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Whiskey soup

How to Drink Whiskey 101

“What butter and whiskey won’t cure, there’s no cure for.”  Whoever first uttered these words in ancient Ireland must’ve been a scholar. And the ancestor of Mark Twain and Paula Deen.

Though adults and teething babies alike enjoy the taste of whiskey, it takes a bit more effort to get to know the booze…says the girl who shoots cheap bourbon and chases it with Gummi Bears.

Clearly I needed an intervention, and saw the unveiling of local distillery Catoctin Creek’s new exclusive whiskey for J&G Steakhouse as my redeeming chance. Scott Harris, the distillery’s owner, and Belinda Chang, master mixologist for Culinary Concepts, were there to drop some knowledge. With their help, I began to map out a more sophisticated path towards becoming a whiskey drunk drinker:

1) Stop ordering well drinks and pounding shots of whiskey that have the word “Gentleman” in their name. This is not a good look for up-and-coming whiskey connoisseurs; those top-shelf bottles have eyes and are judging you.

2) Craft an alibi for your new drinking habits. Harris discovered his great love for drinking after years of working as a government contractor, and decided to start a distillery after visiting the famous Bushmills Distillery in Ireland. All excuses for turning to whiskey will suffice, including the depressing end to the Nats’ season or just trying to keep your sinuses clear during the winter.

3) Git schooled. Whiskey is any liquor distilled from fermented grain mash. Any of the following are acceptable to swig:

  • Bourbon: the gateway drug for harder whiskeys, it’s sweet and made with corn in Kentucky.
  • Tennessee Whiskey: when straight bourbon is filtered through charcoal–and the reason alcoholics all have the same dubious friend named “Jack.”
  • Irish Whiskey: made only in the land of leprechauns with a blend of different grains, it’s light, smooth, and always sworn off on March 18th.
  • Scotch: for self-important people like Ron Burgundy, malted barley is the main ingredient and gives it a smoky flavor.
  • Rye: distilled from a majority rye mash, this American classic packs a kick in the face by the bootlegger who used to make it.

Catoctin Creek’s Scott Harris.

4) Git to drinkin’. Start experimenting with different brands and types of whiskeys to find what you like. Buy affordable but respectable whiskey such as Maker’s Mark or Old Overholt, and drink them with Coke, vermouth and bitters, or on the rocks. Pick the bartender’s brain at places like Irish Whiskey House, Bourbon, Boundary Stone, and Jack Rose, or order the $6 tallboy/whiskey shot combo next door at the Blaguard. Think of it as research.

5) Step your game up by refining the way you drink your new favorite whiskey. Chang and other experts say the best way is to sip it neat (unchilled and unmixed) or with a single drop of room-temperature water to open up the aroma. Save up for a fancy bottle; Harris has a soft spot for Ardbeg Ten Years Old Scotch ($60-$70).

6) Dress the part. The manliest get-up for drinking whiskey this season is a kilt and stockings.

At the end of the day, Chang suggests, “It’s your whiskey, so do what you want.” My grandmother chases hers with milk and would slap me if I tried to change her ways.

Photos: Lisha Yates

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Lisha Yates

Lisha is a true Virginian, bearing an unhealthy obsession with Smithfield ham and Piedmont wines. Born with an appetite for the worldly, she grew up in her potty-mouthed grandma's soulful kitchen, asked for a bread-maker on her 11th birthday, has lived in Spain, and ate a whole spit-roasted guinea pig in Ecuador.She gets creative with her own cooking, too--like beer-battered shrimp tacos made with Natty Light and pancake mix. When she's not working as a consultant, or hunting for the best cheap eats, Lisha is tweeting her dining endeavors and leisurely whereabouts (or at home eating mac n' cheese, if we're being honest).

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