The Ultimate Crash Course In Becoming A Whisky Drinker (And How To Not Sound Like An Idiot)

Find a whisky you enjoy, order it at a bar like a pro, and mix up perfect cocktails at home with help from this handy guide.

Monkey Shoulder 'Show Me The Monkey' whisky cocktail
Brought to you by Monkey Shoulder

The Whisky You Sorta Earned.

Whisky is like reality dating shows: you either committed years ago and know every intimate fact or you slept on it and never really learned what’s going on.

If you fall into the latter group, then you probably don’t ever consider drinking whisky. You have no idea what ‘single malt’ is, and you don’t know whether you’ll be committing some awful whisky crime by mixing it into a cocktail.

Don’t worry. We’re here to help. We asked Lucille Rose-Hopkins, bartender extraordinaire and Monkey Shoulder brand ambassador, to create the ultimate crash course in whisky. After this, you’ll know how to find a whisky you enjoy, what to ask for at a bar, and how to mix up summer stunners like a piña colada with Monkey Shoulder in no time.


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What’s A Good Entry-Level Whisky?

If you’re new to whisky, drinking it straight or on the rocks might be too much too soon. It’s much easier to get used to the spirit’s unique taste and flavour when it’s mixed in a cocktail.

The good news is that whisky is becoming an increasingly popular cocktail base, with some brands like Monkey Shoulder even making whisky specifically for mixing. They’ve got recipes for fruity cocktails, sour cocktails, bitter cocktails, classic cocktails, and cocktails with a caffeine hit.

In the early days of your whisky experimentation there’s really nothing stopping you from making them all to find out what you like best (responsibly, of course).

Monkey Shoulder 'Monkey Colada' whisky cocktail

Image courtesy of Monkey Shoulder

How To Order Without Sounding Like An Idiot

A single malt whisky is one that’s been made at a single distillery. A blended whisky, on the other hand, contains a combination of various other whiskies.

If you want whisky without ice or a mixer, ask for it “neat”. If you want ice, ask for it “on the rocks”.  These four terms are really all you need to know to order whisky at a bar like a pro, but Lucille says the best thing you can do is talk to your bartender.

“Tell them the flavours you do and don’t like, tell them what sorts of things you usually drink and ask if they have anything similar. Chances are, the bartender will have a couple of favourite whiskies or cocktails they can introduce you to.”

Whisky Crash Course: How To Get Into Whisky Without Sounding Dumb

Image: Thomas Opie / Unsplash

What’s With All The Different Spellings?

All scotch is whisky, but not all whisky is scotch. Stay with me here.

Whisky is made all over the world, but only whisky made in Scotland can be called Scotch. When it’s made in Ireland or America, it’s called whiskey (with an E). Everywhere else, it’s just called whisky.

For instance, Monkey Shoulder is a blended malt scotch whisky. That means it’s made in Scotland, from a blend of three Speyside malts (single malt whiskies distilled in the Speyside area of Scotland).

Whisky Crash Course: How To Get Into Whisky Without Sounding Dumb

Image: Connor Mollison / Unsplash

Taste It Like Wine

Start by gently smelling the whisky. Next, swirl it in the glass to release more aromas, and smell it again. You should notice new scents the second time around.

Now you’re ready to taste it. Take small, slow sips and savour the flavour between each one. Pay attention to how the flavour changes after you swallow – it should linger on your palate, change, and fade away.

Taking the time to properly taste it can convert you into a true whisky drinker and help you find a blend you like. When you’re starting out, Lucille says you should be looking for familiar flavours in your whisky like vanilla, honey, and cinnamon.

Whisky Crash Course: How To Get Into Whisky Without Sounding Dumb

Image: Paige Ledford / Unsplash

You Don’t Need To Spend Lots Of Money

Whether you’re ordering at the bar or getting a bottle to take home, good whisky isn’t as expensive as you might think.

When you’re getting into whisky and finding things you like, flavour is way more important than price (especially when you’re having it in a cocktail). Monkey Shoulder is an affordable whisky that’s made with mixing in mind, so it blends well with pretty much every kind of soft drink, soda water, and fresh juice you can think of.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, Lucille says you should forget the terminology, the spelling, and the price and just focus on the taste. Find one you like and drink it any way you want, whether that’s on the rocks, neat, or mixed.


You just read a whole article, you’ve sorta earned a Monkey Shoulder.

(Lead image courtesy of Monkey Shoulder)