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Haleth's avatar

Learning about liquor, where to start?

Asked by Haleth (19489points) August 24th, 2012

Wine is my favorite drink, but I’d really like to learn a few things about different spirits. I’m really interested in Scotch (it has terroir and barrel-aging! Those are things I’m familiar with.) But I’d really like to learn a bit about everything. Do you have any suggestions, reading, or general tips to share? Is there a white zinfandel of the liquor world? I want to know.

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13 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

I guess if I were you and I were really interested in this stuff, I’d start at a well-stocked bar with a professional bartender.

rooeytoo's avatar

It’s all poison, doesn’t much matter what you drink. I watched the owner of a very prominent wine store in NYC make a total fool of himself at a blind tasting. He couldn’t tell Roederer from Cold Duck and he was reputed to be a great enophile. Makes you wonder if it is all snobbery. That said I can always pick out the real coke in a blind taste test???

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

You should really just start with the medium priced whiskey’s, and names that have been around a long time. Until you get used to the kick, add a lot of water. Room temperature works great if you like the taste of whatever you pick up, if you dislike a particular brand you try but don’t want to dump the remainder down the drain, ice it up.

Just try booze from different regions, run through Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Canadian Club, Makers Mark, Dewar’s, Tullamore Dew. Do not buy expensive Scotch or Irish Whiskey until you have a taste for it. Companies realized a long time ago that jacking up the price makes people think it must be quality.

You will get a sense of what kind of liquor you like after awhile, maybe you will prefer the Irish for example. Then you can focus your shopping on whiskeys from that region.

jerv's avatar

I agree with most of what @Imadethisupwithnoforethought says, except for the part about the water. Water generally has it’s own flavor, and even if you use the purest water imaginable, it may react in other flavor-altering ways. If the kick is too much, sip instead of gulp. The exception is, of course, Absinthe.

Your expensive stuff generally costs more because of the label. While there is a huge difference between a cheap spirit and a moderately-priced one, once you get past the mid-range, the quality doesn’t increase much.

Personally, I favor Jamesons (an Irish whiskey), but have been known to wander through various vodkas and the occasional dark rum. Cognac is also wonderful, especially if you like aging in wood barrels, but I personally rarely get to enjoy a good cognac due to price.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

@jerv I love it when people tell me they buy these 100 dollar bottles of Scotch. I ask them, oh you really like Scotch? And they say no, but on special occasions they drink it. It makes me want to open a liquor store.

Mr_Paradox's avatar

Trust me when I say this. Stick to moderatly priced stuff. Everything else is just a waste of cash. I do have one exception. That is Flying Dog’s Double Dog India Double Pale Ale. The stuff is like getting kicked in the head by a mule at first then it sweetens up at the end. I pay a guy in Virginia to ship me a case every know and then (I live in New Hampshire so it ain’t cheap), because they no longer distribute up here. :(

woodcutter's avatar

Just go with good ol “Fighting Cock” bourbon If you can do that you will appreciate anything else.

jerv's avatar

@Mr_Paradox Trust me, the beer selection here in Seattle blows NH away. Pike’s Brewery does some kick-ass ales :)

Mr_Paradox's avatar

Not if you live next to an old Irish Brewmaster! :)

Haleth's avatar

@Imadethisupwithnoforethought @jerv Sensible advice! And that’s just about what I would tell someone if they were getting into wine. Most of the wine I buy is around $10 to $15 and from off the beaten path. There are some knockout values in that category, like Excelsior Cab from South Africa or HB Picpoul from Languedoc, both under $10.

I have had a few chances to taste expensive things when my boss is buying the liquor for the shop where I work. Wholesalers will bring by samples for us to try, hoping we will like them and buy them. I tried a whiskey (but ack, can’t remember what it was) that had a really interesting smoky/fresh/herbal taste- it kind of reminded me of a beach bonfire.

@Mr_Paradox Oh, for sure. I’m in the DC area, so Flying Dog and I are practically next-door neighbors. :)

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

@Haleth smokey is probably Irish or Scotch.

augustlan's avatar

My husband got to drink at the Flying Dog for free! I’m still jealous.

I’ll send this question to someone who can answer it better than I.

PupnTaco's avatar

I’d recommend a few things:
1. Take the online BarSmarts program ( – a great, entertaining, and comprehensive course
2. Find a sympathetic bartender at a craft cocktail bar on a slow night who’ll pour small tastes (not full shots) of spirits, neat, for you to taste.
3. Check out my book ( – a beginner’s crash course in craft cocktails and spirits

p.s. the White Zinfandel of the spirits world = novelty flavored vodkas (whipped cream, PB&J)

Cheers :)

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