A Whisky Guide for Every Palate

Sparrow Italia Staff

11 min read

Are you a whisky lover and wish to know more about it? In this useful guide, you'll learn all about the options we have right here in London, how to order whisky, what to look for, different whisky tastes, whisky pairing, and more!

Whisky comes in many brands and types and provides a wide range of equally smooth options. Whisky consumption also has some rules meant to optimise your experience. A good first step is to understand your taste, what you like, and consider an expert opinion. We’ve prepared a whisky guide for every palate below with everything there is to know. Let's get started.

How To Know Which Whisky Option Is Good?

Before you can select the best whisky for you, it helps to know the basics (definition, whisky by region, and more).

Whisky by Definition: What is Whisky?

Whisky is a spirit/liquor distilled from grains (barley, rye, corn, or wheat). Before fermented grain can legally earn the term whisky, it must be fermented for a minimum number of years (usually 3 years) in wooden casks and have at least a 40% alcohol composition.

Preference for different types of whisky can be dictated by the type of grain used to make that whisky as well as the number of years of fermentation.

Whisky by Region

Whisky is made in many different places globally and is generally categorised by region. It’s important to understand the regions since they produce a whisky that tastes different. The main whisky types by region include;

I. Scotch Whisky (Earthy and Smokey Taste)

As the name suggests, Scotch whisky is made in Scotland (in five main Scottish whisky regions namely; lowland, highland, Islay, Campbeltown and Speyside). It is normally made using 100% malted barley, but other grains can be used, like wheat and corn. The whisky usually undergoes two distillation processes in traditional pot stills, giving it an earthy and smokey taste.

II. Irish Whisky (Smooth Silk Taste)

This includes whisky made in Ireland. It is also distilled in traditional pot stills. However, unlike Scotch whisky, Irish whisky is distilled three times. The whisky has a smooth silk taste attributable to the mash used to make it (yeast-fermented grain mash or malted barley).

III. Bourbon (Sweet Taste with Smokey Vanilla Tone)

Bourbon is American whiskey largely made from corn (51%) with no additives. The whisky is matured in charred oak barrels, and has a reddish colour and sweet taste with a smokey vanilla tone.

IV. Tennessee Whiskey (Sweet and Smokey Charcoal Taste)

This is another American whiskey made from 51 to 79% corn. It must also pass through maple charcoal before being aged in wooden casks to give it that unique sweet and smoky flavour.

V. Rye Whisky (Spicy Fruity Taste)

Any whisky made in North America from 41% or more mashed rye grain qualifies as Rye whisky. However, it must also be aged inside new charred oak barrels. Rye whisky has a spicy fruity taste. It must be aged for two or more years.

VI. Canadian Whisky (Lighter Sweetness)

As the name suggests, this is whisky from Canada. It is usually made from more corn and less rye, making it lighter and sweeter compared to American whisky.

VII. Japanese Whisky (Smooth Delicate Flavour)

This type of whisky is produced in Japan but may use ingredients such as malted barley imported from countries like Scotland. Japanese whisky may also feature unique ingredients like rice, resulting in a special rice whisky variety known as shochu.

The whisky may also be made using a different process compared to other whiskies. For instance, it is usually distilled in continuous stills as opposed to pot stills, as is the case with Scotch. The result is a smooth, delicate flavour.

There may be other types such as Indian whisky and blended whisky which is a mixture of different types. Regardless, we have covered the main categories here which should help give you an idea of the region of whisky that could best suit your palate.

Whisky by Style

We can also categorise based on styles of whiskies i.e., single malt, single grain, blended, etc., which ultimately describes the proportion of a specific ingredient (grain type).

I. Single Malt Whisky (Balanced Flavour and Superior Smoothness)

This type of whisky is made from malted barley only from a single distillery. It may be from different casks, but it must be a product of one whisky distillery. In terms of taste, single malt whisky can be said to have a balanced flavour and superior smoothness.

II. Single Grain Whisky (Sweet and Smokey)

This type is made from a single grain, making it light-bodied with sweeter notes and a smoky aroma.

III. Blended Scotch Whisky (Mild Universal Appeal)

This is whisky made by mixing (blending) many different whiskies (especially single malts) with a strong raw flavour. The result is a milder whisky with a universal appeal.

* Whisky/Whiskey

Both whisky and whiskey are correct spellings. However, the two spellings generally differ based on the region the whisky/whiskey comes from. The spelling whisky applies to Europe, UK, Canada, India, and Japan. The spelling whiskey applies mostly to the USA and Ireland. However, there may be exceptions.

