Over the last year I’ve gotten a little bit into wine. As a whisky guy, my goal was to be able to read a wine list in a restaurant but I quickly became absorbed in a new world, not too dissimilar to the way I fell down the whisky rabbit hole. This process of learning about a completely new type of drink, I think, is fascinating and can open up a whole new world of flavour and give you a greater understanding of other beverages as well as your own palate.
One of my favourite white wine grape types now is Riesling, which can often give stony minerality and a lot of delicious, mouth watering acidity at the same time. This is something I can now translate over into whisky when I find minerality in Bruichladdich or that limey acidity in an Ardbeg.
Another advantage is that many whiskies now are being finished in wine casks, which provide a slightly different flavour from the norm. Recently I’ve tried a Longrow from a Chardonnay cask and a Ledaig from a Hermitage cask. Both are fantastic whiskies and both are really providing something of that wine within the whisky. But by understanding the wines behind these whiskies you get a lot better idea of the flavours and what to expect. On the other hand, perhaps a wine fanatic might find the flavours from a red wine finished Kilchoman to be useful for their understanding and palate, too.
More recently, I was in The Netherlands for a whisky show. I had a day with an importer there and we went to the Jenever museum in Schiedam. If you haven’t heard of Jenever (or Genever), like me you might have thought it was a traditional type of gin. This might be true of some of the bigger players like Ketel 1’s version, but small producers like what the museum makes are more similar to a whisky. Traditionally distilled in direct fired stills from a mash of rye and malted barley, it is then matured in barrels for up to 10 years. Sounds pretty similar to a whisky to me! For a typical Jenever they add some juniper berry flavours, but often not for the more premium expressions. At the museum we got to taste some single casks, straight from three different types of sherry barrels. I was shocked by the similarities to a lot of whiskies I’ve tried.
This type of experience, trying something new, can be hugely valuable and not only help you discover something new and interesting but opens up a new world of flavours and drinks you, perhaps, had no idea existed. So, if you like whisky, try some wine. If you like rum, try whisky. As a beer person, try whisky. Or tequila, mezcal, baijiu, sake, arak, and so many others. Try new things and open your horizons!