delectable. You can find her perfecting a roast chicken recipe, hunting down a new bottle of scotch, or hosting a wine and cheese soirée somewhere in New York. My passion for Scotch started in college when my conniving parents gave me their best whisky for my “first taste.” Needless to say, the stuff my friends had at school didn’t compare.

They had a joke “If Kathryn comes to a party, you need a whiskey that’s over $40.” My first job in NYC was hosting several fine-dining establishments where I learned everything I could from bartenders and mixologists. Now that I work in writing and development full-time, I continue my education in classes around the city and explore the newest whiskeys on the market. (Still trying to find a bottle of Compass Box No Name if you have any leads…)

Newest in my collection: Compass Box Peat Monster and Port Charlotte Islay Single Malt (I love peat if you can’t tell.)

Most interesting thing on the market right now: Japanese whisky! (No “e” since much of the trade was learned in Scotland.)

Lauren Vigdor

Lauren is a creative writer and hospitality professional with more than thirteen years of experience in the food and beverage industry. She has worked as a beverage director, bar manager, and consultant, specializing in cocktail/menu development, bar staff training, and food/beverage writing.

Her book, “Drink Like a Bartender,” was written as a guide to help novice drinkers navigate the beverage world and was rated one of the “Best Bar Books of 2017” by Forbes. She runs on black coffee and whiskey, and her favorite cocktail is a classic Manhattan.

Justin Caldwell

Justin’s love for whiskey began when a good friend of his introduced him to Crown Royal. It blossomed when he attended the Kentucky Derby in 2005, partaking in his first mint julep and touring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Even though he is partial to his favorite – Woodford Reserve – he appreciates many different types of whiskeys and bourbons.