09 March 2017 | 3 mins

A few months back, on one of our mystery date nights, Sasha and I visited a small French-inspired restaurant in Edinburgh’s New Town. One of those hipster, artisanal, fancy-but-informal places, where they take great pride in their boutique craft beers, gourmet burgers, and extensive whisky selection.

This isn’t criticism; some of the best places I’ve been in Edinburgh could fall under this description. There’s no shortage of them either, they’re sprinkled liberally throughout the city, particularly in the West End and New Town. They employ staff who are happy to share their expertise of the fare they have on offer - you can try the wine as they give you tasting notes, or sample a microbrew recommended by the barman based on what he thinks will suit you.

(To be clear, I am painfully aware of how pretentious I sound writing about whisky, tasting notes, nosing, etc. Like I’m some sort of upper class connoisseur, not a working-class peasant.)

In this particular establishment, after consuming some of their fine French cuisine, I ordered one of their many whiskies. A new whisky to me, one I hadn’t tried before, or indeed heard of. The waiter conversed a little with me about my tastes, the notes I liked and disliked, and duly returned with a small glencairn of the smooth amber liquid. He also brought a small glass vial of water, capped with a rubber pipette. He suggested two drops would suffice. I thanked him, and brought the glass to my nose. I took a small sip, swirled it around my mouth, and swallowed. It had a very sharp rubber-and-diesel flavour, with a thin smoky veneer. Not exactly unpleasant, but a long way from becoming my favourite whisky. I took the pipette and added two drops of water to the .

The waiter was right; the two drops were enough to bring out a much richer, sweeter tone than the whisky could provide on its own. Whisky tells a story, and the story changes quite dramatically with a splash of room-temperature water. Water, not ice, to be clear. The ice will only close off the avenues of taste you want to follow. It’s your drink, granted, but I wouldn’t recommend getting the ice from the freezer for this.

Do, however, try your whisky without water first. Inhale the aromas; at first you’ll get only the burn of alcohol. Take a deep breath and go back. Inhale again, close your eyes. Picture the opening of a dusty old book, the crackling of an autumn bonfire, freshly cut spring grass, wherever the smell takes you. Take your first sip, let it melt over your tongue, chase the story it tries to tell you. Swallow. Wait thirty seconds, and swallow again. This is the climax of the story, the protagonist reaching his destination.

That’s the opening book of the series. Return to your glencairn. Retrieve your pipette, and add a single drop of water. That’s all, just the one. Swirl it around the glass a little, let it mix. Start your journey again, back at the nose. The story will be subtly different this time; or maybe an entirely new genre. All whiskies are different; don’t be afraid to experiment. Find your preference (whisky is a very personal journey) and follow your stories.

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Usquebaugh 17 May 2016

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