Vintage Cellars

An Insider’s Guide To The World Of Whisk(e)y

Welcome to the wonderful world of whisky. Be it the spirit’s storied history or its versatility and complexity, whisky is one of the most widely enjoyed spirits around.

So what better way to celebrate the tipple than by sitting down with the people who know it best? We tapped makers from three of the spirit’s most iconic home countries –  Scotland, Ireland and Japan – to discover what makes each variety so special and how the locals like to drink it.

Scotland: Home to Lagavulin

Lagavulin has been making whisky for over 200 years, so it’s safe to say they have it down to a fine art. “Whisky transcends generations in Scotland and there is a freedom, vibe and an openness to enjoy whisky any way you prefer,” says Scottish expat Sophia Godfrey, National Account Manager at Diageo. “People are becoming more educated and inspired by whisky, and as a result the spirit is experiencing a renaissance in night-time culture.” According to Godfrey, whisky experimentation is where it’s at in Scotland’s cocktail scene, with bartenders and amateur mixologists putting contemporary spins on the traditional spirit. But Godfrey can’t go past the classic whisky sour. “It’s a favourite in winter — Lagavulin 16 [their most popular edition] is my recommendation to really enjoy the flavours.” When it comes to pairing your whisky with a bite, “whisky is fantastic with Asian food, but I also love whisky the European way, with a grazing board, charcuterie or cheese platter – lots of cheeses, dried figs, quince jelly, crackers, Italian cured meat, olives and sourdough.” 

Japan: Home to House of Suntory

The whisky highball is synonymous with the Japanese cocktail scene for good reason. “Each bartender spends years mastering the perfect highball, which elevates the British whisky and soda to whole new heights and creates a tasting experience quite unlike the original,” says James Bowker, House of Suntory’s Global Advocacy Manager. It’s a drink that goes with almost anything, but when Bowker’s pouring a highball (preferably made with Yamazaki Distillers Reserve Japanese Whisky, of course) he recommends sipping it alongside “tempura, ramen or lighter dishes such as sushi.” Like most things in Japanese culture, whisky is approached with painstaking attention to detail and reverence, especially now that it’s regulated. “From April 2024, products labelled as Japanese whisky, or insinuating production in Japan, must adhere to strict requirements,” Bowker says. “They must be made using water extracted in Japan and malted grains, as well as being saccharified, fermented, distilled and matured in Japan.” It’s these traditional methods of making that differentiates Japanese whisky from its Scottish and Irish counterparts — “the choices made by producers are inspired by the Japanese palate, and generally create whiskies that focus on lightness and aromatic complexity,” Bowker says.

Ireland: Home to Bushmills Whiskey

To call Bushmills an old hand at whiskey making would be a major understatement. “Bushmills is the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery, and we’ve been pursuing perfection since 1608,” says Colum Egan, Bushmills’ Master Distiller. “As our master distiller says ‘we’re not the best because we’re the oldest, we’re the oldest because we’re the best.’” With over 400 years in the game, it’s no surprise they know their stuff. “Irish whiskey is part of their heritage dating back hundreds of years, it makes them who they are and this is why they are perfectionists,” Egan says. Though a good single malt like Bushmills 10 Year Old is best enjoyed neat or on the rocks, the Irish don’t mind an Old Fashioned when the occasion calls. The caveat: it must be made with Irish whiskey. Why? “Irish whiskey is lighter and more versatile,” Egan explains. “Bushmills’ full range meets every whiskey consumers’ needs, from the 10 Year Old (matured for at least 10 years in bourbon casks for elegant notes of honey, vanilla and milk chocolate) through to their 16 Year Old (matured for at least 16 years and finished in port pipes for a harmony of caramelised red berries, toasted nuts and vanilla spice).”