Whisky 101 – What to know before ordering a glass

In On the Rocks 

“Whisky is liquid sunshine.” George Bernard Shaw

As much as I claim to have enjoyed a glass of whisky in my younger years, my knowledge pretty much ended at a Jack and Coke, or maybe a Johnny Walker at a push, if I was feeling adventurous. Like most, I felt a little daunted walking into a bar, only to be faced with lists of malts, blends, countries and ages.

So this is for all of you out there who want to walk into Dubai’s popular whisky haunts and not feel completely out of your depth. We have made it simple.

First things first though.

Location. Location. Location.

Where can one go in Dubai to sample a decent whisky?

Dubai has a fair few excellent whisky stomping grounds.

But our top three are as follows:

Copper Dog – Double Tree Hilton – This Scottish bar on JBR has an enviable whisky collection from the simple and familiar to the extravagant. The staff are knowledgeable, the drinks are plenty, the atmosphere is inviting and the food is tasty (trust us and try the fried haggis balls!)

Nippon Bottle Company – Dusit Thani – A speakeasy situated just off Sheikh Zayed Road and walking distance from the Financial Centre Metro station, this whiskey bar is a must see. Hidden behind a bookcase and shrouded in mystery, if you fancy a night out with a difference this is the place to go.

The Vault on the 71st floor of the Marquis building is the place to go and sip your drink if you need a touch of elegance and fine dining. This exclusive restaurant and bar has an excellent selection of whiskeys, cigars and champagnes, all to be enjoyed in its highly sumptuous surroundings.

So. Now you know where to go. The only thing left is having a little knowledge in order to get the most out of your experience.

What is Whisky (and how do you spell it)?

There is a bit of an argument about how to spell Whisky, with Americans and Irish going with the ‘Whiskey’ spelling, whilst my Scottish routes dictate that I stick with the ‘Whisky’ with no E. In reality no one can decide which is the correct spelling and it doesn’t make any difference to what you are drinking…so quit squabbling and get pouring.

The word whisky comes from the Gaelic uisce beatha, which means “water of life”. And people who make whisky do take it seriously! Everything from the water used to the fermenting process of the grain is highly monitored and deeply considered.

It is made from a fermented grain mash (sounds pretty tasty!) and then aged in wooden casks, usually American White Oak or European Oak. Both have an influence on the flavour of the final drink, the former gives a mellow soft taste with a hint of vanilla while the latter is a bit spicier. A bit more bitter.

Single or blended?

This is the vital question to ask.

Now, what is the difference and what’s the big deal?

Simply put, a single whisky (whether malt or grain) comes from a single distillery. If you buy a single Glenmorangie, then it will only contain whisky from that distillery. However, if you purchase a blended bottle it is a combination of whiskeys from different distilleries.

There is a difference in flavour and which you choose is entirely dependent on your taste preference. Many believe that a single malt has a more intense depth of flavour whilst others think that a blend has a more rounded and complex taste. Our advice is to sample a broad selection and see what you like!

The Big Three


Ireland. Scotland. America.

These are the top dogs. It is not to say that there aren’t other countries producing high quality whiskied goodness. It is just that these three countries consistently rate highly across the board.

Of course, there is a heated debate as to which country is superior. Scotland is first in line to state that theirs is a cut above the rest. The tastes do vary from country to country, with different distilling techniques, casks, water and fermenting processes.

Scotch tends to have the heavier, stronger flavours of the countryside – deep earthy and wooden tones -whereas whiskey from Tennessee is sweeter. Japanese whiskey (steadily gaining popularity and respect) is diverse and interesting as they continue to develop and hone their craft. A bottle of Nikka’s whiskey is contemporary and worth a taste. With its minimalist design, this blend of malt and grain ensures a bold and strong flavour.

Canada’s Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye was proclaimed the world’s best whiskey in 2015…much to the horror of the Scots! With a hint of vanilla and spicy notes this whiskey has a smooth and creamy finish. Definitely well worth a dram.

So the advice remains the same, with whisky you can never know until you try. There are plenty of whisky tasting evenings and classes in Dubai. So, if you are curious, we highly recommend one those.

To mix or not to mix

According to seasoned drinkers, a true aficionado doesn’t take their whisky on the rocks (with ice) but drinks it neat (no ice)! The ice only dulls the flavour of the drink – however, a small dash of high quality highland spring water will prevent the alcohol from being overpowering and allow you to enjoy the warm earthy tastes.

Time to enjoy a glass

We all know that when you have an expensive bottle of red wine, you uncork it with aplomb, decant and allow to breathe. Once ready, you slowly pour into long stemmed glasses, swirl around, breathe deep and then drink. This is a timeless process. And the same goes for whisky.

Don’t just tip into a glass. Take you time.

Decant two fingers into an elegant tulip shaped glass (the glass is your choice, however, in my opinion this is the most elegant). Before taking your first sip, take the time to breathe in the aromas. Note the headiness of the alcohol, the subtle woody scents and whiffs of spice. This is not a cheap shot…take a small slow drink; roll the liquid around your palate, savouring the taste. And then swallow, noticing the warmth as it hits the back of your throat.

Thirsty yet?

So enjoy your whisky adventures! Don’t forget to check in again with us as we deliver our master class series about whiskies from around the world.

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