Whisky Pairing

Like wine, different whiskies will go well with different foods. If you plan on having a high-end dining experience, it helps to understand the basics of pairing whisky with food. Generally, we believe:

  • Sweet whiskies are paired with spicy food
  • Light whiskies go well with seafood
  • Full-bodied whiskies with rich-flavoured foods

How to Order the Right Whisky with Food

I. Smoked Meat with Bourbon and Rye Whisky

Bourbon and rye whiskies like Knob Creek Bourbon, Michter’s Bourbon, Woodford Rye, and Wild Turkey Rye pair perfectly and cut through fatty beef/smoked meats. Rye’s assertive spicy taste perfectly complements smoked meats and different cuts.

II. Peated Scotch with Citrus & Spice

Dishes with citrus and spicy notes should be paired with peated Scotch like Bowmore, characterised by smokey saltiness. It would be the perfect pair for a dish filled with lemon, perhaps with some chilli as well.

III. Seaside Scotch and Seafood

Seafood, like raw oysters, pair perfectly with seaside Scotch like Talisker Whisky.

IV. Single Malts and Cheesy Food

If you’re having dishes with cheese, Scotch single malts like Glenfiddich, Highland Park, and Bowmore will pair perfectly. This is because the superior smoothness and balanced flavours of single malts play perfectly with the sweet flavour and saltiness of the cheese.

V. Whisky Paired with Bread, Dessert, Nuts, and Chocolate

Surprisingly, all whiskies tend to pair well with bread considering whisky is a grain derivative. Bourbon whiskies pair well with desserts due to their lightness and sweetness, coupled with fruitiness. Robust Scotch whiskies (made in sherry casks) pair well with cheese and roasted nuts. Strong whiskies (i.e., single malts) pair well with dark chocolate.

In a nutshell, the whisky you select can be guided mainly by region or style. Different regions produce whiskies with different flavours and tastes i.e.,

Whisky by Region | Taste/Flavour

Scotch | Earthy and smokey
Irish whisky | Smooth silk taste
Bourbon | Sweet taste plus smokey vanilla tone
Tennessee whisky | Sweet & smokey charcoal taste
Rye whisky | Spicy fruity taste
Canadian whisky | Lighter sweetness
Japanese whisky | Smooth delicate flavour

If you plan to enjoy whisky alongside some food, your preferences should be guided by what whisky-pairing experts say.

Food Type | Whisky to Pair With

Smokey meat | Bourbon and Rye whisky
Citrus and spicy dishes | Peated Scotch
Seafood | Seaside Scotch
Cheesy food | Single malt
Bread | All whiskies
Fruity, sweet dessert | Bourbon
Dark chocolate dessert | Single malts

From the above information, the basics of whisky food pairing are clear. However, there’s more to whisky and food pairing.

Whisky and Food Pairing at Sparrow Italia in London

If you care for the best selections of whiskies with the added bonus of enjoying a high-end Italian restaurant dining experience in London, consider visiting Sparrow Italia in London. The restaurant serves every single whisky brand mentioned above and more.

Sparrow Italia is part of a Global chain of high-end restaurants (Noble 33 Group) with a presence in major cities globally like London, LA (Los Angeles), and Miami (coming soon). The restaurant serves delicious Italian classics with a Mediterranean twist.

Sparrow Italia London’s dinner menu contains delicacies that can be paired together with the restaurant’s whisky selection of American whiskies, Rye, Scotch, and Japanese whiskies.

The restaurant's raw (crudo) offering has some great seafood that can be paired with seaside scotch offerings like Talisker whisky.

Main course meals like grilled meat with charred lemon can be paired perfectly with peated whisky options like Bowmore. Any smokey meat options like Wagyu will go well with rye or bourbon whisky, while cheesy food offerings like pasta will pair perfectly with single malts like Glenfiddich on offer.

For a tasty whisky dessert pairing experience, consider some Bourbon offerings at Sparrow Italia, such as Knob Creek Bourbon.

Book a reservation at Sparrow Italia in Mayfair, London, to enjoy a world-class whisky and food pairing experience. Visit 1-3 Avery Row, Mayfair, London. W1K 4AJ. The restaurant is open every Monday to Friday, 12 to 3 PM, 6PM to Midnight & 6PM to Midnight on Saturdays.

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